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Mark Twain's 10-Sentence Course on Branding and Marketing

by Tom Bentley  |  
July 15, 2013

In this article you'll see how Twain...

  • Recognized the power of celebrity and personality in establishing and spreading a brand
  • Saw early what his audience wanted, and kept giving them more, in endless variation
  • Continued to refine and extend his brand over his lifetime

Quick, what white-suited, stogie-smoking, joke-telling wise guy delayed the publication of his autobiography for 100 years? And how could that bio, produced by a university press at 700+ pages—with more than 200 of them devoted to scholarly footnotes—how could such a moldy thing possibly be a best-seller?

Easy, because the writer made it richly public that the autobiographical materials were too hot to be published in his lifetime.

That, my friends, is marketing.

And the writer, over the long course of his career, became by virtue of rendered personality and poised presentation, the most recognized man in the world.

That, my friends, is branding.

No need to stop to see whether you can come up with the answer, because it's too obvious: Samuel Clemens created the cherished celebrity known as Mark Twain as surely and craftily as he created Huck Finn. The man had "platform" a century before the concept had circulation.

How did Twain get his cred? By skillfully employing the marketing and branding techniques of his time—and making up a few of his own. (Oh, being his country's greatest writer probably did him more than a lick of good, too.)

"In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language." Read that, and you know that Twain knew his way around a good line. If I dragged a net through all 700+ pages of my copy of Twain's autobiography, I could probably find 700 zingers that capture Twain's understanding of his own brand and his marketing.

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Tom Bentley is a business writer, essayist and fiction writer, and author of Think Like a Writer: How to Write the Stories You See. See his lurid website confessions at The Write Word.

LinkedIn: Tom Bentley

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  • by Ann Handley Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Great piece, Tom. I suspect Mark/Samuel would've been all up in blogging and social media!

  • by Mark W. Scherer Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Thank you very much. Very informative and entertaining!

  • by Tim Blake Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Fantastic article Tom. I had never even considered the prospect of Mark Twain as a brand. He was brilliant and so is this article. Can't wait to share it.

  • by Tom Bentley Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Thanks you guys. And Ann, thank you very much for running it. Of course, the article is an object lesson in my writerly cheating: steal the writing of a much better writer than myself. Given Mr. Twain's quotes, the piece almost wrote itself.

  • by Dorothy Shapland Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Excellent Tom! Twain as Brand is just brilliant!

  • by Carole Holden, Gelmtree Advertising Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    What a fun article! I've used Quote #1 as the 'motto' of my marketing/advertising consultancy since its inception in 2005. Love his special "brand" of humor - wouldn't it have been a hoot to know Mr. Clemens personally?

  • by Joel D Canfield Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Your reverence for Clemens serves you well, maestro. Worthy quotes all; worthy of repetition, worthy of application.

    My next read is "A Full Cup" about the first celebrity CEO, Sir Thomas Lipton. It will be illuminating to see parallels with Clemens.

  • by Tom Bentley Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Dorothy, much obliged!

    Carolyn, yes, yes—I've always thought that Twain would be the best dinner guest ever. Though you'd have to wade through the cheap cigar smoke. I smoke cigars myself, but Twain was known to favor the foulest ones. Thanks for the comment.

    Joel, I had to go check out Lipton. I presumed he was the tea-master, but didn't know he was an America's Cup master. I do wonder if the Lipton of today tastes anything like his original tea.

  • by Joel D Canfield Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Funny thing about the man is that for him, it was strictly business: he didn't like tea!

    I don't drink Lipton, but I'll bet way back when, it was pretty good. Nowadays we buy Barry's from Ireland. By the case, actually.

  • by BJ Dooley Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Excellent piece. Twain was also interested in meeting the technology of the day head on (typewriters, for example), focusing upon the most effective current mode of communications, and maximizing impact. Here's mine:

  • by Tom Bentley Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    I'm with you on Twain's interest in tech in his time, BJ. What underlies that is what seems one of his best qualities: he was a curious man, interested in a crazy range of things. Got him into trouble sometimes, but deepened the course of his rare character.

  • by Ira Dember Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Add this Twain gem: "The ancients have stolen our best ideas."

    If you've come up with something new in marketing, chances are someone -- perhaps Twain himself -- did a version of it hundred years ago.

  • by Sally Sisson Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Yet another excellent piece, Tom. Will tweet it out to the masses!

  • by Gracious Store Mon Jul 15, 2013 via web

    Yes indeed "clothes make the man", what a person wears says much about who he/she is

  • by Kirsten Shaw Tue Jul 16, 2013 via web

    Great article, a good read and entertaining!

  • by Alison Jelfs CD/MD Two Lizards Tue Jul 16, 2013 via web

    Hi Tom

    Really enjoyed your latest article, a


    Alisonvery refreshing and 'zippy' style - excellent! However, on going to your site not quite so 'zippy'.. Really wanted to find out more about you and your work as we are always looking for associates to work with but got bored waiting for the site to load! You need help on that one.

  • by Tom Bentley Tue Jul 16, 2013 via web

    Ira, I love that quote—I would have used it had I known about it.

    Sally, Gracious and Kirsten, thanks a lot; I do appreciate your reading and the warm comments.

    Alison, yeah—I am changing the hosting services for my site NOW, and will be messing with it over the next little while. Unfortunately, that happened to coincide with this article's publication. Ahh, timing. Anyway, thanks for the nice comment, and the site should be zippier when all the new nails are hammered in.

  • by Randy Milanovic Wed Jul 17, 2013 via iphone

    Great post.

  • by T.Watson Tue Jul 23, 2013 via web

    Tom, great article. I've always loved Twain, but I never thought of him as a marketer before. Enjoyed the read and insights.

  • by Tom Bentley Tue Jul 23, 2013 via web

    Randy and T., very happy you liked the piece. Maybe I'll have to look out for "Mark Twain's Three Top Twitter Tips."

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