I’ve been back on the blog (and Facebook and Instagram) for a few months now, posting regularly, and a scary thing has happened: the spiders have found me.
Not literal spiders. I’m actually less scared of them; they eat the really horrible bugs like mosquitoes and flies, and I find that quite useful. The spiders I’m talking about are internet bots or bits of programming or however it works–they’re the creepies that crawl all over the internet looking for keywords. They determine your fate as a website–how you’ll appear in Google searches, et al–and they help companies figure out what you’re into so they can inundate you with personalized ads.
Well, they’ve figured out a few things about me: I left my job, I’m writing a blog, and I sell things online. So now every fifth item I see on the internet is some sort of offer to help me make my fortune as a full-time blogger and online shop owner.
I do look at them from time to time, out of curiosity. Mostly it’s tripe. Mostly it’s basic stuff like how to start a WordPress site and a link to click so they’ll get the $300 referral. (Seriously, though, if you decide to start a blog, click on those ads on the side of my page and use me as a reference!) There are, however, a few recurrent themes that I should probably heed.
Mainly, they talk about branding.
I have some experience with branding, apart from my own online efforts. I worked as a marketing manager for a small company last year and I loved the branding guidelines and the way they kept our website and printed materials unified. I did not create these guidelines; they were set by our umbrella company. They were sleek and colorful (the company teaches children’s classes). They were slightly out of step with our studio’s own logo but only slightly, and the studio’s logo had been around longer than the current branding so we weren’t required to change it.
The trouble was, while the branding guidelines suited my personal taste, they did not suit the tastes of our studio’s director. She wanted her own style represented. She mourned the company’s old branding, which included stick-figure drawings instead of high-resolution photos shot in a room with gray carpet. She hated the color gray. She didn’t like being restrained with regards to her color choices. She liked her photos brassier and brighter. I would create copy that perfectly suited the brand guidelines and she’d reject it. I had to create my own guidelines of compromise.
Now, working with my own brand, I get to choose everything. It should be easy, right? I set the limits and I represent myself. The colors and fonts, the feel of the photos–it’s all down to me. I shouldn’t have to compromise.
But in the absence of someone to argue with, I find that I’m arguing with myself.
In my former job, we sold one product: kids’ music classes. We worked out of a studio. There were set images to work with because the kids used them in every class: the shakers, the sticks, the glockenspiels. The “product” had a clear personality and our branding was meant to represent the world that existed only within the walls of the classroom.
As for me–my blog, my videos, my Facebook page and all–my brand is myself. And myself is multifaceted. Myself is a friggin’ disco ball.
How do you boil that down into a logo? A color scheme? A style?
How do you market yourself?
And what am I marketing, anyway?
Ultimately, I do these things on the Internet for two reasons:
- My own betterment
- To share joy with you
I don’t make any money at it, though I would eventually like to at least break even. But I do these things because I like doing them, and because if I can make other people laugh or smile or feel understood, then I feel I’m doing some good in the world. That doesn’t require you to know who I am. You can read one of my posts online without knowing it was me and you’ll still enjoy reading it and my job will be done.
If I want to keep doing it, I will eventually need to be solvent, both financially and emotionally. I’ll need to know someone is reading, or I’ll become unmotivated. I need people to know where to find me and my work. Which means I need a logo. I need visual cues to shepherd readers my way. I’ll need support, which means I’ll need to gather people around me.
Which means I’ll need a brand. Or, I’ll need to brand myself.
This doesn’t mean what I used to think it meant. I used to think that the brand was my content–that I needed to focus on one thing, like so many internet gurus do. But I love to do so many things. The list is constantly growing. If I focus on food or book reviews or even parenting, I’ll get bored. And if I get too bored, I’ll give up. And I give up, then I won’t have a brand, now, will I?
Then I thought more about the word, “brand,” independent of the information offered by all those so-called coaches who offered to sell me their secrets.
Ranchers brand cattle. They put their farm’s mark on a cow in case that cow goes walkabout. But the brand is not “cow.” It’s “Lazy Q Ranch.” If they branded chickens, they would also bear that Lazy Q, as would ducks or pigs or guinea pigs, jams or jellies or jars of honey. The brand, in this case, just tells you where the thing comes from.
Converse is a brand best known for shoes, but they have (had?) a line of clothing, too. (I have one of their dresses in my closet.) When you hear the name of their brand, you think of shoes. Nike is a brand also known for shoes, but it’s successfully expanded into many forms of sportswear and equipment. Apple is a brand of computers–but there are so many kinds of computers now that they’re not just desktops and laptops but also phones and tablets and watches, plus software of so many varieties.
So branding yourself doesn’t limit you to one thing–but maybe it limits you to one type of thing. I mean, Apple could start making sneakers, but would anyone buy them? More importantly (to me–which proves I’m not much of a businessperson, I guess): would they be any good?
So the brand, then, is the type of thing you produce plus the way you mark it.
Now, I don’t know anything about what makes a brand popular. Sometimes it seems that the things people like are the blandest, but I know that’s not what really makes them succeed. When I first started writing literary fiction, I noticed that a lot of the stories we read in class were slow and low on plotting so I started writing slow, low-plot stories. Strangely, they were not received as genius. Because I wasn’t emulating the parts of the stories that made those stories classic. I had to look at them differently if I wanted to understand why they were good. I also had to accept that I might never like them, myself, and that that was okay.
Eventually, I learned just to write what I want to write. Sometimes it’s well-received and sometimes it isn’t. I’m always working to improve, but no matter how much I learn about the shape of a story, pacing, plotting, voice, tone, and so on, my stories are still uniquely mine.
Which is why I won’t be buying those online branding guides. I’ve got enough design knowledge to create an acceptable logo, and I’ll keep striving to create quality work, but I won’t be looking to copy anyone else.