Are you new to blogging but aren’t sure how to brand your blog like successful probloggers? Or maybe you’ve been blogging for a while but aren’t seeing great results and think it’s time for an overhaul?
In this blog post I’m going to break down the key elements of a strong brand and why, as bloggers, we need to fully embrace the branding process. You’ll get clear on how to build a compelling, visually cohesive brand that feels true to you. Even if you have zero marketing knowledge or design skills.
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Wait up! Before you continue – want some freebies?
Head over to the FREE RESOURCES page and get access to these branding downloads:
- Brand Identity Workbook – walks you through the branding process and helps you to get clear on your brand message and core values.
- Visual Assets Swipe File – a list of key visual elements you are likely to need to launch your blog and biz.
- Brand Style Guide Template – A Canva template for you to fill in with your own colours, fonts and logos (a free account is all that’s needed.
Do I need graphic design skills to create a strong brand?
Why do other bloggers and biz owners seem to get the whole branding thing right first time? (Hint: they often don’t).
The truth is that many of us struggle to translate the ideas we have in our head to something that not only reads well but looks great online too. If you’re not naturally creative or find it hard to interpret your ideas visually, the branding process can be completely overwhelming.
It’s not as if there aren’t a million branding tutorials out there in Blogland. A quick search in Pinterest will show you that. The problem is many are written by bloggers with years of professional marketing, photography, branding and graphic design backgrounds.
There’s an overwhelming tendency to push you towards complicated (and expensive) design programs like Adobe Illustrator or assume you’re au fait with professional marketing terminology. It can be pretty intimidating and leave you feeling as though you’re somehow not the full package as a blogger.
#truthbomb – few bloggers are genuine all-rounders. Even though it may seem like this. It’s OK to do ‘allthethings’ but it’s equally OK to outsource the stuff you don’t have the time or talent to excel at.
And while it’s great if you can master programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, if you’re just starting out online they represent a pretty steep learning curve and aren’t cheap.
Take it from me, you absolutely do not need to add Illustrator to your ‘to do’ list right now. We’ll get into my suggestions for free and low cost alternatives in a while but first here’s a quick overview of branding:
Branding, Brand Identity, Brand Strategy – what’s the difference and why should you care?
- A brand is really the thoughts, feelings or relationship people have with a particular product, company or individual. A brand is definitely a ‘thing’ but it’s not necessarily something you can easily define. A strong brand successfully persuades its audience to ‘see’ it collectively in the same way.
- Your job as a blogger is to connect with readers in what amounts to a very short time frame. The average user spends around 8 seconds appraising a webpage before deciding whether to move on. The more obvious and clear your website’s message, the more likely you’ll convert users into subscribers and loyal followers.
- Branding on the other hand is more of a process. Just as a farmer literally stamps his mark on his livestock using a branding iron, the branding process is the actions you take to stamp and shape your audience’s perception of your brand (though less painful and gruesome!) It’s an ongoing process that never really ends. From initial identification of your brand’s core values and voice, to creating your logo and visuals. Even household name brands like Coca Cola are constantly shaping and evolving with their audience.
- Your brand identity is really the consistent ways you choose to tell your brand’s story. From obvious visual devices like a colour palette, logo or typeface. To less obvious ones such as the voiceover on an App or your tone and writing style as a blogger.
- Strong brands consistently present the same recognisable elements across all channels in order to reinforce a strong brand message. A blog is no different to any other business. There’s a lot of competition out there so you must find ways to stand out from the noise.
Be true to yourself and confident enough to express your individuality and personality through your brand’s message. Not everyone will like what you do and that’s no bad thing. Trying to appeal to everyone dilutes your brand and renders you forgettable pretty quickly.
If it helps, think of it this way: as a blogger and Solopreneur, you are your brand. That’s a pretty great starting point as a ‘USP’ so don’t try to be anyone else.
What makes a strong brand?
As a blogger who blogs about blogging (pretty meta, right?) I’m acutely aware of the criticism levelled at bloggers in my niche. The gist is that it’s only really possible to make money online telling other people how to make money online.
I hear the same criticisms over and over again, particularly from bloggers who are not in creative or business niches. ‘But these strategies won’t work for my niche’. ‘My audience is different’. I hear you.
For anyone looking to forge an online business, it can feel as though there are few examples of online entrepreneurs with strong brands making a solid living in other niches.
Part of my mission is to show what’s possible across the spectrum and so it was great to stumble on Vanessa Chase Lockshin, the ‘Storytelling Nonprofit’.
Vanessa is a coach, writer and speaker who helps non-profits raise money through ‘transformational storytelling’. She’s created a compelling and clean visual narrative for her brand:
On the face of it, her niche and audience – fundraisers working within the charity sector – is pretty far removed from those ‘six-figure’ bloggers in the business and marketing space. Yet at its core, fundraising is about persuasion. It’s about connecting with people on an emotional level and using storytelling to make persuasive arguments to get them to donate.
When you think about it, it demonstrates the power of marketing at its most purest.
Here are examples of her youtube and facebook profiles. Consistent, and ‘on-brand’:
Vanessa does a great job of using the same colours, fonts, logo and voice to reinforce her brand message. It’s an example of a strong personal brand in a niche not usually associated with such things.
Meg Smidt is also in the coaching space but helps individuals ‘live balanced, intentional lives full of purpose, joy, and passion’. Life coaching is an increasingly competitive niche yet so many coaches are afraid to really niche down and go after one very specific type of client.
It’s immediately obvious from the strong visuals and tone of her personality-packed website that Meg has got very clear about the types of clients she wants to serve. There is little ambiguity about what she does, and doesn’t do. Her brand is a very obvious reflection of her approach and coaching style.
See how Meg’s brand message is consistent, unambiguous and successfully echoed across all her online profiles and social media posts?
Meg’s strong brand message works on more than just a visual level. It’s a filter of sorts, drawing the right people to her brand and filtering out those might not be a good fit for her coaching style. Good branding works as both a magnet and a filter in this respect.
Hopping over to a completely different genre, Cassidy Tuttle is the ‘Yoda of succulents’ who created the hugely popular Succulents and Sunshine. Cassidy is proving it’s possible to making a living in the incredibly niche world of Succulent gardening.
She spoke last year at Craft + Commerce 2017 on the power of niching down and it’s heartening to see what started as a simple curiosity to learn more about these little plants has grown into a mini business empire.
Cassidy has written a range of books on the subject, has an online store using affiliate products and has even created a signature online course teaching others how to grow succulents. From the blog to social media accounts, there’s a consistent vibe and aesthetic which echoes the fun, playful nature of her niche.
There’s nothing overly fancy or complicated about Cassidy’s visuals, website, logo or fonts (or indeed either of the previous examples). It’s something we can all aspire to and an attainable example of how to keep things fresh, fun and on brand.
I love how she’s created two cute logos – one main, full logo for her website and a smaller, icon-based logo for use on things like Instagram and as a favicon (the tiny, circular site icon that shows up in the browser tab):
Notice how I did not use huge, big-budget, household brands as examples of strong brands? While it can be helpful to do this, I find it’s much better to look at attainable, real world examples of successful online business owners in your own niche.
Studying mega brands like Starbucks and Apple is not exactly relatable and the equivalent of comparing an acorn to a forest. Instead look to bloggers who are still growing and evolving but have a decent following or achieved some authority in their field.
A strong brand does not necessarily appeal to everyone so set aside your personal feelings about aesthetics or message and instead focus on how they woo their tribe. What are they doing well and what can you learn from them without copying? Brand consistency is nearly always an important factor in their success.
Brand your blog, improve your productivity
OK, so we’ve established that strong brands maintain a consistent approach, but there’s an unexpected benefit. A consistent, well-defined brand style (as in, literally defined on paper in your brand Style Guide) helps you take the guesswork and frustration out of the content creation process.
Less faff and uncertainty means better productivity and the ability to focus on what matters.
No more fretting about which imagery or fonts to use and wondering if your Pin stands out on Pinterest. Your style guide has you covered. Gradually, this process will become second nature and you’ll be able to create content on auto-pilot.
- Recognition – People will instantly recognise your brand and hone in on your content.
- Loyalty – familiarity with your brand creates loyal fans.
- Trust – the true power of a consistent, strong brand that delivers to its audience over and over again.
Don’t rush into things – why visual branding is the last thing you should focus on
When branding your blog, it’s important to understand it’s not simply creating a bunch of snazzy, matching visuals. It’s the carefully honed sum of many things. In fact, visuals are just about the last thing you should focus on when building your online business. Huh? Hang on, say what?
I’m the first to swoon over a beautifully designed website with slick imagery and I’m seriously capable of geeking out over fonts. Yet all too often branding advice has you reaching for branding boards and font pairings before you’ve even written your first blog post.
By the way, Fontjoy is a really fun tool to help you find font pairing ideas:
But hang on, not so fast! If this is you right now, do yourself a favour and stop!
Focus on defining your core values and content strategy first. Hang out where your ideal audience is hanging out. Don’t have one yet? Try hanging out in online groups in the same niche. Talk to people, figure out what they need.
Then begin building your website, familiarise yourself with WordPress, write a few blog posts. Get a feel for SEO and some of the technical aspects of blogging.
Only when you’re really certain how you want your website to function and how you want it to look, then it’s time to choose a theme, not before!
You really don’t need to launch with a big bang and all the whistles and bells in place and you certainly don’t need a perfectly designed logo or colour palette to get started on social media.
Establishing a low key presence and evolving your brand over a few months is better than ‘launching’ to crickets. Find your voice and who you truly serve then focus on creating branding and visuals that reflect this.
The truth is, the way you’ll feel about your brand after a few weeks or months is likely to be very different to how you feel on day one. It’s a constantly evolving process so don’t rush it or expect it to be ‘done’. I’m a big fan of the ‘tweak’. Small adjustments here and there to a logo, layout or fonts is perfectly fine. People won’t freak out and, if they do, maybe they’re not the right kind of follower after all?
You’ll be so much more in tune with your brand if you follow this advice.
How to create your brand’s visuals – Go Pro or DIY?
When you are ready to tackle your visual branding, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise to learn that there is so much more to it than creating a logo.
You’ll need a brand colour palette, fonts, photography, social media templates and banners. Oh and not just one, but possibly two logos (one with your brand name and one without) and additional graphic elements.
Sometimes it’s worth weighing up the pros and cons to figure out if this is one area where you want to invest in hiring a branding professional. While you’ll likely get great results, you’ll still need to have a pretty clear idea about what it is that you do – and don’t – want.
Designers aren’t mind readers. Good ones should be able to make the brainstorming process an enjoyable one that really gets to the heart of what your brand is about.
If you truly haven’t figured it out yourself yet, there’s a chance you might end up feeling frustrated and unhappy with the results. This is why it’s crucial to lay the foundations of your business and brand before you think about the visuals, whether you’re DIYing or paying a pro.
The in-between approach
While a professional designer will deliver the goods, let’s be honest, for anyone just starting out, a custom branding package can be a pretty big expense and might not be right for your business at such an early stage. If hiring a pro isn’t feasible, a pre-designed, customisable branding package is a fantastic, budget-friendly alternative.
Creative Market is my go-to for graphics-related goodies and there are lots of high quality, pre-designed branding and logo packages available at incredibly reasonable prices.
Etsy also has a ton of designers offering pro-looking, pre-designed and customisable logos and graphics packages.
On the logo front, if you’re feeling more creative but need a helping hand, Logojoy is a really fun online logo maker. Perfect for anyone with little to no design skills. Their intuitive, browser-based design interface is incredibly user-friendly so it’s possible to create a clean, pro-looking logo in very little time.
Simply sign up for free and just play around creating as many logos as you want so you can canvas opinions before you decide to purchase. There’s even a cool feature which shows your logo mocked up on a variety of products, so you can visualise how it will look in ‘real life’ scenarios too.
The mid-tier ‘Premium’ package is really reasonable and gives you scaleable SVG files (essential), .PDFs, .JPEGs, .PNG and .EPS files. Basically everything you need for web and print.
‘All very nice if you have a budget’, I bet you’re thinking, but what should you do if you’re bootstrapping and simply can’t afford any of these options (or perhaps you’re simply up for a creative challenge?)
Then you’re going to have to roll your sleeves up and DIY it all anyway!
It can be quite a daunting prospect, and people trying to flog you expensive branding courses like to sniff at this approach, but it’s totally possible to create your brand’s visual elements for free without the need for overly fancy software or professional design credentials.
I’ve even created this handy dandy tutorial: How To Easily DIY A Logo With Curved Text Using Gravit Designer. You can download Gravit Designer to help you create a simple but profesh looking circular logo for your blog and social media:
Tips to help you DIY your brand’s visual identity:
- Start with your big ‘why’ – If you haven’t already done so, create a mission statement for your blog and biz. Get clear as to your core brand values, who your ideal reader or client is, their struggles and why they should care about you. How will you serve them? Visit the Free Resources page to access the free Brand Identity Workbook to help you figure it all out (along with several others freebies to help you create your brand’s visuals).
- What do you want people to think about your brand? How do you want to make them feel? Be aware of the tone and vibe you want to convey.
- Read up on colour psychology – Fiona Humberstone of The Brand Stylist is a Brand Strategist who knows a thing or two about colour theory and branding. She has a ton of useful tips on colour psychology for business (hint: your own colour personality may differ from your business’ colour personality). Play around with colour palette combinations. Coolors.co is my favourite colour palette creator. Be aware that things can look different on screen to print and test out different combinations on your website while you figure out a palette that works for both your digital and printed assets.
- Get inspired! Browse Pinterest, Creative Market, Envato, Logoed, Identity Designed and Logospire for logo, font and brand inspiration (but don’t be tempted to copy) Browse your favourite websites and social media accounts and make a note of any design elements you like.
- Create a digital mood board in Pinterest with Pins of your favourite graphic elements, logos, fonts, imagery and inspirations.
- Learn about choosing the right fonts – Your website and social media graphics need text so choose a strong headline font, another for body and paragraphs and perhaps a contrasting brush or script font. Canva has written this great guide to font pairings. If you’re after free web fonts for your website check out Font Squirrel or Google Fonts. If your theme doesn’t already support Google fonts, the Easy Google Fonts WordPress plugin will allow you to use any free Google font. Always check the license to ensure you have permission to use any font, even free ones.
- Get familiar with free online graphics programs – If Adobe products are out of your budget, these will be your go-to resources and so it makes sense to trial a few as you’ll most likely find each has its own use for different things. I love Canva (free) for its brilliant predesigned templates covering just about every type of visual you’ll need online (I also use it to create pretty much all of my content upgrades). For logos you’ll need something with more pro-like features that can handle vector graphics. I’ve recently discovered GravitDesigner (desktop version). It’s the best free alternative to Adobe Illustrator I’ve found online. I love how I can create vector-based logos (crisper and fully scalable with no loss of quality) on a transparent background using fonts loaded on my computer. I’ve yet to find any comparable free program that allows you to do this so easily. Other recommended free resources are Adobe Spark and Gimp or Befunky (for image and photo editing).
- Keep your logo design simple – Smartsign recently conducted a study of the logos of 2000 new and successful companies from Fortune 5000’s list of America’s Fastest Growing Companies and found 94% were of minimal design and 89% used only three colours or less. Consider a simple text-based logo if you’re unsure. Check out Will Paterson’s Youtube Channel for tips on logo design.
- Photography matters – If you can’t afford a pro or don’t know anyone you can pull in a favour from to help with your photography, at least ensure you’re using a decent camera or taking high resolution shots. It’s worth investing in a cheap tripod. Use daylight where possible and take shots of you in natural, blog-related situations (ie at your laptop or desk, holding a cup of coffee, talking (or laughing) with someone out of shot. Try different angles and don’t look directly at the camera (unless you’re taking profile shots but, even then, it’s a rule you can totally break!) Video yourself if that’s easier! You can take a still or simply use it to study which poses look the most natural and flattering. The idea is to show your personality. People want to relate to a real human, so ditch the awkward Linkedin style resumé shots (eurgh) and show the real you.
- Enhance your brand using styled photography – Flatlays are styled overhead shots of items related to your blog and business. Used on your website and social media/ blog posts they are actually pretty easy to create. All you need is some large sheets of coloured art card or simply use a desk or table as a background. Flatlays are a brilliant way to convey things about your brand’s personality with objects like stationery, gadgets, home decor, cupcakes, whatever! Again, shoot in daylight and be mindful of proportions and how it will be used – as a full width image on your blog, for instance or as a vertical image for a social media or blog post? Creating your own flatlays isn’t essential but it guarantees no one else has the same. You’ll find stylish, non-cheesy stock images for free at Unsplash or if you want more exclusivity and don’t have time to create your own consider purchasing them from a niche stock site (I personally use and love Ivory Mix and Styled Stock Society for feminine, styled stock imagery).
Your writing voice – why it matters to your brand
Finally, as a blogger it’s important to understand how your writing style impacts your brand.
It’s pretty common to agonise over this and how to come across authentically online. Sadly, some bloggers end up tempering their language and personality to the point of creating a blog with all the appeal of a shipping forecast or being so self-consciously wordy and ‘clever’ that it ends up sounding like a research paper. Ain’t no one got time for either of those.
#Truthbomb: To be a great blogger you don’t actually need to be a brilliant writer in the traditional, ‘book-smart’ sense, you just need to be able to write the way you actually speak. A conversational vibe goes a long way.
One of the great things about blogging is that it’s a bit different to other types of writing. The rules are slightly different and for a very simple reason.
Readers don’t want to plough through wordy posts better suited to a broadsheet newspaper. They don’t want to work that hard. They want immediate satisfaction, and fast. Neither do they want to connect with a robot.
Help them to connect with a real, authentic human and make them feel as though you’re speaking directly to them. The simplest advice is to write as though you’re having a conversation with your ideal reader. Keep it conversational in tone and give them what they came for.
There’s a ton of debate about this but I generally feel more comfortable using the more informal and direct ‘you’. It just feels more intimate, even if it goes against everything we learned at school. Go with what feels right for you.
If you use slang, or curse and that’s genuinely part of your brand, don’t be afraid to let it flow! Let your personality speak through your words. Slang shouldn’t mean sloppy, however. Poor grammar and spelling is bad for SEO, so be sure to check your writing for obvious spelling errors and unintentional grammatical errors using an online tool like Grammarly.
If you’re a bit whacky, snarky and funny or more serious, sincere and reserved, if it rings true and you give good value, your audience will love you for it. Even if your online persona is a little bit ‘more’ of who you are in real life, that’s OK too. We’re all a bit different at home than we are at work. Consistency and authenticity is what really matters.
So what’s next?
As a blogger it should be clear why branding is so important and why a strong foundation is key to a strong brand. Here’s how to put it all together:
- Head over to the FREE Resources then complete the Brand Identity workbook to get clear about your mission and brand values.
- Familiarise yourself with free graphics programs such as Canva and Gravit Designer. Check out their blogs for design tips! Research other blogs, social media accounts and websites for layout and graphic design ideas. Create a Pinterest board to Pin any designs or websites that float your boat.
- Don’t wait to launch to get out there – set up your website and social media accounts. Write a few blog posts. Join online groups and get to know your audience. Ask questions, engage your audience, get inspired and truly live and breathe your brand.
- Create your visual branding – when you’re finally clear on your brand vibe and message, decide whether a pre-made branding or logo package is right for you or whether you’ll DIY it. Keep it simple and most important of all, remember to maintain consistency across all channels.
- Create your brand style guide (using the free Brand Style Guide Template in the Free Resources library) – refer to it every time you create a social media or blog post.
Excited to dive into your branding journey? Let your followers know by sharing this page by hitting up the share buttons below! (A baby Sea Otter smiles when you do!)