Blog Branding: Grab Your Blog By the Horns and Brand It Like a Cowboss
Photo credit: Kipp Baker
Without branding, your blog is like a cow.
That’s right. Just another domesticated ox blending into a huge herd of blogs, trudging across the internet plains.
Sorry if this offends. What I’m trying to say is that your blog might actually be a gorgeous stallion that nobody notices because you haven’t branded her.
First impressions matter in our regular offline world. The first impression is even more important online. People will on average leave a web page within 10-20 seconds if something doesn’t catch their eye of interest.
If you have seen a large herd of cattle before, you know it can be extremely difficult to tell one cow from another. They all look alike, blending together en mass. Their moos mixing together into one giant blob of bovine noise.
Blogs are like cows. That’s why you need to brand’em.
You Wanna Be a Cowboy? (Metaphorically Speaking)
That’s why cattle ranchers started “branding” their cows back in the 19th century. They had to figure out a way to set apart their cows so they were unique and identified with their own ranch, not another ranch.
So they started creating their own unique image using a hot iron leaving this stamp of identity directly on the cow. Basically like a logo, although that term wasn’t used till more recently.
Today, bloggers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of branding their blog (their business). Even bloggers who aren’t using their blogs to make money still want to find ways to help their blog stand out from the crowd.
Great content is a huge factor but more is needed to stand apart from the herd. Like a healthy cow that produces lots of delicious milk, without branding, you stay anonymous. Unknown.
Don’t Get Burned in the Branding Process
Before you start “branding” your blog, you need to be careful. As branding continues to evolve from corporations to individuals, you need to go about this in the right way or you’ll fry your reputation (personal brand). This can happen quickly.
“It’s easier to brand Oz than the wizard behind the curtain.” – Katherine Kotaw
In her blog article Cows are Smarter than CEOs: The Scorching Truth About Branding, Expert Marketing Strategist and Branding Coach Katherine Kotaw had this to say:
“It used to be that those of us in marketing and public relations primarily branded companies. We let the people who ran the companies live in comfortable obscurity. We trotted them out for the occasional press conference or charity benefit and, as long as they kept to their scripted lines, we forgot about them until the next photo op or annual meeting.
[Today,] If your business or career depends on the Internet, branding yourself is essential. Branding creates an identify that resonates with your audience and builds a voice that connects with and influences your target group. Even the basic elements of Internet marketing — SEO and traffic — are influenced by content such as blogs and guest posts. So you can’t really escape branding.
But it doesn’t have to be excruciatingly painful. And it can actually be a lot of fun — and a financial goldmine. If Donald Trump had kept his mouth shut and made real estate deals behind closed doors, he’d have become a wealthy man. He’s a smart investor and savvy negotiator. But would he have become a billionaire without branding himself as an overbearing egomaniac?
He didn’t bet on it. Trump understands the value of his public reputation. You should understand — and grow — the value of your public persona.”
I find this to be true for me with Build Your Own Blog. No, not the overbearing egomaniac part. Just the importance of me being a part of the branding.
Yes, this website provides helpful information, yet ultimately it’s a business (gasp!).
I’m an integral part of this business. I can see plenty of evidence that my blog readers want more than just the Build Your Own Blog brand identity. They want to connect with the human being behind the blog. I see this all the time—people email me at times just to say hello. Sometimes people pour their heart out to me. They share their struggles and their triumphs with me because I can give them the feedback they crave.
It’s difficult to engage with a blog or a box of cereal. Those who follow Build Your Own Blog want to get to know Matthew Loomis. Sometimes, people will shoot me an email or Instant Message and I can tell they just want to check behind the curtain and see if this Matthew guy is there and will actually respond. They want to see if I’m really who I say I am.
It’s taken some time and effort to get my blog branding (and my personal branding as a blogger) to where it is today. And it is still a work in progress. Always will be. Branding is never finished. Things change. And branding has to adjust to change or the blog dies.
What You Need to Do to Brand Your Blog Like a Boss
You can put away the hot irons. Branding your blog won’t hurt anyone, man or beast, if done well.
Let’s look at how you go about branding your blog.
The first thing you need to do is answer two important questions…
1. What is the purpose of your blog?
When your blog readers don’t understand the purpose of your blog, they will leave without subscribing to you, buying whatever you are selling…they probably won’t even bookmark you. That can be frustrating for a blogger.
When your blog has a clear brand that’s strong and compelling, you will see a big shift in how your visitors behave. They will start to bookmark, subscribe and buy whatever you offer.
This includes YOUR purpose as the writer of the blog content. Again, readers want to know who is writing the content. If Build Your Own Blog simply published content without any byline or mention of who wrote the content, this would not help to build trust with readers.
People want context. They want to know if a real person has actually experienced what they’re reading. Now this doesn’t mean you have to reveal every little detail of your life. You get to determine the amount of personal stories and private facts. How transparent you are strongly ties into the second question you need to ask yourself…
2. Who is your audience?
If you have been following me for awhile you know how important the answer to this question is. I’ve talked about it on several different blog posts here and also on other blogs.
Getting to know your audience intimately will help make your branding more effective. For example, in Blog Design Charms that Attract & Win Over Visitors I talk about how getting to know your audience really well enables you to make branding choices in your website design that will attract the right people. We’ll get to how design works with branding here shortly, and you will get a better idea on why it’s so important to know your audience.
So as you get to know your audience (by asking them questions in emails, blog posts and social media), you can direct your blog story (brand) to go in directions that meet up with the right audience.
Who are these folks reading my blog? Are they primarily male or female? Are they married? Single? What hobbies to they enjoy? What types of work do they do?
Branding can and should be fun for you. There’s a lot of creativity involved, and since most bloggers are creative, this should be right up your alley.
How to Find the Perfect Name for Your Blog
Sometimes people come up with a clever blog name and fall in love with it so much, they go forward and buy the domain and use it before taking any time to analyze the situation.
Here are some tips to help you determine a great name for your blog.
- Decide your niche.
Of course your topic will greatly influence your blog name. I suggest focusing your blog on one main topic for the sake of clarity for you visitors and for the search benefits.
- Snap up a domain name that matches your blog. This makes it easy for folks to recall your blog and find you online. I cover a lot of ground on domains over on this post.
- Use Google to make sure your name is unique. Pretty self-explanatory step here. Because even if you find a domain available that you like, it might be too similar to a competitor’s blog. To avoid any trademark hassles or inadvertently sending traffic their way, you are best off to choose a blog name that is original and memorable.
- Name the blog something that captures its heart and spirit. A name that people love or respond to is a good choice. If it’s easy to recall, easy to spell, that’s what you want. If your business name and/or a keyword is included, that’s golden.
- Choose a name that’s clear, concise and compelling. With my blog, when you hear Build Your Own Blog, most people immediately have a pretty clear idea what the blog is about. What about your blog name? Sometimes people choose a name that’s way too vague. “The Right Stuff” could be about anything. “The Right Dog For You” clearly communicates its objective.
After your name is set, you can hone in on your blog message.
How to Determine Your Blog Message
Once you know clearly what the purpose is for your blog and who your audience is specifically, moving on to determine your blog message becomes much easier.
Some blog messages are easier to define than others.
For example, Build Your Own Blog has a definite message that is clear from the title. Everything we communicate somehow connects with creating a thriving, effective blog platform. Knowing our purpose (helping people start a blog and find success blogging) makes our message simple to define. The purpose is identified right away in my domain name (Build Your Own Blog). So knowing your blog message will also help you find the right domain name. (More on this later.)
Other blogs might be a little more challenging to define.
A blog that is focused on “the weather” could go in many directions. Narrowing down “weather” can lead to a niche blog on topics like Tsunamis, Drought Conditions, Weather Forecasts for Travelers, or even Cheesy Weathermen from the 1970s.
Defining your message is important because you want your blog message to be consistent. The blogs that tend to be unfocused and all over the place in their content oftentimes are this way because they don’t have their blog message determined.
Consistency is super important for branding. What if the Pepsi brand suddenly began targeting vegans in their online marketing and changed their message to attract them? Or what if a blog about pet adoptions sprinkled in blog posts on hunting a few times per month? These are two absurd examples, but they get the point across on why your branding needs to be consistent once its found.
Once you’re ready to begin telling your brand message, that’s when your writing voice comes into play.
How to Find Your Writing Voice
Every blogger who has been writing for six months or more can tell you how their writing voice changed over time—I can look back and see how my posts were different in the first month compared to the sixth. And you can definitely see a difference in my writing voice six years ago compared to today.
Finding your voice will take some time for most of you reading this…the more you write, the quicker you will find your voice. Your writing flow will get smoother and easier along the way.
One of the best ways to find your voice is to “write like nobody is reading.”
You may have seen this famous inspirational quote by William Purkey: “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, love like you’ll never get hurt, sing like nobody’s listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.” This is a great approach to finding your voice—not only your writing voice but your blog voice that includes video, podcasts, photos, etc.
Here’s how I would rephrase this quote so a blogger can really relate to it:
“You’ve gotta write content like there’s nobody reading, engage with readers like you’ll never be hurt, produce videos and podcasts like there’s nobody listening, and blog like it’s heaven on earth.” – me
In other words: Take the filter off! Release your brakes!
However you say it, the point is to say what’s really on your mind. Hold nothing back. Most successful bloggers will tell you this is where they made huge leaps forward in finding their authentic voice.
Many bloggers start out imitating established writers and focusing a lot on copy formatting. You probably will too at first. All in the learning curve.
Eventually, you will find your blog voice. And maybe discover a little more about who YOU are.
The Jeff Goins Exercise to Finding Your Voice
Author and blogger Jeff Goins wrote 10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice where he provided some simple exercises to help new bloggers find their voice.
Here are the first seven…
- Describe yourself in three adjectives. Example: snarky, fun, and flirty.
- Ask (and answer) the question: “Is this how I talk?”
- Imagine your ideal reader. Describe him in detail. Then, write to him, and only him. [You can do better than imagining your idea reader by creating something called “personas” for your blog. These are profiles of your target audience, created by finding out information on your audience like demographics, likes and dislikes, then creating a persona from that information. I’ve shared on how bloggers can use personas in articles like
- Jot down at least five books, articles, or blogs you like to read. Spend some time examining them. How are they alike? How are they different? What about how they’re written intrigues you? Often what we admire is what we aspire to be. Example: Copyblogger, Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Ernest Hemingway, and C.S. Lewis. I like these writers, because their writing is intelligent, pithy, and poignant.
- List your favorite artistic and cultural influences. Are you using these as references in your writing, or avoiding them, because you don’t think people would understand them. Example: I use some of my favorite bands’ music in my writing to teach deeper lessons.
- Ask other people: “What’s my voice? What do I sound like?” Take notes of the answers you get.
- Free-write. Just go nuts. Write in a way that’s most comfortable to you, without editing. Then go back and read it, asking yourself, “Do I publish stuff that sounds like this?
If you need the final three techniques, check it out on Jeff’s helpful blog.
Why Consistency of Appearance is Important to Blog Branding
Brand consistency in your website design is also important. Here we are talking about the visual aspects to your branding, things like color, fonts, your logo, etc.
In a nifty little book called Skill With People by Les Giblin, one of the human insights pointed out is this telling data:
How We Learn (And Buy)
83% Through Sight
11% Through Hearing
3% Through Smell
1.5% Through Touch
1% Through Taste
So be sure to put some strategy into the visual part of your branding.
Have you noticed the consistency found in big brands?
Coca-Cola hasn’t changed their logo in over a hundred years. You don’t see them using a logo with a red background one year and then a yellow background the next year and a blue background with green script another year. McDonalds has never changed the “golden arches” into the “magenta arches.”
Why? Consistency is important for several psychological reasons…
Consistency is what people expect after you have achieved “brand recognition.” Once you win over your consumers and your blog branding is “burned” into the heart and mind of your readers, they will come to know what to expect from you in general.
Whether you design your blog personally or hire a designer, the strategy should be to design your blog brand that stays within the consistent guidelines of the branding. So if you’re a new startup online pet store focused on reptiles as pets, you wouldn’t want to give them a blog that looks inviting to the cute, cuddly kitty/puppy shopper.
Consistency will develop over time—either positively or negatively. A lack of consistency is actually producing a consistent “belief” about your brand in an audience’s mind. If you consistently provide a useful, visually pleasing infographic “every Sunday,” that’s an example of positive branding. If you brand your blog as a great place to pick up delicious soul food recipes and include professional looking photos of the dishes, but then post a few political memes on your site as well—that’s brand inconsistency.
That’s also a big turnoff.
How does design contribute to brand consistency?
The feelings our design elements provoke in people visiting our blog is a huge factor. The blog/website design is only one piece of the visual branding tapestry. We will get to the logo in a moment. Then there are other things like the letterhead, what font to use to evoke specific feelings, and so on.
If your blog covers a serious topic, you want to create branding that gives off that feeling. Is the purpose of your blog to make people feel happy? Be sure to only select branding elements that lead to feelings of happiness.
If you can afford to invest in the hiring of a designer, I thing that’s a good idea if you’re not a professional and know little about branding. You can help the designer you are working with understand your branding ideas by creating a mood board on Pinterest. I wrote about this practice and how to do it in Blog Design Charms that Attract & Win Over Visitors.
How to Find the Best Colors for YOUR Blog or Website
Now I’m not a designer by trade, so like you, I’ll sometimes seek out information from a blog designer who knows her stuff.
Marianne Manthey wrote a helpful blog post called Ultimate Guide to Choosing Colors for Your Blog or Website. As you think about your blog branding, consider what she says about color:
“Colors should match the mood of your site and combinations should be well thought out.
There is also a balance to picking colors that not only please you, but serve your audience as well.”
Here are some great professional tips on blog design found in her article:
- Stick to a 3 color palette aside from black, grey and white. Using more than three colors becomes distracting and uncomfortable to the eyes
- Select two main colors that look great together, then choose a third color as your accent
- This step of choosing your blog colors is best made after your logo is designed to help keep your brand consistent. If you don’t have a logo or the logo has no color in it, this means you will need to put more thought into the color selection.
If you need help choosing a color palette, check out 10+ Spectacular Tools for Color Palette Inspiration on Marianne’s blog as well. You’ll find some helpful tools to finding a trio of colors that your audience will love.
Next Up: The Logo
What exactly is a logo anyway?
Business Dictionary dot com defines “logo” as…
Recognizable and distinctive graphic design, stylized name, unique symbol, or other device for identifying an organization. It is affixed, included, or printed on all advertising, buildings, communications, literature, products, stationery, and vehicles. Not to be confused with a brand, this identifies a product or family of products. Also called logotype.
This definition applies to a blog logo as well. In fact, placing the word “blog” in the right spots can help get the point across on what a logo can do for your blog. Here’s my own revised definition of a blog logo:
Recognizable and distinctive graphic design, stylized name, unique symbol, or other device for identifying a blog. It is affixed, included, or printed on all blog advertising, social media, products, and services. Not to be confused with a brand, a logo identifies a blog or family of websites. Also called logotype.
Here are a couple of well known logos you have probably seen at some point:
Now here are a couple of examples of a blog or website logo:
How to Create a Logo
Even if you are a blogger who has no interest in the business potential of your blog, and you just want to blog for fun, a great looking logo can help your blog to stick in people’s memory and ultimately grow your readership.
Your logo is supposed to make your blog stand out like a mustang amongst cows.
To accomplish this, here are some things to keep in mind with logo design before I get to my list of tools to help you create a logo.
Memorable = Simple
A complex logo typically is not memorable. Keep things real simple. Only 1-2 colors. 3 at most. Your shapes and images should tie into your brand personality and make your blog stand out.
How are you going to express the essence of your blog?
Seasoned copywriter Jim Morris says you need to know your brand’s essential, differentiating aspect, characteristic, benefit, appeal first before branding. Jim has coined the term DIFFERESSENCE to this important aspect to your brand. Here’s what makes your brand different: YOU. What’s your story and how does your personality shine through in this story we call branding?
Your logo must fit appropriately with your blog. A serious blog on human trafficking is going to need a different type of logo than a cupcake blog. One needs a serious, professional logo while the other could be fun and casual.
If your blog covers the topic of cell phone technology and you create a logo with today’s most modern cell phone in the logo, will that image be outdated five years from now? Your goal should be endless relevance when creating your blog. Brands like Starbucks or Nike haven’t changes their logo in decades. Coca Cola hasn’t in over a century. Think timeless.
The best logos work well in many different contexts.
- As a blog header
- On a billboard
- On a business card
- On social media (Facebook cover photo. Twitter profile pic. Etc.)
Sometimes it’s a good idea to ask for help if you want a professional looking logo.
The ideal way to create a stellar logo for your blog would be to hire a professional designer. Someone who specializes in logos or at least has a portfolio with some quality logos included.
Let’s face it, there are things about design most new bloggers know nothing about and don’t have the time to learn. So if your budget allows, consider hiring someone you know who has done logo design, or get a referral from someone you know.
This is what I have done over the past couple of years with three websites, including Build Your Own Blog. They all turned out great. Much better than anything I could have done on my own.
I strongly suggest NOT creating a logo yourself using clip art. Sure it may not cost you any money, but it will cost you dearly in your blog’s credibility, attractiveness, branding, and marketability.
If a professional designer is just not something you can afford, maybe you know a designer who would make a bartering agreement with you? Perhaps you could exchange his work for some blog articles or web copy?
If there is just no way you can hire a designer , consider turning to these other affordable sources…
3 Cool, Low Cost Logo Tools That Won’t Break Your Budget
Awhile back I wrote a blog post called Your New Blog Needs a Logo. Should You Use Fiverr?
When you read it, you might think I’m opposed to Fiverr. Actually I’m not at all. Be sure to read my take on Fiverr because you’ll see the point of my story is to be picky when choosing who to work with on Fiverr. A good referral or word-of-mouth testimony you can trust is the key to success here. There are some great people on Fiverr, including some talented logo designers. Just be sure to read my experience using this website so you won’t repeat my mistakes.
And then to get tips on specific ways to use Fiverr successfully, check out Fiverr Success Secrets: How a Chainsaw Juggler Can Build Your Blog Business on my blog, written by John Breese.
If you are the type of person who has a strong DIY spirit and you have the funds to buy it, you may want to learn Photoshop. Personally I haven’t used it, but I’ve researched it and it is something you could learn if you have the time.
Sometimes a text only logo makes the best logo if it fits your branding. Build Your Own Blog is a text only logo with the “O” in “Own” serving as a symbol of the brand. If you want to your own text logo without spending a nickel (this is FREE), check out Cooltext.com. You get to choose your font, colors and effect.
Using Social Media to Brand Your Blog
Most people reading this are going to want to use at least one or more social media platforms to promote their blog posts. Branding is important when using social media with your blog. You want everything you do and say on social media to accurately reflect the purpose and voice of your blog (a.k.a. branding.) Here are some tips that will help you convert social media followers into blog subscribers and customers.
Consistent Messaging Applies to Social Media
- – Your voice on the blog should also be on social media. Be sure to speak in ways that engage your audience. If your blog has a professional tone, you will want to not stray much from that tone on social media. If your brand is recognizable in all locations then you’re doing it right.
Consistent Design and Colors On Every SM Account
- – Remember how we covered the power colors have on emotions? This is why you want to keep your brand colors in social media. With your Facebook and Google+ banner photos and Twitter backgrounds, you want to upload design elements that integrate your logo colors and design of your site into these platforms. If a visitor doesn’t recognize your blog brand when they visit your social media channel, you will probably lose them.
Use Consistent Profile Photos/Avatar
- s – Using a different image for each social media profile hinders people from connecting with you. One quality photo of yourself used across the board (I do this) will leave a lasting imprint in the minds of your followers. They will know who you are instantly when you stay consistent with your iconography.
Don’t stretch yourself too thin with too many social sites
- – The time you have to produce new content (blog posts) should be your most valued time. Going beyond 2 to 4 social sites can spiral out of control for one person, especially as more people over time engage with you and expect a response. You want to engage with your social followers. So unless you have some help here, I would only focus on 2, maybe at most 4 social media sites. I primarily focus on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can find me on Pinterest and Instagram, but they are not a regular priority for me at this time. Go where your audience is. If your blog audience loves Pinterest, then you should focus on Pinterest as a place to promote your blog.
Social media can and should be fun for you. If you will apply some self-discipline here combined with smart strategy. You get what you put into social media. Using it requires consistency—which leads to solid branding.
For more tips and tricks on using social media to promote your blog brand, check out my Step 6: Marketing Your Blog
Blog Branding Wrap Up
How is your blog branding going? What is something you want to change? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Please include a link to your blog so the rest of us can check out your blog branding!