Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
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Welcome to episode 132 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with Laurie Buckle from CookIt Media about the importance of the story behind your brand.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork talks about setting goals for the new year. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Laurie has an acute understanding of the power of story. Your brand’s story is the reason why your brand exists, and it helps facilitate a connection with your readers that creates loyalty throughout your blogging career.
Over at CookIt Media, Laurie helps bloggers solidify their stories and brands. She believes that story is the best communication tool that you can use, and she’s here to speak about how you can discover and perfect your own brand’s story.
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Bjork Ostrom: Hey, hey, look at this. Bjork Ostrom here. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Today, we have a new format, some new music. I’m going to be talking about Pinterest SEO, and then we’re going to be interviewing Laurie Buckle about the importance of story. Can’t wait to share this podcast episode with you. This episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast is brought to you by … That’s right, we have a sponsor … WP Tasty. Now, for those of you that follow along closely with the podcast, you know that WP Tasty is a brand or business that we launched last year. The idea with WP Tasty is that we were building solutions for Pinch of Yum that we wanted to fix for our blog, and we knew that other people would be interested in using those on their site.
WP Tasty is offering those plugins that we’re using on Pinch of Yum, and now hundreds of other people are using, for you to download and use. All of the WP Tasty plugins are premium plugins, which means you can’t find them on WordPress. The reason we do that is because we also want to offer support and make sure that we can pay for continued incredible development with those plugins. That’s the idea with this sponsorship. We’re calling it the Tasty Tip. The Tasty Tip is a short, little segment in the beginning of the podcast where, instead of just talking about the product, we’re going to offer some value along with that. The first thing that I want to talk about for the first ever Tasty Tip is the idea of Pinterest SEO. I’m not going to dive deep on this, but I wanted to introduce the concept to allow you to think about that so we don’t get stuck in one way of thinking about SEO.
Usually, we think about SEO from the perspective of Google and showing up high on Google, or maybe Bing as well, if you want to be inclusive of the other search engine. But there’s other places where you can implement SEO, and one of the most important areas to do that is Pinterest. As you’re thinking about showing up high in Google, you should also be thinking about showing up high on Pinterest. One of the best ways to do that is to have a really optimized Pinterest description for your images. Now, I’m not going to go into specifics about what an optimized Pinterest description is, but you can go to wptasty.com/pinterestdescription, and that will forward you to a blog post that Raquel wrote on the WP Tasty and Food Blogger Pro team, talking about an optimized imaged description for Pinterest and how to create that.
Now, the important thing here as you’re thinking about optimizing your image for Pinterest is that you also want to optimize your image for SEO on Google. The way that you do that is by separating out the Pinterest description and the thing called the alt text or the alt attribute. For those of you that use WordPress, you know that there’s this little area, and that’s called alt text or alt attribute. Usually, bloggers will use that to put in a Pinterest description. But a couple months ago, Casey Markee, who’s a Food Blogger Pro expert on our team and offers massive insights and help with the SEO niche specific to food blogs, reached out and said, “Bjork, on Pinch of Yum, you should really look at doing your alt text differently, because, essentially, you’re doing it wrong.”
We were using Pinterest text, or Pinterest description, in that alt area, alt text area. What we did is we said, “Hey, let’s think about this. How can we separate that out?” We worked to develop a plugin called Tasty Pins that allows you to separate the alt text and the Pinterest text. Now you can optimize your image both for Google SEO as well as Pinterest SEO. Again, we’re not going to dive into specifics, but there’s two posts that you can check out. The one is the first that I mentioned, wptasty.com/pinterestdescription, and then the other one is talking about creating a good alt text. You can get that by going to wptasty.com/alttext. Those two articles together, those two blog posts, will explain how you can optimize both Pinterest and alt text for SEO on Google and SEO on Pinterest.
That’s the Tasty Tip. I wanted to introduce that as a concept to not think about SEO just on Google, but to also think about it on Pinterest. Now, if you’re into code, if you’re a developer, there’s ways that you can include that little Pinterest description area with an image manually. But if you want to do that a little bit easier, you can use Tasty Pins to do that and have that available right within WordPress. We’ll link to those in the show notes as well. But that’s our first ever Tasty Tip. Hope you enjoyed it. All right, today we are talking to Laurie Buckle from CookIt Media. The fun thing about today’s interview is that there’s actually been some previous guests on The Food Blogger Pro Podcast that have talked about working with CookIt Media and working with Laurie to do a little bit of a consulting session and branding/story session to really get a better idea of who they are as it relates to their blog and their business.
Obviously, if you don’t win that, you can also contact Laurie and her team to work with her if you’re interested in doing one of these rebranding or consulting sessions having to do with your brand and your story. Really important takeaways for you in this podcast interview with Laurie, so let’s go ahead and jump in. Laurie, welcome to the podcast.
Laurie Buckle: Thank you. So happy to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We’re going to talk a lot about story today, which is an awesome topic because it’s such an important topic, especially for people that listen to this podcast, those being creators. Before we get into anything, before we even get into your story, I would love to establish: why is story so important, especially for people that are building a blog or a digital media business?
Laurie Buckle: That’s a good question. Also happens to be my favorite topic of all time.
Bjork Ostrom: Great. Perfect.
Laurie Buckle: At CookIt, we like to say that story is our secret sauce. Everything we do, which is brand consulting, brand management, content creation, it all really starts with story. In my experience, it’s the best communication tool you can use. It’s really the way to connect with your client, whether that client is a brand, a follower, a consumer, whoever that might be. When you tell story about who you are and what you do, you sort of have a way of taking all that information and wrapping it up in a package that someone’s interested in hearing as opposed to a bunch of bullet points or something like that. I think it brings a personal perspective to the conversation that also grabs people and gets their attention as well.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When you say personal, why is that an important thing? I think people get that if we’re thinking about what it’s like to be a blogger or an influencer where you are the person, but I would guess that personal also is important on more of a brand level as well, where there’s maybe not just one person behind it, but still, it’s important to be personal. Why do you think that’s such an important thing?
Laurie Buckle: This is a good question. When I say personal, I’m actually talking about the brand at that point. In many ways, I think with influencers, the sense is that, oh, I have to share my personal story. More and more, I think as an industry, we’re stepping a little bit away from that and into a more reader-focused perspective. But that means that then you’re building story around your brand and who you are as a brand and what you do, how you connect with the reader in terms of solving their problems and that sort of thing. That’s the story you’re telling. Many ways, because it is your business and it’s your brand, it’s very personal.
Bjork Ostrom: Hm. That’s interesting. To give an example, or to put some, maybe, context around it, do you have anybody that you can think of? It wouldn’t have to be a blogger, necessarily, or a small business, but even a business that’s doing a good job of that, of being personal and having a strong story in the content that they’re creating and publishing, whether that be social media, or whether that be their website, or even kind of in a traditional print or traditional press way that … a brand that’s doing a really good job with storytelling.
Laurie Buckle: That’s such a hard question to answer. I would love to just list off everyone we had ever worked with in consulting, because they don’t get to leave the room until they’ve got a really good story and it’s all going on.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Laurie Buckle: But I think I’d have to point to Gaby Dalkin as sort of the personification of building story around her brand. Her whole idea is the California girl. Working on that with her and helping her really get to the root of what that was and who that was and why it existed and why it was important, like where it could go once she became the California girl … Every time I talk to her, every product she creates, whether it’s her new book that’s coming out or it’s something that she’s doing for the site, it’s always there. It’s on the tip of her tongue. She’s wedded to it in such a way that I think it’s really had an impact in terms of how people see her, how people understand her brand. It truly is the story around her and what she does.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. For those that didn’t listen to that episode back in October, it was episode …
Laurie Buckle: She was so great.
Bjork Ostrom: … yeah, 118. You can go to foodbloggerpro.com/118. That will bring you to that episode. She talks about that and kind of discovering her brand and how important that was for informing all of the other decisions that she makes as a creator. That’s good. What we’re going to be talking about a little bit today: how people can apply that idea and maybe some of the processes that they can go through as they think about intentionally developing their brand and, in doing so, being able to tell a really strong story. Speaking of stories, let’s go back. I would love to hear, Laurie, your story a little bit and how you came to be the CEO, founder of CookIt Media. But if you could take us back a little bit and tell us how you got started and what brought you up to this point.
Laurie Buckle: Sure. I’ll keep it short if I can. It’s kind of a long story. It really begins with magazines for me. As a kid, I was determined to work on magazines. I loved them. I just always wanted to be a part of them. I read all kinds of crazy magazines and grabbed my mother’s copy of Vogue before it even left the mail box kind of thing. When I started off working to find a job in magazines, I actually ended up at Bon Appetit. This is going way back when, when Bon Appetit was in Los Angeles and I was here, and it was an entry-level job, which was great because it meant that I learned everything from the ground up.
I didn’t go to journalism school. I was just an english major. So it was really kind of discovering how you make magazines. It was funny though, because at the time, I had no interest in cooking whatsoever. I couldn’t cook at all. The good news was that at Bon Appetit, I got to go to cooking school. I got to do all these kinds of things. We also had recipe tastings twice a day, at 11:30 and at 2:00.
Bjork Ostrom: Great.
Laurie Buckle: I’m still hungry at 11:30 and 2:00 every day.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, you’ve been trained.
Laurie Buckle: There’s nothing like testing recipes, tasting them, commenting on them, learning what is supposed to taste good. There’s nothing like that experience to really help you understand what tastes good but also help you become a better cook. That was an amazing education. I spent a number of years at Bon Appetit and kind of worked my way up through the ranks. Oh, about 20 some-odd years into that career, I had an amazing opportunity to go to a magazine called Fine Cooking, which is based on Connecticut. This is a very long-standing magazine. Very popular with people who are literally obsessed with cooking. The cool thing about the opportunity was that that was the point in time at which we were really beginning to explore magazines across multiple platforms, really looking at the digital opportunities, including the site and apps.
We were doing video. We were doing all kinds of things that were, for me, really opening my eyes in terms of, yeah, I love magazines, but I also love this idea of magazines as brands and how that was taking shape. That was starting to make sense to me. From there, I went on to Better Homes and Gardens, where I had the amazing opportunity of being able to be the director of all of their food across every platform that they touched. Meredith is amazing for being incredibly smart about creating content and then using it in so many different ways, from video to books to what we call one-shots, which are those individual magazines that sell on the newsstand. It was really interesting to take a brand with that kind of authority, that history, and figure out, what is it on each of those platforms, and how is that brand strategy retained in the process of doing that?
I learned so much there. Simultaneously, that was also the point in time at which I was slowly but surely becoming obsessed with bloggers. Initially, I was kind of hesitant. Coming from traditional print, I’m coming from a place where all recipes were tested seven or eight times, and I knew how difficult that was to do. I don’t know if you remember Martha Stewart making some awkward comment about sort of what she thought about bloggers, but it’s kind of in the same camp.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Laurie Buckle: But then everything started to change for me, and I was … What I was seeing happening in the digital space was so much more interesting than what I was seeing elsewhere. I started cooking from sites. Oh, I remember this one recipe from 101 Cookbooks and cooking from … I think it was actually one of her books, like one of her first books. It had just been kind of left lying around the office. I grabbed it one night, and I thought, “Oh, I’m going to make something here.” The dish just blew my mind. It was the kind of dish where I would have questioned what she had in the recipe that I made. I would have said, “That’s way too much of this,” or, “That’s way too much of that.” It was so great to be proven wrong and to really kind of understand that whole space.
In other words, that just really began to take off with me. I started thinking about, all right, I really understand all this brand strategy now, and I’m really in love with influencers. I’m looking at influencers and what they’re doing and think, “Yes, they’re great, but I think they could be better businesses.” I think they could be smarter about their brand position in the marketplace. I think they need to better understand who their target audience is and how to go for that. I think they should know more about brand voice and content strategy. In other words, I kind of wanted to just teach them everything that I knew about brand strategy and how that created a great business model.
Bjork Ostrom: Hm. Yeah. That’s-
Laurie Buckle: That’s kind of the impetus of CookIt.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s really interesting. Around the time that you’re starting to look at that, blogs were kind of in their … It sounds like had enough time to be established as, okay, these are some credibility, along with people questioning that credibility, right, with the example of Martha Stewart saying whatever it was she said.
Laurie Buckle: Yeah, I don’t …
Bjork Ostrom: But kind of on the cusp of, like, okay … It was the rise of influencer marketing and sponsor content, and individuals with a following and a voice being able to have strong influence. From what I hear you saying, it was kind of looking at that and saying, “This is really interesting. I can see that this is going to be something. And also, I feel like I have skills and abilities that have developed from my time not only in media, but specifically food media, to be able to apply that against some of the gaps that I see.”
Laurie Buckle: Yes. I could speak their language.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Laurie Buckle: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: I want to go back to your story and pull out a couple different things before we move too far on.
Laurie Buckle: Sure.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things you had talked about was Meredith. For those that aren’t familiar, Meredith isn’t a person. Or maybe Meredith was a person that I don’t know about, but it’s kind of this massive brand umbrella company that oversees all these different brands: Eating Well, Allrecipes, a lot of the parenting magazines, Rachael Ray Every Day.
Laurie Buckle: Yes. They just bought Time Inc. too.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s like these tiny media companies. Isn’t Meredith headquartered out of Iowa? Is that right?
Laurie Buckle: Yes. Des Moines, Iowa. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Which makes me … Anytime I hear a really big company out of the Midwest, I’m like, yes, thank you. Another one. It’s fun to hear that.
Laurie Buckle: I’m a Midwesterner too.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, good. Where are you from originally?
Laurie Buckle: I grew up in Kansas City.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, nice. Yep. Great city. One of the things that I love about it is that a lot of their companies are in the food industry. Oftentimes, I’ll look at these different sites to get inspiration and get ideas for what significant sites … Like Allrecipes is doing in regards to how they’re producing their content.
Laurie Buckle: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Bjork Ostrom: You had mentioned that they’re really good at repurposing their content, which I know it was kind of a little bit of a passing comment, but it stuck out to me as something that was kind of interesting and didn’t want to get too far away from it before … I wanted to call back on it. Can you explain that a little bit?
Laurie Buckle: Absolutely. Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Is that something that you think digital media creators can apply to what they’re doing?
Laurie Buckle: A hundred percent. Actually, we do talk about that a lot during the consulting process, is that when you create a piece of content … Well, first of all, it has multiple pieces. If you think about a story in a magazine and how you have sort of the main text, and then you have a sidebar. You have a title. You have, probably, a little intro chunk of explanation underneath your title. You may have a guide that gets … you know, kind of a cut this out and take it with you. In other words, you have all these pieces that help the story become that much bigger and better. We talk about all of these ways of thinking about how print used to use content and how it can still be really relevant in the digital space.
Repurposing content … I mean, a lot of people think about, I’m going to pull my old content up. I’m going to reshoot it. I’m going to do some work to it and refresh it. Especially if it’s content that’s performed well for them in the past and the benefits of that. It’s like, okay, all the search comes with it, and you kind of get a second chance at it. But above and beyond that, if you think about all the products that can be created, everything from e-books to actual cookbooks to video strategy … If you think about content for video, why create new content there? Why not used content that you know has been successful in the past that does have so much opportunity around it? You think about all kinds of guides and challenges and events that people could be doing.
This is definitely that thing where we really get into: let’s think really smart about all this content that we have and that we create and ways to use it so that you’re constantly out there in front of the reader, bringing them in, and at the same time giving them this experience across multiple platforms.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. I see that happen with a couple different creators. One of the podcasts that I listen to, they’ll do recaps of interviews from the week. It’s not just publishing the interview, but it’s recaps and highlighting certain tips or takeaways from each one of those interviews. I’ve thought about that a lot with the podcast that we do. And then how can we repurpose these into maybe a one-minute video that we publish to Instagram that is just a text video but highlights some of the interesting parts of a podcast interview? I love-
Laurie Buckle: That’s so smart.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I love that idea of thinking about not just creating content, but also critically thinking about: how can I repurpose that? Because I think, so often, it’s easy to get stuck on the treadmill of content creation …
Laurie Buckle: It is.
Bjork Ostrom: … as opposed to strategy around content, and not just strategy around creating it.
Laurie Buckle: I think especially for influencers who have really been brought up to do this one thing and do it well.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Laurie Buckle: It’s hard to kind of step out of that and think to themselves, oh, but wait, what are these other opportunities here? One of the other things I wanted to mention about sort of this multiplatform strategy is that those products tend to bring in different audiences, too, so that it’s such a great expand, diversify, and grow your audience as well. If you think about, who’s reading an e-book? Or who’s purchasing a print product? Or who’s watching your video? And when you combine that with how much noise there is out there and how little control you have, whether it’s social control in terms of what platform it’s going to put your content in front of, you know, which reader kind of thing, it’s like that’s the point at which you’re just fishing with a very wide net for these people that you know are really going to love your brand.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, for sure. I wanted to touch on that real quick because I thought it would be something interesting. I want to go back now and talk about story specifically. We heard a little bit of your story, but now I want to talk about story in the context of how creators and influencers and bloggers can think about story as it relates to them and their brand. We talked about why story is so important. Now we have this understanding and context around the importance of story, but how do we go about crafting our story or understanding what the story is that we are going to be telling people? Where do you even begin with that?
Laurie Buckle: For us, that is actually the process of consulting, which is such an interesting thing. It’s working with an individual who is creating something that I think is truly amazing. I’m stunned by blogs all the time. They’re so great. There’s so much in them. There’s so much work that goes into them. These people are so talented and adept sort of being the jack of all trades and everything. Oftentimes, they haven’t really focused in on: who are they? And why are they? And what did they do? What did they do well? What makes them unique? All of that, these are the pieces of story. This helps you get to what we would call your brand position, which really does outline exactly who you are.
But for us in the consulting work, it’s often … it’s the advantage of remove, if you know what I mean. It’s like, we aren’t deep into that story the way that individual is. I’m reminded of a conversation I was having with Meggan Hill of Culinary Hill way back when, way back when she was kind of just, I don’t know, a couple of years into her blog and doing amazingly well, but feeling like she didn’t know what direction she was going to take on any given day. She’d sort of check her social feeds and say, “Okay, well, everybody’s making unicorn ice cream,” or whatever it might be, “so I’m going to make unicorn ice cream today too, because that’s … I’m going to follow the path.”
When we went through the consulting process with her, we were able to tease out of her the things that are so unique about her experiences, her interests, her passions, the kind of food that just, for her, is, the world is all about that kind of food, and realizing that she has this amazing background, this Midwestern background, where she grew up in these … The parties that she talks about, they still make me laugh. These kinds of crazy tailgating parties they do and the foods they serve. I’m like, “Meggan, this is who you are. Do you know what I mean? You make this incredible Midwestern food, and you give it a modern twist.” It was just kind of a light bulb moment for her. Of course, it’s there all along, but it’s just someone who’s outside of the, I think, experience who’s able to point to it and say, “This is it. This is your story. Now let’s build strategy around your story.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. If people are in the early stages of trying to suss that out and get a feel for who they are, what do you feel like are some of the most important questions that they should be asking themselves in that process of brand or story discovery?
Laurie Buckle: That’s a really good question. What do you do? Who do you do it for? Let me see, I think the other one that I like there … We usually go through three or four of them to get people to really hunker down and commit to what their story is, but I think the one I like the best is: why do you do it? In other words, what is the outcome that you aspire to when you create this content, you connect with this particular reader, and something happens? Do you know what I mean? In what way does the world get increasingly better because of that experience? I think when people are able to really answer those questions, it’s like, who are you? You are a digital destination for women who really need help getting dinner on the table. Something like that. Who do you do it for? Women who are really challenged by the nightly ritual of feeding their family but aspire to the ability to do that night in, night out.
How do you help them? Basically, you provide … At that point, you’re talking the kind of content you provide and how that really gets to the pain points of your reader. Then what’s the reason for doing this? That’s really about helping someone achieve this aspiration that they have, which is life-changing for them, if you think about it. If what they really want is a calm hour at the end of their day with their family at the table with a meal that everyone is so happy with, and if this blogger can make that happen night in and night out, it all comes together. That is the brand position. That is the brand story. That’s the reason the brand is there. That ultimately becomes that connection with the reader that creates that very loyal individual who will be loyal to you throughout your extent of your career, basically.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. A couple questions regarding that. I think a lot of people that listen to this podcast would be individual creators, or maybe they have a small team, in a personality-driven business, meaning that they’re talking in the first person. It’s them. It’s not necessarily a team of people. In that discovery process, are they trying to figure out who they are, or are they trying to figure out who they are when they’re online? Or are they trying to figure out who the online thing is? How much of what you end up at can be you creating something that isn’t actually you? Does that make sense?
Laurie Buckle: That makes total sense. Actually, one of the things that surprised me most when CookIt first got up and running was the fact that, basically, influencers were doing what they were doing without knowing who they were doing it for. That the mirror was faced towards them. That the story was about them. That the content was about them. That the whole reason for the site, for the blog, was about them. Almost always, the first thing I would say is, “Let’s turn that mirror the other way. Let’s look out to your audience. Let’s figure out who they are now, and let’s figure out what they need. Let’s get a sense of where you are helping them now and how you can be even more helpful, how your content can really become about what they need, not what you want to tell them.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Laurie Buckle: It’s interesting. I used to teach food writing, and one of the first things I ever said at the beginning of every class was, “None of you can write in the first person until the last exercise.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Laurie Buckle: Because very few people in the publishing world, if you think about it, write in the first person. Not too many people are interesting enough to always have it be about them. True brands are not necessarily that first person perspective. There are some exceptions to that rule, definitely, but when you create a brand, your heart and soul is in it. It really can’t exist without you. You are its beating heart. But you are doing it for someone else. It really changes your perspective.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Lindsay talks about … She uses this phrase where she says, “It’s the difference between here I am and there you are.”
Laurie Buckle: Uh-huh (affirmative). Oh, that’s really good.
Bjork Ostrom: She says, “As much as possible, I try and think about there you are versus here I am,” which is a hard understanding to have, especially in certain niches. Fashion is an example where you’re creating a lot of seemingly here-I-am content, but I think people that do that at the highest level are successfully thinking about, or intentionally thinking about, how they can produce that in a there-you-are way.
Laurie Buckle: I think so too.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Let’s say that you go through this process and you start to get a better understanding … Well, here’s a question. How do you understand who those people are? Are you doing surveys? Do you just kind of try and craft an idea of who that person is based on comments or interactions? How do you start to understand who your people are and what they want?
Laurie Buckle: Yes. That’s an excellent question. I’m coming at that question as an editor, not a marketer. They are two different things. On the marketing side of that question, there’s all kinds of data and research and analysis, which I always find interesting. I’ve always had the opportunity to work with those people and begin to understand how they do what they do. That information has always been incredibly valuable to me. But I also feel like editors, they work on a lot of gut instinct. They’re really smart about kind of getting a sense of who their audience is based on the comments, the questions, the conversations they’re having. It’s so great. That’s one of the things that social makes it possible in a way that it never was in print.
It was very, you know, you’d get letters from your readers and that sort of thing, but I used to do ridiculous stuff like stand at a newsstand in an airport and watch somebody take my magazine off the shelf and flip through it and ask them, “Do you like that magazine? What do you like about that magazine?” I would have little conversations with people. We’d have focus groups and all kinds of things. I think in terms of what you can do on your own, use that gut. Use what you know about what people are liking. Use your Google Analytics. It’s amazing. I’ll talk to people about, okay, so how old are they? Where do they live? What’s their gender? Do they have kids? Do they have kids at home? A lot of that is actually in your analytics, and that’s really kind of crucial to always know, to always stay on top of that.
But there’s a couple of other things in terms of setting a target audience that you want to think about. You know who your readers are to a certain degree, but you also know your brand well enough to begin to have a sense of, who do I think is going to really consider this content valuable? When you take that perspective and you add in the work that you want to be doing on the brand side … Because we all know that in the advertising world, it’s the millennials that are still the focus of most brands and their target audience. When you look at that and you realize, all right, I need to incorporate that component into my brand strategy if I want to have a lot of opportunities on the brand side, but I also know that this content is going to be really valuable for this person in this particular situation.
I want more of that person. I want to basically create a brand story that’s going to go out there and really focus on those people who maybe I don’t have them right now simply because they haven’t discovered me, but maybe I haven’t done a good enough job of really talking about how I can help them solve their problems either. You set your target audience based on that. All right, yes, I’m accommodating the brand expectations here, but I’m also really delivering this content that I know is going to appeal to an audience that I want more of. That’s where it becomes very editorial, is like, as you decide: who are you after? Who do you think is the audience that’s most going to appreciate what you do?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That was going to be a follow-up question that I had, was, when you are getting to that point of creating this key demographic or this target market, or maybe you’d go so far as to say this avatar of this person that you’re targeting, how much of that is you creating an ideal avatar for advertising … Like you talked about the millennial being somebody who’s really a sought-after demographic … versus creating content that you know that you’ll love to create and will really connect with a certain group? Maybe it won’t connect well with millennials, but it’ll connect really with retired men. But then there’s a split there where it’s like, well, maybe that’s not a great thing to focus on. How do you go about balancing the business strategy with the passion interest strategy?
Laurie Buckle: Yes. I think I got that one. I think there’s one other piece of this that will help make sense of establishing who you are and who your audience is. Way back at the beginning of the process, what you’re going to want to do is better understand the world you live in, the world your brand lives in. We call this competitive set. In other words, who’s out there doing something similar to what you’re doing? Maybe they’re doing it at a very large scale, or maybe they’re kind of starting out, but they’re in your territory a little bit. And being very familiar with that, sort of reading them regularly, subscribing to their newsletters, stalking them on social, all those things that, you know, helping you get to know them.
Because in the process of doing that, what you’re going to discover is that what you do may be similar to this blogger in this way or this one in this way, but wait. When you take that entire group … I mean, you may be watching 25 different blogs at that point in time. When you take that entire group and you look at what you do, and you see something about you that’s different … In Meggan Hill’s case, that would have been the Midwestern perspective, I think, that she brought to the subject matter. You say to yourself, “Ah, this is where I can own that real estate, because it’s so unique to my brand.” I think that really helps you. We call that gap analysis. Really looking at the big picture, understanding your potential there, using that to shape and inform your identity, and then going for that real estate that really nobody else has.
A lot of that kind of goes into this. Really picking out … You’re not picking out, but really kind of defining your target audience at the same time, because you want to use what you know about your competition, what your opportunity is, obviously what it is that you do so well, what’s unique about you, and fold that into the target audience strategy as well. When you do that, it’s really easy to kind of say to yourself, “Great, I understand my current audience is this particular age group, this particular gender. They may or may not have kids. But at the same time, I’m going to create content in such a way that it’s appealing at both ends of that spectrum.” Let’s say it’s appealing to the retired gentleman, but it’s also appealing to the guy who maybe just married, maybe just has a couple of young kids.
You find that place in the content where it’s serving both of those people. You can grow both of those audiences. It may be that you come up with different strategies in terms of: how are you going to reach the guy with the young kids as opposed to how are you going to reach the retired guy? You’re kind of working those two strategies all the time, but your brand strategy, your story doesn’t change.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s interesting to think about. Once you get to that point where you have an understanding of maybe who you’re targeting and a little bit about the messaging that would go into it, how do you craft your brand? How do you pick out colors? Or do you decide, like, I’m always going to write in this certain and have this certain style when I write? How do you put skin on it once you’ve figured out what the outliner, kind of the basic skeleton is?
Laurie Buckle: Well, so once you really figure out who you are, everything else is impacted by that, whether that’s on the design side, whether that’s kind of the look and feel of your brand, or whether it’s on your content side. When we sort of go through this process and really bend through brand positioning and voice and audience, we go into content. We really build out a content strategy that obligates every piece of content the influencer creates to that brand position, to that brand’s story.
The great thing about that is, once you have the actual story, once you know what your content is, how that’s going to change your site, how you’re going to create content in different vertical buckets that tell a wider story than just a straightforward blog, then you begin to get the meat of the matter as it were, and then you move into site structure. You really begin to get a sense of the design. That’s where all the pieces come together in terms of, what do we look and feel like now? How is that different than it was before? How is that reflective of the bigger picture that we’re trying to get across here?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you go back? You had talked about in the different buckets. What was that analogy that you’re using? I’d be interested to hear you talk a little bit more about that.
Laurie Buckle: Yes, absolutely. It’s probably a bigger conversation, but I’m sort of working on the premise now that blogs have run their course. They were very interesting and unique for a long time, if you think about it. In the publishing world, that would have been a long time to me. I think what’s happening now is that people have … There’s so much more competition. There’s so much noise out there. You need to be more interesting. You need to be something that kind of shines above everybody else. You need to have a reason for your readers to be exploratory about you and figure out, you know … It’s like, oh, hey, what do you got for me? I think one of the ways to do that is to basically be a broader brand, to kind of step away from the blog space where you’re just sort of doing a recipe day in and day out.
I don’t mean to be dismissive of that. I know there’s still a lot of great blogs out there. But I think it’s much more interesting to take a concept and turn it into what is kind of equivalent of a digital magazine, if you think about it, so that your content strategy isn’t just recipes, videos, and about, or something like that. That your content strategy is actually focused on the kinds of content that you can be creating within your brand strategy. Maybe one of those vertical buckets is everyday cooking, because you know that your reader, whoever you’re talking to, she’s going to need help getting dinner on the table. Maybe another bucket is a party concept, like a gather section or something, where, ah, wait, now we’re shifting into the kind of cooking that’s going to yield celebratory food, sort of party platters and beautiful, classic main dishes that you get out when it’s a celebratory moment, and cakes and things like that.
And then maybe there’s a section of your site where, as the influencer, you really want to help people figure out how to live the brand story that you’re telling. Maybe there’s a how-to component to it. Maybe that how-to is helping them stock a pantry that actually makes all of this easier for them, or helping them really kind of understand some of the basics of technique that go into some of your recipes. I could go on.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Got it.
Laurie Buckle: But it really-
Bjork Ostrom: Essentially, it’s saying: as you’re thinking about building your site, don’t think about it just as a blog role where you have this constant content that you’re producing, but think about it as an umbrella brand. And underneath that, what are the … I don’t know if this would be the right word … but the mini brands that would live under your umbrella brand? This would be kind of a broad example, but for Pinch of Yum … We have Pinch of Yum. It primarily still is just a section of … It’s a live feed of blogs or posts that we publish, but we also have this category of when we were doing reports on growing the blog business. It’s kind of its own section. It lives in its own place. While we did publish those as posts, we saw them as kind of a different category. Food photography would be another example of that.
Laurie Buckle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bjork Ostrom: What you’re saying is breaking out your brand or your website into different areas so it’s not just acting as a blog, but it has, like you said, a magazine feel to it, not just posts that are published twice a week.
Laurie Buckle: Exactly. It’s very magazine-y in the readers’ experience as well. If you create one post … Let’s say this is in the everyday cooking section … and you want to go over and do a version of that in the celebratory section, and maybe in the celebratory part it’s about a menu and how that recipe, it may be easy, but it actually fits in this menu really well because it can be done ahead. You can get it done before the guests get there. Then maybe you want to actually also talk about a how-to technique in that recipe that a reader wasn’t aware of. Maybe it was an easy way to peel garlic or something like that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Laurie Buckle: What happens on the site then is that each of these posts has a different perspective, but then you’re linking throughout the site and from one piece to the next. You’re creating this really immersive, engaging experience for your reader that’s so much more … Let’s see, what’s the best way to say that? If you think about your reader, and let’s say she just comes to cook, chances are, she’s going to skip all of that content that you worked so hard to create that came before the recipe.
She’s going to jump to the recipe, basically, but you lost that content opportunity at that point in time. If she comes for the recipe, you give her the recipe. And then she comes back because she really liked that recipe. Then she begins to realize that, wait, there was more to this story, because now I’m searching this, and I’m seeing this. You’re kind of creating this really unique experience that I think is far more satisfying that just reading a blog post and then kind of jumping back off the site. It creates engagement. It creates that opportunity to really connect with somebody.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. It’s interesting to hear you talk about that. At the beginning, you had also talked about being less personal and more brand oriented.
Laurie Buckle: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Does that tie into your view of content as well?
Laurie Buckle: Very much so. Your content has to be about your ready. It has to be, obviously, through the lens of your brand positioning, which is based in your true north, but it’s really got to be about her pain points, what she needs you to do, what’s going to inspire her. You know that equation between inspire and inform? That’s where the magic happens. It’s like, you give her a recipe that she’s just like, “Oh my god, I don’t know if I can make this. It’s beautiful. I just don’t think I have the confidence,” or whatever it might be, but then you give her all the tools to feel like she can do. That can be how-to. It can be video. It can be a tip. It can be all these other things that you’re able to do in a content strategy like this that basically elevates the opportunity. All of a sudden, you have somebody who’s really trying what you’re giving her and coming back very satisfied and signing up for your email and buying your e-books. She is your loyal customer definitely.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and focusing as much as possible on that person versus just focusing on yourself. Kind of like we went back to before, that phrase of here I am versus there you are.
Laurie Buckle: Verus there you are. There you are, and how can I help you?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting to hear you talk about that. I want to make sure that I’m fully understanding it, because I feel like one of the strongest advantages for content creators is the personality behind who they are and their willingness to connect with people and to be personable. It sounds like, a little bit, that you would say remove some of that and focus on the things that the reader would be interested in, the recipe or a certain cooking practice or something like that. That is totally great, but I would be interested to hear a little bit more about it, because I don’t know if it would come from the same place for that.
Laurie Buckle: In the way I look at it is actually the personal part of this process, which, if you think about it, the personal part is what you love about what you do. It’s what your expertise is. It’s your special gift. Kind of coming back to that gap analysis, it’s that thing about you that makes you so unique. That doesn’t go away. It actually becomes even more important. Think about it like a magazine for a second. The editor in chief of that magazine, you do not see her on every page.
You don’t see her writing. You don’t see her doing the photography. You don’t see her doing the recipe development. You may see her in a letter from the editor, or not. You may not even see that either, but you know that every single piece of content in that magazine, that she has basically curated and selected and overseen and tweaked and done all of these things to it because it is her brand. It is her opportunity to present this vision she has for her content in this particular brand strategy, for lack of a better way to describe it.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Laurie Buckle: It’s really taking the influencer in the equation and giving her a promotion. She is now the person at the top who’s going to make all these decisions. She’s going to decide, exactly what is the right thing for her reader? Exactly how is she going to present it if it’s going to be really useful? I think, in many ways, it’s there in spades. It’s just there a little differently. It isn’t so much about her coming out and telling you that. It’s her giving it to you.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Got it. In some ways, it’s thinking about taking a influencer or creator, somebody who is on their own, and transitioning them from being an individual that is producing that content to thinking about themselves more as a brand. And not just a single person creating the content, but like, what is my brand? What is this thing that I am managing? Not just, how am I doing this and creating the content?
Laurie Buckle: You just nailed that. Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Laurie Buckle: I think in the way we’re sort of morphing now, it’s actually really important, because I think so many influencers are getting to that place where they can’t do it all anymore. They know that they need to be everywhere all the time: content creator, photographer, recipe developer, cookbook author, all these things. They want to be all of that, but they can’t if they’re actually doing it all. I watch everybody trying to figure out, okay, I can’t do the video. I’m going to have to work with somebody else on the video.
Or you know what? I don’t like the photography part of this. Like Gaby, who works with Matt and Adam all the time. Now she basically, “My photography isn’t good enough for my brand to be as good as I want it to be.” I think people are making those choices. When you choose to step up in the equation and become this editor and chief of your own brand, that enables you to bring in other talents, other content creators that are basically doing what you tell them to do.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah.
Laurie Buckle: And because you don’t have time to do it all.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. It allows you to have a framework for that that you’re able to …
Laurie Buckle: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: … yeah, speak to. That makes sense for sure. I think video’s a great example of that. We work with Alana, who’s on our team and does incredible video. Lindsay doesn’t shoot the video. She doesn’t edit the video. But she has a clear understanding of what she wants that to look like, and so she works alongside Alana to figure out: how do we craft this in a way that fits not only the recipe itself, but also the brand of Pinch of Yum without Lindsay having to edit or shoot or me for that matter, either?
Laurie Buckle: That’s an excellent example.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Great. We’re coming to the end here. Before we do, I want to talk a little bit about the different things that CookIt Media offers, because I know that there’s a couple different things. Also, if you’d be up for talking about the … We’re doing a giveaway, which I talked about on the intro of the podcast.
Laurie Buckle: So exciting.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. But the CookIt Consulting Intro, would love if you would talk about that a little bit as well.
Laurie Buckle: Absolutely. CookIt Consulting is really where the business started, and that was the point at which I jumped out of magazines. I kept thinking, all right, I want influencers … I’m going to help them become better businesses. That, to me, felt like a basis for a consulting business that has since grown to an agency and a content studio as well. But it still … The consulting part is really our beating heart. It is the thing that we take through us all the way through. We always pride ourselves on being here and answering questions, helping you with your growth and your evolution and all the places that you’re going. Always interested in hearing from people who are just getting started on that path.
We were talking earlier, Bjork, about how, oh my gosh, here comes January. I think we’re all going to wake up on January 1st and say to ourselves, “Okay, I’m going to eat better this year. I’m going to be a better business this year too.” This just seems like a great opportunity to give our introductory package away. We call this the CookIt Consulting Intro. It’s really a taste of what we do. I mean, you can probably tell from listening to me that this isn’t typical consulting. It’s really consulting from this unique perspective of coming from print, coming from this editorial understanding of how content works, and how to bring that into a brand strategy that’s going to elevate your brand and help it grow and become its next iteration of itself.
The Consulting Intro, it kind of takes you through the basics of that. It gets you a little bit into brand positioning. It helps you understand some of your competitive set. It takes you into target audience so we can really think together about who that would be and how that would work, how that would change your content. It also does a review of your site too, right, looking at what your site is right now and how to think about that in a bigger, broader way.
We will compile those and then do a drawing. We’ll have a cutoff date of January 31st. If you’re listening to this after, sorry. Most of you listen in real time to the podcast, and you’ll be enter. Again, either you can leave a review or leave a comment on the show notes for this. I wanted to make sure that we get a chance to talk about that. Also, can you talk a little bit about if people are interested in working with you, Laurie? Outside of maybe that giveaway, what are the other ways that people could connect with you and work with CookIt?
Laurie Buckle: Of course. Of course. Yes, the Consulting Intro is also a product that’s available to anybody who’d like to reach out and talk to us. In addition to the Consulting Intro … That’s an interesting product in that some people take it, and they have this eye-opening experience. They go off, and they do. They basically sort of follow the rules and get everything done. Other people, they go through the Consulting Intro process, and they come back and they’re like, “Okay, now I need you to go with me through this process. I need you to take me through every step of the way,” which we love to do. That’s basically our boot camp. That’s Consulting Boot Camp. That is a step-by-step all the way through.
It takes two to three months, usually, and we go through everything from brand statement to brand voice to audience. We go through those in a very, kind of intimate, deep way, which is just one of my favorite things ever to work with people in that capacity. But there is our website, which is cookit-media.com. There’s more information about us. There’s more information about the products. And there’s a place to email us there, too, and sign up for our newsletter if you want.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Great. We’ll link to that in the show notes as well. Laurie, thanks so much for coming on. Super fun to talk to you.
Laurie Buckle: You too, Bjork. Thanks so much.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey, everyone. Alexa here, the Community and Event Specialist here at Food Blogger Pro. I’m really excited to jump in and end this episode today because I am here sharing a listener review from iTunes. This review comes from Alyssa Kramer. It says, “I stumbled across Food Blogger Pro Podcast recently while researching: how to start a food blog. Many of the podcasts were extremely helpful and help me start on the right foot even before writing my first post.” We are so thrilled that the Food Blogger Pro Podcast has had such a positive impact on you, Alyssa. Thank you so much for sharing. If you want to share your thoughts about The Food Blogger Pro Podcast and how it has helped you and your blog, we would love to hear from you.
All you have to do is go to the purple podcast app on your phone or iPad and click search in the bottom right-hand corner. Then you’ll just search for The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, click the podcast art, and then scroll down to the bottom where you see the reviews section. You can either leave a star review, or you can leave a full review with text by clicking the write a review button. Once you write your review, be sure to put your blog name and URL in the review so that we can include it in our show notes if we feature your review in an upcoming episode. Thank you so much for tuning in, you guys. As Bjork always says, make it a great week.
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