Today I’m launching a new weekly feature – DOS and DONT’S. First of all, please bear in mind that despite its indoctrinatory sounding words, the intention of this series of articles is not to teach you what to DO and NOT to do, but a mere sharing of my mental records of what I’ve encountered during my own learning process. Think of it as some kind of my personal aide-mémoire to design, blogging, marketing, programming, and whatever else Inspiration Bit decides to take me to.

Blog Branding

We’re surrounded by brand names since the day we’re born: brand diapers, brand cereals, brand clothing, brand strollers, and the list goes on. In fact we get branded ourselves with the names that parents give us, but only a few of us turn those names into powerful brands (Martha Stewart, Seth Godin).

tabula rasa

The mastermind and marketing genius for Nike and Starbucks, Scott Bedbury, once confessed that “A great brand raises the bar — it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it’s the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you’re drinking really matters”. If you read my look at some of the Most Brilliant Advertising Campaigns you will notice the similarities between them – they were all selling not the product but the image, the brand essence, the lifestyle.

How can branding be applied to blogging? The answer to that lies in response to another question: What are the driving forces of a flourishing Brand? Competitiveness, uniqueness, inventiveness, personality, emotions, packaging, ideology, design consistency. Carefully study all those shaping blocks of a great brand to get on the successful path of turning your blog into the one that’s recognized and remembered among the millions of other sites in the blogiverse.

Here are some DOS and DONT’S to jot down while wrapping the branding concepts around our heads.

DO create a brand personality by perfecting your About page. Talk as much or as little about yourself as you want but keep in mind that readers like to know who they deal with, it helps to establish one of the crucial elements of a successful brand — trust. If it’s a collaborative blog, then talk about its authors, if it’s a business site, do talk about the nature of the business and who’s behind it, if it’s a mysterious aura you’re after, don’t reveal some details – let the readers build myths whether you’re a male or a female, engaged or available.

DON’T forget to chose a unique image that will visually enhance your brand personality in the readers’ minds. Ralph Lauren never sold any horses, but what image comes to your mind when you think about this fashion mogul and his trendy empire? Take a look at the Instigator Blog’s new design – from now on, I’ll be always associating Ben Yoskovitz with those orange boxing gloves.

DO chose a consistent theme for your blog, define a focal point in all your blog’s topics. With Coco Channel it’s all about elegance and class, with iLT on the other hand it’s all about SEXy type, spread the LOVE of type & Rock’n'Roll your type knowledge. Everything and everyone on this site are soaked with type: the weekly features (Sunday Type, Type Faces), creative terminology (TypeNuts, Typestatique, Typelicious), site elements (exquisite typography, monthly fonts).

DON’T neglect the visual side of brand packaging: a unique logo, distinctive colour combination, noteworthy choice of type, meticulous attention to details. These are the essential tools in any packaging, why your website should be any different?

DO promote your brand’s awareness, expand that brand beyond your blog. Have you given some thought to how you present yourself and your site when commenting on other blogs, what to use as your avatar? Be aware of your own brand, recognize what is relevant and what does not to your image, become that brand before making others to take notice of it. Strengthen and build on your brand by taking it to the next step, other ventures. FreelanceSwitch stopped being only a blog for freelancers – there’s a JobBoard for freelancers, a forum, radio podcasts, there’s even a book for all the Rockstar freelancers out there.

DON’T fail to recognize the power of an identifiable name for your blog, get it right from the very beginning. Decide on your blogging goals: if it’s a personal brand you’re after, use your own name as the site’s domain; if you’re planning on running several blogs, or selling that blog sometime in future, or simply starting a new brand, then be creative and choose a name that is as memorable as it is unique. No matter how many other blogs Darren Rowse is authoring he will be forever associated with ProBlogger. His image hasn’t changed much since his minister days – he’s still making a living by preaching, but this time he’s preaching blogging to all us, mortals.

DO learn more about branding in general before building your own, learn from the pros, research the case studies of companies who managed to build a successful brand. There are many online resources for branding and Google can take you to most of them. But there is one book that I simply must recommend to everyone – it’s Naomi Klein‘s book NO LOGO. “There’s a bad mood rising against the corporate brands. No Logo is the warning on the label.” To wet your appetite here’s an excerpt from the book that you can read online.

DON’T destroy your brand by slowing down, or retreating to shade after a favourable outcome of all your hard work. Not only expect, be prepared for success, but don’t let it fool you either. It lasts as long as the taste of a magnificent wine and then all that’s left is a distant memory of how sweet it was. Ever wondered why such powerhouses as Coca Cola or Mercedes are still spending millions of dollars in promoting their brands? The answer is simple: competition and children. Every year hundreds of new companies, new products enter the war of Brands trying to brainwash us into choosing them over their competitors. People forget, and people rarely stay loyal to one brand forever. What’s more, millions of babies are getting born every year – they are the gold mine, the future buyers of that brand. Thousands of new readers flock to Web, you don’t want to miss a chance of having them to discover and subscribe to your blog, do you? Thousands of new blogs are created every day, stop turning your brand wheels and your readers will switch to another site that managed to take on where you have left.

Your Feedback

It is your turn now to share with all of us your notes on DOS and DON’TS of Blog Branding. What are your thoughts on Branding? I’ll summarize all your feedback and add to this post, for a more complete reference on aide-mémoire to Brand.

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24 Insightful Bits in response to “DOS and DON’TS – Blog Branding”

  1. What a comprehensive post! A lot of work has gone into this.
    I think what you write about ‘personality’ is especially important; perhaps not for the first-time reader, but for having those readers return.

    Not resting on one’s laurels is also good advice; and it wouldn’t be fair to readers; without them our blogs are nothing more than pixels.

    Have I spotted a slight change in your writing style? Whether or not it’s intentional I like it–dynamic, forthright and confident.

    ps: I never knew that about Darren Rowse!

  2. Thank you, John. Have you really spotted a different tone in my writing? I’m glad you liked it ;-) I guess… I hope my writing style has matured over the past 12 months of blogging. Those three words you used to describe the change are very close to characterizing my personality in the offline world. I’m very pleased, it’s finally starting to show ;-)

    You’re absolutely right – personality plays a very important role in gaining the loyal following for our blogs.

    P.S. What didn’t you know about Darren, that he was a minister or that he authors many other blogs?

  3. That he was formerly a minister. Where can I read about that?

  4. Here you go, enjoy ;-)

  5. Wow Vivien, that is a post packed full of goodness and good idea for the do’s and dont’s post.

    I however have a different view of blog branding, I believe that blogging is more about the content and not so much ‘branding’ yourself. For sure you can have a logo and a particular consistent style, but all bloggers are not a company, they merely could be blogging. For sure when you have a rep like Darren, then of course your article is spot on, however for the lay blogger, I could say it is overkill. But needless to say, branding is its own topic in itself…What do you think about this?

  6. I will keep theses points in mind, and return to this blog for more…
    Thanks for the tips.

  7. Thanks, Jacob.
    I guess it all depends on the blogger, what are our blogging goals, what do we want from blogging? If all we want is just to keep writing a high quality content and believing that everything else will slowly come – the readers, the authority, the recognition, then you’re right – we don’t need any extra help in promoting ourselves. If it’s just a hobby, just a way of connecting with some fellow bloggers, just having some fun – no branding is needed here.

    However, I still don’t think that branding is an overkill for a regular blogger. Content for a blogger is the same as a product for a company. Do you really think that all it takes is to have a high quality product and the customers will flock to it?

    There’s also another small detail – the moment you start getting readers, they form an image about you whether you like it or not, and it is up to you whether or not you want to do anything about shaping up that image.

    But you did pose a very interesting question, and I’m really curious to read what other bloggers think about it – do we need to brand our blogs or not?

  8. You’re welcome Niyaz. Your comment came just when I was replying Jacob. I wonder what do you think about his question?

  9. This is great, Vivien! Wow! Really comprehensive and well thought out. I just joined SU, so *click* Submitted!

    When I come to a new blog, after reading the post, the About page is right where I go. I like to see a picture of the person, know their age, gender (ilker!! Thanks to David, we know she’s a she) and what they do for a living and perhaps where they are in the world (at least a country).

    Hehe, iLT is a great example of drenching a blog in a theme. John does a SUPREME job over there!

    Brand awareness in blogging is so important. I try to build up my profiles based on LaurenMarie (or sometimes I have to use a hyphenated or underscored variation) and that same b&w photo of me everywhere, including Flickr, Facebook, etc, so when people see me on other sites, they know it’s me.

    The naming part of the blog is difficult sometimes! I used a mind map of words, wrote down synonyms and everything I could think of possibly related to what I wanted to talk about. I’m happy with the alliteration I came up with!

    Re Jacob’s question: I think it’s important to brand a blog (but not like Coca Cola overkill) so that you’re recognized throughout the Web. I think it’s not a matter of mainstream media branding, but personal branding. A logo, a consistent look-and-feel through out a blog (and any advertising), a recognizable style of writing, a consistent image or photo and name are all aspects of branding and something that bloggers who hope to gain a bit of fame in the blogosphere need to take note of. Read the link to Dawud’s article Vivien listed in her post and come back and see what you think Jacob. If it’s a personal blog and you just want to send your thoughts into cyberspace, then your right, a brand most likely isn’t necessary. But if you hope to gain subscribers for a business outside of the blog or for the blog that is your business, branding is necessary. And I think if one is involved in the blogosphere (leaving comments and such) a brand develops naturally. You start signing your comments the same way and using the same link, email address, photo, etc. It’s just easier!

  10. Vivien,
    “Do you really think that all it takes is to have a high quality product and the customers will flock to it?” Absolutely not, I never said that you could just sit back and write good content and people will come… I was saying that it is more ABOUT the content than the brand if we want people to come back.
    And everyone has different opinions on what a brand is. For example, IB could be the green and black with your small logo in the corner? But what about someone who just has a white page, with just a menu and no logo? Is that considered a brand? It depends what you consider a brand.

    But in answer to your question “do we need to brand our blogs or not?” I believe it is not essential for success but it does differentiate you from your competitors/friends and does help towards building a stronger (is that the right word?) blog.

  11. “Brand awareness in blogging is so important. I try to build up my profiles based on LaurenMarie (or sometimes I have to use a hyphenated or underscored variation) and that same b&w photo of me everywhere, including Flickr, Facebook, etc, so when people see me on other sites, they know it’s me.”

    I do the same, I use JustCreativeDesign in my profiles and Jacob Cass for leaving comments and the same picture so in that sense yes I am a brand but I think there was a bit of miscommunication between me and Vivien but I clarified that in the post above.

  12. Lauren, thanks for SU this post. Did you notice I linked to Ilker’s blog in my first DO section? ;-)
    that b&w photo of yourself that you use as your avatar is great. Remember when I asked your permission to include that photo on your first guest post on IBit back in May? You were just getting into the blogging mood ;-)

    Jacob, sorry for misunderstanding your point. You’re right, the logo is not necessary, but everything does contribute to branding, so the absence of a logo can be part of the branding as well. As a matter of fact very few blogs have logos, most of them rely on other visuals like images, colour scheme, the name, etc. All this is a part of the brand.
    An important element of branding is to be familiar, be everywhere. That’s why things like commenting and guest writing on other blogs is an essential block of building a brand.

  13. Very comprehensive article, Vivien. I’m with John, it’s obvious you really worked at this one, and I enjoyed reading.

    As for Jacob’s question, where he mentions that it’s more about the content than the brand, I think you’re right when you say that everything contributes to the brand, content included, so whether we like it or not, our blogs are part of the overall message we convey.

  14. You’re welcome for the SU (I also shared it in my Google Reader… don’t really know how that works). Actually, I was so excited to respond that I forgot to click the Like It button, so I did it this morning *blush* Perhaps think about installing the Share This plugin to make it even easier for people to submit your stuff? I’m trying it out myself.

    Yes, I did notice that link to Ilker’s blog.

    I really like my avatar photo, too. It’s kind of mysterious :) Hehe, it’s fun to go back and read posts that I did at the beginning of my “career”

    Interesting that many blogs don’t have logos. I would say a title treatment can count as a blog logo, though. And something that popped into my head: if I’ve been to a blog before but not really become familiar with it or if I see the name on someone else’s post and go visit, I like to have the recognition of “Oh yeah, I’ve been here before. I remember this person had an article on…” Many blogs redesign too often and don’t have a logo or keep the same color scheme and I think that hurts their recognition.

  15. I’m with you there, Lauren.

    I see quite a few blogs redesign over and over, and it makes me wonder if it’s the same place when I return.

  16. “Do you really think that all it takes is to have a high quality product and the customers will flock to it?”

    The answer in some cases might actually be yes. I don’t really worry much about attracting regular readers on my blog. I think they might be frustrated to see the randomness of my topics.

    Over 90% of my total traffic comes from Google searches due to the nature of my posts. The main focus in my case is to make that one random visit worth someone’s time. But maybe my blog isn’t really a blog since it’s more of a repository of hopefully useful tips.

  17. Thanks, David.
    I think that the minute we make our blogs accessible to public, we inadvertently start the branding process. We can’t escape from it. The only difference is that some are really great at branding, others are not so much, and with this article I tried to see a bigger picture of what are the components of a successful brand, so we can all learn from it and polish our brand image.

    Lauren, you’re spot on the inconsistencies in the brand image with your example of sites that are going through too many re-designs.
    In my case, I’ll be drastically changing the visual image of this blog’s design – different colours, fonts, layout, logo, but after I’m done with the re-design that I’ll be happy with, I won’t be re-designing the site any time soon, and I’ll definitely be carrying one or two elements of the new design over to the next stage.

    Peter, your blog case is special indeed. Like you said – it’s more of a repository of useful tips than a blog. But then, you too have already built a small brand for yourself – don’t expect regular posting from me, whenever I have some useful tips for you, I’ll post them. You do have quite a big traffic coming to your blog, but the audience who visit your site is different all the time.

  18. oh, almost forgot – Lauren, I do have Share This plugin installed and the link is right below the article. But I guess I have to make it more visible, eh? ;-)

  19. Haha, yes I think you should make the Share This more visible! I think it’s because your blog is green and grey and the button and link are also green that it get skipped right over! Now that I’ve been noticing the way other blogs have social media links on their sites, I think the Share This plugin is good, but I find myself also looking for the and SU logos. With my redesign I’m planning to have a handful of the popular sites’ logos and then the Share This plugin to get the rest.

    You said some great stuff in your response to David above. You expanded on what I was thinking and didn’t quite say.

    I think one redesign every couple years is appropriate, but some people do it ever other month! It’s confusing to come back to their blog because I wonder if I’m where I wanted to be. A logo (like your bIt) would greatly help with this; it’s important for visitors to see something familiar so they know they’re in the right place.

  20. Thanks for the Darren Rowse Minister link–a very interesting read. I hadn’t noticed the ‘share this’ link either. I was also worried that when I clicked it, I’d be taken to another page. Anyway, I know now:)

  21. ok, guys, I’ve updated the look of the Share This link, made it more visible. What do you think of it now?
    Thanks Lauren and Johno.
    I haven’t yet decided on what I’ll use for social networking, I think I’ll stick to Share this plugin, just style it to suit the new design.

    you’re welcome, John. It is interesting to read about bloggers’ past, and find out how they got hooked on blogging.

  22. Hi. You got a good write up. I enjoyed it. I would like you to take a look at my post regarding promotion of brand name in college.

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on