3 Ingredients to Building a Digital Brand From Scratch
All you need to create a digital brand from nothing is an Internet connection and the drive to make it happen. I can say this after taking an idea from birth to a respected local digital brand, which now reaches over 50,000 people per month. And, I did this by myself, in my spare time.
In January of 2012, I had the idea to merge my passion for history and love for my hometown to create a local blog for Washington. The city I call home has an abundance of documented history centered on the White House, the Capitol and the monuments. The blog was going to fill an unaddressed niche, uncovering the real stories of regular people in the city. I named the blog “Ghosts of DC” to represent the metaphorical ghosts of the city’s past, focusing on uncovering the lost and untold history of Washington.
1. Focus on the product to give people something unique.
Ghosts of DC gives the audience a new and unique product that informs, educates and entertains. The hyper-local approach uncovers content that readers can’t easily find, and this is the first ingredient for building a strong digital brand -- give the consumer something of value that they can’t obtain anywhere else.
I shared stories about a revered White House aide who went down with the Titanic, a convention of ex-slaves in 1916, and an intrepid police officer named Officer Sprinkle, who became the blog’s patron saint. Approaching history from the perspective of regular people humanizes the product, making it accessible and extremely resonant with the audience. These individuals walked the same streets readers walk today and this drew a clear line connecting the past with our present.
Brand loyalty is generated when the consumer identifies with your product, creating a deep and personal connection. It keeps them coming back for more and helps organically foster a sense of community centered on your product.
2. Foster a community to give people ownership.
People inherently want to belong to something or be part of a group. They naturally gravitating toward communities. Sports teams, clubs and bands are great examples of this. Think Red Sox Nation, college fraternities and Phish-heads. The collective experience is one of the best parts about going to a good movie, concert or baseball game. You are sharing that experience with hundreds or thousands of people who are going through the same range of emotions.
I wanted to replicate this experience through Ghosts of DC, making readers feel like they were part of something special. It was important to illustrate the fabric of the city’s history through the eyes of its inhabitants, making it relatable to the reader and placing them within the historical context. Connections based on our common city help bond the different generations of residents into the larger community of Washingtonians.
Also, since the collective experience is exponentially more powerful than a singular one, I wanted to shift it from being my blog to our blog about the city. Being is more impactful than doing. What I mean is that instead of people saying “I read Ghosts of DC,” I want them to say, “I am a GoDCer.” This is a significant shift in mindset, giving readers ownership and membership, identifying themselves as part of the GoDC community. It empowers them to become loyal brand ambassadors, helping socialize and promote the blog.
3. Engage the community to galvanize them.
The unique and relatable content of Ghosts of DC helped galvanize the community, but to strengthen the group I needed to engage them in a participatory process. A community is better and more valuable for all involved when members work together. Instead of feeling like they were listening in a lecture hall, I wanted readers to feel as if they were participating in a roundtable discussion where input and opinions were weighed equally.
I regularly ask the community for ideas through posts and social media, making sure to credit the contributors by name in the resulting stories. I always want to make sure I’m connecting with readers on social networks so others can see. And when I start seeing readers engage each other in social channels, that’s when I know I’m succeeding.
Just twenty months ago, I had an idea for a hobby blog. When I launched the site, only six people were regular readers, and four of those were my family members. Today, Ghosts of DC has enough readers in a month to fill a large baseball stadium. Truth be told, I am astonished at the scale of the audience. But, I can attribute that rapid growth to three primary ingredients: content, community and engagement.
Tom Cochran is the deputy coordinator for platforms at the U.S. Department of State. In this role, he is responsible for the global infrastructure supporting U.S. embassy web sites and a network of 700 American Spaces for public diplomacy and engaging foreign audiences. His most recent previous positions have included chief technology officer at Atlantic Media and director of new media technologies at the White House.