The Theory and Practice of Branding A Blog
The blog known as EastSouthWestNorth got started about two years ago, when I moved to Hong Kong from New York City. My goal was to use the blog as a bookmarking system so that I can collect links that help me to learn the world around me: Hong Kong, China, Latin America, Iraq, data mining, pharmaeuticals, etc. (see, for example, What Is On This Blog? for a summary of blog contents in the year 2004). Then on or about March 12, 2005, I took the decision to take down the entire historical archive and then re-launch the blog from scratch.
It is easier to see if I present a time-series graph of daily bandwidth consumption from the first day to the end of April 2005.
You can see see that there is a gradual growth, with occasional spikes (due to specials such as Muzimei, the Abu Ghraib prison photos, the Fallujah massacre and so on). The growth in this chart seemed slow and steady. So why should there be a problem? Ah, but you need to take a careful took at the vertical scale of this chart. It is not a linear scale; it is a logarithmic scale in multiples of kilobytes. The highest point in the chart represented more than 100 gigabytes of bandwidth on one day, and it is about 1,000 times higher than the most recent point (which is about 100,000 kilobytes a day). If this was plotted on the linear scale, there would just be one spike and a flatline elsewhere. Mass audience statistics were not sufficient in themselves.
So things were getting out of hand, with serious financial implications. I might have been willing to pay for the bandwidth, but I did not think that people were coming for the right reasons. I found that I had the ability to make people cry their eyes out and send all their contacts to my website, but that was not my intention. I did not enjoy manipulating people's visceral reaction to tortuous stimuli. So I sat back and re-analyzed my own reasons for wanting to do the blog, and I concluded that a complete re-launch would give me a clean start. This time, I will do exactly what I want to do, instead of being led down a path that was never in the plans. If I am to be successful, it will be on my own terms and not by accident.
So what do I want to do now?
I am not interested in fame (no, you don't know my name unless you work very hard to find it). I am not interested in money (no, nobody is going to get rich from doing this type of thing). Rather, I am intellectually challenged by a branding exercise for this blog (and perhaps for blogs in general). I have a general idea but I don't have a manifesto, so I'll just pull together a few things.
First of all, here is a very current (May 3, 2005) excerpt from Press Freedom Day: Human rights in the Blogosphere from Amnesty International:
Anyone can start a blog, comment on one and, usually, say whatever they want. Blogs effectively sideline the normal publishing process: there is no editorial control; rarely even a pretence at balance or impartiality; and quite often, no respect for the rules of traditional media, such as fact-checking, confidentiality or adherence to the law.
Blogs are individual expressions of opinion. Where "facts" are cited, they should be treated with healthy scepticism. As long as the reader makes his or her own judgments about the information, the fact that blogs do not purport to provide a balanced view can be refreshing, as there is little risk of a hidden agenda or bias.
So you get this sense that blogs are not always reliable and trustworthy as sources of information. Since the EastSouthWestNorth blog is highly ranked for a number of keywords about events, people and places in Google searches, it stands to reason that a mainstream media reporter would likely come across the blog contents when researching a subject. What will they do when they retrieve the information, given their lack of trust about blogs in general? Here are two recent examples.
Example 1: (Original EastSouthWestNorth posts: Huaxi/Huankantou: A New Chinese Tourist Mecca and Q&A about Huaxi/Huankantou )
Rural citizens fighting back. By Joe Havely. CNN.com, May 3, 2005.
In the ensuing clashes, reports said more than 1,000 riot police were forced back by angry villagers, leaving a trail of overturned buses, broken glass and burned-out police cars. Photographs of the apparent aftermath -- showing wrecked vehicles and dented police helmets -- have since appeared on several Weblogs.
Example 2: (Original EastSouthWestNorth posts: Serve The People and Serve The People - Chapter 6)
Sexually Charged Political Satire Slips Into Internet. By Antoaneta Bezlova. Inter Press Service (IPS), April 15, 2005.
''Did I consider beforehand whether juxtaposing Chairman Mao's photos with sex would lead to a ban?'' mused the writer in an interview published on 'EastSouthWestNorth', a Chinese blog, soon after the ban. ''When I write, I don't think about publishing issues until I have finished. Expressing emotions and anger is the driving force for my creativity."
You get the impression that the attribution is grudging and restrained, and short of the traditional blog etiquette in listing specific links or even just URLs. Given the lack of trustworthiness of some blogs, I don't blame them.
What is to be done?
I am running a branding exercise for EastSouthWestNorth. I am going to quote from Dan Herman, while noting that the principles of branding are well-known to marketers:
A brand is the anticipation consumers feel towards a specific benefit about to be derived from an identified source (a product, a service, a corporation, and so forth) often associated with a standardized set of symbolic representations (name, logo, emblem, color, tagline, image, etc').
If the anticipated outcome of consuming, using, or owning the particular product, or receiving the service, is beneficial in a personally significant way, and there are no doubts to cloud the provision of the benefit, then we want the brand. We want it even more if the benefit is unique and if it is not accompanied by any drawbacks (perceived damage resulting from the price or the calories, for instance), which might impair our enjoyment.
From this standpoint, a marketer can claim ownership of a brand only if his target consumers attribute to his product and / or service the ability of consistently delivering (exclusively, if possible) a certain desired experience, or a beneficial result. The more motivating and unique the expected benefit, the stronger the desire and the more persistent the preference.
A brand's effectiveness does not depend on its name, logo, emblem, typefaces, slogan, characteristic colors, tunes, shapes or any other of its symbolizations. The importance of how great these are is in fact secondary at the most. Creating a brand is not a matter of advertising either. Advertising, and in fact all marketing and communication disciplines together, make only one out of five means to realize a brand. A brand is a well-differentiated concept for providing consumers with a benefit that will arouse motivating, exclusive and incomparable anticipations.
Through patience and diligence, I intend to establish EastSouthWestNorth as a valued source of information. I want to do this consistently over time. I will be patient, as my two previous websites took at least five years to reach their respective acmes. I will be diligent, and I would like keep to the readers off balance for the anticipation factor. Whatever this is, this will not be the very predictable mainstream media. In five years' time, I will review the promise in this post to tell you how far I have progressed. I won't say anymore for now, but just leave this as a milestone after the first five years.