Become a Spy & Build a Brand Your Audience Loves

Do you have a website?

If so, then you’ve probably had to make difficult decisions about branding. Whether you are an entrepreneur, freelancer or blogger – your website is one of your biggest marketing tools. It’s the face of your business, and potential clients will judge you on it.

You’ve heard that before right? You know how important a brand is and you’ve probably invested in making your site stand out. After all, if the biggest steps in life are from zero to something, then one of the biggest steps in WordPress is from Twenty Eleven to Custom Theme.

But awareness of branding isn’t enough.

Good Design Isn’t Enough

An eye for design helps. You’ll be able to choose colours, images and fonts that go well together. In all likelihood you will even create an aesthetically pleasing and cohesive brand.

But this isn’t a beauty contest.

What you need is a website that speaks to a specific audience. So that when they arrive at your little corner of the internet, their first thought is “alright, this is a place built just for me!”.

I wanted to know how to get that reaction for my interviews site, so I spent an hour talking with Pamela Wilson of Big Brand System.

This post is a three step process I learned from Pamela about creating a brand that speaks directly to your audience.

Step One: Spy On the Pros

Pamela and I did a lot of name dropping in our conversation. Why? Because part of the reason the pros are pros is that their branding syncs so well with their audiences’ expectations.

So for this first step, find the top performers in a broad category related to your work. If you are blogger, then looking at any other blog will do. Here are some of the big names that Pamela and I considered with a brief explanation of their branding.

KISSmetrics Blog

KISSmetrics blog is simple and conversion focussed. Makes a lot of sense for an analytics company, doesn’t it?

The Art of Non-Conformity

World domination, travel hacking, living a remarkable life – all of these characteristics are summed up by Chris Guillebeau’s impressive theme for The Art of Non-Conformity.

Think Traffic

We look at the top left corner of a website first. At Think Traffic this key space is occupied by a series of connected dots. If you’ve spent any time with Google Analytics the message conveyed is simple: this website is about getting traffic (and marketing in general).

Nerd Fitness

Level up your life. Super hero references. “The Rebellion” newsletter. Lego pictures. Posts called The Lord of The Rings Guide to Getting Sh** Done. Everything on Steve Kamb’s blog is geared towards the nerds amongst us.

Looking at these blogs you can’t help but feel inspired, right? That’s when you are ready to move on to step two.

Step Two: Determine Your Audience

Spend some time really, really thinking about who you are trying to appeal to. Get the idea out of your head that you are writing for the whole entire internet. And decide who can most be served by the information you offer, and the products and services you offer.
–Pamela Wilson,

Though it dampened my ambitions, Pamela’s advice to not write for the whole entire internet seems sound. After all, even the far reaching ProBlogger and Copyblogger appeal to a certain audience.

During this process, you can get really specific about who you are targeting. What type of car do they drive? What do they eat for dinner? What’s their home life like? Where do they work? Give them a name.

When you’re done, you’ve upgraded your target from a vague notion to a concrete personality with likes and dislikes. With that information, you can then build your site with the target in mind.

But what kind of design do they like?

Step Three: Spy On The Hangouts

If your audience is online then they are hanging out somewhere. Find those places and dissect the host site’s brand. These are some of the design and branding elements you should pay attention to:

  • how is the logo displayed?
  • how about the tag line?
  • what type of navigation do they use?
  • what are the primary colours used?
  • what kind of information is displayed on the front page?
  • which elements of the design are emphasized?
  • what is the call to action?
  • do they use default or custom fonts?

Once you recognize these elements in the existing hangouts you can adopt and adapt them for your brand. Adaption is important, because Pamela warns if your design is too similar then “people are going to have a really hard time believing they are going to find unique content on a site that looks visually just like another site”. Be unique.


The next step is of course implementation. I hope that with this preliminary work in mind, your execution will be that much more succinct.

Is there a website that inspired your design?

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