Friday, February 1, 2019

7 Author Branding Lessons Learned from Twenty One Pilots

Branding. It's kind of a strange concept. Authors throw the term around a lot, but people generally only have a vague idea of what "branding" actually is. We know it's important. We know it has something to do with our overall image and marketability. We know colors, fonts, and taglines have something to do with it. But what is it, exactly?

The answer lies with Twenty One Pilots.

Twenty One Pilots does a stellar job when it comes to branding (and, you know...literally everything else). I was particularly struck by this when I went to their Trench concert back in November of 2018 (yes, it was incredible). Let's deconstruct their methods to get a better idea of what branding is...and how to do it well.

7 Author Branding Lessons Learned from Twenty One Pilots

1. They have a consistent theme. Practically every song Twenty One Pilots produces is about mental health. This theme pops up in their lyrics, in their interviews, and in their social media feeds. Somebody who is new to the realm of Twenty One Pilots could spend ten minutes looking them up and instantly know: "Oh. They focus on mental health." That is one of the biggest goals of branding. Readers should be able to easily understand your main themes/goals as a writer.

Don't have one single theme? That's okay. Twenty One Pilots is a very extreme example. Many authors (and creatives in general) have more than one theme in their stories. That's why mood is important, too...

2. Their music and marketing has a specific mood. Most of their music captures feelings of sadness, yearning, and fear, but always with a hopeful undertone. Their marketing tends to feature a lot of black, but always with a splash of bright color to further their "darkness + hope" vibe. Why is this so important? Because their easily recognizable theme and mood allows them to target their specific audience. If you don't have an identifiable vibe, your intended audience will have a harder time finding you. Make life easier on both yourself and your readers by setting up a recognizable theme and mood via your genre, writing style, and visual marketing.

3. They walk the walk. Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph have excellent ethos. Not only do they perform music about mental health issues, but they are also very honest about their own struggles with depression, anxiety, etc. They have folded themselves into their own brand: They haven't separated themselves from what they create. This is very important. You, as an author, should be part of your brand. In fact, it may better if you can make yourself the brand.

Yellow hair and awkward smiles? They literally embody their brand.
What does this mean, exactly? Well, you need to make sure that your personal image matches your writing brand. So if you write horror you don't want your social media to be full of pictures of fluffy kittens. If your mood has to do with lighthearted fun, you probably shouldn't be writing writing blog posts about politics.

You get major bonus points if it is impossible to separate you (the creator) from your writing (the creation). One should not be able to exist without the other. This keeps things cohesive and consistent. One of the many upsides to branding yourself as a person and an author means that you have a bit of room to play...

4. They don't pigeonhole themselves. What genre does Twenty One Pilots play? That question should give you pause. After all, they don't stay in their lane. They go where they want to. This lack of a definitive genre has allowed them to do a lot of interesting things with their music. They do a little bit of hip-hop, a little bit of rap, a little bit of electropop. They've got a bit of an emo thing going on, but their also kind of punk and kind of rock. This allows them to appeal to a somewhat fringe audience while also still gaining mainstream fans.

Even though you as an author need to have a specific brand, that doesn't mean your brand has to be exactly like everyone else's. Don't box yourself in. Keep your options open.

5. Their visuals match their theming and mood. Twenty One Pilots has consistent color schemes and artistic styles across all of their albums. Look at their last two album covers:

They both heavily feature black with splashes of bright, bold colors. This easily matches their overall mood: Dark, serious, bold, and melancholy hopefulness. Each album cover also features a variant of their brand's typeface (the letter "O" with a diagonal line through it). These same color schemes can be found on their website and social media. Josh Dun even dyes his hair to match their album covers.

You as an author should be doing the same thing: Your website, logo, book cover(s), and author photo should be similar to each other. They should have the same basic colors and vibes, and these colors and vibes should instantly connect to your theme/mood. Bonus points if you go extreme and dye your hair to match your brand's colors (Yes, I'm winning in this area).

6. They're unique. It's safe to say that there is no other band like Twenty One Pilots. There are a lot of reasons for this (their undefined genre, the consistent themes in their lyrics). This uniqueness is one of the reasons their brand is so successful: They are reaching an audience that previously was not being reached. I know that sounds like a tall order, but it is doable. Find what makes you different from other authors in your genre.

Me? I write Christian speculative fiction that is a bit dark, not at all fluffy, and brutally honest (all of which are fairly uncommon in this genre). I also write YA and fantasy that do not contain a lot of the typical tropes (no romance, my world-building is not based off of European cultures or medieval time periods). On top of this, I focus on writing disabled characters and characters struggling with depression, anxiety, anger, etc (also uncommon in the fantasy realm). All of this gives me a bit of an edge because I'm putting new ideas out into a world that is oversaturated with old concepts.

Ask yourself: What makes you different? What makes your stories different? The answer may not instantly present itself, but spend a bit of time brainstorming and you'll get there.

7. They're personable. This goes back to brand being directly connected to us as people. Josh and Tyler interact with their fans online, they write songs that address issues within their fanbase (Neon Gravestones, anyone?), and they end each of their concerts by saying: "We are Twenty One Pilots and so are you." In short: They are relatable, personable, and accessible to their audience.

This can be hard to do when a brand is super on-point. While it is important for your brand to be professional, it is possible to go so overboard that you make yourself seem more corporate and less human. Remember: People don't trust a perfect person. Readers like writers that they can interact with and relate to, so make sure your brand doesn't make you seem intimidating or impersonal.

*takes deep breath* Okay. I know this is a lot of information to take in. If you're anything like me, pressure is starting to possess your mind. Don't let it. Brands take time to build. Sometimes they shift as you continue to write and grow.

If you're starting to feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that it's going to be okay. Move slow. Take a day to break away. The sun will rise tomorrow and you can try again.

And, of course: Leave comments if you have any questions or suggestions! What are some of your favorite examples of good branding? Let's chat!

Related articles:
7 Writing Lessons Learned from Stranger Things
Why Writers Should Strive to be More Like Batman

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  1. I cannot believe that one of my favorite bloggers (and the only one I'm subscribed to) used my favorite band as an example! I'm overwhelmed (I'm pretty sure you understand the ecstasy), and all those references to their songs! Oh My God!
    This was very helpful. Thank you for the continuous great work!

    1. ... ditto! LOL. I was wondering how I was gonna word my comment, but you pretty much summed up how I feel. haha TØP Rocks!

    2. Haha! You two are awesome. I'm so happy to have TØP followers! =D They are amazing.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. LOVE this post!!! These points are really helpful and make me want to get work on rebranding right away. Also, I approve of the tøp references. :D

    1. YAY! Cheering you and your rebranding efforts on!

  3. These are awesome points. I generally think of branding in the visual sense, so the musical spin was a refreshing take!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you, Master of Branding, enjoyed the post! =D


    1. No, I was at The Forum show in Inglewood. =D Were you at the Denver one?? SO cool that you got to see them perform! Weren't they incredible?

  5. This is Very very nice article. Everyone should read. Thanks for sharing.


  6. I went to one of their 2018 concerts and it was by far, THE best night of my entire life. ||-//


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