The beauty of blogging is that once you’ve published your post, you can check your “stats” minutes later and see if anyone is looking. I say “looking” because who knows if anyone reads such things. When I visit other blogs, I mostly look at the pictures. However, I love my stats counter because the “visits,” “views,” “likes” and “comments” can provide an exquisite adrenaline rush. Imagine my shock then when after publishing my first several posts, I discovered that only one or two of my most cherished friends and relatives had deigned to give my blog a gander.
This came as a demoralizing jolt. Aside from my wish that these posts lead to a lucrative writing gig—columns, books, corporate spin-doctoring—my intention is that this blog offer a refreshing perspective on the life of a middle-aged guy, one who teaches business writing to college students, does a little freelance word-smithery, and lives in Baltimore, Maryland. For those who would like a few minutes away from their own self-absorption, I thought people might appreciate a window into mine. For numerous folk, the stress-reducing benefits of distraction from real-life problems can prove healthful.
Also unlike your problems, which are all consuming, mine will consume you for only a short time. You can leave my pages whenever you like—although I do enjoy your company. And reading about my self-absorption, as opposed to, say, that of the Kardashians, doesn’t require you waiting out commercials or purchasing expensive magazines, nor does it require frequent store visits to investigate Kim or Khloe’s latest eyebrow pencil. My site is free for browsing, and through my example of quiet self-absorption, even the average gal or fellow on limited budget can borrow from my techniques.
With so much to offer, visitors to this blog should understand why I’d initially hoped for a broader range of readership. How disappointing to spend so many hours, if not days, dressing up my pages with graphics, photos, pithy breakout quotes, and hard won insights on life only to have these creations and selective borrowings from others sent out to the ozonosphere for some free-form floating. Like any product creator who offers his or her product for free, I felt that something should be done and only I could do it.
With this in mind, I began then to engage in the time-tested and most honored form of advertising that I know of, word of mouth. I undertook to annoy many of my friends, interrupting our conversations about children, pets, and football by inserting references to my website and domain name: “Charney’s Life of Charney” at markcharney.com.
Not only did I remind people of my name outright, to strangers that I might encounter, I also borrowed other tried and true advertising techniques, mentioning my name and then creating associations that would help people remember what to type into their browsers. As my grade school companions used to enjoy reminding me, my last name bears a striking resemblance to the word “Charming” and from there it’s only a short transformation to “Charney.” So think “Charming” and no doubt, you will remember “Charney.”
Older folks might also recall that the luxury brand of bathroom tissue, “Charmin,” which Mr. Whipple once begged his grocery store customers not to squeeze, also sounds a lot like my cognomen. I can assure you that my grade school friends were quite fond of reminding me of this association. Now I remind you. The word “Charmin,” so squeezably soft, sounds a lot like Charney, and I should also say that I don’t mind an occasional hug, as long as the hugger doesn’t approach my torso with the force of a roller derby queen. Still if you can squeeze Charney from Charmin, squeeze away.
Having employed word of mouth and mnemonic devices as well as the repetition of my name—Charney, Charney, Charney—I still gained no spikes in my blog stats. And so I began to branch out, writing introductory posts on Facebook and Twitter and attaching my blog’s site address with a link or fully written web address. To those without Facebook or Twitter accounts, I sent emails. Imagine the surprise of my Wednesday night basketball buddies, if you will, when they began opening their weekly email reminders about our game-time starts and found the emphatic message: “Read My Blog!”
Short of spending money on newspaper or magazine ads, late-night television commercials, or direct mail advertising, I felt that I’d achieved what I could on my meager advertising budget. Alas, even after all that effort, my stats refused a satisfactory spike.
And so I went searching for a new way to get the word out, typing disparate phrases into my browser such as “marketing,” “consultant,” “Baltimore,” and “Maryland.” The results presented me with multiple choices, one of them being “Rhonda Serendip, Marketing & Management Consulting.” I called the phone number and after a few bemused moments in which I thought I recognized the voice on the other end, I discovered I was talking to Rhonda from the accessories department at Macy’s, the retail manager who I had met during my Christmas shopping excursion, the woman who had offered her aid in my search for the perfect purse for my wife.
I told Rhonda that despite her running away from me at the shopping mall, I was happy to hear her voice again. How was it that she had her own marketing and management consulting business?
She said Macy’s didn’t pay much, and as she had a marketing degree from a reputable college, she decided to freelance. I told her about my blog, my dream of using it as a launching pad to a lucrative writing gig, and my discouragement at not getting much traffic. What strategies had I tried thus far? She asked. I outlined my work on making personal contact and my use of email and social media.
“That’s great!” she said with much enthusiasm, “but you need to become familiar with more modern techniques. Have you ever heard of branding?”
“What, like for cows and criminals?”
“An old concept yes but much updated. There’s lots to talk about, but before doing so, it’s best you direct me to your blog.”
I gave her the web address and my email. She had some preliminary information to send and would contact me in a few days. “I’ve got shoes and handbags to sell,” she said, “but I’m a multitasker, I’ll contemplate your case as I cajole shoppers.”
We agreed on a preliminary fee for her research, and I hung up with the word “branding” seared into my noggin.
I poured myself a coffee and minutes later, I opened an email that she’d sent me. It provided a brief on what it meant to develop a brand. The material indicated that an entire aura, lifestyle, or even culture needed to be imagined for my product’s ideal customer and how my product might fit what was called “a certain ethos.” In keeping with the idea of ethos, everything about my product needed to be controlled: from associated images to logo, from name to color and texture combinations, from tagline to choice of celebrity spokesperson. “You’re not just creating a product,” the literature said. “You’re developing brand personality, and in a way, your personality.”
I was way out of my depth here. I’d never thought of my personality as a brand.
A few days later, Rhonda called back. I wondered if she wore the same blue business suit that I’d first met her in and if the reindeer brooch had been replaced with a snowflake or songbird. Or maybe she spent her home-time in silk pajamas. She interrupted my imaginings by asking me to do some self-reflection, “I have ideas about where we can go with you and your blog,” she said, “but it’s better if these things grow organically, evolve from you. Let me ask, are there any words that people have used to describe you in the past, any words outside of the normal obscenities that people use to describe someone who cuts them off in traffic? We want to keep things positive.”
“Sure. In the past, people have described me as droll, dry, bohemian, tall, bald, mysterious, stoic, sophistic, scary, quirky, a free thinker. A girl called me “deep” once. I thought that was cute. I wanted to ask her out.”
“Deep implies intellectual,” Rhonda said, “I’ve read your writing; you seem to scorn intellect.”
“You read my writing?! That’s great! What did you think? Did you click ‘like’ on any of my posts?”
“Let’s focus on you here.”
“Okay, well I scorn intellect because it seems a popular thing to do. I used to like it, but I don’t want to alienate people.”
“And for good reason. There’s no quicker buzz kill than thinking. In any case, I notice that you used the word ‘quirky.’ I had some ideas along those lines. After checking out your site, I wrote down ‘iconoclastic,’ ‘idiosyncratic,’ ‘esoteric,’ and ‘quirky’ too. But here’s the word that I think fits you best: ‘Offbeat.’ You’re selling the offbeat. Remember that. You sell mainly a Baltimore brand of it, the middle-aged offbeat male, and you might have a niche in the eccentric liberal arts teacher market as well. According to my research, most liberal arts teachers are eccentrics. You might even be able to branch out into other age and sex demographics. I warn you however, while it does have its charms, the offbeat is by no means one of the lucrative mainstream markets. If it’s money you’re after, try for more down home country or bourgeois branding.”
I was confused. “You met me in person,” I said. “Don’t I strike you as conventional? I dress plainly, conservatively. I shop for ordinary handbags to make my wife happy, even if I don’t buy them.”
“Yes, you’re slightly bourgeois, but you didn’t buy the handbag, and that’s key.”
“Oh, come on, why all this talk about some kind of personality makeover? Couldn’t you just give me a few tips on how to advertise my blog?”
“You’re missing the point.” Rhonda said. “Blog content is only a small part of what you’re selling. It’s not just about the content; it’s about you. You’re never going to make any headway in building a readership and obtaining a lucrative writing gig if you remain just a blogger. You must BE “Offbeat.” Stop believing the traffic wants to visit your blog, start thinking the traffic wants to visit you! Besides, after the first couple of posts, nobody will care what you write. You’ll be remembered mainly for the originality of the early posts and you can just repost them.
“As long as you’re consistent with quirky headlines, graphics, and offer a few catchy keywords, your blog page is more or less something of a launching pad for your brand. Perhaps the offbeat consumer will leave their computer screen up at parties so guests can look at your page and say, ‘I didn’t know you read Charney’s blog’—we’ll talk name change later—‘I read that too.’ These types of connections are priceless. They build value.
“But you keep working on your posts. I’ll get to work developing “The Offbeat You.” I’ve got ideas for graphics, a logo, wardrobe, collection of soundbites to be used for media interviews, and like I said, name change. This is only the beginning. Once we’ve locked in on your brand personality, we can use that as a launching pad for any other product you’d like to create, that is if you’re still interested in creating a product. Some well-known brands survive mainly on inertia.
“But I see you as an offbeat creative, so if you want to do offbeat motivational speaking tours, we can do offbeat motivational speaking tours. If you want to do three-day offbeat teaching seminars, we can do three-day offbeat teaching seminars. If you still want to write a book, write a book. As long as it’s offbeat, we can make that happen. To be honest though, the straightforward writing market offers low yield on high investment.
“My view is that there’s a large untapped market for writers as co-branders. I mean writers as endorsers. I could get you hocking offbeat products that fit the offbeat lifestyle: cookbooks, designer sheets, frozen pizzas, pet toys, furniture, automobiles, architecture, clothing, cameo appearances in offbeat movies. You name it. There might even be an offbeat amusement park in your future.”