A brand by ANY other name…

I recently read that Ellen Vrana is trying to brand herself (that just sounds…. painful).

If you do not know who Ellen is, thats quite alright, you likely will eventually. She’s a writer and I foresee, bound to be known far and wide one of these days.

In a a recent quora blog post she talked about, how in the effort to brand herself (wince) she hired a professional photographer.  I thought the post amusing, and could also commiserate. I usually either look angry, sad, or bored out of my mind in pictures, even when I’m usually not.

Anywho, I got to thinking about branding.

It is supposedly something you need to do, or find, or create, if you want to attract an audience. (and I do)

Yet it seems totally counter-intuitive to myself as a person, selling myself as a product.

People as products need to have singular and profound meaning if they are going to sell.

I recall an art show I was in with several other artists a few years ago.  Sometime I’ll tell you about sneaking into the gallery pre-show, but thats another story.

Each artist had this lovely expressive story or, explanation to provide with their art and sold their work ,it seemed, more on their persona; their  story sold the work better than the piece itself.

“I created this piece contemplating the plight of the people I met while living as a  Green Peace volunteer for two years in Africa…”

“My goal is a fusion between the real and imagined, a painting of the soul.”

And then there was me.

“Oh well, I like color, and I don’t know, I just thought it might look pretty.”

It did not go well.

Actually it went dismally bad.

Apparently I needed to weave some sort of impressive  bullshit to sell it.

The problem is I cannot bullshit, and my life isn’t all that impressive, or spiritual, or compelling.


A brand is singular and specific so one must  court a specific audience, and follow a specific audience.

Well I may want to write about homeschooling one day, art another, autism acceptance and neurodiversity the next, and then set theory and Sherlock another.

Its the way my mind travels.  I cannot help it.  I suppose I could sell myself as an autistic adult,  but I don’t know, to focus on that solely, or educating solely, it just seems wrong.  I would have liked to sell a piece because someone thought it was pretty, not because I’m an autistic adult. I would like advice taken,  ideas tried, or thoughts provoked because its damn good advice, not  because I’m an autistic adult.

I also want to be able to follow whom I like whether they are  mixed media artists, gay illustrators, a Baltimorean wedding planner, religious homeschoolers, drug users, pagans,  graphic designers, and raging (or peaceful) atheists if so inclined.

Yet those media and messages and even style really clash.

So as much as I loathe it, Ellen may in fact have something there.

I just do not know how to reconcile it all.

I haven’t any idea how to define much less market myself.

I am me.


Ellen’s blog…







18 thoughts on “A brand by ANY other name…

  1. fontgoddess says:

    While branding one’s self for an audience may at times be necessary, I think it smells like feet. Being authentically yourself is just so much easier. I like you for who you are and I like that you are authentic and honest.

    As for selling art, you can say the same thing you said but in art school language and perhaps that would be more successful without being dishonest or making you feel like you are objectifying yourself and your experience. An artist’s statement along the lines of “I am interested in exploring the decorative arts and the interplay between color and pattern and texture” or somesuch is usually fancy enough to make people feel smart for buying your work. Looking up descriptions of the work of the Abstract Expressionists might help you craft something 😉

  2. h4rrish4wk says:

    I have to agree with you. Branding ones self to me seems like a mistake because people are not things, and if someone can reduce who they are as a human being to one highly concentrated area – they feel one dimensional and you can only have so many interesting conversations with them before you start to die a little of boredom. It also feels like lying. Reducing yourself to this one area and then bullshitting people about motives trying to make it seem more meaningful that it even needs to be so they can seem deep and intelligent for buying into you and your work.

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects!” – Robert Heinlein (The Notebooks of Lazarus Long).

    *sigh* I just. I don’t get it.

    • amandasmills says:

      “Branding ones self to me seems like a mistake because people are not things, and if someone can reduce who they are as a human being to one highly concentrated area”

      Agreed, and then how do you get to know such a person?
      I generally distrust people who stick to one aspect and share nothing else because then i dont know what they are actually like as a person. In the past I have, and then they said or did something i consider negative, or their true nature comes to light, and i feel a fool for ever supporting them.
      I cannot pretend to be something i’m not to gain followers

      and yet, and yet – people want the opposite of Heinlein these days.
      polymaths (not saying i am one, just the idea in itself) are rather unwelcome and it seems the days of being evaluated as a whole person are as well.

      Ms. Vrana should be herself, not worrying whether or not she’s being “Ellen-y” one would assume since she is Ellen anything she does would be so,

  3. Anna Cull says:

    : ) I’ve had a couple of half-hearted attempts at ‘branding’ myself. I even wrote an artist’s bio once (none of that ‘third person’ rubbish though… as if I’m somehow not in the same room as myself) but that will never ever see the light of day. The best I’ve been able to come up with is a kind of tagline: “I love to paint and draw, take photographs and make things.” Even then, it seems a little narrow.

    Thanks for the giggle and thanks for the link to Ellen’s article.

    • amandasmills says:

      Thank you Anna. 🙂
      Ah yes, the artist’s bio… sigh. Glad to know I’m not the only one who finds the third person thing weird.
      (and yay! I have a new blog to follow)

      • Anna Cull says:

        Thank you for the follow. I’m taking a break from posting for a few weeks (my first break in very long time) but I’ll still visit WP from time to time — I can’t bring myself to go cold turkey! I’ll be back in September.

        As for the branding thing… surely being ourselves is ALL we have to offer. It’s our only way of being unique. That scares some people. Me (and you too, I suspect), I love the idea. Bring on the tall poppies and the short daisies! Eclectic, complicated, messy, fascinating and real. Now THAT is a brand : )

  4. agrajag says:

    I read that post. Ellen has a point, but there’s a larger point surrounding it. Yes one piece of art needs to be about something. You can sell a book about fly-fishing, or about insects, or about being an autist, or about the best way to cook eggs, but it’s very hard to sell a book that is just a random collection of thoughts on topics all over the map with no coherent theme.

    However, nobody says that the same person can’t write multiple books, about multiple themes. It’s rare for someone to be interested in EVERYTHING, but it’s common for the same person to have several deep and enduring interests, and there’s no need to simplify away these or try to pretend you’re only about one thing.

    Your blog is called nature study in the city. And that’s mostly what it’s about, isn’t it ? Sure, set-theory is quite distinct from pretty pictures of cool insects, but both types of post fit the theme well.

    I don’t think you need to “brand” yourself in the sense of having only a single interest, or only a single message. It is helpful to have a set of topics you mostly focus on, but you already do, and always did.

    Ellen isn’t a single thing either. In fact I like Ellen the least when she tries to be a single thing, and the MOST when she’s simply human, I’ve said so before too, I think most of Ellens posts, at the end, are mostly about what it’s like to be Ellen.

    And I think that’s a good thing. I don’t need her to be a brand, nor do I want her to be a brand. I want her to be a person.

    I think you should stay Amanda too. For the same reason she should stay Ellen.

    • h4rrish4wk says:

      Agreed people can have multiple deep interests, But the problem the leads to “branding” is that there is a harmful social perception.

      For instance – imagine someone writes a book about BDSM (and no – not a 50 Shades of Unwarranted Tree Murder but a book that is actually accurate and not containing abuse). They’re really into it – it’s part of their sexuality leading them to have actual first hand experience.

      Then imagine that same person has another passion, a passion for children’s stories and education. So they also write a book aimed at children and it’s the same run-of-the-mill children’s story you can pick up from anywhere.

      Having published the BDSM book can you see/imagine how much that will hurt the sale of the second? Or how news people will spin the children’s book if it’s discovered that the author wrote about BDSM as well? One has nothing to do with the other but when both are connected with one person suddenly all bets are off and the existence of one hurts the other.

      Which is why people “brand” and why “brands” are also daft – because the brand you have now – may hurt or be hurt by the brand you have later. Yet if you don’t stay in line with one specific brand at one end of the spectrum or the other – you can pretty much count on not being able to sell in any large quantities.

      • agrajag says:

        You’re arguing the exceptions though. If you try to “sell” two different stories which people feel are conflicting, then yes it’ll make you in a sense less “credible”, even in some cases where there’s no actual conflict. (people are queasy about mentioning sexuality and children in the same context, even if it’s entirely unrelated that a person is into BDSM and writing childrens books)

        There is however usually not really a problem with different interests as long as there’s no conflict between them. People don’t, for example, react negatively if a body-builder and muscle-man known for playing a killer robot decides to become governor.

        Witness Jo Nesbø – most successful current Norwegian author by far.

        A economist working as a stock-broker by education. Top-league soccer-player (until he hurt his knee and had to give it up), then vocalist for a pop-band; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfKRb4fiVPk Publishing silly but wildly popular childrens books with titles such as “Doctor Proctors fart-powder”, then thrillers and crime-books for adults such as the series about Harry Hole and now a series for TV.

        There’s really not much of a single theme to all of this. And that’s just fine, just as long as there’s no conflicts.

      • amandasmills says:

        “People don’t, for example, react negatively if a body-builder and muscle-man known for playing a killer robot decides to become governor.”
        Since nearly all common sense is suspended in California, I’d call that an exception as well Eivind 😉

      • agrajag says:

        Perhaps. But there’s many other examples of famous people not presenting a single unified “brand”-like front, and still being widely liked. I think *people* are nicer than *brands* anyway.

      • h4rrish4wk says:

        Conflicts are invented. In the eye of the beholder – but just because it’s an exception doesn’t mean that a good number of people don’t go out of their way to avoid being seen as having interests that conflict even if they do.

        Branding is just stupid because it denies that people can have wildly different interests that are unrelated unless the person has deliberately branded themselves as being into absolutely everything -like Jo Nesbø or James Franco.

        Plenty of people reacted negatively to governor Arnold – either to his running for office to his actual policies once he got office. Minority? Perhaps -but people did react negatively. One could always point out that an actor being in office was something that had already had the way paved for him by the likes of Reagan and many before them who are out of living memory.

        I don’t think I’m arguing the exception. I think I’m arguing a silent rule that is adhered to when people brand themselves. That they must brand themselves only with things that “compliment” each other or have had the perceived conflict removed by people’s perceptions changing. Even then tabloids will continue to stir themselves up into a frenzy with made up conflict – its how they make their money – which is why people who brand themselves do so, so very carefully – to give them the least amount of material to work with.

  5. runciblegoosegoose says:

    Hi Amanda.; Great post, and thank you for linking my article!

    The way I feel about branding is yes, I get it, advertising, selling etc. But personally? Like a brand for me? Kinda icky.

    My post was tongue-in-cheek (which I’m sure some people but not all got) “Ellen Vrana Brand” isn’t a thing. My way to approach it is to mock it, poke fun at it, and then talk about it to the world, clearly doing the most unbranding thing possible – not taking the “brand” seriously.

    Because that is the issue i have with it. I find it icky because yes, while yes, a brand would express me, better, promote me, capture me and sell me – fine if I’m looking to expand my writing (and not going to lie, part of my ego loves that) It would also LIMIT me (and you talked about this in your post). You have to BE the brand, ONLY the brand. I’m not good at that. I write what I feel when I feel it. Yes, mostly about what it’s like to be Ellen Vrana, but not always. I also think if you do it too much it takes away your person, who you are (which you also alluded to in your post) and makes you a thing. I don’t like that either.

    Now, I do have core values that are critical to me in my writing and my online presence. Honesty, respect, compassion, and quality. I want people to see those things in every thing I write and every interaction I have. I want them to expect them when they see my name. That is not a brand though, more a value system.

    And I do have consistent themes, style etc. that I gravitate towards. But that doesn’t feel like a brand.

    With everything I write, I like to ask: ‘does this feel right to me. Not my brand, ME.’ But perhaps that is branding after all.

    Anyway, just my thoughts. Thank you for making me think! I love your posts on Quora and am excited to find you here too.

    Cheers, Ellen (just Ellen)

    • fontgoddess says:

      And that is why you are lovely, Ellen, as you are already recognizable but also unable to be reduced to something as simple as a “brand”. Your light and silly post on the subject was perfect and please do not take criticism of the concept of “branding” as criticism of you.

      • runciblegoosegoose says:

        thanks hon! I didn’t take it personally, I just used this as an opportunity to formulate my own thoughts on the matter. 🙂 (sorry for the slow reply, I just saw this note on the top of my site, never noticed it before).

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