I was talking with some actors recently and the topic was how *limiting* it feels to have A brand. A singular type. A bullseye. Of course, my response was (and always is) that structure isn’t limiting; it’s freeing, because when we have the outline, we know how boldly to color — whether inside or outside the lines! Stennar Strom is a branding machine. He has developed such a strong muscle for not only how his brand is presented in the world but how others’ are as well that I asked him to pen a POV about bringing branding down to its simplest form. And… here we go!
Branding, Branding, Branding!
Cary Grant’s charm, Bette Davis’ toughness, Jack Nicholson’s danger, Meryl Streep’s strength, Marilyn Monroe’s vulnerability…
These are qualities that these actors have bubbling under their roles from drama to comedy. They are one of the reasons audiences love them; and why they have had such lengthy and successful careers.
We all have a brand. Whether you know it or not, you make the choice whether to use it and own your gifts, or just drift where the acting tides take you. Ready to own it? Let’s go!
To start off — I have a special way of thinking about branding that works for me.
Here’s the deal: You are a specific instrument. The script is a specific piece of music.
The combination of that piece of music, being played through a specific instrument will result in a unique work of art. The same solo can be played through a piano, a flute, a violin, an acoustic guitar, or even an electric guitar. The music channeled through each individual instrument will create a sound, interpretation, and feeling because of that singular fusion.
Now ask yourself: What distinctive instrument am I? Once you figure out that you’re a saxophone, then, are you a soprano, tenor, or bass saxophone? Are you even a sopranino, baritone, or contrabass saxophone? Once you come to that realization, you will know the strengths that you bring to the room, to casting; as well as to your unique interpretation of a script!
When a casting director has a saxophone in mind for the piece of music they need to cast immediately? You can walk in there knowing that you own it, and that you even bring more unique interpretation as a soprano or contrabass. Beyond that, when you establish your solid unique brand qualities, then you open the door to casting in that whole “I know this was written for an electric guitar, but isn’t it an interesting choice hearing it through that tenor saxophone?” way. Yes. Yes it is. Boom. Learn your brand strength, own it, and then run with that shibby all the way to the bank!
So, how do you figure out the special medley of your outside look, your inside energy, and how that vibe creates your own one-of-a-kind take on a script? I started my process by going out there in the real world and getting surveys from three different groups of people! Here are my steps:
#1: Read pages 76 and 77 of the 4th edition of Self-Management for Actors. Read Bonnie’s great info on doing this. Get your free branding SMFA Hot Sheet. Personally, I wanted to get deeper, so I got the SMFA Essentials: Your Bullseye.
Then take the word list that Bonnie has in there. Xerox 50 copies so it’s only one page front and back. I started by having a few of my acting friends fill it out. But don’t rely on this, they can be somewhat biased, because they might know you and your range of abilities too well.
Side note that is important from my experience: It’s actually easier to tell people to just zip through and circle EVERY word that they think can fit. It’s much faster and less work for them to do that. If you tell them to only circle 10 words, or 15 words, it’s more difficult as they have to stop, think, count, retrace words they now want to change, etc. You will still get fantastic results because certain words will just rise to the top.
#2: Get about 15 people who kind of know you, but don’t really know you intimately — your mail carrier, your tellers at the bank, the security guards at a place where they always say “hi” when you walk in, someone at your coffee shop that serves you every day, the optometrist when you get your glasses or contacts, etc. These will actually be your KEY people.
I can’t express how important it is to get these people. Amazingly, these will be some of the best and most reliable branding you will get. They know you superficially, they know your general energy, but they don’t KNOW you. Exactly what a CD will experience when you walk in a room. Do this!
#3: Go to a mall or public place, where people are hanging out, not in a rush. Just chillin’ Take a friend and have them go up to random strangers.
“Hi. Do you have a few minutes to help me out with an assignment for my sociology class? Great. My class partner and I are doing an assignment where we have to get strangers to typecast us just from looking. She’s sitting over there. Can you circle every word you feel describes her? It’s totally anonymous, and she won’t ever see the papers. It’s my assignment to correlate the information. I’ll come back around and collect these in 5 or 10 minutes. Take your time and thanks so much”!
Some people are happy to do it, and others will just say no. Don’t worry; keep moving. Then, have a large manila envelope. When someone is finished, take it and fold it in half, and put it in the envelope.
This gives people the feeling that it is truly anonymous and they can be honest. You can even do this simultaneously with your SMFA friend (she is having others do the survey about YOU). It works really well when two ninjas do this together!
You can also do this by yourself if it works on-brand for you. It won’t work for everyone, but it worked very well for me, because people had a moment to feel my energy and hear my voice. Just make sure that you have that manila envelope, and let them see that you are folding it up and not looking as you put it in. Make it clear that it’s anonymous.
#4: Combine all 50 of these, and there will be 10 to 15 words from EVERYONE that will unquestionably stand out! Unbiased. I have also found that sometimes there can be words that are very close or similar in meaning or feeling. Combine those into one word, or a bridge word that encompasses them both. Add those together for the numbers. (My example was goofy and dorky. Both are essentially the same for my specific branding, so I combined those into one.)
#5: Do a word cloud on it and hang it up where you can see it every day.
Narrow it down even more. Really look at the words that are an easy selling point for brand YOU — what you naturally are when you walk in the room. If your top words are super generic, then see if there are even more words near the top that can be combined into a great descriptive word that sells even better. Put the rest on the backburner.
There is your entire base… your starting point. This works amazingly well and helps you get so focused. But you must do the homework. Do it and you will find the words that describe your brand it’ll feel just right, and you will have no question that it is your solid bullseye! This is how I did it, so I share my technique with you all. See you at the bank!
Rock on! Stennar, I love this whole multi-tiered approach, as it shows that we’re not ever looking for some guru to give us the “answer” about how we’re seen but instead using a TON of information to track patterns that make it clear what’s resonating with people (and buyers are, in fact, people). Simple, straightforward, badass as heck. Thank you, sir!
About Stennar Strom
After working during his teenage and young adult years in commercials, television, and film, Stennar Strom decided that he wanted to venture outside his young life spent in front of the camera and gain some world experience. He took a break to work in the music industry, magazine, and corporate world, and as a producer and consultant for the independent film industry he won some songwriting and production awards along the way. During his time in New York, he met his wonderful wife. Stennar traveled the country and lived amazing adventures — getting married in a castle and starting a family. Through all of this, his life has led happily back to acting. In the two years since getting back into it, he’s booked commercial, theatrical, and improv roles. All in alignment with his unique charming goofball dorkinator brand!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/plus/pov/2015/04/branding_branding_branding.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the managing editor’s personal archive.