If you can brand a company like Disney or Volvo, can you brand an author? Or a book?
One of our authors, neonatologist Karen Pape, was working on her book about the promise of baby brain neuroplasticity when we suggested she might go through a branding exercise. She resisted at first. Does business-style branding make any sense for a doctor who’s writing a book?
Yet it turned out to be the kind of day that orients the entire project — the writing, social media and PR plans, the website, and the talks Karen gives to health-care professionals and parents in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
We gathered at the downtown Toronto office of smak, a very sharp PR and social media strategy firm, where branding expert Peter Drummond of PSD+G Strategy Group led us to a small, light-filled conference room, where Karen joined a group of eight, including editor Jonathan Webb, smak principal Claire Lamont and Barlow publisher Sarah Scott.
After some preliminaries, Peter popped the question: What business are you in?
It seemed so obvious. Before the branding session, Karen thought the answer was easy: Writing. After all, she is writing a book after a long career as a neonatologist, clinical neuroscientist and go-to doctor for kids with cerebral palsy.
Then Peter asked the group for words that describes what business Karen is actually in. We rattled off words and voted on the ones that seemed to fit. The result: Karen is in the business of empowering and transforming. Empowering parents to demand better treatment for kids with cerebral palsy. Transforming the lives of both the kids and their parents with her message that baby brains can change and kids with brain injury can get a lot better, or in some cases be cured.
This insight into Karen’s true business — empowering and transforming — was profound. She wasn’t in the business of merely conveying information. The purpose of writing a book and giving speeches was to give parents tools so they could transform the lives of their kids.
Then came the hard question: What is your vision? The vision, Peter explained, is your purpose in life — where you want to go, the long-term challenge you are tackling. It is not your mission — how you’re going to do it. In other words, we had to think big.
The leading contender from the group was intriguing: I will eliminate the term permanent brain damage in babies. We all liked it, but Peter thought it was too short term, too easy to accomplish.
Another great line came up: Cure for some, improvement for all. It’s a line we shall use in the future because it shows what parents can achieve if they listen to Karen instead of following the conventional diagnosis — there is no cure for cerebral palsy. But it didn’t capture the scope of Karen’s vision.
We went back to work, tweaking the phrases that people had suggested. The final result: To revolutionize the treatment of baby brain injury worldwide. Every word in that vision statement counted, and it was the kind of ambition that could drive every part of Karen’s work with brain-injured kids and their parents.
The hardest part of the exercise was what Peter calls the Brand DNA — the most succinct thought or idea that describes a brand. For Disney, it’s magic. For Volvo, safety. One or two words.
We divided into groups to come up with words that describe the different facets of Karen’s brand:
- Personality — tone, manner. voice
- Organization — the culture, business philosophy, how the organization operates.
- Relations — with customers, partners, even opponents
- Products and services
After we had three words for each facet of Karen’s brand, we got down to the real business — the brand DNA. We thought back to what parents are typically told when their kids are diagnosed with a brain injury like cerebral palsy. There is no hope. Karen, on the other hand says there is a cure for some and improvement for all.
So out came the first word of the brand DNA: Hope.
Then we talked about how Karen as a doctor and researcher is bound by evidence. She’s no hope-monger. So it wasn’t just Hope. It was Real Hope.
That became the brand DNA for Karen and her book. Real Hope. Maybe it’s even a title for her book.
In book marketing, we talk about the target audience and why they should buy this book. But Peter took that conversation a little further. How do readers feel as they’re reading Karen’s book and following her advice? What’s going through their mind? This led to surprising insights that will no doubt influence the writing of Karen’s book.
We are looking forward to the result, when Karen’s book goes on the shelves. The anticipated sale date is spring 2016.