251: Empathy – The Power of Understanding and Serving Your Audience with Laurie Buckle

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An image of graffiti hearts and the title of the 251st episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Empathy.'

Welcome to episode 251 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Laurie Buckle from CookIt Media about knowing and serving your audience.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Dave Crenshaw about productivity, avoiding “switchtasking,” and managing your focus. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Empathy 

Let’s talk about understanding your audience.

As content creators, we publish tons of recipes, blog posts, resources…but are they actually serving our audience? Who is our audience, anyway?

They’re interesting questions, right? It’s easy to go through the motions of developing, shooting, and publishing a recipe without really thinking about who we’re writing to or why they need this content.

Luckily, Laurie from CookIt Media, an influencer marketing agency, is here today to talk through these questions and help you deeply and personally understand the audience you’re serving.

It’s especially important to understand where your content fits into what your audience needs these days, but the advice Laurie gives during this interview will make a lasting impression on you and your blog.

A quote from Laurie Buckle’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'What you're trying to do is build a persona that you understand in a very intimate way.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How creators can navigate the pandemic
  • How to strike a healthy balance on your blog
  • How you can start to understand your audience
  • How you can evolve your content and know who you’re serving
  • What should happen after you understand your content and your audience
  • How your content can act as a multiplier
  • How you can treat your blog as a website
  • How you can know if you’re creating value for your audience

Resources:

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

Transcript (click to expand):

Alexa Peduzzi: Hello, hello, and welcome to this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. I’m Alexa from team FBP and we are so excited that you are here tuning into the podcast today. Today’s episode is all about understanding your audience. We are in a weird time right now and I don’t think anybody can really argue with that. So, how do you know that you and your blog will come out on the other side having created real value for your audience? As content creators we publish recipes, blog posts, resources, but are they actually serving our audience? Who is our audience anyways?

Alexa Peduzzi: Well, these are all interesting questions and it’s easy to go through the motions of developing, shooting, and publishing a recipe without really thinking about who we’re writing to or why they need this content. Luckily, Laurie from CookIt Media, an influencer marketing agency, is here today to talk through these questions and to help you deeply and personally understand the audience that you’re serving. It’s especially important to understand where your content fits and what your audience needs now, but the advice that Laurie gives during this interview will make a lasting impression on you and your blog. Plus you’ll have a chance to win access to CookIt Media’s Beyond the Blog Course where you’ll learn how to strengthen your brand, and you’ll learn how to enter that giveaway at the end of this interview. Without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Laurie, welcome to the podcast.

Laurie Buckle: Hi Bjork. So happy to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I should say welcome back. This is your second time on the podcast. I want to make sure that people go back, listen to the previous episode, but we’re going to hit on some new things today because we are in a new season, a very unique season of life. Actually, I’m going to pull a quick quote here from an exchange that we had. You were talking about some of the work that you’re doing and you talked about shifting focus away from helping brands, or shifting our focus towards ways we can help, which is I think is an important word. Brands and influencers we work with, navigate all the challenges the pandemic is throwing at us, which we can all relate to. This part is awesome, you said, “And come out the other side providing real value for their audiences.” Let’s focus on that first part right now. As content creators, what are we supposed to do in this weird world that we’re living in?

Laurie Buckle: That’s the question of the day, isn’t it, of the season that you talk about? It is confusing. I’m fortunate in that I’ve been in this career long enough working in food that I’ve been cross a couple of hurdles before, including 9/11. Sometime I’ll have to tell you the bon appetit story about 9/11 and how that worked out. But, it is a moment in time that I feel like we’re all … I keep hearing this, we’re going to get through this together and it … That truly is what’s happening. I think we’re all trying to navigate it hour by hour at this point and it’s such a … It’s a confusing world when you can’t make a plan, and you can’t stick to it, and you can’t say to yourself, “This is what my day’s going to look like.”

Laurie Buckle: But I think once you get to that point where you give into it and you realize that okay, this is a very equal playing field, we are all here trying to figure this out, but that we know certain things about our business, about what we do that are really important to people. This is the great thing about working in food, is that food is the topic of conversation. Food is what we’re all thinking about food. Maybe this is just me, but food is getting me through the days and, thinking about that and how that is a creative thing that we’re doing. At the same time we’re learning, we’re becoming cooks I think in ways that maybe we haven’t before.

Laurie Buckle: Food is togetherness, food is creating these family opportunities that I’m not sure happen in busy days where there’s soccer practice and homework and all the other things that have to go on. I realized oh my gosh, the homeschooling thing has got to be a challenge but at the same time, that moment to sit at the table together that’s, as food people, getting people to cook is the thing that really can change everything I think.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and you see that whether it be in the real obvious examples of the rush to the grocery store, right? We’re obviously thinking about food and sustenance and how to get through this. Or depending on your site, maybe you see an uptick in traffic because suddenly people are at home making recipes. For a lot of people, these probably aren’t necessarily the new recipes that they’re creating, but old recipes that people are going back to and they’re making these recipes.

Bjork Ostrom: The hard thing is, there’s this balance between wanting to address the problem, to speak about the problem, but also not wanting to focus on it. You can’t just release article after article, post after post that just talks about coronavirus, right? So there has to be this balance, while also not being insensitive and pretending like you don’t know that it’s happening or acknowledging that. Do you have any advice for people who are looking to strike that balance and figure out what feels right in terms of acknowledging this being an incredibly difficult season and not being insensitive, while also in some way continuing to create content that is normal-ish?

Laurie Buckle: Yes, and I think that balance is key. At CookIt, we’ve really been spending a good chunk of time working with influencers, helping them try to understand what that opportunity is, giving what advice we can. But same thing on the brand side, the brands are also pressing pause, they’re stuck. They don’t want to do the wrong thing. They don’t feel that they necessarily understand what the conversation is or how to join it in a way that they feel confident about. I think the secret there is, it’s so fundamental and it really does come back to understanding your reader, understanding your consumer if you’re on the brand side. Understanding your value to that person because it runs deep. And when you look at your value and you look at your expertise and you say, “Wow, okay, everyone is trying to get through this. We don’t need to … We can let the New York times do the reporting for us.”

Laurie Buckle: But we need to get into their kitchens, we need to get into their homes. We need to help them with this. Coming from the magazine industry, this concept of service content, service content really balanced with aspirational content is the secret to exactly what your readers are looking for. Yes, they need help trying to figure out what to do with those dried beans in their pantry because there’s a really good chance they have never soaked a bean before. They picked it up, it was at the store, it was something that was available, or maybe someone said, “Wow, have you tried cannellini beans, they’re really amazing. You can do this and you can do that,” so I think it’s that understanding that yes, they need help.

Laurie Buckle: They also need strategy. Strategy about cooking for leftovers, or learning how to store things. I think the question about, can I freeze it, is one of the biggest search terms out there right now. It’s realizing that your pantry is also your freezer, your refrigerator, your cupboard. It’s all these things, and how do you create that opportunity to talk to them about that and to help them through it? But, I also think it’s that aspirational piece. People want to have great days, right? They still want to learn things. They want to be connected to other people. How does your content also help them do that? I’m watching the bread baking trend and enjoying it so much. I can hardly stand it because it is a togetherness project and at the same time, it’s something we can share with all of our neighbors. It’s happening over here, a couple of loads a day thing. It’s aspirational, right? But all of a sudden, everyone’s a bread Baker.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, there’s that balance between feeling heard, so not being inconsiderate and saying like, “Hey, this just isn’t happening. I’m not seeing it. I’m just going to plow forward.” So making people feel like, I’m there with you, but also like you said, I think there’s an element of, what is that, you were calling it aspirational, but the silver lining almost. Or, how can we find good in difficult times? And not to say, this is good. I’ve had conversations with friends or people I know and for them, it’s this unique season where it’s a good season for them. They’re scaling back on work, they have more time to hang out, they don’t have as many responsibilities.

Bjork Ostrom: But you don’t want it to say that too loud because for an endless list of people, it’s a really, really difficult season. From the most extreme examples of people who are dealing with illness or family members, or God forbid have lost family members, but also on the work and career perspective, difficult for people. So, there is really that balance and it’s kind of a sweet science. How do you recommend people develop that voice and the ability to speak to that? It’s a really difficult thing and it takes practice. Is that something that is a skill you can work on to get better at speaking to your audience?

Laurie Buckle: I think so. When we’re having conversations about your audience and trying to understand their pain points, their problems, and also understanding your obligation to them, that you need to help them with these things, we really look to the idea of empathy. I don’t think I can overstate the power and the importance of an empathetic view of what your audience is going through and understanding that like you just said, there are so many different circumstances out there, but everybody’s going through something and everybody needs your content for reasons that are specific to them. It comes back to that idea of understanding who your audience is and your value to them, and ensuring that you are providing that content with a very empathetic understanding of all the things that they might be going through. But bottom line, I mean this again, coming back to the idea of food. It’s just this language that we all speak, that I think it can make things better.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So when talking about your audience, how much of understanding your audience is saying, okay freeze frame, this is where my website, my followers, social media. Where things are at right now, I’m going to try and understand them, who they are, who’s following me, versus, this is who I want to be my audience and I’m going to go out and try and attract those people because that’s who I want to speak with.

Laurie Buckle: We talk about that a lot. That’s a very business focused perspective on the whole idea of audience. It’s really important to understand what we call your existing audience, which is exactly who you’re talking about and your value to them, and to always spend time in that space of talking to them in such a way that you’re understanding the value of your content, for lack of a better way to put it. But then simultaneously saying to yourself, “All right, I think my growth opportunity, there’s a certain amount of growth that I can do with this audience but maybe I’m feeling like, all right, I’ve got all of these folks and they are great, but I really want to help this individual who’s in this particular situation.” If you do it right, what we would call your target audience is out there in such a way that you understand her, you understand her problems, but she might be at a different place in her life.

Laurie Buckle: For instance, if you write a wellness focused blog and your current audience is really well versed in the wellness category and smart about things like self care and understands nutrition and these sorts of things, you guys are all effectively experts in the topic. But, you want to choose a growth path toward an individual who basically needs more of the basics, who needs to better understand what wellness is and how to interpret that for her family and her situation. You’re going to set your sights on a target audience that needs some of that content. So, you’re going to figure out ways to keep your current audience happy coming along, and at the same time build in more content that’s really acknowledging that individual out there who needs some of them more straightforward information about sleep care or anything like that where you realize, “Oh, I have expertise here so I want to share it with this other audience.”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting, I just for the first time in a while pulled up the app Headspace, which is a meditation app and it’s like, I feel like this is an app I should start using a little bit more now. When I opened it up, I saw that they had started to include exercise, which is so … To me it seemed counterintuitive to what meditation is, but it was an example of a brand shifting and expanding, and introducing a new audience focus without giving up what previously was there, which was daily meditations. At first, it was a little bit of a shock or it was surprising I guess, but then as I spent more time with it, it was like, “Oh, I guess this makes sense.”

Bjork Ostrom: There’s a way that you can have meditative, I suppose yoga would be a version of that. People who really know yoga would know more about that than me, but it can introduce a new area and a new focus that isn’t complete, it’s not diverging completely from the brand before, but it’s just expanding on that or maybe refocusing a little bit. So a question as it relates to understanding your audience, how much of that is your gut intuition about who the people are from conversations you’ve had and comments and emails, versus more of data driven approach like surveys and polls and things like that?

Laurie Buckle: I highly recommend all of that. Coming from traditional print, traditional magazines, it was much harder to get a lot of that information that you can get now that’s right in front of you. It’s in all your social channels and it is a conversation that you’re having with your readers effectively, with your current audience. I used to stand at newsstands in airports and watch people take my magazine, pull it off the shelf and I’d go up to them and I’d say, “So, why did you do that? What was interesting to you? Did you like that cover line? Was it that photo?” I would do my whatever that kind of focus group was called, but we would also do very expansive data, and research and analysis. But, none of it matters unless you bring a deeper understanding of your feelings, your understanding about your audience to the thinking about what you’re learning there. So, you’re asking questions-

Bjork Ostrom: What do you meant by that?

Laurie Buckle: That’s a good … I didn’t explain that very well. Basically, what you know about your audience is very specific at a moment in time. It’s what’s working, it’s, what was the level of engagement with this particular post or something like that? But, you need to ask questions of them that are more prodding, more trying to get into what do they like about you? And I feel like a survey is a really great way to do this. The thing about a survey is, it’s often the people who are most devoted to you and they tell you wonderful things, and they’re sweet and kind. They only want you to do more of what you’re doing, but sometimes you get little snippets of information in there that are really helpful.

Laurie Buckle: But I do think in your social, on your site, in your comments, that kind of thing, that you can be having some of these conversations. I think Stories is actually a great place to do this, where they really are open ended questions like, tell us more about what you think about this content. Or, tell us what you’d like us to be doing that we’re not doing. That kind of information, combined with your gut to be honest with you is really what’s going to move you forward. Trust your gut. I think that’s a really important thing to experiment with. I think we all have a gut, but honing it, learning from it, letting it make mistakes and then learning from those mistakes I think is really important in the process of growth.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting I think about athletes who study film and there’s a component of data collection that is happening with that, which then informs their kind of gut intuition once they go into a game. I think as a creator, there can be that same combination of having data coming in, feedback, studying, and then letting that inform the gut intuition that have as a creator. When you said … I want to go back. You had said stories are really important and then you gave a couple of example questions. Are you saying to let people tell you a story with the question that you ask, or … Because at first I thought literally in Instagram Stories asking that question, but that might be a good place to do it.

Laurie Buckle: Actually, that’s a really good point. I was actually talking about Instagram Stories because it’s interesting, in Instagram Stories you are the face of your brand. You are living the brand experience that you are using to create content with. But in your social feed where it’s much more curated, it’s beautiful, it’s inspirational, that’s a different place and over on your website, on your blog, same thing. That’s a content strategy that’s different than just being content about you. But I love Instagram Stories for that almost letter from the editor opportunity, that it gives the influencer who can really explain, ask questions, do things in a way that are both informative to her, and inclusive for her readers. I think there’s so much that we can go … We can ask there, we can talk there, we can do polls there, we can do things there that we almost can’t do on any other platform.

Bjork Ostrom: I think of, this was weeks ago now. It feels like years ago, but it was before Minnesota had to shelter at home. Right as things started to turn towards, as Minnesota started to go, head towards a, not locked down, but more of a mandate around not going into work and businesses shutting down. Lindsay had posted, I think this was actually on her personal Instagram, had posted a question about it and just asked how people are doing and what it’s like for people. I remember we were going for a drive and I said, “Lindsay, I’m super hungry. We need to go through Raising Cane’s. Do you guys have Raising Cane’s? It’s a chicken place.” And she’s like, “You can go through but I’m not going to get anything,” so it was a totally selfish drive through moment of getting some fried chicken.

Bjork Ostrom: And as we were going through the drive through, Lindsay was reading me some of the responses of what people wrote back and it was like … I had read about it in the news and I am a consumer of news but because of how personal it was, it made it so real. It’s like wow, these are people that are connected with us in some way, followers for Lindsay and worked in travel and are losing their job, and are stressed because of some family situation. It made it very real, and it was one of those gut moments I think for both of us where it informed how we then respond to even the people that we’re talking to and maybe the content that we’re producing. Because when we polled on a national and global level, it looked different than it did in Minnesota. There was places where that had moved along quicker.

Bjork Ostrom: Obviously that was more on a micro level for this season, but it was an example of doing that poll on Instagram Stories, asking that question and then letting that come back and inform how we are viewing the people that we are connected with. It was a great example, so it’s interesting that you say that because I feel like it was a use case of that happening. Do you have other examples of the questions that you could ask? It wouldn’t have to be related to this specific season but just in general, how can people start to collect that feedback and let that inform the content that they’re producing or the brand that they’re developing?

Laurie Buckle: I love that example that you just put out there. I think when you have experiences like that, and they can be one on one, they can happen at an event or something, they can happen obviously in social. But things that to you, things that became very real to you are the pieces that you take away and you hang on to. Because, really what you’re trying to do is build a persona, build someone that you understand in a very intimate way. She or he, they, this person, this persona may be based on someone you know and you expand from there to better understand, what are these small … Even these small things that are so important, what are those things and how do I understand this individual, both her current challenges and her hopes and dreams for the future in a way that is very knowing?

Laurie Buckle: I think that it comes back to that gut idea where you hear those things and they really have a profound impact on you, and you file that into this ever increasing file of information about this individual that you’re always creating for yourself. Because when you’re creating content for that individual, but that individual is an example of all of the things you know are important to your readers, then you have a path that you follow.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think about the examples of sites that’ve done that well. I think of my friends Russ and Natalie who have super healthy kids. I feel like they have a really good understanding of who they’re creating content for because of the focus, which I’m sure was a really intentional thing and I think that … I would assume in some way that provides a level of clarity for the type of content that they produce. What if you were in a situation where you’re just a generalist and you’re producing content, you don’t really know who it is? How do you move towards a specific focus and evolve that so you really know who you’re serving, and why is that beneficial?

Laurie Buckle: Exactly. I get that question all the time or I get that comment where someone says, “You know, I’m just not really sure who I’m talking to anymore. I used to know them and now I don’t. I don’t even know how old they are, I don’t know whether or not they have kids.” That’s the point at which as an influencer, you should be raising a red flag effectively. Because without that knowledge, without that rudder that you need to drive your content, to inspire you to create ever better content, you’re lost. You’re really lost at sea and it’s a horrible feeling. It’s like having a job with a boss or something. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, “No one’s telling me what to do here. I think I’m doing the right thing, but I’m not feeling real good about this.”

Laurie Buckle: The solution is to far better understand who that individual is. Really work to get a handle on your existing audience. Like we were saying way back at the beginning, understanding your value to them, but then also finding within your own brand story, really building a brand story for yourself that keeps you directed on the opportunity that’s always serving your current reader but always focused on your target reader too so that you … It’s like a shark, right? You got to keep moving, you got to keep growing forward and you’ve got to keep figuring out who that audience is in all the ways that you can do that. Everything from building a persona and letting that persona grow with you, to being out there in the conversations and understanding where you fit in. What’s unique about you? What is it about your story that’s giving you, it’s really rooting you in what your opportunity is?

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that as it relates to … I think in any niche or any industry, we get inspiration from other people. We see what other people are doing and appreciate that. Whether it be music, or a restaurant or a website, we can look at it and say, “Wow, this is really good. I want to create … I also want to create good things in the world,” and finding inspiration from that. How do you balance that with being your own unique creative voice in the world and what does that look like? It’s a challenging thing, but it’s also … There’s a risk on either side. There’s a risk in being too similar to other people, but there’s also a risk in going out and doing your own thing that’s maybe unproven.

Laurie Buckle: Yes, you can definitely go too far one way or the other. The balance is I think really the key to success, and it really is. It really begins with understanding the marketplace itself. Like you said, we’re all out there exploring all the time, interested in this or this piece and one those informed our thinking about the opportunity. Understanding that marketplace and for food influencers, that marketplace is huge. It’s everything from food TV, to food podcasts, to cookbook authors to really interesting chefs who are changing the way we think about a cuisine or something. It’s a huge marketplace. But the more expert you become about what’s happening out there and then the opportunity to say to yourself, “Well, where do I fit in? What’s unique about me? In all of this that I know to be true about what’s interesting in food right now, where do I actually fit in?”

Laurie Buckle: And you’re right, it is that balance of understanding okay, here’s where I fit in terms of my audience. Here’s what my audience needs from me and here’s what my growth audience might need from me. Then over here on this side is things about me that make me think a particular way about the subject that I work in, the category that I work in and finding that root of what’s unique and special about you. We actually in the consulting process at CookIt, we call it gap analysis which sounds scientific and kind of silly, but it is really understanding all of those pieces and then trying to figure out, what is that gap? What is the gap in the marketplace that isn’t being filled right now that you could actually step into the conversation in a unique way, be incredibly relevant, but it would be really true to who you are and what you believe?

Laurie Buckle: I think finding that requires, oh my gosh, it requires so much creativity in many ways. It requires this mindset that has you focused on opportunities, cultivating that, what is the opportunity? That’s not something that you settle in on one day and it stays that way for the rest of your career, it’s an ongoing way of looking in the future.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk a little bit about … For those who have followed along with the podcast for a while are familiar with their previous episode, but the work that you do at CookIt, can you explain a little bit about that just for context so people understand what that is and in the two different sides of both the agency and also the consulting?

Laurie Buckle: Oh my gosh, yes. I forgot all of that at the beginning. I should’ve introduced-

Bjork Ostrom: Usually I would ask about it, so that’s not your fault. That’s my fault. But I think specifically as we are talking about this, I think it would be helpful to have some context around that. At the beginning of this interview, we’ll do a longer intro setting that up. But for you just to speak a little bit about that, what does CookIt do?

Laurie Buckle: Yes, thanks for asking Bjork. Don’t laugh, but we like to talk about ourself as outliers in the world of influencer marketing. It’s partly me, it’s partly my fault. Basically, I started CookIt more than five years ago because I wanted to help influencers better understand the opportunity, the business opportunity. I wanted to help them become better businesses because coming out of traditional magazines, and watching how content was created, and understanding that that probably wasn’t going to be our future in terms of really costly, huge teams of people involved in content creation, very specific expertises.

Laurie Buckle: Prop styling for example is something now that an influencer just does regularly. It’s just part of how she sees her photography and everything. But, there were all these pieces that made me realize that bloggers are effectively the content creators in the future, but I need to help them figure out how content creation is a business. So, I spent a number of years working with some really amazing people to better understand the blogging industry so that I could figure out where my experiences and my expertise fit in. And in that process. Really began to realize that this as an industry, it’s so new, but that its potential is in its creativity and it is in the content piece of it.

Laurie Buckle: So, CookIt was initially crafted as a support system for influencers in content creation and helping them better realize what that looks like in terms of all of the … Where their content went. Whether it was on their blog, whether it was in their social channels, whether it was cookbook opportunity, that it was all a way of thinking about their content. That’s always been a part of CookIt and it always will be. It’s the core of what we call our Brand Bootcamp, which is really taking that whole process down to the mat and rethinking it, and coming out the other side with a much better sense of what that opportunity looks like.

Laurie Buckle: The cool part of that was that people were having success. People were coming back to us and saying, “Wow, this has been really great and my business opportunities are picking up, but I’m not really sure what to do with it. I don’t really want to talk to brands.” And again from my experiences, I’ve always worked with advertising departments that it really wasn’t much of a shift for CookIt to turn around and say, “Oh, we can talk to them. We love them.” We really want to help them almost in the same way. Understand what is this business and what is their opportunity in it? That’s the point at which the agency side of CookIt really began to take shape.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, which is a testament to the success that people who have worked with you have had in, I would assume a lot of it is clarifying what they’re about and their focus, and therefore aligning with a potential partnerships a little bit easier because there is this really clear understanding of who they are and what they’re about. And much like a magazine, which is interesting to think about that, you coming from the magazine industry where magazines usually will have a really strong, clear understanding of their brand, who they are, who those people are that are going to pick up the and purchase it, and then will back content into it. But for a lot of bloggers or content creators, they’re creating content but they really don’t have that well-defined brand. It’s almost like for the magazine, it was coming at it starting with a really strong brand.

Bjork Ostrom: For content creators, a lot of times they’re starting with really strong content, but don’t have the really strong brand. And what I hear you saying is when you start to solidify what that brand is, when it gets to the point where you understand who you are, what you’re about and the audience that you’re serving, some of those partnerships, the branding relationships become a little bit clearer and therefore make more sense for a brand to reach out and say, “Hey, I know that you focus on …” Well, you give me an example. This is the question that I wanted to ask, do you have an example of somebody who’s gone through the process, redefined what their brand is and from that, started to have more clear partnership opportunities or even just growth in general?

Laurie Buckle: Yes to all of that. One thing just right off the top is that the only way to define a truly successful partnership between a brand and an influencer is for both entities to come to that conversation knowing who they are and what they want out of the opportunity. On the brand side, there’s nothing worse than a brand that comes to the conversation not really having any sense of, what are their KPIs? What do they want to do? What is their brand story? Tell us about this product in a way that we really understand. When they just want to spend their marketing budget and they just think, “Okay, well we’ll work with this person,” it’s already a set up to fail effectively, it won’t work. Same thing on the influencer side, unless the influencer comes to that conversation really clear on the value of that product for her, and for her readers so that she’s very organically connecting with the brand in a way that doesn’t really exist in traditional advertising if you think about it.

Laurie Buckle: She loves that product, and she knows why, and she knows why her readers would be thrilled to know more about this product, and she understands that the brand has these goals and that kind of thing. She therefore gets all the information that she needs to create the kind of content that’s really going to be impactful. It’s going to be helpful to her readers, it’s going to help her as a business, it’s going to help the brand achieve their goals. That’s where it works and that’s as an agency, that’s really where we live, is in that space of making sure that all of those pieces are there as we send everyone out to partner and to create this amazing dance of opportunity that actually results in great content.

Laurie Buckle: I’m trying to think of a really good example of how that over time, that becomes basically the secret to the business success for the influencers. Once they do have all of these pieces in play, and that’s been our good fortune to help some of these amazing people do this like Meggan of Culinary Hill. One of the first things she ever said to me was, “I don’t actually know who I’m talking to. I’m just following the trends. If the trend is unicorn cake, I’m all over it.” You can imagine my response to that. But once she started to figure out, what are these things that make her unique? She’s from Wisconsin, and Wisconsin has completely different traditions in terms of real Americana food and the kinds of parties and events that would take place in parking lots and things. I was just listening to her talk about this.

Laurie Buckle: It was like, “Oh, wow Meggan, but look at this thing about you that you have, this childhood informed by all of these amazing experiences that people see as, ‘Yes, even if I’m not from the Midwest I want to know how to cook that way, I want to have that kind of party.’” That for her was effectively her opportunity, that gap in the marketplace that we were talking about. She has gone on to really great things, to a couple of new iterations of her site, all new strategies. She’s really digging into video now, she has a team working around her, she’s just a … She’s an amazing example of a success story.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep. We actually did an interview, this was a few years ago now where she talks specifically about what that process was like. That’s episode number 93. For those who haven’t listened to it, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/93 for the deep dive into that story. Thanks for sharing that. I’m curious to know, you have … We’ve talked about this idea of going through this process, understanding your audience, to become well rooted in this idea of who you are, what you’re about. Once that happens, then what? What does it look like after you go through this process of understanding who you are and what you’re about, and the type of content that you’re going to produce? What does that look like moving forward? Do you go through a rebrand? Do you change your name? Do you have a little headline for your … How do you implement it?

Laurie Buckle: Great question. I think it’s safe to say that you will come out the other side of that experience with a new view, a new vision for where your brand can go. People are probably tired of me repeating this over and over, but I am not a big fan of the blog format. I find it to be so limiting and so antithetical to what the reader is actually coming to do. If you think about it, she’s coming for a lot of reasons. It may be that she has chicken breasts and she’s coming through search and she ends up in your recipe index, and that’s just fine. But let’s also assume that she may not know what it is that she wants to make for dinner. She may be sitting in her car in the parking lot of the grocery store scrolling, trying to get home in time to get dinner on the table before everyone gets really angry. That’s a different experience and if you’re able to create an opportunity for her, a user experience that isn’t the blog format.

Laurie Buckle: The blog format is really … It’s like a roll of paper towels, right? It’s just, here’s a piece of content, it basically rolls down and under and you never see it again. But if you’re able to think beyond the blog, if you’re able to think really expansively about what a website can look like, how it can be more like a magazine and how you have content categories, content verticals where certain kinds of content live there with their own landing pages and everything whereby the reader is able to explore across the site. It’s almost like a vertical versus a horizontal if vertical was the blog and horizontal was the website strategy. It’s just a much more expansive way of thinking about your content and how it’s there to serve her in different ways and how you connect the dots.

Laurie Buckle: It’s actually going to be freeing for you because it does … It means that in one blog post, you don’t have to have every single component of every possible thing you want to say about that recipe, that you can spread it out in such a way that she can begin to see that, “Oh, okay, over here I can go learn how to do this technique that’s going to make me smarter about making this recipe, or here I can go find out about this ingredient which I’ve never bought before and I’d like to know more about how the prep it.”

Bjork Ostrom: It really is one of the benefits of the niche, the industry of food and recipe in that for the most part, the content that we’re producing will have some level of being evergreen. If you have a really great recipe today, chances are it’s still going to be a great recipe in a year. It’s something that we’ve started to think about even more for Pinch of Yum, how do we start to treat our not just individual piece of content as valuable, but how do we treat the entire forest of content as valuable? And, starting to look at creative ways to organize that, and to display it, and to resurface content. The great thing about that is, every single piece of valuable content that you put into it can be a multiplier. You can have one piece of content that also improves other pieces of content.

Bjork Ostrom: If we put out a explainer on how to cook tofu, we can refer back to that in multiple different instances and we can create a roundup of recipes that include tofu. In a certain season, we could maybe surface that on the homepage of the website if we want it to, or a better example might be instant pot recipes for Pinch of Yum. I think it’s a shift that requires some change in how we think because most of us are in this content engine just moving forward producing individual pieces of content. But, we can shift that and look at organizing our content and that being valuable. What are some ways … You had mentioned to some, organizing into certain categories. But on a ground level, what does that actually look like to treat your blog not as a blog, but as a website? How should we treat our content and organize it and display it in order for that to happen?

Laurie Buckle: Well, I could go on forever Bjork about that. That really is the core I think, of what we are trying to do. I think where you are in that learning and that understanding is exactly the right place. It’s really making sense to you in a way that puts … I guess the best way to think about it is how your content has real value. I think content in some ways is so easy for influencers to create, that they almost forget that it has enormous value not just on the day it posts or the 20 minutes it goes live on your Instagram feed, that it has lifelong value effectively just the way you were saying. But, it’s in the creative ways that you think about using that content that get all of that value out of it.

Laurie Buckle: This is something … Coming back to magazines again, this is something that really smart publishing houses do so, so well. Everything from content that’s repurposed into what are called special issues, which are individual magazines that you see on the news stand that have a special theme, whether it’s 15-minute dinners or something like that. I think sometimes influencers worry that, “But wait, all of my people have already seen that content.” That’s the opposite of true. The smallest percentage possible has seen that content. And even if they’ve seen it on one platform, if you’re able to aggregate that content in another place, in another way that’s really valuable to them, they’re happy to have it there because they can’t do the organization for themselves. They are relying on you to really help them understand, where is the content when they need it? And if that’s in a cookbook, if it’s in an app … I think apps are a really interesting growth strategy for influencers that hasn’t been considered a lot lately.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that real quick? Because I know that people will be curious when you say that.

Laurie Buckle: Yes. When apps first came out, I think I’m going back to like, I don’t know, 2009, 2010 time, they were so interesting because they were like products that you could purchase. They might’ve been a collection of recipes from a chef and you loved that restaurant, you wanted to learn how to cook that way and everything, but they were only … They were basically recipes, and then tips and techniques and that kind of thing. That’s really just one example of an app that I was obsessed with at the time and I was willing to pay for. Because, I wanted all of that in one space that I could take myself through the learning process there.

Laurie Buckle: If you think about an app now and how it can really aggregate information, ideas just the way you were saying, it’s that you can have this one recipe but then you can link to it here, and here. That can happen on your website, but it can happen really fluidly in an app where you own all four walls of that experience and are directing the reader through that process.

Bjork Ostrom: Have you seen people who have done that or just observed bloggers who are starting to, or have a focus of using an app? Or maybe not bloggers, but publishers?

Laurie Buckle: Oh gosh. Meredith Publications is really at everything that they do. We call it repurposing content effectively. I think they are more than any other publisher, which is probably the reason they’re doing so well now when so many other publishers are falling back and not able to find their place. They have really realized that they sit on a goldmine of content and that all the ways they can use that content, they’re in it. Whether it’s a television show, whatever it might be, they see that opportunity to, “All right, that would work here and that would work here.” I think that it’s a mindset effectively-

Bjork Ostrom: It’s really syndicating content. You can watch The Office on Netflix or Hulu, maybe you can’t on Hulu, but just this idea like when we think of a movie coming out, it’s not like you can only see it in theaters. There’s all these different places that you can see it and the same is true for the content that we’re creating. It can exist in multiple different places. So interesting for you to talk about apps as being one of those. Obviously social media we think about that, we think about our websites but there’s lots of other places where those can live.

Laurie Buckle: Exactly, and as influencers become ever more celebrities in the process of creating big brands around themselves … Celebrities isn’t my favorite word because I don’t mean that kind of celebrity. I basically mean a brand that’s recognized by the individual who’s providing you with the content. Whether that’s Ina Garten or Giada De Laurentiis, that they’re getting smarter and smarter about realizing that their opportunity in that marketplace has very much to do with who they are combined with their content. It’s coming full circle back to when we talk about your blog and the fact that you’re creating content for your reader and we’re saying to folks, it’s not about you. You always thought it was about you, but it’s not, you’re actually working for that reader over there. By the time you’re really succeeding, you have a cookbook. You have multiple cookbooks, you have television shows, you have events, you have all these things that … You probably have your own food product and things like that, that are all really built around your brand.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. It’s interesting, it actually comes back to that second part that we had talked about to kick things off where we had talked about shifting focus to helping brands and influencers navigate the challenges that the pandemic is throwing at us. But, the end part of that was saying coming out the other side providing real value for their audiences. I think that is a clear takeaway and maybe a good note to wrap up on, is this idea of the purpose, the reason that we’re doing all of this, the reason that we talk about branding, and understanding your audience, and developing an understanding of who you are, and doing the gap analysis.

Bjork Ostrom: The ultimate why is providing value for your audience, and in a way that makes the world a better place. Whether it’s in a really specific season where the world being a better place is needed, the season that we’re in right now. Or, if it’s during a normal time in life where there’s still a need for people to have what it is that you can offer to them, the value that you can create for them. I think that’s a good note to end on, but I want to hear you talk about that a little bit. What does that look like for a influencer, for a creator, for a publisher to offer value, and how do you know if you are creating value for an audience?

Laurie Buckle: Right now I think there is this opportunity to understand value in such an important way, because you really are … We are in this together. We’re all trying to figure out what the answers are and how to be helpful to each other. I think it’s this moment where go ahead, jump into the conversation, take a chance, provide value, and then listen. Listen to what you hear, let people talk to you, let people thank you for that. I think that will stoke something in you, whether you’re a brand or an influencer that helps you realize that it’s not complicated. It’s as simple as really providing help. I think everyone has so much to learn from this process right now.

Laurie Buckle: You may think it’s not all that interesting that you’re going to show somebody how to soak beans, coming back to what we were talking about way back at the beginning, but that person, that may be a life changing experience for them. That’s an exaggeration, but you’re teaching them something. You’re helping them in this crazy situation. You are providing them with a great idea, something for their family. It’s an inexpensive product that probably lives in their pantry and all those things.

Laurie Buckle: So, when you begin to realize that there is this moment right now at which you are really important and to jump in, to take a chance, to be creative with what you’re offering and the way it expands your knowledge and what you want people to know about you, I think that’s going to give everybody those who are really willing to take this leap of faith a view of their future. A vision for where they can go, and how they can get there. Again, learning by your gut, right? What’s working? I’m going to keep trying this and now I’m going to try this. I’m learning, I’m hearing and I’m realizing that wow, engagement is up. All of these things that we’re seeing that are actually showing success on the part of the influencer’s content, be inspired by that and be informed by that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. Laurie, I feel like we could talk for another hour here, but at some point we’ll have to wrap up.

Laurie Buckle: I’m game if you’re game.

Bjork Ostrom: I want to mention one thing here real quick. Before we pressed record on this, you said we’re just really in a season of figuring out how we can serve and I feel like it comes back to that idea of value. I think that’s so awesome and a testament to what you guys do and how you do it, but I do want to mention that for a long time you’ve done the consulting, you’ve also done the agency. But for those who are interested in going through this at your own pace and are interested in exploring this, you do have a course that you have called Beyond the Blog. We’ll link to that beyondtheblogcourse.com. We’d love for people to check that out because I think that’s an important conversation for you to have and it’s an important investment as a business owner. I want to make sure that I take time to point that out so that in this season of service and giving, that I can promote that for you. The other thing-

Laurie Buckle: That’s so nice Bjork. Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. The other thing that I want to mention is you had said that it’d be great to have a conversation around this and to hear what people are doing in this season, some of the things that they’re hoping to do. I’ll say this, it could be either one. Go to the episode for this podcast episode. You can link to it, we’ll make it super easy. We’ll do it foodbloggerpro.com/cookit. Leave a comment, and the comment can be one thing that you’re hoping to do with your business or potentially one struggle that you’re hitting as it relates to some of this stuff. One of the things that you’re really trying to figure out and we’ll have a conversation around that in the comments area. Laurie, would you be up for jumping in on some of those comments? And I’m asking you in real time here. I didn’t ask if you would be okay with this, but let’s say for a certain period of time, maybe for a week after the podcast goes live, to jump in on those comments to have a conversation with people that are leaving those comments on the podcast show notes?

Laurie Buckle: Oh my gosh, I would be honored to do that. One of the things that actually comes with the Beyond the Blog Course is a Facebook group. The course, it hasn’t launched yet. It’s launching, oh my gosh, I think it’s about a week now. Super exciting for us, but I am so excited about this Facebook group and this chance to really talk to folks as they go through this process, as they learn, as they have questions. It’s really in the talking about it that I think it starts to make the most sense. So yes, I’m over there on the Facebook group, and also I would love to hang out in your comments as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. We’ll do that for one week after the episode goes live. Laurie will be jumping in the comments. It’s foodbloggerpro.com/cookit. Then something else that you’ve said which is really generous is for one of those comments, we’ll give the course away for free for somebody who leaves a comment there, which is always nice to have a motivation for people to take that step and to kick off the conversation. So Laurie, thanks so much for coming on the podcast again. Really great to connect and appreciate the work that you’re doing and your willingness to share it with our audience.

Laurie Buckle: Thank you so much Bjork. I really had a great time. Thank you.

Alexa Peduzzi: That’s a wrap on this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in today my friend. As a reminder, you can enter the Beyond the Blog Course giveaway by heading to the show notes for this episode at foodbloggerpro.com/cookit and adding a comment saying one thing that you want to do with your business after hearing this interview, or one thing that you’re struggling with. We will pick a winner after this week and notify you via email. And if you don’t win that giveaway, no worries. Laurie was nice enough to give the Food Blogger Pro podcast listeners 40% off of the Beyond the Blog Course. If you want to take advantage of that deal, you can go to beyondtheblogcourse.com and enter Foodblog40, that’s all one word, at checkout. We have the details for that at the show notes for this episode. Again, that’s at foodbloggerpro.com/cookit.

Alexa Peduzzi: One last thing I wanted to mention before we wrap up today is that two new reviews for the Food Blogger Pro podcast came in this weekend. So to Jonas and to Laurie, thank you so, so much. Totally made my weekend, and I just passed the reviews onto our team. I’ll share one of the reviews that we got this week and then one next week. This week’s review, it actually comes from Apple Podcasts, and it comes from Jonas. It says, “I’m a German food blogger who recently stumbled upon your podcasts and I have become addicted to it so quickly. I just listened to the 100 episodes and can’t wait for the next one. Really good content. Keep up the good work and thank you so much for everything.” Danke, Jonas, we appreciate you listening to the podcast so much and the fact that you’ve motored through 100 episodes already is incredible. Thank you so much for your review. That does it for us this week my friend. We’ll see you next time and from all of us here at FBP HQ, make it a great week.

💬 Join the conversation (+ enter to win free access to the Beyond the Blog course!): What’s one thing you want to do with your business after listening to this episode? What’s one thing you’re struggling with?

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21 Comments

  1. My biggest struggle, still, is really defining my target reader in my very niche category. The audience I want, is not the audience and following I have, 7 years in.

    1. Hi Rebecca, Laurie here! As I like to say, you don’t need a niche, you need a story! A strong brand story is a combination of your unique perspective (Tip: what skills and experience do you personally bring to the table?) and your audience (What do they need from you? How can you help them?). Finding your story is all about expanding, not narrowing. When you can begin to think that way, it’s much easier to envision the audience you know will benefit from your content. Hope that helps!

  2. I’ve listened to every branding podcast and have learned that the way forward for The Frayed Apron is to really focus on how I can uniquely provide value to my reader as a chef. I’ve been working for months on my origin story (it still needs work) and am currently switching to a magazine style website where I can offer recipes as well as guides for my reader’s desire to hone in on cooking as a hobby. Thank you Laurie and FBP, this episode couldn’t have come at a better time!

    1. Hi Sara, That’s amazing! Congrats on your progress, and all the work you’ve done to get to where you are now. Can’t wait to see your new site!

      Can I offer just a word of advice on your origin story? I think it’s key to remember that, while you are the face of your brand, and your interests and expertise inform all your content, your brand has its own personality and voice. A good “About” page will feature both your story and your brand story!

      1. Thank you Laurie. I’d love your advice and will try to harness my brand’s personality and voice. As a follow up question, if I say my brand’s personality is “celebratory of home cooking, fun-loving, and is every home cook’s story of progress in their home kitchen”…am I getting the gist of this?

  3. Hi Laurie,
    I’m more of a generalist and trying to develop a point of view to stand out (rather than follow a narrow food niche). I’m struggling to understand which comes first. Do I create my point of view (or discover my POV if it’s not something you choose) first? Or do I attract an audience first and adopt whatever POV they have to create engaging content to serve them?

    It’s the problem you articulated with Bjork on the challenge of how to connect with an audience and serve what they want. Where do you start in this journey (especially if I rarely hear from readers, they don’t email me back or engage much)?

    1. Hi Anna, Such a good question! Understanding your opportunity begins with a deep and expansive understanding the marketplace you work in – all the influencers, sites, podcasts, magazines, cooking shows, etc. creating content and products similar to yours. From there, you can begin to narrow your list to those that are working in direct competition with you (we call this your competitive set). At that point, you have the knowledge you need to identity the ways in which you and your brand are unique among that group. You’ve found a “gap” in the market that only you can fill. From there, you can begin to craft your POV or positioning statement, which clarifies who you are, who you do it for and why it’s important!

  4. Thank you for the helpful info in this podcast! I am finally feeling like I’m zeroing in on what I can uniquely bring to the table, and I’ve been considering how to take my site to the next level to better meet the needs of my readers. This podcast helped me solidify my resolve to take action! I think what I struggle with the most is figuring out how to find and grow the audience that will truly benefit from my content instead of feeling like I’m only connecting with other food bloggers (enjoyable, but not my ultimate goal)!

    1. Hi Kari, One of the things I love about the blogging industry is how supportive influencers are of each other. But you’re right in thinking that your target audience isn’t influencers, but readers who find real value in the content you create specifically for them. This process begins with understanding your current audience; from there, you can begin to see the ways in which they are like the audience you want to reach, the community you know will truly benefit from your content, but haven’t necessarily discovered your brand yet. The process requires a leap of faith on your part, informed by research, but it’s truly your secret to growth!

  5. Hi Laurie,

    My biggest takeaway from this podcast was to spend the time in understanding the requirements of my audience esp. the requirements that coincide with a gap in the market. Leveraging social media to do that really resonated with me.

    My biggest struggle right now is to sell my online workshop to my audience. With so much free information available online, it is hard to sell the idea of “buying” to them. It probably requires a better understanding of who my target audience should be & how to convey the value of the workshop to them.

    1. Hi DJ, I think you’re on the right track! When you understand where both the marketplace gap and your target audience meet, you’re on to something! I’d love to know more about your workshop, but one thing I do know is that a product needs a target consumer from the get-go. A successful product “knows” its consumer, which means your marketing strategy can be focused on the ways in which the product benefits that specific consumer. Hope that helps!

  6. Hi Laurie,

    What a wonderful podcast! Thank you for sharing your expertise. I’m really intrigued by the idea of thinking horizontally rather than vertically about my blog. What’s the best way to get started with that? My focus is on Nordic cooking/baking with a modern twist.

    Thanks!
    Kristi
    http://www.true-north-kitchen.com

    1. Hi Kristi, Love this question! Think about a blog, and the way it rolls up into an experience that limits the way a reader can explore the content. Typically, they have two choices: backwards or forwards. Now, imagine a magazine that you can read any way you choose, flipping through and stopping on something that catches your attention, or back to front or front to back. You, the reader, are making the choice. When you create a content strategy that expands beyond the concept of a blog roll, then you’re well on your way to understanding how a “horizontal” experience can better meet the reader where she’s at. As you explore this idea, you might think about the ways in which you could introduce a reader to Nordic ingredients, to classic techniques, and to modern interpretations of regional favorites. Each “category” becomes a door for your reader to explore the cuisine and your take on it.

  7. Really great podcast. Thanks! I’m pretty new to food blogging and focus on southern food. I knew from the beginning I wanted to provide the “grandma in the kitchen” experience that I was raised on – focusing on great recipes, techniques, and food, but I’ve fallen into the rut of just turning out recipes, stopping and starting trying to figure it all out. I didn’t realize it until listening, but I think one of my struggles has really been getting stuck in this blog style and not thinking of organizing and developing my content in a more thoughtful way on my site. So, my plan is to categorize my content and update my website to create a more meaningful experience. I still need to think more about my audience and their needs and how to reach them but this gives me a starting place.

    1. Hi Brandon, I’m so glad to hear this! I may be a Midwesterner, but I have this huge soft spot for Southern food. I think there’s such a great opportunity to teach everyone who didn’t grow up with a Southern grandmother to know how to cook the way she did. Give us the recipes, the techniques, the tips and the tools we need to replicate the foods you grew up, and we’ll all be happy. Speaking as a representative of your target audience, please share, once and for all, the secret to perfect, flaky, tender biscuits! Your instincts are on point: It’s about so much more than just recipes. It’s about bringing the food to life, and making it accessible for an audience that stands to benefit from your experience.

  8. This was such an eye-opening podcast and made me think about my approach to blogging and how I can provide more value. As a healthy food blogger, I’ve been wondering if I should hone my focus even more – and if I do, in what direction to go in, but I’m stuck at knowing what my audience (current or ideal) would want to see more of.
    How do you recommend getting to know our audience better? Through polls and surveys? Or by experimenting with content and seeing what their reactions are? Thank you Laurie and FBP for such an inspiring podcast episode!

    1. Hi Alena, Love this question! The health space is so crowded right now – I would definitely recommend you work on finding your corner of the marketplace! We call this process “positioning” and it’s really about understanding your competitive set, and where you fit in. It’s also about identifying those things about you and your brand that make you unique, and then using those unique qualities to define you marketplace opportunity. This process will also help you identify your target audience – those readers who will most benefit from your content. But, like you said, it’s also key to know your existing audience, since you’ll want to be sure they come with you as you transition your story and content. Your social channels are a great place to talk to them, get their opinions and gather information. Your analytics will also be helpful, as will a survey. And trust your gut! You likely know a lot about them already, so use that knowledge to help make the transition seamless for them.

  9. Hello –

    Thank you to Bjork for introducing Laurie. How wonderful to meet you! In knowledge, conveying, and especially personality—a stand out podcast.

    Thank you for the Saturday morning food for thought.

    Jen