9 Pointers for Building Branded Blogs

The theme “If you build it, they will come” worked magically in the baseball movie Field of Dreams, but in the crowded blogosphere, only a fraction break through to the big leagues of major media brands. While The Huffington Post, Bleacher Report and Vice are well-known examples, many other blogs succeed on a smaller scale.

A “super bloggers” panel convened at Advertising Week in New York on Thursday, sharing their perspectives on editorial content and sponsored posts with moderator Manoush Zomorodi , host of WNYC’s New Tech City radio show. They included Ben Bowers, founder of Gear Patrol, Julie Carlson, editor-in-chief of Remodelista, Emily Schuman, founder and editor of Cupcakes and Cashmere, and Joy Wilson, founder of Joy the Baker.

While their blogs cover consumer categories like home design, baking, fashion and gadgets, their approaches also apply on the corporate side. Some areas below serve as reminders, while other issues like sponsored content are more recent.

1. Personal setbacks generated momentum: Wilson was fired from her restaurant pastry chef gig, and Schuman took a voluntary layoff from her AOL advertising job. Bowers’ blog partner was injured when skiing and had a hard time finding new skis. This inadvertently led to Gear Patrol’s strategy.

2. Subject matter expertise: They all had experience and passion for their selected categories. Carlson worked at The New Yorker and at a San Francisco home magazine. Schuman was also a Condé Nast alumna, and Wilson had bonafide baking credentials.

3. Identified market niches: Bowers and his partner recognized that men’s lifestyle brands were slow to develop online, so finding gear was an underserved market. Carlson saw high demand for remodeling information, but sought a more approachable style than ‘all-too-perfect’ home décor magazines offered.

4. High visual appeal: “When we started, we saw some rough-looking sites, and we simply won’t post a photo if it doesn’t beautifully illustrate the story”, Carlson emphasized. She said Remodelista won’t even run a story without a high quality image. (visuals posted here from all 4 blogs serve as cases in point)

5. Distinctive tone: For Schuman, using the right voice adds a human element, and it’s a work in progress. “My initial tone was precious, but in real life I’m sarcastic”, she said. Wilson agreed that it’s hard to find balance between her own persona and Joy the Baker’s. “It’s a weird space to navigate.”

6. Mix of highbrow and lowbrow: Schuman seeks to show “an attainable, aspirational lifestyle”. Carlson includes much product coverage, and she likes to compare cheaper and expensive versions. Remodelista only features items that she or her partners use themselves.

7. Multi-platform reader Interaction: Wilson says she “approaches every platform differently, and makes every social sphere independent”, and Schuman offers “something new on each platform”.

Bowers has found Gear Patrol readers are into one-upmanship, so they ask them to share perspectives on watches and other products.

8. Sponsored content with caveats: This is tricky terrain to navigate, and as Wilson noted, “It’s more complicated since my brand is my person”. She occasionally features brands she uses herself, and only works with brands that “trust me to connect with my audience.”

For Carlson it’s important to label sponsored content to set it off graphically from editorial content. She learned the hard way with a glitch that readers noticed.

Bowers said they have guidelines since they’re a product-based site. They don’t partner with brands that want to take full control. After all, he said, “It reflects as much on their brand as it does on us.”

9. Many forms of publicity: The panelists aren’t limited to their online presence. Carlson and Schuman are writing their first and second books. Live event appearances like this panel further promote their brands.

Images courtesy of: Gear Patrol (#1), Remodelista (#2), Joy the Baker (#3), Cupcakes and Cashmere (#4)