Actor Branding – The Business of YOU!
By Marisa Quinn
“My teachers say I’m talented, I’m always in class, I market, I’m doing all the ‘right’ things – WHY AM I NOT WORKING?!”
This is the all too common lament I hear from actors that come to work with me. They are already doing everything in their power to take action in their careers… but something is out of sync. Something just isn’t clicking.
So I pose this question: “Hollywood is a competitive marketplace, what exactly are you selling?”
In the traditional business world – successful Fortune 500 companies are built around the notion of Brand Promise. A Brand Promise is the commitment to deliver something specific to the people who interact with the brand, on a constant and consistent basis. To some extent, it’s a mission; it’s how the company creates and delivers value.
So how does this relate to building an acting career you might be asking? Well, let’s consider the Brand Promises of some of the most successful actors working today. A Brand Promise in the acting world is so essentially connected to it’s Brand (the actor), that you may not even notice it, but as you’re about to see… it is there, and it is essential. In fact, it’s the core of what makes an actor “bankable”.
Will Smith for instance, can always be counted on to be “Inspiring, Brave, & Charmingly Heroic”, Jennifer Lawrence is “”Self Deprecating, Approachable, and Relatable”, & Rooney Mara’s Brand Promise is to be “Serious, Dark, & Resonant”. These actors don’t “announce” their Brand Promise, of course… but it is clear – in every role they play, in every press interview, talk show, and photo spread – their Brand Promise is who they are to the world, and what they have to offer to producers of blockbuster movies.
Let’s dive a bit deeper, and take Emma Stone for instance. Her unannounced, but clear-as-day Brand Promise is to be constantly and consistently “Funny, Witty, Pretty, & Charming”. She brings this essence with her everywhere – from the characters she plays, to press interviews, to talk shows (Jimmy Fallon Lip Sync Battle anyone?) – everytime Emma Stone shows up, you know she’s going to bring those 4 things to the table. And people LOVE her for it! Her Reps/Casting/Production know exactly what kind of roles to put her in, and the audience knows what they’re gonna get when they buy tickets to watch her films. That my friends, equals “BANKABILITY” – which is what every production wants.
You may be saying to yourself, “But I’m not a star yet, how can I have a Brand?”
Well, here’s the good news. The most awesome thing about “Branding” for actors is that it’s really pretty easy! It’s simply a matter of identifying and packaging your core essence. Taking the best and most awesome (ie: marketable) aspects of who you are, and promising to deliver that consistently.
The 3 basic steps to identifying your brand, and translating it into a Brand Promise are:
1. Identify your “type” – what type of roles are you PERFECT for? (eg: working class mom, prep school brat, high powered executive, urban youth, etc)
2. Identify your unique Personality & Essence (eg: “trustworthy, kind, & generous”, “wild, bohemian, free-spirit” or “intense, dark, rebel” etc)
3. Identify your Brand Promise – which is essentially how your Unique Essence would be of value to those looking to hire an actor to play the “types” of roles you are perfect for. (eg: “Effervescent Free-Spirit who will light up a room with her vibrant glow and an infectious laugh.” “Intense, dark, and contemplative… his rebel heart and air of mystery make him the sexiest guy in the room” …. etc.)
Here’s an exercise to get you started in identifying your own personal types, & essence:
Gather a list of people (industry friends, close friends, those that hardly know you, family, and a complete stranger if possible) – and ask them the following questions:
1. List 3 words that describe me. (eg: playful, athletic, funny)
2. If you didn’t know me, just by looking at me and hearing me speak, what would you guess would be my occupation or interests? (eg: a teacher, a lawyer, a skateboarder, environmentalist, into gardening, etc)
3. If you didn’t know me, how old would you guess that I am?
Start to notice words and descriptive phrases that continue to pop up. What’s the common thread that people see in you, and that you value in yourself? From the intel that you gather, start to form a phrase that describes your type + personal essence. Feel free to include celebrity references, if that helps to quickly identify an aspect of yourself.
Some additional examples of a Brand Promise would be:
“With the unassuming charm and good looks of Channing Tatum, he’s every guy’s best friend and every girl’s dream.”
“Her warm, generous heart and matriarchal strength make her a rock for those lucky enough to call her family, and a source of inspiration to the world.”
“Intense and intriguing, he lives on the edge and breaks all the rules.”
Start to think of this phrase as the core of your Brand Promise – the feeling and experience of YOU when you walk in the room. The next step would be to align all your marketing materials with your Brand Promise so there is a clear and consistent message that communicates who you are and what you best have to offer a production.
Now, allow me to be clear – I am NOT saying you should directly advertise your Brand Promise (In fact, I recommend that you don’t. It’s cheesy. Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t, so why should you? ) – rather, I urge you to make your Brand Promise your “true north” and make all your marketing and representation decisions in a way that aligns your career actions with your brand. Your brand should be invisible, yet 100% clear. That’s what makes stars so fabulous! You don’t know they are marketing themselves, but they are. They’re just being fabulously subtle & debonair about it.
Now, at this point, some of you may be feeling “icky” with all this “brand” and “commodity” talk. You may be thinking to yourself, “But I’m an ARTIST! I’m VERSATILE! I don’t want to be put in a box!”. At which point I would say to you:
An artist without a brand is selling a mish-mosh of several styles of their work, on a street corner in front of a coffee shop, for 5 bucks a pop. An artist WITH a brand is Andy Warhol, his work is in museums, everybody knows his name, and a single painting of his is worth $105.4 MILLION. The artist on the street corner could be just as good or BETTER, but without a brand – nobody knows what he’s selling, so nobody’s gonna buy it. Are you starting to pick up what I’m puttin’ down?
The key is giving “buyers” of talent a clear indication of who you are and what your value is. In an oversaturated market, you can’t try to be all things to all people and expect to be memorable. But walk into rooms with a clear Brand (and support that with consistent branded marketing) and you will see how quickly you begin to win industry fans. Because by having a clear brand, you are making it easy for industry professionals to remember you, easy for them to place you in the right kind of projects, and easy for audiences to relate to you. Before you know it, you (just by being clearly YOU) will be well on your way to being a BANKABLE commodity of great value to the entertainment industry.
So put your Will Smith or Emma Stone savvy pants on and take advantage of the benefits of establishing a brand. Getting clear on a Brand Promise enables you to deliver yourself as an artist in a way that connects emotionally with your audience and differentiates you from the competition. Your “audience” starts with the people that sell you (agents/managers) – you must sell to them first. Then they turn around and pitch you to casting, who then sells you to the production (producers/director/studio), who then employs a PR team to sell you to the audience at large so they come watch the movie/play/TV Show you’re in. But it all starts with YOU. Get clear on what you have to offer. Package it in a clear, & consistent marketing experience, and the “buyers” of talent will be interested in shopping the unique, awesome commodity that is YOU!
Marisa Quinn is an actress, photographer, and branding specialist working in Los Angeles. As an actress, she has portrayed memorable characters in popular films and television series such as Twilight Breaking Dawn Pt. 2, Private Practice, and Sons of Anarchy. For more information about working with Marisa to establish and market your own personal brand, click here or visit www.MarisaQPhotography.com.