These days, it is common knowledge that branding is an essential tool for building a successful, sustainable enterprise -- but what does that mean if your business is you? To answer this question, I scoured the land of independent-publishers-turned-savvy-branders to ask the best of the business to share their insights on what it takes to create and sustain their successful brands.
As many of you know, well-executed branding can ensure a consumer chooses your product over all others, though the others may be incredibly similar. The classic example of this is the powerful brand of Coke. People around the world choose Coke over other types of cola, which taste virtually the same due to one single differentiator: branding. Coke has perfected its brand over a century by ensuring its products stand for consistency and enjoyment while visually being equated to these feelings. The results of its successful branding can be seen today, where Coke is reportedly recognized by 94 percent of the world's population.
In the past few years we've seen the explosion of personal blogs. In fact, WordPress keeps a handy counter on its website that shares the number of WordPress sites in the world -- its count is up to 73 million. And that is just one -- albeit the largest -- platform. Many of these voices are clambering for the same audience and must look to branding as a key differentiator that will help them stand out in a crowd.
The challenge for most publishers is that the process of branding can feel uncomfortable because you're spending lot of time thinking about yourself rather than your audience. Most publishers I know would much rather think about their audiences' interests, their next blog posts, or how to improve their photography -- not what their personal brands mean. But most are motivated to overcome these fears of self-promotion once they understand the tremendous benefits of branding. Effective branding means readers will choose to follow a specific blog over all others and, to that blogger, this can mean lasting success.
But what does effective branding entail? I had in-depth conversations with some of the savviest publishers on the web, and here are some of the common themes I heard from them.
Figuring out how to start defining your brand can seem like a daunting task, but it's easier than you think. Just consider what you do well. What unique perspective do you bring to your writing that your audience comes back for again and again? The key here is to be authentic.
Joy Wilson of the highly successful food blog Joy the Baker described defining her brand as "an extension of who I am." She adds: "The written voice is my speaking voice. The visual design is the same aesthetic I'm drawn to on a daily basis. Being true to myself makes creating content feel fun and natural."
Spend as much time as you need here to nail what makes your blog you. Talk with friends and family and ask them to share what they think are your signature traits and then compare that to what you're passionate about -- even ask your audience! What resonates with all parties will emerge as your brand. Still need some inspiration? Check out the blogs you're frequently compared to and identify how you're different from them. Use these differences to help you define what your brand represents.
You've talked to family and friends. You've researched your competitors. Now what? It's time to ensure you're representing your brand in all aspects of your work, all the time. Which brings us to our next best practice -- be consistent.
John Shankman, publisher of The Awl, has garnered a loyal audience for his brand. His secret? Stay committed. "Building a publishing brand is about producing great media that entertains and informs," Shankman said. "It should come from an authentic voice that readers appreciate -- from there the brand naturally develops as you stay committed to that mantra."
Similarly, My Modern Metropolis, an online destination for art enthusiasts and trend spotters, has found that its beautiful visuals drive its readers back to the site. Co-founder Alice Yoo shared the importance of brand consistency. "It's important because people learn to trust and connect with you on a deeper level," Yoo said. "Visitors know that they can expect to see beautiful photography, clever design, and incredible art that will inspire them when they come to our site."
Your readers return to your site for a reason -- they expect high-quality content as conveyed through the lens of your brand. Give this to them, and you will continue to bring them back again and again. If your blog offers candid and humorous reviews of the latest devices, then stick with this -- veering off to suddenly provide reviews in a dry analytical way will just alienate your audience. Joy the Baker underscores this point: "If I jump around from topic to topic, and my tone changes with my mood, it'll be really confusing for the reader to understand what my brand's voice and perspective is." So bottom line, be consistent in your style and voice.
Now that you've identified your brand and consistently implement it in your written word, it's time to translate it into the visual design of your site. All brands strive to be as recognizable as Coke, but that took many years to develop with a lot of designers. Despite this, conveying your brand visually can be a simple gut check of whether your color palette and logo align with the adjectives used to describe your brand. How do the colors of the site make you feel? What does your logo or site font say about your brand?
The good news here is that no matter what, you make the final call on your site's look and feel because it should be authentic to you. Liz Stanley, publisher of the popular women's lifestyle blog Say Yes to Hoboken, said, "The biggest thing for me was staying authentic. My brand was me -- my life, my personality, my hobbies, my likes and dislikes. For the visual design, I worked with a designer to look at all those elements of my personal brand in order to try to create a visual representation of it for others."
The point of carefully tying your site's design with the meaning of your brand is to make it a reliable entity that your readers can count on. (And it doesn't hurt to seek outside design help if you can spare the expense!) The more you can convey what you stand for with just a color or a logo means your brand can reach more people and provide you with what we're all looking for -- fame! Then you can start prepping yourself for speaking opportunities, book deals, and the revenue that comes with it. Not bad, right?
If you've followed all of the steps I've outlined, then you are well on your way. But all this great work may go unnoticed if you're not building your audience along the way through proactive measures. Enter the fourth best practice: Be proactive.
All successful publishers know that the key to spreading your brand message is by proactively reminding your readers (and potential readers) to head to your site and check out your content. What better place to do this than with social media heavy hitters Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest? With sites like Facebook bringing more than 900 million users to its pages every month, the size of the audience you can potentially reach is enormous. And the best part is that these platforms are designed to make sharing content sticky -- so it's a no-brainer to take advantage of these powerful sites to spread your brand message.
Start out simple by sharing a quick one liner about the blog post you published via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Then spend some time checking out blogs you love and pin content you love to your brand's Pinterest board. Turn these steps into a daily routine so your followers can count on your reminders to view your compelling content. Before you know, it your page views will increase due to the referral traffic you're driving from your social media channels.
The final step on your journey to making your publishing brand a household name is to think big. Be fearless in your pursuit of spreading your brand to the world. Have you ever thought about publishing a book? Speaking in front of audiences? Hosting a show on television? What are the dreams you have for yourself that you don't dare share with others? These dreams should become the goals for your brand because that is how all great things are accomplished. There are scores of publishers who have successfully bridged their publishing brands into all of these areas, and you can too by thinking big. No one ever learns to swim without getting in the water, right? So go ahead -- jump in!
My Modern Metropolis shared its "think big" goals for its brand, including custom mobile and iPad applications.
"We'd like to expand into different platforms," Yoo said. "We're launching My Modern Shop soon, where we'll be selling artwork and photographic prints from artists and photographers who've been featured on our site. By offering more functionality and a deeper experience, we'll be able to better group our followers and partnerships with items we curate."
Sit down and map out your dreams. Start with your ultimate goal and create smaller ones that build up to an end goal. Just the act of writing these down will motivate you to start accomplishing them. And remember: You are the only person who limits you from thinking big and going for it!
Reinforcing and fine-tuning your publishing brand can be an overwhelming feeling. It's like that nerve-wracking moment in a job interview when your possible future employer asks you to describe yourself using only three words, and your brain screams for mercy. However, in this case, you are your own employer, and there is no wrong answer as long as you stay true to who you are as a publisher. By using these practices as a blueprint for self-branding, you'll be amazed by what you can build.
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