This guest post is by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site.
Let’s begin with some word association:
- Disney World
- Goldman Sachs.
What did you think about when I mentioned these brands? What words came to mind? Thoughts? Feelings? Images?
Whatever it is that came to your mind is the brand image you associate with that company. When I think of those companies, I think of (respectively):
- family fun
- serious athletes
- youthful and innovative
These words may be simple but they represent a whole array of feelings and emotions that the company names express to me. And it is those thoughts and emotions that shape my interactions with them, just as it is your thoughts and feelings that shape your interactions with them and how you relate to them. It is those feelings that either turn is into loyal customers or loyal “people who always shop elsewhere.”
You are an idea
What are you? What about me? What do we represent?
This is not some existential question about life. These are questions about what your website or company is about and how people identify with it. Whether we know it or like it, our websites create an image in people’s minds, and we need to be conscious of that image because if we aren’t, our expectations and goals for our business won’t match the real perception of our business.
When we think about “brands” we think of marketing, business techniques, and icky sales terms. We think of slick ad men and women who are putting together ad campaigns to pull the wool over our eyes.
But this article isn’t an article on how to manipulate your brand image, it’s about how to understand and use it. The idea of a brand is a powerful tool that can help you engage your readers, foster trust, and create credibility. If you want to be successful, you need to understand your brand.
Think about Apple. What is Apple’s brand? When I think of Apple, I think trendy, cutting edge, and youthful. When Apple is about to launch a new product, I know right away that it will make me drool with excitement over how technologically advanced, functional, and stylish it will be. It’s why people pre-order a new iPhone without even looking at it. It’s why people will wait in line for days to get a phone they can get the following week without waiting. They just think, “It’s Apple, so it must be good” and line up to buy the product.
Once the product comes out, it continues to follow Apple’s pre-existing brand image of style, trendiness, and technological awesomeness and thus reinforces the idea of what Apple is in the minds of people. (This isn’t duplicitous. The products are great in their own right. They help people, which only further strengthen the brand and creates a self-feeding cycle.)
Think about what you convey when you build your website. What do you want people to think about you? On my site, Nomadic Matt, I like to convey the image of thoughtful, yet fun and inexpensive travel. To me, my site shows anyone can go out, have fun, break out of their cubicle, and still not spend a lot of money. When I asked my readers what words/images they associate with my site, they told me:
- budget travel
- muppets (my Twitter avatar is a fraggle)
- solo travel
I want people to think about a trusted source for fun budget travel. As a consequence, everything I do revolves around conveying and strengthening that brand image. I don’t write about luxury trips, I don’t promote books that don’t enhance the travel experience, I don’t write about blogging, and I don’t talk about hotels.
I get a lot of emails on joining digital nomad affiliates, but that’s not my audience and it’s not my brand. I’m not a digital nomad, I’m simply a nomad. I don’t write about making money, I don’t do sponsored posts, and I don’t talk about the mundane events of my life. All of that takes away from my brand image. I stick to a consistent message.
Strengthen your brand
Look at the words people associate with my site. They are the exact words I want them to be. I want to create a site that conveys those exact words, and by focusing my content, I can focus my brand to create the type of site that conveys it.
All that stuff I don’t do has only helped my site. I may not appeal to everyone but I’ve found that the more I am to fewer people, the more connections I make with them. In other words, I’d rather have a strong following of 1,000 people than a weak following of 10,000.
When creating and marketing your site, it is important to stay focused. Staying focused on what you want your site and brand to be about will help increase your traffic much faster.
Don’t be everything to everyone. Instead, be that one thing or expert that everyone turns to for information. Because when people get asked, “Can you recommend a budget travel expert?” I want them to recommend me. And by religiously focusing on what my site is about and never deviating from it, the more I become that budget expert in the minds of people. And that’s what I want. I want to be that budget travel guy, not anything else.
The mistake that many bloggers make is trying to be everything to everyone. They create content that is all over place. There’s nothing wrong with that if you just want to keep a personal, opinion site. However, if you want to run a website that supports yourself, you need to find a topic and stick to it. You need to ask yourself what you want to be, and focus on creating content and a brand around that.
My name is Matt Kepnes and I’m the budget travel guy. Who are you?
Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world for the past four years. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site and has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, AOL’s Wallet Pop, and Yahoo! Finance. He currently writes for AOL Travel and The Huffington Post For more information, you can visit his Facebook page or sign up for his RSS feed.
“The mistake that many bloggers make is trying to be everything to everyone. They create content that is all over place. There’s nothing wrong with that if you just want to keep a personal, opinion site. However, if you want to run a website that supports yourself, you need to find a topic and stick to it. You need to ask yourself what you want to be, and focus on creating content and a brand around that.”
That paragraph right there really resonated with me. I see the mistake I have been making and you would think by now I have learned from it, but sometimes it takes a few re-reads of posts like this to wake me up! Thanks for this awesome post Darren and Matthew!
You make some great points on the reason to have (and how to create) a strong brand. (while strengthening your own).
Having people be able to sum your output up quickly is a good thing (as long as they sum it is a positive way). It means they are paying attention and you have that clear and consistent vision.
My 19 month old daughter says “fries” everytime we drive by a McDonalds. Brands are so important to a company’s sales and long-term success. To answer your question, my goal for my personal brand image is the following:
My name is Ryan Litwiller, and I’m a trusted resource for small businesses trying to build their New Media Footprint.
I like what you said about not trying to be everything to everyone. We can’t and we end up dilluting our natural essence. I tell new bloggers that ask me for advice that the first thing they need to focus on is establishing and building their brand.
I think you hit on a good point with Apple. You can have a great blog that reinforces what you want your brand to convey, but you have to actually deliver results. You blog is just a tool to reinforce what is already an awesome product or service.
Haha. Yes. As soon as I saw who the article was written by I though of good ol’ Uncle Travelling Matt. My daughter has been watching some retro shows lately like Fraggle Rock. Great show.
Great article by the way.
Good Point, Matt.
Once a brand becomes trusted(Has built a name for itself) and that includes Blogs(Websites) in their particular niche, everything else should fall in place.
And you are so spot on with saying what images, feelings, we conjure up in our minds(eye), just by mentioning certain Brand names(words).
Words(Language) have a dramatic effect on us.
Marketing and Advertising tends to aim at our senses.
I’m just starting to establish my personal brand through social media. The points that you made about engaging your readers while establishing credibility is in alignment with the integrity I value so greatly. The comments that you made about staying on task with your blog content follows the advise given in the book I’m reading “Branding Yourself” By Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy.
As an SEO provider, this is one of the things i have to tell some of my colleagues. They build spammy links to help their clients, but only destroy their reputation. Your brand is ultimately what generates sales, not SEO or spam. If you want to survive in business, you need to think on a deeper level.
Great post, it’s so important how we feel about other companies because if we portray our blogs to others as poor then they will behave accordingly. Never buying anything or sticking around long.
Thanks Matt for the very useful info. I am in the process right now of creating my blogsite … it is so easy to get distracted by all of the tangential subjects out there.
Brand does matter.But start-up companies will have to develop new ideas to out thought the competitors.
I am starting to realise that my brand is everything! We have a travel site, and in the last month we have over 13,000 visitors to our site – and that is because we are connecting with people who care about travelling and families. Its taken me a long time to get where I am with my blogging online – only because I didnt know what audience I was writing to. Now I know, and now I can work out how to speak with them, and that is what is helping our site to move forward in a fast way!
Great information about how to brand, and why to look for branding.
Good advice here, thank you! I’m Julie and I’m the girl that’s all about travel and living in Provence.
A brand and a mission statement go hand in hand. For example, Google Search’s mission statement has long been “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.” Google’s efforts to succeed in that mission have led to “Google” becoming both a brand and a new English verb.
My wife and I haven’t formally declared our mission at Europeforvisitors.com, but if we did, the statement would be something like: “to provide in-depth, unbiased how-to information for travelers who are researching where to go, what to do, and how to spend their money in Europe” (or “in Venice,” “in Paris,” “on cruise ships in Europe,” etc. for our major subtopic sites). One could say that our brand identify is “the European-travel folks online,” but if it is, it’s the result of our efforts to fulfill our mission, not just an image that we’ve tried to create.
Branding matters alot.. Infact it creates tremendous response and ROI. But we need to focus on branding parameters to define the actual line for branding… It multipy your customers and divide your leakages for downward…
Absolutely, branding is the connection a business/person has with customers/clients. Based on that connection, you can reach as many people as you want, or as few with even stronger connections.
I’m training myself to be a freelance ui designer/app developer. I guess a line that might work for me (though I’ll keep working on it till my site is up) would be something like: “Slick ui designer with a focus on creating rich, functional, secure, fast, and interactive applications.”
This is very timely information. A consultant recently told me that I needed to brand my personal site which is not consistent at this time. This article is going to make me move a little faster.
Totally agree. You can probably tell by my gravatar what my site is about (India!). I make a lot of effort to keep to my blog’s editorial mandate and social media strategy — including making sacrifices that could net me SEO.
But I want to add that a brand is also a promise, and that it stands for what people can expect in the future as well as what you’ve done in the past.
Your brand IS everything – this is important to think about. We have to respect and honor what our readers think about us – and work hard to live up to our name.