Live Blog: Build Your Brand

Speaker: Amy Nowacoski, Fat Girls CAN Run, @amynowacoski and @FatGirlsCanRun
Session: Get Down to Business: Build Your Brand
Date: Friday, September 21, 2012
Time: 3:45 – 4:30 p.m.
Room: EF

What is a brand? How can branding improve my blog? Can it improve my life?

Amy Nowacoski – lover of Pinterest.com, knitting socks, smoothies, and her pug – touches on all that and more in this interactive workshop. Whether you monetize your blog or not, this session is for you if you want to:

  • Create effective content with ease
  • Make clear decisions about where your blog is going
  • Overcome writer’s block
  • Drive more traffic
  • Increase your presence
  • And, yes, have more fun!

With new adventures always on the horizon, Amy is expanding her business, writing a book, exploring martial arts and, of course, is running her pants off.

Amy: Hi… my name is Amy Nowacoski and I blog and tweet at FatGirlsCanRun.

Today we’re going to talk about building your brand. Who is in the room?

  • How many of you make money off your blog? (Some hands were raised.)
  • How many of you want to? (Most hands were raised.)
  • How many of you blog to advance your career? (Most hands were raised.)
  • How many of you blog just for fun? (Some hands were raised.)

You should all have three pieces of paper in front of you – raise hand if you need to receive them.

We’re going to start by talking about what is a brand:

  • Branding is an ancient concept: Back in the day, it was something you literally put your name on. (For example, you put your name on cow to mark that it belonged to you.)
  • Then, craftspeople put their specific name on their things (pottery wheel, etc.) to differentiate between their work and other craftspeople’s work.
  • Famous artisans needed a way to identify what belonged to them. (ex. Fabergé)
  • Look at these two decorated eggs: One is infinitely more expensive because it holds Fabergé’s mark on it.
  • A brand carries a certain mystique to it.
  • Fabergé eggs are more special because they have his mark.
  • Tiffany – What do they make? Jewelry, silver, clocks (which they don’t make, the clockmaker makes them… The one with the Tiffany name on costs more money… why? The Tiffany’s brand!
  • People associate an experience and emotional connection with a brand. It makes it more valuable.
  • In the 1950s: banding and marketing took off (the “Mad Men” era)
  • Men would sit at a giant table and decide what experience you were going to have about a product. They told you what experience to have.
  • Then along came social media… and the world talked back.

For example: Blogger Robbie’s [audience member] voice has as much, if not more, power than the product has.

Think about the PC and Mac commercial: In that commercial, was the PC’s name ever mentioned? No. But everyone knew it was Microsoft. In that moment, Mac took control of PC’s image, and TO THIS DAY, PC/Microsoft has to compete!

What is a Brand: It is an external perception of who you are and how you do business held by users.

YOU are a brand.

I have a question for you: Do outside people have a perception who you are and what you do? Yes? Then ta-da… you are a brand!

Here is an exercise for you: There is a half sheet next to you. Turn to the person next to you and take a look at their website and evaluate it.

Find someone with a computer. I thought more of you would have a computer with you. So let’s just talk this out. Save the paper to go through the exercise later.

When you visit a website… what do you think and feel? What are you getting from it? What do other people think of your website?

A couple key elements of branding:

  • Know who your target audience is. Companies spend millions of dollars to figure this out. They want to know who they are talking to.
  • Figure out target audience: go to insights, they are your best friend. For example: mostly female? age? Your numbers tell a story… if your page views drop on weekends, maybe they are busy on weekends because they are moms and maybe they are off doing things with children?
  • Sprout Social – hands down best social media management ever created.
  • Create a personification of your brand: favorite color? Age? Develop your “voice” based on your target audience. This is important to know. I am not Fat Girls Can Run (FGCR), FGCR is my brand. You are not your service/product. It exists outside of you.
  • For example: I am crazy about knitting. I knit like a mofo. I feel 17th century when I do it and I love it. FGCR is not a knitter. Think: If your brand is a person: what would they look like? Think about? What would interest them? Put that person next to what you want to talk about and see if it connects. These two things have to connect with each other.

User Personification: You can create who your ideal user is. Male or female? What are they doing on the weekends? What interests them? What are their passions? If you get a clear picture of who you are talking to, it makes it easier to create your brand message… when you know who you are talking to.

Companies spend millions of dollars trying to figure this out. Notice key phrases and ways to talk about things. That’s important when you’re talking about social media. Some bloggers express themselves through ALL CAPS, hashtags, etc. How do YOU want to express YOURSELF to your target audience?

Your brand is not your logo.

  • Example: Pepsi. Their brand hasn’t changed, their logo has. As it matured and developed, it went from old fashioned to crisp and modern. So, start thinking about the things on your blog being your “dressing.”

Have you ever visited a website where the content isn’t congruous with the design? If you are going for “calm,” calm is not four columns with blinking content and pop-up ads. All these things go into creating a strong presence and brand.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s the experience you want to leave people with?
  •  What do you want people to feel when they come to your website?

What do you think? (Question to the audience.)

Answers from Audience: Inspired, a little horny, community, not leave, don’t stalk, follow you

Amy: When you put it all together, this is what is important. You have an experience, description and emotion… which is funneled into your brand… which is funneled your your content.

I do this professionally. Sometimes I have to turn offers down because it’s not brand appropriate.

  • Example: I was asked to cover the opening of Duane Reade. They are like CVS. They asked me to come cover their opening. I made it work with my brand because they are doing things with fresh food: example, an oatmeal bar. NYC is a huge place without a lot supermarkets. So this is a big deal for NYC. So they added all this fresh food like salads in a drugstore. That makes sense to a healthy-living and active-lifestyle while on the go.
  •  Another example: Last week, I was invited by Poise to review their product. It’s an innovative line, but my brand skews younger so those readers aren’t likely going through menopause. I had to turn it down because it wasn’t brand appropriate.

Thinking like this helps develop your brand. Do you want readers to think you’ll do anything for money? No, you want to provide your readers with a service.

It doesn’t matter if you want to monetize or not. Having a strong blog voice can help take your blog in the direction you want to take it.

How many of you have had writers’ block? How do you know what content to create? You can talk about your cute puppy, but is that appropriate? Probably not. How about a recent episode on the Real Housewives of New York? There’s probably a way you can make that work and help it all link together.

Audience Question: I’m a new blogger and since no one’s looking for me to do anything specific with my blog I’m a little stuck.

Amy: What’s the name of your blog and what do you write about?

Audience Member: It’s called “AM I THERE YET?” and it’s about training for marathon, being a corporate trainer, and a horse trainer… but I’m seventh months in… and basically now? It’s a running blog. Running is what I love to do. So, if I want to define a brand, should I just drop other things completely? How many things would you hold on to before you give up? Drop things?

Amy: Don’t drop anything that’s important to you. Don’t drop your passion if it’s already a part of your blog. You are the most important of your blog. I have a knitting passion, but I never write about knitting. Because my passion is knitting, not writing about knitting. If your passion is writing about running then keep it.

Audience Member: Should I write separately about each thing then? Or make a connection?

Amy: For you, I’d say it can go either way. It just depends. I don’t often recommend doing an off-shoot blog. It’s hard to maintain. That’s two/three times the amount of work. It’s up to you to split your time and energy. It’s an additional commitment. Also, consider monetizing, if that’s your goal. Take a look. Think about researching and analysis. How many of you have a running blog (lots of hands)? How many of you have a horse blog (one hand)? Factor that into your decision.

By the way, I’m going to offer five free 20-minute consults. To win, tweet: Brand me @fatgirlscanrun

SEO works in pyramid formation. All traffic is being driven to one place.

Audience Question: How do you write about two topics on one blog? I write a healthy-living blog now. How do incorporate blogging about beauty… like nail trends?

Amy: I see tremendous crossover here. Your readers are probably very similar so that could probably work for you. I would then just do sub categories on your homepage and that’s how you can set it up.

Audience Question: I’m a new blogger and I find that I keep evolving from covering running… all the way to Crossfit now. Now I hate running, but my blog name has running in the title, I keep reaching back to running content to keep it relevant, but… do I keep the name? Or change it all together?

Amy: You could keep the name. Here’s problem with changing names: you lose all SEO juice you’ve gotten. I have 4,000 twitter followers took a long time to get there. It takes effort and you don’t want to lose that name recognition. You can change your twitter name, but not your blog name. If you are seeing fewer than 1,000 views a month, you can change your name. If more, make that name work for you. Maybe change your tagline to: “yep conquered running… onto something else.” If you choose to change the name and buy another URL, do a 401 redirect.

Audience Question [Robbie]: I have a similar question about branding. When do you know when your branding isn’t working, or it isn’t creating a launching point for conversation? Do you need to go another direction? Can you change a brand at that point?

Amy: I know you so this is an interesting question.

Robbie: I wasn’t planted. I swear.

Amy: Unless you personally start hating the fat girl reference, then politely give those people [that get mad about the content not totally reflecting your name] the finger. You know when your branding goes wrong because your analytics tank. Get as many insights as possible. They make the world of difference. For you, don’t change that right now. You’d lose so much mojo.

Robbie: I don’t always get that feedback. For example: talking about getting drunk last night… didn’t work for me.

Amy: You might want to start talking about the experience people have that follow you. If there is stuff that you want to write about that isn’t part of that experience, put it only on your twitter. Keep blog to just those things that reflect your brand.

Audience Question: Do you have your FGCR separate from your business identity? Do you worry that they will cross? I have two blogs… web design (my business) and my blog.

Amy: How do you deal? You keep them both really separate. I don’t tweet a lot because clients take up my time, unfortunately. Develop two different ways to talk. I speak different on my business blog versus FGCR… so I have two different voices. My two blogs feed each other, so my case is interesting. My highest referential post is “sex while running.” (Google it, it’s hilarious, highest blog views). I would never write about sex for my business blog, but it might be how people find my business. So be aware.

Audience Question: How much impact does a visual brand name have on branding?

Amy: Does it alienate a reader when they see something unfamiliar? YES. It’s like when your twitter picture changes… people wonder where you went. They are confused at first, but then they get used to it. Microsoft changed their logo in NYC and they did a commercial so people wouldn’t be confused. When it involves people, they get upset initially, but they get over it. The brilliant thing about social media is that you get a say in things. Ask your readers what they think if you are open to the answers. Visual things do matter. If you want people to feel relaxed, etc. don’t have blinking ads. Maybe don’t have any ads at all.

Audience Statement: I have found that as long as you keep a little something similar, people can handle the change. I have a little cartoon girl on my blog design, but when I did my redesign, I kept the girl, but made her a smaller part of the design than before. The rest of the website is different, but keeping that there has minimized the backlash.

Amy: People that know me in real life, they’d wonder why I’m wearing a dress today. It’s a little different from who I am as a brand. But it is appropriate as today, in this session, I am representing my business. Visuals matter but make them make sense for you.

Audience Question: I’m new to blogging world. I’ve been blogging for three months. My issue is that the name includes my weight (300 lbs and running) which will be different at the year’s end.

Amy: What is the key message of your blog?

Audience Member: My blog is about training for a marathon and losing weight.

Amy: Totally appropriate name! It’s for your passion. It’s a hot name. People will remember it because they will initially think: “That’s impossible!” I know you’re wondering: “What happens when I’m not fat anymore?” Keep that name? Yes – because even though I’m not fat anymore, I’m still edgy and funny and I chose it for those marketing reasons. It’s all about the brand.

Any other questions?

Thank you guys for coming! Any more questions? Hang out and talk! I’ll be available in another room to keep the conversation going.

This session was captured by Molly of Mollytics!. Molly is a local Baltimore-based blogger and loves politics, pop culture, America, blind Shih Tzus, fizzy water, the U.S.A., the Baltimore Ravens, cardigans, the ocean, real and fake Mexican food, Jason Schwartzman, and the oxford comma.