Using a pen name versus your real name for publishing a blog or articles online has its pros and cons—
— like everything else in marketing (and life).
At first blush it might seem like a trivial question. After all, you probably like your real name and so do your friends. When you started out, they were your first audience and re-training them could be a real pain. (Forget about bringing your mother around to using a new name.) And, as you get older (ahem), you might have trouble remembering a new one — which could get to be embarrassing.
Reasons to Consider using a Pen Name
But there are good reasons to consider using a pen name or pseudonym.
Take the case of Martha Kostyra. Hardly a celebrity… at least by that name. But as Martha Stewart she's done pretty well. Would she have done so well by the original name? Maybe, maybe not. It's not all in the name, of course. Martha would have been a success no matter what her name. But every little bit helps.
That example suggests a wider point about the issue: a name can become a brand. When you've reached a certain level of success in affiliate marketing (or any other business), you find people associating your name not only with you as a person, but with your company or business. The whole collection of your sites (or some subset) might take on the same aura by result of the name linked to them.
There are exceptions, of course.
There's no Mr. Google. (Thank heavens!) But the company name Estée Lauder was formed from the founder's name. The name Ralph Lauren is associated not only with a rich, good looking guy; it also names a multi-million dollar business that brings in more money than it might if it were called Ralph Lifshitz. Somehow the latter just doesn't conjure up quite the same images of elegance and sophistication.
Not into those niches? Fine. How about Tiger Woods golf clubs or Tim Allen tools? Those businesses are aimed at a totally different markets and they generate strong associations with what they sell. A huge part of marketing is all about creating those associations, after all.
That last idea points to one of the main reasons a name can be so important: targeting. It helps to have different names to associate with different areas.
As an affiliate, you're always going after a particular audience. They may overlap: car buyers also shop for HDTVs, cameras, and computers. But if you're trying to market perfume and jewelry, you're after a different crowd. Make sure the name you choose sounds appropriate for that niche. If your real name serves that purpose well, more power to you. Otherwise, you might consider selecting one that does the job a little bit better.
Beware Trademark Issues
Still, beware some of the basics of copyright and trademarks.
You might write articles to supply content for a great golf affiliate site. You should not co-opt (read: steal) the name Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus. They're well known and you can actually suffer negative word-of-mouth that way. You can even enter a gray area where you are stepping on someone's trademark and lawsuits are expensive, time consuming, and a major hassle. Even when the issue doesn't rise to that level, just taking the time to respond to a lawyer's threatening letter by changing your site is trouble you don't want.
Something that sounds similar can't hurt. John Nichols probably works better than Jascha Mashkallore, since there are fewer Albanian golfers around. Of course, if your real name happens to be Jack Nicklaus, you might consider using a pen name instead for that reason. (Unless, by chance, you actually are Jack Nicklaus, in which case by all means use it!)
If you have a blog to advertise a particular niche (as you should), you might think it's fun to use one of those cute pen names like WhiskeyPundit or WineGuru. If you're a super-affiliate for a spirits or wine merchant there might be some value to that choice. But at some point and some place (and probably very soon and very prominently) you should associate that name with your real or chosen pen name, because in essence you're using that moniker as a brand name.
Think Long Term
Whichever decision you ultimately make, make sure it's something you can live with for the long term.
Remember that your goal is to make money. Remember, too, that one of the best ways to do that is to diversify your activities. You build sites. You create blogs. You advertise them to build an audience. Sooner or later, if you become well known, you'll get invited to speak at a conference. That action-which you should welcome as an opportunity to network and thereby expand your business contacts and your business-can put you in a tricky position if you haven't prepared in advance.
If you've chosen more than one name to represent you (say, in order to associate the name with a particular niche), you don't want to show up and be known both as Tiger Walds and John Nichols. That could be embarrassing. If you think you can head that problem off at the pass by accepting one invitation and declining the other, think again. Turning down invitations too often can lead to not getting invited again, unless of course (again) you actually are Tiger Woods.
But multiple names can work out. Many a writer who was talented (or lucky) enough to have made the New York Times Bestseller list uses more than one pen name. Jean Plaidy and Victoria Holt are well-known to her readers as the same person. She uses the different names to distinguish her books for marketing purposes. Historical novels got one moniker, contemporary romance got another. She's not alone in that practice by any means, either. Mystery writers do it all the time, especially when they want to publish a book in another genre. That's branding applied to writing.
When to Abandon a Pen Name
Again, think about the long term because, unfortunately, there may be times when you'll want to abandon a name. Tread with care.
Even writers who have made the New York Times Bestseller list sometimes find their careers fading. Their name becomes associated with a product that is just no longer hot. Tom Clancy's sales aren't what they were 15 years ago. The same can easily happen to affiliates who find a certain niche popularity decreasing as the culture changes. (Still pushing those Pet Rocks and lava lamps? Give it up.)
Former bestselling writers sometimes are able to reboot their ratings by a name change. It means building an audience again, but they still have the skills that got them to the top before and are confident they can do it again. But that's not something you want to have to do unless… well, you have to do it. Affiliates can learn from that example.
There's the flip side of the coin, too: being ‘too successful'. You want to be a success, and being well known is both cause and consequence, at least in part. But you can reasonably enough want a level of anonymity. No one is (or should be) an affiliate marketer 24/7.
Even apart from such less likely scenarios involving stalkers, you might just want to go on vacation without rubbing shoulders with those who know you only online. In the real world you can have a bad hair day – which you won't care too much about in the wilds of Borneo – but it would be good if the gossips didn't know you well enough to report the fact back home.