the art of creating an authentic belief system (otherwise known as a ‘brand’) for fans friends + followers



I was reading the blog Transmythology when I came across this:

“Part of the reason that a number of recent theatrical releases have failed to entice a younger demographic is that a 90-120 minute story – when unsupported by larger engagement – is a tricky sell to audiences who are accustomed to being engaged around the clock.”

Which made me think about how it’s a new world now. Audiences expect a deeper sense of ‘engagement’ with your writing — and with you. If they love your book, they don’t want the experience to end when they turn the final pages; they expect that experience to carry over online, with the story of you.

The most amazing thing about social media is that it gives you the chance to invent yourself, your – for lack of a better word – ‘brand’ – and connect with your audience before you’ve even published anything.

(In my case I became a serious blogger partly to reinvent myself a little, and connect with an audience that might not have been interested in my dark-fantasy novels but will totally love my next book THE DECADENTS — they just don’t know it yet.)

So the question becomes: how can you blog in a way that will attract the right readers for your future books? Your blog serves a different purpose – and thus a different audience – than your books, so you want to aim for the overlap. You can hook new readers by providing content that is meaningful and relevant to them, but you make them stay — and fall in love with you — and turn into actual Fans — through the resonance of your personality, your worldview —

— and a ‘voice’ that echoes inside them to create that sense of mounting excitement:Yes. Here. This.

Some people would refer to this as your brand or author-brand.

Which is basically just another way of saying: the sense of identity that your reader constructs around all the accumulated impressions of you, both good and bad.

A mental imprint, if you will.

Why is this important?

Because in a world of millions on millions of blogs, your brand is what sets you apart.

Your brand is your “lighthouse identity”. Your right readers in the dark waters beyond gravitate to that light and follow it in to shore. This is even more important because you are a writer, a creative: you aren’t just dispensing information. You are showing your soul (and looking for soulmates).

You are aiming for an emotional connection to span multiple platforms, including your published books or ebooks.

The book PRIMALBRANDING talks about the seven components a brand requires in order to be truly charismatic. Read these brief descriptions, think about them, see how you can apply them to your blog, your body of work – you.


For a blog, this is otherwise known as your ‘About Me’ page – and tends to be one of the first buttons that a visitor clicks.

You might notice that I’m still working on mine (if you click on my photograph there in the sidebar you will travel to my Twitter account. I know, I know, but this is temporary…). Your ‘bio’ should be more than just a ‘bio’ – it sets the stage for who you are, what you stand for, and why anybody else should care.

Michael Margolis at GetStoried refers to this as your “brand story” which serves as “a symbolic container for the meaning of stuff”.

Because that’s what a story provides, that a simple listing of facts never does: meaning. Your story connects your present with your past….and shapes your future.

You don’t invent your personal ‘brand’ out of thin air, any more than you invent your life or your self. You search your soul, you explore your past, you excavate your fascinations and beliefs, and drill down and drill down for the meaning of it all.

And organize your creation story around that.

My creation story, and the creation story of Tribal Writer, starts with my divorce. It kicked off a series of events that changed everything for me — including the books I want to write and the way I approach my career. My ‘brand story’ carries a message (or so I like to think) of non-conformity, freedom and empowerment. It’s about bringing your full-blooded soul — your pure and uncut self — to the world through your creative work, your activism, your outlaw entrepreneurial spirit.

(Something like that, anyway.)

“Creation stories usually embody the who and the why…It is the beginning of understanding. It is a first step to believing and belonging…It often involves a mythic quest, the struggle to create the right product or service…the against-all-odds pursuit…” (from PRIMAL BRANDING)


What do you want people to believe? What do you stand for? What is your personal ideology, your life philosophy? What are you willing to fight for (and to write for)?

Your creed is a statement of the bold idea living at the center of you.

Chris Guillebeau (rockstar blogger and bestselling author) has a great one: You don’t have to live your life the way that other people tell you.

He champions the art of unconventional living.

He doesn’t just say, “Hi. This is my blog!” – he welcomes you to the revolution.

Apple’s creed is in its advertising: Think Different.

And so is Nike’s: Just do it.

Tribal Writer believes in your right to be a creative badass (and no one can take that from you).

“Once you have the creed that defines who you are and why you exist, it must be integrated with the other elements of the primal code to create a holistic system of belief.”


These are the “quick concentrations of meaning that cause your brand identity and brand values to spontaneously resonate.” They can be visual images, or sounds (like the Apple start-up ‘bong’) or maybe a smell (Cinnabon, Aveda). They can be your hair, your profile photo, your logo, the crazy purple sweater you’re always wearing, the way you sign your name.

They are “sensory imprints that instantly summon the brand essence. And we recognize these icons early on.”

When I hired Paul Jarvis to redo my blog design (very badly needed), I paid an extra fifteen hundred for a logo, a ‘brand mark’. I’m a highly visual person, and I wanted an image that would evoke a certain feeling and set of associations — at least in me — to bring my blogging and writing back to center.

I never in a million years would have considered a butterfly.

But a butterfly, as I have learned, is a symbol of fierce transformation. The ink-blot aesthetic introduces a psychological element, the ambiguity and uncertainty that are such an integral part of creativity.

It’s not necessary that you see all that, or understand it, just as it’s not necessary for you to know all the details of my creation story. What’s important is that I do: that I have an internal architecture of meaning to play off and build on.


Rituals are the activities that you do over and over again, the repeated ways in which you interact with your audience.

For a blogger, these rituals include: writing the post, publishing the post, checking blog stats, trying not to obsess over blog stats, reading and responding to comments, commenting on other blogs, receiving and answering emails from readers, engaging in other forms of social media (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube), etc.

“Ritual replaces chaos with order. Rituals are active engagements that can be imbued with either positive or negative meaning….The vitality of your brand comes with the number of positive interactions you have with your [reader].”


“In order to have the yin of believers you must also have the yang of nonbelievers. The pagans. The heathens and idolaters. Part of saying who you are and what you stand for is also declaring who you are not and what you don’t stand for.”

In other words, it’s perfectly okay to have trolls and ‘enemies’, people who attack you in the comments section, who tell you that you suck.

By pushing against your message, these people only serve to reinforce it.

After all, one of the best ways to unite a group of people is to give them a common enemy to rally against.

(One of the rather wonderful lessons I learned from my Livejournal is that when someone attacked me – often with a vicious and misogynistic flavor – it wasn’t necessary for me to respond. Chances were that someone else would rise to my defense. )

The ‘enemy’ doesn’t have to have a human face. It can be a corporation (Apple vs Microsoft); it can be an idea or concept; it can be a political party, a movement; it can be the status quo. It is the flipside of your creed: the darkness to your light, the sour to your sweet….you get the idea.

Opposites have a way of defining each other.

Often it’s contradiction and conflict that drives the conversation forward.


“Words tell who we are.”

Every group forms its own insider language.

Each profession has its own professional terminology – or jargon. So does every sport.

If you’re addicted to Starbucks you know the difference between a ‘tall’ and a ‘grande’.

If you watch MAD MEN, you know the names of all the characters.

Yesterday I went to a Pure Barre exercise class and was struck by some of the words tripping off the instructor’s tongue – ‘flat-back’, ‘back-dancing’, ‘seat’ (instead of ‘ass’).

In the online space that I inhabit, I’ve picked up certain terms and used them in my blogging – and, elsewhere, have seen people associate them with me or with Tribal Writer. “Genius zone”, “write epic shit” (which I picked up from Corbett Barr), “soul DNA”, “creative badass”, “right readers”. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I encourage every blogger to find the “Big Meaning” that unifies their content and ties it to a bigger picture, or that the idea of “the bad girl” has special meaning for me.

Pay attention to your own language. What are the words, the phrases, that surface in your writing again and again? What have they come to mean for you – and your readers? When a visitor lands on your blog for the very first time, what are the concepts (“Big Meaning” “creative badass”) they must learn to fully understand what you’re talking about?

Sacred words act as a kind of initiation rite and marker of group identity. They help to create a sense of culture. We bond when we speak the same language…especially when the people around us speak something different.

“The language defines those who belong, and those who do not. Sometimes those words are secret; sometimes the sacred words are so laden with meaning that people are willing to fight and die for them.”


“All successful belief systems have a person who is the catalyst, the risk taker, the visionary, the iconoclast who set out against all odds (and often against the world at large) to recreate the world according to their own sense of self, community and opportunity….Enterprise without a leader is like a headless elephant. It may eventually get somewhere, but only by destroying everything in its path along the way.”

This, dear Reader, would be you.

As Seth Godin likes to say: We need you to lead us.

Jun 21, 2011

11 comments · Add Yours

The black sheep. That is what I am. That is what I stand for. Ohhhh, I think something just came to me! Who I am isn’t who I want to base my blog on, but I could base it on an ANGLE of who I am…Uh oh! Gotta go test these waters!

Dang! Hungry people begging for food – AGAIN!

Seriously, what if your creation story is NOT one that people want to hear. Writing is about inventing and I could invent a way to project me without jading people’s persepective of me, right?

Thanks for the lesson in evolution! Soo love your posts!


Honestly? I think you need to listen to the creation story that you *need* to tell, and then find the place where that intersects with the kind of depth + meaning that you want to provide for people…

Keep in mind, too, that nothing is fixed, things have a way of continuing to evolve as your own awareness, self-awareness, deepens…

Don’t think about the kind of story that you think others will want, or won’t want — because chances are you’ll be surprised…

In my experience we always hold back in the beginning because we don’t want to displease or offend, but I have found that the bolder and more defined you become in your presentation of who you are, the more passionately people respond to you.


Thank you for the advice. I am actually sitting here dissecting this post and filling in the blanks. The answers are revealing themselves and it is kind of reminding me who I was before I was “mom”. I like that. Now, back to my homework. I will put on my badass pants and see how bold I can go. Thanks for taking the time to respond:)


Justine,, you read SOOOO much! I’m glad you’re distilling all this precious info for me ’cause I’m buried under STUFF. And you know what? I know YOU are too, ’cause like, you’re a Mom as well! But somehow, you find the time to keep shining the way.

Thanks again. You feel like a good neighbor who drops by unannounced with a can of cookies.



Thanks Justine! Love this distillation and message here. It resonates with me and makes me a bit uncomfortable because I’m thinking, “She’s so right! Why am I holding back? Why haven’t I really explored my creed, which, as you so eloquently say, “is a statement of the bold idea living at the center of you.” I think we all have this gut feeling about our creed and the message we want to share–especially the one that might offend. But the fear of looking foolish or failing keeps us from articulating ourselves. Dan Blank wrote eloquently about this in his last few newsletters. I appreciate your addition to this timely conversation. It really is motivation, and more importantly for me, a breakdown of the elements of my own website/blog that I need to consider.


I’ve learned alot from reading your posts in these past few months. I keep tweaking my blog to be more ‘me’, instead of the me that I think people would want to see. It involves digging deep to find the real me. I truly like the real you that I envision from your blog writing. thanks for another great post.


Excellent, thought-provoking, and true. Excellent post. Thanks


This is the second message I’ve found in 24 hours illuminating the problem I’m having with my blog. I’ve been working so hard to keep myself out of it that what I’m writing is dull as sh*t. Fascinating, fascinating, fascinating. I try to notice when I get a message once, but when it shows up a second time, how can I ignore it?
I’m starting to think that I need to separate my “hire me to edit and/or write” website from my “I have something to share” website.


I love reading your blogposts. Very inspiring. I am in the midst of a transition myself and have been neglecting two blogs while I try to find what I’m trying to write about. Some of the things I’m passionate about are work-related, which I can’t write about publicly (but I realize that being passionate about work is amazing these days!).

I think I am slowly realizing something new and reading your blog (among others) is helping with the transition.



This is really wonderful, Justine. As a writer (and former blogger, but it wasn’t playing to my strengths so I stopped), it holds great value for me. I am aware that right now (before future butterfly-esque transformations), I serve a niche audience who is interested in romantic and sexual poetry, typically set in nature and the Ozarks.

I have some of these seven things in place. But I love that these seven are so key. It’s a perfect recipe that one should (and I plan to) revisit constantly. (Forgive the change of person here), this system will keep you in your own personal writing, blogging revolution. I definitely look forward to working on my creed more. Thanks for the enlightening post!


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