Branding. We’re always talking about it, but too rarely do we stop to think about what it actually means. So today I thought I’d step through two great examples of blog product branding and see what tips we can take from these stories. The products I wanted to look at are conferences, which I mentioned in my last Blogging in Brief post.
Whether or not you run a conference off the back of your blog isn’t important. I’ve chosen conferences as the example because they’re such a personal, real-time embodiment of a blog’s brand and ethos. Since conferences are often the biggest-ticket item on a blog’s product list, bloggers tend to put a lot into promoting them, so this is a really good way to learn about the branding techniques the pros are using.
World Domination Summit: rockstar branding
This conference’s homepage combines casual and cool really well. To me, the background map image says “wordly, adventurous, unpretentious.” And the other thing that draws the eye on this page—the still photograph from the video—says “rock concert!” I wonder if you feel the same when you look at it?
The navigation items are also casual-sounding: Story, Schedule, and Headquarters. Unusually, they’re sub-titled, and those subtitles are cheeky and fun. The page’s call to action follows the same spirit: “In July 2012, a small army of remarkable people converged on Portland, Oregon for a weekend of strategizing and adventure. Join us in 2013?”
Language is an important part of branding, and this site proves it. Instantly we know that this conference is going to be a blast.
Clicking around, again the imagery stands out. Most of it looks creative, like the Instagrammed photos we see on Twitter. People are important in these shots—the black-and-white Featured Guests photos look really natural (and their “bios” focus in on the personality and what they’ll teach in a candid, friendly way). But the imagery also focuses on the things you’ll enjoy if you attend: the Portland atmosphere, good food, and an exciting, rock-concert vibe.
Overall, that’s what I get from this conference site: that WDS is going to be an exciting and fun adventure. No wonder it’s already sold out!
WDS also lists its attendees on a map on the homepage. Clicking on the map shows you a profile of the attendee, along with the distance they’re travelling to get to the conference. This is a great way to underscore the value of the conference to peers of the site’s visitors—it’s almost saying, someone like you is willing to travel 576kms to get to this conference. What are you missing out on? Again, to me this reinforces the rock concert vibe.
There’s also a link at top-right of that map which takes you to “The Worldwide Dispatch”—a complete overview of the social media footprint of the event and its attendees, which is great for social reputation-building.
BlogHer: educating women bloggers
BlogHer looks to be targeted at women bloggers who want a kind of blogging “professional development” program. The site offers access to a lot of conferences that carry the BlogHer brand, but we’ll focus on the main conference.
The homepage image is an important one: it shows attendees talking one on one, but that crowd stretches off into the background. Instantly we get the idea that attendees will make personal connections with large numbers of people, and have the opportunity to share stories and learn from each other.
The navigation for the conference material is very straightforward: Agenda, Register, Sponsors, Attendees, Speakers. And the copy manages to communicate enthusiasm with clarity. The homepage call to action says simply, “Be sure to join us and register now!” And here’s the description of the “Newbie Breakfast”:
“BlogHer welcomes our new attendees to a breakfast dedicated just to you! Spend some time with other attendees just as nervous and excited as you are. Grab a plate, make a buddy, and kick your conference off on the right foot. We’ll offer you some helpful tips to get the most out of your conference experience, walk you through the program, the sponsors, and the social ecosystem of BlogHer ’13.”
This conference sounds fun and very welcoming. There’s no “edge”—the site definitely communicates that attendees will get the opportunity to learn in a comfortable environment.
Speaking of attendees, this page is another interesting contrast with the WDS version. The BlogHer Attendees page is clear, not fancy, and puts attendees front and center. Click on a person, and you’ll see that their profile is designed to allow you to connect with them directly, perhaps even before the conference.
While the information is similar to that presented about WDS attendees, it’s presented differently. It gives access to the attendee’s social media presence, shows their activity in the BlogHer forums, and has space for chats too. Where WDS attendees answered questions about dreams and ambitions (and “What’s your superpower?”), the BlogHer profile is less confronting, providing a snapshot of the individual, and access to communicate with them.
Where personalities might be the focus for WDS, at BlogHer, it seems relationships are most important. It’s a subtle distinction, but I think it’s an important one.
What can we learn?
This quick analysis provides some valuable insights that we can use to review our own blog products, and our blogs themselves, to make sure that our branding is as strong as it can be.
1. Make your products themselves emphasise your brand
Every product we make should be an extension of our core brand. We can see that WDS is an extension of Chris Guillebeau’s blog, The Art of Non-conformity. The imagery and language reflects the attitude on which Chris’s blog is founded. And the presentation of speakers and attendees really emphasises the individualism of the people who’ll be at the conference.
The conference looks like it’ll be even more non-conformist than The Art of Non-conformity—it’ll take this much-loved brand to a whole new, more intense level. Every blog product should do that.
2. Target your audience with every aspect of your product’s presentation
The BlogHer conference site embodies the unintimidating nature of this conference. From the simplicity of the navigation to the opening call to action on the home page, you get the sense that the conference is big, inclusive, and welcoming.
The site is simple to use, and there’s nothing unexpected—unlike the WDS site, which is full of surprises, from the nav subtitles to the map. These presentations have been carefully designed to home in on the emotions that the target audience is likely to feel about attending the events, and create a sense of connection on each of those points.
Both sites tell the target audience, “meet other people just like you.” What’s interesting is how clearly they communicate what “just like you” means—and how much that differs between the two products. Do your blog products connect with their audience this strongly?
3. Communicate your product’s point of difference with perfect clarity
A quick glance around either site communicates its point of difference.
WDS is for those who want to live an exciting, untemplated life.
BlogHer is for women bloggers who want to connect and learn about blogging.
Importantly, you don’t need to read the page copy to understand these differences—the imagery, rich media, page designs, and taglines do a lot of the work. Nothing on either site is inconsistent in this regard. But a as a prime example of that communication, compare the agendas for both conferences.
Here’s the WDS agenda:
And here’s the BlogHer agenda. BlogHer has multiple events running simultaneously, with titles like “Interest & Identity (Presentation: What Type of Social Media Leader are You? / Roundtable: Beyond the Vertical, Into the Niche),” and provides a brief description of each one.
The agendas of events, and the lists of speakers, are really where the crux of a conference lie. So it’s really interesting to see the differences between these presentations for these two events—instantly we can see these brands’ points of difference.
The critical elements of any blog product should embody its point of difference.
4. Back up that branding everywhere
WDS—and The Art of Non-conformity—targets people with a spirit of adventure—people who are embracing the journey of their lives.
So it makes sense that the WDS site includes interesting details about the city in which the event’s located. It makes sense to mention how far each attendee is travelling in their profile. It makes sense to have a “Headquarters” navigation item, which echoes the idea of having a “home base” when you’re on holiday—a place where you can relax and focus, and which you head out from each day on a new adventure.
Meanwhile, the BlogHer Agenda helps users out with links to an “at-a-glance” session list, and links to speakers and additional program announcements right under the page header. Again I get the feeling that the BlogHer attendees are going to be well looked after—they’ll never get lost at this event.
These little things seem like, well, little things. But they add up to consistent branding that speaks to the audience on multiple levels simultaneously. That makes the product branding trustworthy.
5. That’s right: everywhere
Blog product branding isn’t about creating a coherent atmosphere through your product and its sales pages—you also need to look at the way you’re communicating about it on your blog, on social media, in any content or off-site marketing you do (including ads and promotions), and so on.
That might mean you need to be selective about the information you provide to affiliates. It might mean you avoid guest-posting on certain blogs that don’t reflect the ideas or ethos that your product is promoting.
Don’t just limit your branding to your own sites and efforts: try to ensure that the keys to your product’s ability to connect with customers are consistent wherever it’s mentioned.
More branding tips from the pros
I know many of you have blog products of your own, so it would be great to hear what you’ve learned about blog branding and product branding through your own work. Let us know your tips in the comments.