I was talking to a blogger friend the other day and she confessed, “I know there’s this concept called ‘branding,’ but to be honest… I have no idea what it really means.” I ordered us another round of mimosas, took her hands in mine, and said, “You’re not alone.”
How often do we hear this word “branding” tossed around without any real idea of what it means? Are we talking about logos? Is it a design thing or a voice thing or a marketing thing? And do we have to hire a branding agency to do it all for us? Because that sounds expensive!
Branding feels really big and elusive and scary because it is a big, abstract concept. Branding is about more than just logos and marketing plans. Your brand isn’t something that’s tangible–it’s more of a big picture thing. (But don’t worry–I’m going to help you break it down into concrete actions you can take.)
Seth Godin says, “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” And I love that definition. When we think about the big brands that we know, (Target, Starbucks, Apple, etc.) we don’t just think about their logos. We don’t decide to shop there or not shop there because we like bullseyes, sirens, or apples. We think about how these businesses make us feel when we walk in the door. We take our past experiences, what we’ve heard from friends, the impression we get when we drive by or when we see an ad, and all of our little perceptions and judgments into account when we make a decision to shop there. (And I know you’re thinking, “No I don’t! I just want coffee so I go to where the coffee is!” That’s the funny thing about branding–a business make an impression on us slowly over time and then we make our decision in an instant without really thinking about it!)
“But Emily–I just have this little blog on the internet. I’m nowhere close to those big guys. Do I even need to worry about branding?”
Yes! Everyone needs to think about branding. When people come across our blogs, they make the decision to stay and read in a snap second. (Usually based on a combination of how your website looks and whether the headline grabs their attention.) Your copy keeps them engaged and reading until the end, and hopefully, they love you enough to click around, read some more. If we really do a good job, our readers turn into subscribers, raving fans, and even paying customers.
When we make conscious choices about our branding, we get to help shape those expectations and memories that our readers use to decide whether to read our blog or someone else’s.
And while branding is about more than just your logo–it encompasses all the things we do to create those reader expectations, like copywriting, marketing, and communication–your visual brand presence is an important part of the big picture.
Your visual brand identity helps communicate who you are and what you’re all about in an instant (before your readers even read a single word). And over time, your visual presence can become something people recognize and remember (and we all want to be memorable, right?)
But designing a clear and cohesive brand identity doesn’t have to be this big, elusive and expensive thing. You can design your own beautiful brand identity for your blog in just a few steps!
Step 1: Get clear about your brand’s style and how you want your audience to perceive you.
Is your blog cheerful, fun, and bright? Or is it comforting and calming? Do you want people to recognize you as sleek, sophisticated, and elegant? Or edgy, cool, and gritty? List out a whole bunch of feeling and mood words that you want to convey through your branding.
Step 2: Find inspiration images that convey the same feelings you want your readers to feel when they interact with you and your blog.
Go old school and cut out pictures from magazines, or go down the Pinterest rabbit hole and save everything to a private board. This process of finding images helps your brain connect the abstract feeling words with concrete visual elements.
Step 3: Choose a palette of 3-5 colours and stick with it.
Using a few colours consistently will create the appearance of cohesive brand identity, AND saves you time because you don’t have to make colour decisions every single time you do something! Double Win.
Not sure what colours to choose? Look beyond the usual places (ahem, other people’s blogs) for inspiration. What colours do you love to wear? What colours do you use to decorate your house? When you’re shopping and pick up impulse gifts for yourself, what colour are they? You are drawn to the colours you love for a reason- so if they’re a good fit for your life, they’ll likely be a good fit for your brand.
Remember to think about that feeling you want to convey, too. Let’s say you want your readers to feel motivated and energized when they read your blog, and you have a favourite polka-dot dress that always makes you feel motivated and energized–try using those polka-dot colours! If you’ve decorated your bedroom to feel cozy and calm and you want your readers to feel soothed and comforted, using your decor colours will achieve just that.
Step 4: Choose 2-3 fonts and stick with them.
Using a couple fonts consistently is another easy way to present a solid brand presence. When pairing fonts, opposites attract. So pair a modern sans serif with a playful handwriting font if your blog has a casual vibe. Or pair a traditional serif with an elegant script if you’re more fancy and formal.
BONUS TIP: Write your business name in one of these fonts. There’s your logo! You can always add a graphic later.
Step 5: Decide on a style of photography and stick with it.
You may not fancy yourself a photographer, but every business uses photos in some way or another. Whether on your website, on social media, or in promotional print materials, photos draw readers in and tell your story instantly. So sticking with one consistent look for your photos can do wonders for your brand! This may mean using the same filter on all of your Instagram pics, using photos with similar backgrounds or similar lighting, or downloading stock photos from the same place.
Have you noticed a theme? STICKING WITH IT! You can always change your mind down the road–even the biggest brands change their look over time–so today, make a choice and stick with it for a bit. Consistency trumps perfection here. Using the same fonts, colours, and photography style will make you look like have your brand s#!& together, and it costs nothing! The important thing is that they all tie back to that inner core of who you are and how you want your ideal reader to feel.
Print out the workbook below and use it to help you gather inspiration and record your branding choices. Once you’ve selected colours, fonts, and a photography style, use them consistently on your website, the graphics you make for social media, in your emails–you may even find you start dressing in your brand colours!
Branding doesn’t have to be scary or expensive. It’s really all about telling your readers what to expect and communicating who you are and what you’re all about in a visual way. So grab a mimosa, break out your markers, and have fun with it!