Do you ever look at a blog and think, "Wow. That person has it all together. That person writes a real blog"? I guarantee you, its because they've spent time thinking about their brand. And by brand, I don't mean that the blogger is selling you anything, but that she/he knows the focus of their blog and executes that focus well. Today I want to discuss branding - why you need it, when you need it, and how to make it happen. So if you're a new blogger or looking to formalize your online writings -- please continue.
Personal Branding, the last great narcissistic adventure
Sometime a few years ago, when the economy tanked and collegiate fairytale endings stopped, a group of Mad Men discovered that if you market yourself well enough, you'll still get the job you want. Part of this is true - much of personal branding is discovering your strengths and focusing on them when you apply and interview for jobs. This is good; this is real-world self reflection that can help you. But then there is the other side of this fad. Personal branding quickly turned into this narcissistic monster of a concept where you turn you're whole being into something you're not. Think Lady Gaga and her constant, "I really do live this way every minute of my life." We know you take your heels off to sleep Gaga, really. Personal branding became selling yourself, even if there was nothing to sell.
This is not what we want. Blogging is about sharing, not selling. And branding your blog is allowing the reader to recognize when your thoughts are being shared. We want people to know who's opinion they're trusting when they see your logo or hear your blog's name.
Enter a real world example - our little Rusty here. (Just Rusty, without the MM feature.) In a determined move NOT to categorize what I do, or what I do well here at Rusty, I've never really created a personal brand. I didn't feel the need. I'm not selling anything; if anything, I would be selling my opinion, and opinions don't cost much. So in that way, Rusty is simply a "personal blog" that I write for fun and doesn't need a serious branding concept. But Manhattan to Maine? When you hear those words, when you see its logo, I want readers to know what that means. I want MM to be a presence, not just an online antidote journal.
So what if you want your blog to be something more? What if you want to make your blog a part of your working life? Ladies and Gentleman, this is where you brand.
When you blog becomes your business
Branding is a wide concept. Its the overall jour de vivre of your "business" (we're just going to say blog from now on): it can be the look, what you write about, your logo, etc. But first things first - once you've created your own place on the web, or are positive you want to create one, you must have a focus, and specific parameters on how you are going to maintain and further that focus.
I know, its like those horrible thesis statements in high school. Sometimes I think that the school system makes you loath the key concepts that would help you most in life. Case in point - a good thesis statement. In a general sense, a thesis statement is just a statement of purpose, or the mission/goal of your "paper". You have to have one; or you have nothing. And then you ramble -- and some people can ramble for pages. The same is true of a blog. Without a clear focus, a clear mission, bloggers will tend to ramble through their favorite things without any real rhyme, reason, or dedication (sound familiar??). When creating a blog that you want to become "your company" a mission statement is an absolute must.
So lets take 5-10 minutes and write a mission statement.What is the mission of your blog? And be honest. You're not getting a grade for this one. If its as simple as providing your take on current fashion trends or highlight breathtaking travel photos, that's okay. Its your blog. You have to love what you write about. Now if you already have a mission statement, go proof read :) We all can use a good proof read once in a while. Here, let me show you Manhattan to Maine's:
Manhattan to Maine strives to highlight and provide design elements, tutorials, and dialogue for/on personal branding, blogging, and social media. We are dedicated to making your online extras as elegant and clean as the Manhattan skyline with the warmth and rustic soul of Maine.Now from that mission statement we are going to take 2-3 key words. Those words are your goals, your focuses, they will be the foundations, not just of your blog, but your brand. It is your who, what, and how. This statement is just as much for you as it is for the reader. For example, in reading MM's mission I am reminded what I will provide the reader (design elements, tutorials, and dialogue), the subjects I will cover (branding, blogging, and social media), and how I will do this (with a fusion style of Manhattan and Maine).
Your words should reflect the who, what, and how. My 3 key words would be - provide, dialogue, and elegant. Your statement can be general, but must have a who, what, and how. Otherwise, we're right back where we started.
Your mission statement should direct what you blog about. Thus, if your blog mission statement is to bring up-and-coming fashions to your reader, your posts should be about fashion. Now your blog becomes more than you're personal musings; you have a direction and will follow it accordingly with your content.
Branding a blog is all about the look
Once you have your mission statement, then you are able to focus on the superficial side (I say this with love) of blog branding - your layout, your header, your logo, your look.
Pick an image that you think embodies your blog. From this image we are going to take colors, traits, and proportions and pepper them throughout your layout. While there are finer points to an overall blog layout, consistency of image and theme are always the most important. Your header is going to be the first thing people see; and your logo will be what they share across the internet. Think of this image as what your blog embodies.
From the image above: you see I'm highlighting New England nautical with elegant lines and I've pulled some colors that I want to use for the blog layout. Sticking with a few specific colors, or sticking with a few specific ways you edit photos will help keep your blog looking consistent. Once your blog posts are focused AND your images are consistent, you'll really have the start of something beautiful.
The application of this image and color platte to your blog is a WHOLE different discussion and demands a little bit of photoshop and CSS time. The point for our purposes it that you now have a definite point of view and image for your blog.
What we can learn from print branding
Have a logo. Have a button. Have an image with a tagline. You have to give your reader a reference point. You have to give them the option of an image to post on their own blog. While this somehow went the way of obscurity after fanlistings.org crumbled, its still an important tool to provide.
Allow you logo some versatility. That way, if you do get a little bored with it, or your logo is looking out-dated, the change to something new is less dramatic for the reader. Now I'm going to show a little bit of my comic book geek side. Last month, DC Comics announced their much anticipated logo redesign. Most boy bloggers are in hate with it, but I think the new logo is simple, versatile, and speaks to what DC does best - Iconic Characters.
I love the idea that the logo's typography stays the same, while its coloration and accents are adaptable to the comic they are printed on. The humdrum "D" is pulled away to unveil the extraordinary within. I think we all could learn a little mystery from the new DC logo.
The wrap up
Once you have your blog branded you can apply your mission principles and design colors to all other social media associated with your blog. You know, the facebook, the twitter, the instagram, the tumblr...the list goes on and on.
Blogging is essentially a Bohemian ideology. We write because we love to; we write and place it online because we know the power of shared experience; and we read others blogs because there is just something deliciously voyeuristic about reading someone else's life. But when you want your blog to be more than just your personal musings, that's where the real work begins. And branding your blog (remember blog="business") early on, will save you a good deal of frustration, confusion, and time; then you can focus on what's important: the content.