Some think writers are crazy, idealistic fools with no sense of the real world. I completely disagree. Just look at the above video of a well-known storytelling guru. Amy and I hope to exhibit as much passion as Nicholas the Storyteller in our BlogHer session.
On the same day that I was taking some notes on “storytelling,” from Nicholas, I had an interesting chat on the phone with a PR professional attending the conference in Chicago. She is very interested in the concept of “branding” online, both for companies and individuals. I asked her some questions about branding, because I see the word used frequently online, but never completely understood it.
When I thought about it, these terms — storytelling and branding — have a lot in common. They are both about using words, and sometimes pictures and music, to create a narrative which entertains or persuades. The main difference is that “branding” is about control, fine-tuning a message so others will see you or your company in exactly the way you want it to be presented. You do not want any holes in your story. For branding to be effective, you want to focus on the truth — but only a certain slice of it. The other elements must be swept under the rug. Currently, the Jackson family is attempting to “brand” the Michael Jackson story, focusing on his talent and inspiration, hoping that his legacy will be positive, and not that of a pedophile. Have you ever been to the Nixon Library in Orange County? It is a educational place, but the curators do some history re-writing in order to make the former President seem more like a towering historical figure than a creepy guy. Branding is important because it puts our best face in front, like the photoshopped avatar in Twitter. Branding is an oil company putting on a “green” logo on their brochure because they know it sells. When it doesn’t sell, they will brand themselves as something else.
Don’t get me wrong. Storytelling also hopes to manipulate you. Stephen King wants you to jump out of your seat at the right moment. A comedian knows from experience when you are going to laugh at a punchline. The better the story, the more the writer controls your every thought. But the heart of a good story is less about placing a barrier between the real soul of the writer and the audience, then about digging deeper, so that the one dimensional becomes three dimensional. The writer is communicating, but also searching for his own meaning. The lone cowboy is a one-dimensional image. It is the Marlboro Man in a famous cigarette advertisement. The cowboy who likes his cowboy friend and checks out his ass while lassoing the steer is a character in Brokeback Mountain, and that wins the Oscar.
Writing a blog is a combination of branding and storytelling. At times, I do present a one-dimensional side of myself because it makes it easier for me to relate to you, and for you to “get me.” If I were to start my blog over again, I might spend more time “branding” myself. I am jealous of all the mommy and daddy bloggers, the dating and tech bloggers, who are able to focus their energies on a certain aspect of their lives. Maybe I should have restructured this blog as a marriage/separation story, focusing on my relationship with Sophia, and then writing a book about it. Instead, this blog is all over the place.
Do you see the difference between branding and storytelling? If I was “branding” myself, I would try to be clear in focus, so you would be able to quickly identify me, like you can on my Twitter avatar where I wear a fedora like a 1940’s detective. In this almost five year story of my life on my blog, I spend most of my time searching for this “brand,” this clear-cut identity or vision. Once I achieve it, there will be no more reason for a blog. Once I am my own brand, then I have nothing else to explore. That’s when I just market t-shirts with my name on it.
Do you get a clear sense of who I am? Probably not. I don’t. I’m nice and friendly and sometimes a jerk. I flirt with women and tell sexist jokes, but I’m very politically correct. Probably the biggest misrepresentation of my self relates to the sex posts. Now that I am less than two weeks away from meeting so many women, I am a little concerned about my reputation. Does anyone going to BlogHer really worry that I might hit on them in the bathroom, saying, “Let me see those tits, baby!” I’m never going to say that. I probably wouldn’t even think it. I mostly think of those things when I am at home, writing blog posts by myself.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not dangerous. Oh, the neilochka brand is dangerous all right. What you REALLY have to worry about is me during the keynote address, when I run onstage, grab the microphone from whoever and point to some well-dressed woman in the fifth row and say, “MomBlogWoman, I can’t keep it in any longer. I’m in love with you. I know I only met you ten minutes ago, but the way you were slurring and spilling your drink all over yourself last night when you were sloshed was so beautiful, and the way you put that business card in my hand, so our fingers touched ever so slightly, and the fact that you skipped The Bloggess’ comedy session to come to ours instead — I just know that you were the one, and that I must have you as my own. I know you are married with three children, but I just received these engagement rings in the mail in exchange for putting a link from this jewelry company on my blog, and I would like to get on my knees like the guys do on “The Bachelor” and, in front of 1500 of these wise women, and ask you, MomBlogWoman, will you…”
Anyway, you see. I’m not going to feel you up. That’s not me. That is all “branding.” My story is more complicated and intense. I want to be in love! Love! Do you hear me? And then we will dance the night away on a riverboat as we sail between the famous buildings of the Chicago Skyline, fireworks in the sky from the special event going on in Wrigley Field, Bat Day and Fireworks Day and Love Day, all rolled into one. Sigh.
Yeah, avoid me.
Then again, I’m not sure how true this is either. Maybe I do just want to feel you up. Maybe I should call Sophia and see how she’s doing.