Branding YourselfIn this world of “regurgitated content”, how does one stand out? Well, first of all, I think that it’s generally a good idea NOT to invest yourself in just absorbing and then restating what everyone else is saying. Unless you’re an amazingly entertaining writer, or have a demonstrable talent for taking certain subjects and reframing them in a highly compelling way…for the most part, I can’t imagine what you think you’d be contributing. The way it’s usually implemented, I would describe this as “the path of the unimaginative”. Look, we all share cool things we’ve heard. That’s only natural. But…when you mix in a personal agenda for profit, things get a little dicey. Isn’t that obvious? Maybe not. So, I’ll say it again. Mixing business with relationship-building has to be handled delicately. Why? Because it’s too easy for motives to become mixed.

Here’s the danger: A lot of times, the things we say have no potential business implications. These are safe and easy. But, when you start to blog…and your blog is loaded up with ads…and you feel the need to say something on a regular basis (whether or not there’s anything that needs to be said)…and you start to endorse products (even casually) which (via affiliate links) stand to benefit you…well, are you getting the picture here? You are putting your word and your name on the line. Making a personal statement and a personal endorsement. Especially when you haven’t really experienced great success yourself…and your endorsement is more of a “wish” than a “testimony”.

Among other things, this is why I think a concept like PayPerPost is so despicable. Personally, I can’t think of such a concept and the attached $20 price tag without “whoring” coming to mind. Because that’s exactly what it is.

But, let’s assume that you DO have something to say. Something of value…that others might well be interested in or might benefit from. Some personal experience to share. An acknowledged talent or area of special interest. Maybe you understand finances, or programming, or business relationships. Or maybe you have an artistic gift…drawing, writing, music, acting. How do you begin to “brand yourself” so that when people think of that particular topic, you are the first, or tenth, or 25th person that comes to mind? If you want someone’s money in more than a drive-by manner, you need their trust. If you want their trust, you need credibility. But credibility, by itself, isn’t necessarily a memorable thing.

Branding is a well-established concept, and I’m no expert. But I’d like to share a few ideas which you might find worthy of consideration:

1. Tell people who you are. “About” pages are clearly the most neglected of pages on almost any site. It’s the rarest of things to find one that satisfies the natural curiosity about who you’re dealing with. “What do they look like?” “What have they accomplished in their life, or where has their personal/vocational experience been conducted?” “Why should I care what they think…?” If you expect your audience to grow beyond the 20 of your friends who might come visit your web site, then DO something about this. Invest a half hour, one time, into actually telling people who you are and why you do what you do. And put your FACE on the page somewhere. You know…a picture? “Oh, but I can’t. I’m a relatively attractive woman and I don’t want to be harrassed.” “I’m fat and I don’t want people to know that!” “I’m an ugly troll with purple hair growing out of all my facial orifices…” Fine….do you think you’re the first person in history who has these kinds of concerns? If you can’t find a way to take a reasonably attractive picture of yourself (they DO have professionals who help with these things, you know?), then at the very least, send a picture of yourself to a caricaturist and have them sketch up something reasonably endearing. It’s not that expensive, and maybe you’ll give folks a reason to smile. I have had a picture of myself online for most of the 10 years I’ve been building web sites. But I also have a caricature that I use for personal branding. It’s a caricature…not a perfect representation…but it looks enough like me that when a 6-year-old boy saw it last night and someone asked who that was…he pointed right at me. Close enough!

2. Give some indication of what you stand for….what people find compelling about you. Here’s an example: There are more sites on the subject “making money online” than just about any topic I’ve seen. Here are just a few examples of the names I’ve seen…culled from the first page of Google:

  • Make Money Online | Make Money at Home with a 13-Year Old
  • Make Money Online
  • Make Money Online
  • Make Money Online From the Comfort of Your Own Home
  • Make Money Online (Without Spending a Dime)
  • Make Money Online (Agloco)
  • Make Money Online | Make Money at Home
  • Make Money Online on Squidoo

OK…so we’ve got the idea. These sites/blogs are about “making money online”. But, what is compelling about any of them? Well, the one with the 13-year-old…that sounds like it might be worth a click, at least for kicks. Make Money Online (Without Spending a Dime) is slightly interesting…and implies that you are usually told that you MUST spend money to make money online. Not bad. The rest…well, the rest really don’t stand out at all. That’s a phrase that I see so often and consider to be so manipulative, deceptive and uninformed that I wouldn’t click on any of them personally. (I would surmise that those titles are written by folks obsessed with keywords and search engine ranking…not by folks who are really trying to communicate with people. Now…let’s look at an another way of approaching the same concept.

  • Internet Marketing Blog
    with a header that reads Making Money Through Ethical Marketing

Now, there’s a statement. A good strong statement…implying that much of Internet Marketing is not done in an ethical manner. And this approach is why this blog is one of one two on the subject of making money online to which I subscribe. Could Josh’s browser bar page headline be more compelling? Maybe. But once you’re there, you find out fast what he’s all about. He differentiates himself quickly. So…define yourself. Instead of being a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none… focus in on the area where you want to connect with people.

3. Give your site some sense of visual design…something memorable. Pretty much anyone can create a blog these days. But have you invested in a logo? How many real businesses do you know that DON’T have a logo? Doesn’t happen much anymore. You can find people to knock out a logo as cheap as 50 bucks…with a more common range between $100 and $300. It’s not absolutely required, of course. But it does communicate to people that you are taking your business seriously. You can farm this out on a site like Elance or Scriptlance, or just Google “affordable logo design”.

Also, I’ve never been a huge fan of favicons. They don’t work consistently in various browsers, etc. On the other hand…when they’re good, they’re good. They help cement the image of the site in your mind…especially when scanning your bookmarks list. I’ve been really impressed with this online tool for FavIcon creation:

You hand draw your icon if you have such skills…import existing images, grab someone else’s and doctor it for your purposes, etc. Very nicely done.

The point is this: Why do you think McDonald’s spends a bazillion dollars a year reinforcing their slogans in your mind, i.e., “You deserve a break today…” or “I’m lovin’ it!”? It’s because they are defining themselves as THE PLACE to go for quick, consistent food. I’d say it’s working. Do you have the same power working for you? Logos and favicon can both help move you in that direction.

I’m also sorry to report that I am cancelling my Bumpzee membership today. I have long felt that it was one of the more legit attempts at blogging community. Mostly, though, I’m just sick and tired of waiting 10-20 seconds for my blog to load because they’ve been unable to find a way to fix whatever issue is plaguing them. It’s been going on for a long time, and it’s time for me to throw in the towel. I still think MyBlogLog is worth participating in…although I wish they’d crack down a little on the profile pics. What’s the point of having them at all if you’re just going to be deceptive about your appearance in the first place? Good grief, people. It only takes a few minutes of your time to use Yahoo’s own tools to make an avatar who is similar in appearance to you. But, I must say…if someone is that afraid of putting their picture or some reasonable sort of likeness online…I’m not sure I want to have anything to do with whatever activities they are involved in. At some point, it becomes a trust issue.