Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bloggers+Indie Brands = OTP Part 2: The OKCupid Principle

Welcome back to the second part of my Bloggers+Indie Brands= OTP Series!
If you missed the first part, you can find it here

Part 2. The OKCupid Principle

Telling you to be respectful and play nice in order to succeed is all well and good, but what does that actually look like? What should you say? What shouldn't you say? Do you need different approaches for different people? Perhaps the most succinct way to explain how to communicate for both sides is that for maximum success, you should approach brand/blogger collaborations with the same basic principles as successful online dating. If you've never done online dating, you might not know this, but there's a real art to navigating it successfully, and almost all these principles can be applied to getting a successful relationship between bloggers and indie brands off the ground.

Who Am I by ManischDepressiv
 Question 1: Who Am I?

In the world of online dating, it's important to understand that straight (or bi) cisgender women will ALWAYS get far more unsolicited messages than straight (or bi) cisgender men. From here on, I'm going to just break the language down to straight woman and straight man, since it's a metaphorical pair of people we're talking about, and the correct language is going to get cumbersome. Sorry, I hope you won't mind just this once.

So basically, straight women get more attention, and more unsolicited approaches than straight men on the same online dating site.  When I joined OKCupid, I got inundated with dozens of unsolicited messages, and I'm not super hot in terms of wider societal standards. Mr. Reluctant Femme joined at about the same time, and is much more conventionally attractive, but he hardly ever got any messages without making the first move. It's just how the online dating thing works. This doesn't mean that the women get more QUALITY offers, but they undoubtedly get a far greater QUANTITY of offers. This means if you want to get a woman's attention through the wildly irritating stream of "Hey babe, u bizzy l8r?" you need to have a plan. 

In the world of bloggers and indie brands, sometimes the brand is the straight woman, and sometimes it's the blogger. Popular established indie brands like Pretty Serious and Femme Fatale Cosmetics get piles of requests from bloggers every day - if you're a small or emerging blogger, you need to approach them the same way you would approach a straight girl on OKCupid. On the other hand, from the perspective of small or emerging brands popular bloggers like More Nail Polish or Nail Gun XS are the straight girls, sorting through piles of offers to find ones they're interested in taking up. So the first question to ask yourself before contacting an indie brand or a blogger is, "Am I the straight woman, or the straight guy trying to get her attention?" 

Probably best not to try and get someone's attention like this.
Still from Frankenstein Created Woman, found at Day of The Woman
Chances are if you're reading this, you're the straight guy in this equation whether you run an indie brand or you're a blogger. Let's face it, I'm not well known or experienced enough to be giving advice to the big guns yet, so I'm going to go ahead and assume you don't run a super popular brand (yet), and you're not a massively popular blogger (yet). Maybe one day I'll be able to get Sophie from Femme Fatale or Michelle from Lab Muffin to write up a guide for the sought after people. But for the moment, here's the advice I have for those of you who are in my position: the guy who's SURE they would be perfect for you, if you'd just give us a chance.

Image found at
Once you've figured out which side of the equation you're on, there is another side to this question that you should have a think about before making contact. Take a minute to get straight what you have to offer whoever you're contacting, and why they should choose you - in your own humble opinion, of course. What's awesome about you? Why should they ignore all those other super hot people and come home with you? Are you a really entertaining writer? Are your products totally unique? Do you take crisp, professional looking pictures? Do you have amazing nails, or flawless skin that makes you look like a Disney Princess? Are your products just so incredibly good everyone should try them? Are you funny? Do you have a massive following? Are you just so incredibly nice they should give you a chance? (This one probably isn't so effective, but stick with it if you really don't think you have ANYTHING else to offer, you never know)

Once you've decided what your selling points are, make sure they're out there for the world to see. There was one consistent mistake that newcomers to OKCupid used to make ALL the time, and it used to drive me NUTS. They'd sign up, fill out the bare minimum of their profile, not bother with a picture or any of the quiz questions, and then get furious when no one would reply to their. Well, of COURSE no one replied - why would they? With no picture, no profile, no advertisement for how awesome they are, why on earth would anyone waste their time? Whether you're a blogger or a brand, make sure you have something to show people before you ask them to look at you. If you're a blogger who WILL have a blog, but have no blog to show right now, you're out of luck. If you're a blogger with a very, very new blog that only has three posts in it, you're probably also out of luck. If you're a new indie maker without even bottle or product shots of what you're selling to show potential reviewers, you're out of luck. If you're an indie brand with only two products right now, but there are totally more coming soon, you are also out of luck. It's a crowded marketplace, and only getting more so. People won't wait for what you might be able to show them soon - they want to see it now, otherwise they will just move on to the next person, exactly as I did when I got messages from someone with no picture. 

 Question 2: Who Am You Talking To?

If you're able to find out the name of the person you're contacting, use it. Only as a last resort should an initial approach email be written "To Whom It May Concern", or even worse, "Dear Blogger." Honestly, I find that particular opener genuinely insulting, and it's not even like I have a million offers flowing through my inbox. So imagine if you're trying to get the attention of someone who DOES have offers coming in all the time, and you start it with "Dear Blogger". The same principle applies to approaching indie brands - if you're a blogger trying to be heard, do NOT open your email with "Hi," or "To The Owner". Anyone opening an email that begins "Dear Blogger" or "To The Owner" won't even bother with the rest of what you have to say, because addressing your correspondence in such an anonymous way says, "I don't know you from a bar of soap, and I don't really care to." If you really have no other possible option, a simple "Good morning", "Good afternoon" etc gives an air of professionalism, but isn't an immediate delete trigger.
 (Just as a side note, this is one piece of advice that doesn't actually have an online dating equivalent, since a lot of people will be creeped out if you use their name from the get go, without them offering it first. But I included it even though it contradicts my neat theory, because it's just THAT important)

Image found at Dear Blank Please Blank
While you're stalking your target to find out their name, be sure to do some research on the brand/blog you're contacting to find out if you're an appropriate fit. When I got a message on OKCupid that opened with, "Hey babe, u single?" I would delete it. When I got a message that mentioned how much they liked skinny chicks, I would delete it. When I got a message that explained they were a devout Christian looking for a good Christian wife, I would delete it. The information that all these people needed to know ahead of time was RIGHT THERE in my profile; all they had to do was read it. I was very careful to make sure that my profile was very clear on the facts. I clearly stated that I was not single, but was available; that I wasn't particularly thin, and not interested in discussing the possibility of becoming thin; and that while I have respect for other people's religions, I am not myself in the least bit religious. And yet, these messages would come in constantly because people didn't bother to do their research.  

There is more about the specifics of what to find out in my previous post, but the underlying idea here is to at least get SOME idea of who you're talking to. Finding out the basics is, of course, the very least you can do. Once you've found out who you're talking to, where they are, and what they do, there are a lot of extra things you can look into if you want to boost your chances as much as possible. Think of it as bringing tasteful flowers, putting on a nice shirt, and offering to go somewhere you'll both enjoy for your first date, rather than showing up to the nearest bar in a wrinkled t-shirt. 

If you're approaching a blog, read through some of their posts. If you come across a post that's particularly interesting to you, go ahead and mention it in your initial contact, along with a comment on WHY you liked that one in particular. A message that reads, "I liked your post on Topic X. It was really great" is about as appealing as an online dating message that reads, "I see you're a girl. I like girls." There's nothing personal, nothing to indicate that you're actually viewing the person you're addressing as an individual being. It screams copy and paste job, and while big brands can get away with this, the personal touch is what indie brands and bloggers have to offer, so don't pass up a chance to use it. While you're scanning their recent/popular posts, try and gauge whether they're likely to be interested in the products you have on offer. If 99 per cent of their posts are fashion, then maybe they're not the best people to send nail polish to. If 99 per cent of their posts are nail polish, maybe they're not the ideal candidate to promote your sandals. Some bloggers cover a wide variety of products and topics (like me), and others have their specific area of interest. There's no point sending precious resources like free product to someone who isn't that interested in them, even if they have a massive audience. Bloggers attract an audience that is interested in the same things they are - if a blogger isn't interested in what you're selling, it's unlikely their followers will be either, no matter how many of them there are. If they don't often use products like yours, they're also not as likely to be able to show them off to best advantage - for example you would probably get much better results sending a fancy skirt to someone like Dani Mezza than me, just because she would know better how to show it off than I would. Try and get an idea whether you and the blogger in question will be a good fit before approaching them.

If you're approaching a brand, decide what you like about their products and mention it. If you can't find anything you particularly like about that brand, maybe you want to take a second and think about whether it's really worth everyone's time trying to make a relationship happen. For example, I have zero interest in darkening my naturally corpse white complexion; so trying to start a relationship with Chocolate Sun, who make natural tanning products, would be absolutely pointless. If you're not interested in their products, don't approach them anyway just because it would be an extra brand in your list - it's just not worth it in the end. If your heart's not in a review, your readers will notice and it's not a great look. But if you ARE interested, and you ARE excited by the products a brand is offering, be sure to tell them! Tell them you love their stance on animal testing, or that their products are vegan, or simply that their colours are like nothing you've ever seen. Everyone loves a compliment, and a personalised compliment shows you bothered to tailor your pitch to this brand specifically. This will get you a lot further than a copy and paste, "I'm a blogger, here are my stats, perhaps you would like to send me some things" approach.  

One last thing on this step of the process - just as the straight male on OKCupid just has to the live with the fact that he will only ever receive a response to a certain percentage of his messages, you have to accept not everyone will reply to your approach. I wish I could tell you there is a surefire way to make sure every single approach you make will at least be acknowledged, but I can't. Well, I COULD tell you that, but it would be a straight up lie. Also, keep in mind the people who do reply to your approach might not reply with the answer you're looking for, and you're going to have to accept that gracefully too. At no point should you EVER throw a wobbly about this, either in a public forum or to the person who has rejected you (or ignored you). It's unprofessional, it's unpleasant, and it's just...well, tacky. You know who everyone hates on a site like OKCupid? The entitled, pain in the arse people who follow up on an ignored messages over and over, demanding "at least" a reply, because you "owe them." Behavior like this is no less annoying in a blogging context, and if you chuck a hissy, whether you're a blog or a brand, you can pretty much assume everyone you ever intend on working with will hear about it. If you need to vent, tell your cat, your partner, someone who isn't involved in the community at all. Sending a petulant whiny email about it, or posting to a public forum is just bad form, and it will come back and bite you in the ass.

Image found at Planet Minecraft
Question 3: What do I want, and what do they want?

Let's assume that you've followed all my advice so far, and it's worked exactly how you wanted it to. Your target has noticed you, and JOY, they've replied to your initial approach. This is SUPER FUCKING EXCITING, and it can be easy to get carried away and forget to work out any other details before jumping in with both feet. Trust me, I know the feeling. I could list off for you all the ridiculously awful dates I've ended up on because of just this instinct, but you wouldn't believe half of them. The surprise anti-semetic, the guy nearly wet himself in terror when I suggested he come back to my place, the one who tried to lecture me on the evils of porn...all of these were dreadful experiences that I could have avoided if I'd just taken a second to chill and take a closer look before plowing ahead. 

In terms of bloggers and brands hooking up, there aren't as many potential surprises you need to investigate. When dating, there are all sorts of exciting and inexplicable surprises that can emerge after a drink or two. When getting bloggers and brands together, you can rest assured you (probably) won't have to deal with someone declaring they have an underage Spirit Bride in another dimension. There are, however, some questions you should ask before proceeding. The very basics you need to know before you make an agreement are what you want, what you will do for it, and when you can provide it - and this applies to both bloggers AND brands. 

So the Sea Organisation contracts are hilarious overkill, but you should seriously
have some sort of agreement in place
Image found at
If you're a brand, I'm going to go ahead and guess you've probably already thought about what you're willing/able to offer a blogger before the conversation gets this far. But you should also know what kind of coverage you want/expect, and when you want it. Timing in particular seems to be something a lot of small, emerging brands neglect to factor into their marketing plans, and as a former marketing person this drives me bananas. Timing can be absolutely crucial to the success of a campaign - if you have a new collection being released, think hard about when you want the reviews and/or swatches of that collection going out? Personally, I always aim to have the smallest possible gap between people reading a review, and them being able to buy it, while still getting the review out before the release. That way people reading every post of mine as it comes out are rewarded by getting an advance preview, but the people who lag a little bit behind can see the pretty pictures, decide they want it, click a link, and buy it. That's just my personally preferred time frame, and I might be totally on the wrong track. It's also an approach that doesn't really fit with ongoing, rolling promotional campaigns for product ranges that don't change particularly often. But as a brand owner, you should have an idea of what marketing techniques work best in terms of moving your product, and you should have a plan for fitting blog coverage into your overall marketing plan. 

If something changes, and you have to change your plan, let the bloggers you're working with know. Be aware that if you need things earlier than you said you would, they might not be able to accommodate the changes - a lot of bloggers plan their posts weeks in advance, and sometimes they're simply unable to rearrange their schedule. Other bloggers (like me) write posts quite close to the deadline, and they might not be able to post any earlier because they simply haven't done the review or swatches yet. However, it is always worth asking to see what they can do, and moreover it's just polite to keep them in the loop. It should probably be obvious by now, but if you change your mind entirely about working with a blogger, for whatever reason, let them know. Despite what some people on OKCupid seem to think, the appropriate reaction to deciding you don't want to go ahead with a relationship is NOT to just stop replying to messages. The only instance in which this is acceptable is if the person you're talking to has done something unforgivably rude, and I'll admit I've done it when people on OKCupid asked appallingly inappropriate questions, or started nagging me for attention. However, behavior that deserves this kind of brutal approach is pretty unlikely in a blogger/brand context. It's more polite to provide bloggers with a reason why you want to dissolve the relationship, but I get that sometimes that might be awkward. However, the very least you can do is thank them for their time, and let them know you're moving on. 

If you're a blogger, know the brand owner know in advance what you would consider reasonable compensation for your time, be it in product or (much less likely) money. Know in advance what you can offer, and when you can reasonably commit to having it ready to go. I've run across the occasional brand who don't seem to really mind about any of these details, but I'm always more comfortable if I at least ask the questions. That way I've tried to have the conversation, and if we run into any bumps later I'll know that I did what I could to avoid them. I know I said this in the last post, but I really can't say it enough - never commit to something you can't complete. It is always ALWAYS better to under commit and over deliver, than over commit and have to back out. A brand owner would always prefer you be honest about what you're able to deliver than be left hanging, so if you can't provide what they're looking for right now, or something comes up that means you can't deliver what you promised, let them know ASAP. If you agree to a review and the brand owner just never hears from you again and said review never appears, you are the blogging equivalent of someone who says, "Yeah, I'd love to hang out! Let's get together!" and then never makes a plan to actually meet up. Everyone HATES that person, so very much. Don't be that person. 

Question 4: Who Do We Tell?

So you've hooked up, got clear what you both want out of this relationship, and things have progressed smoothly. Product has been supplied, reviews and swatches have been published - what do you do next? This is another instance in which my theory falls down a little bit, but not entirely. You see, when you hook up with a person for the first time, some people like you to be very hush hush about it, and I guess that's fair enough. However, in the world of marketing, you're much better off operating on the sort of basis I do when dating - if you're happy and you know it, TELL EVERYONE. 

If you're a blogger, it's polite to let the brand you're working with know that the review has been published. Personally, I like to do this by shooting them a quick email, simply saying that the review is up and that I hope they're happy with the results. There are other ways to let them know as well, if you're too shy to announce yourself this directly. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have easy options to tag the brand in question when you post a link to your post, and this will give them at least a little ping to let them know the review is out. Try to tag the brand on the social media outlet they use most often - no-one can be equally across all social media these days, there's simply too many of them. Everyone has to pick one or two to focus on, so pay attention to which ones the brand use most often, and make sure to tag them on that platform. Also keep in mind that if you don't tag the brand, or let them know about the coverage, they're losing out of part of what they gain from the relationship - exposure.

If you're a brand, it's polite to reply to a notification from a blogger about a review with thanks, at the very least. Bloggers love attention, and we want to know that you've had a look at what we've done. If you like what we've done, then share it around! Repost pictures, share a link to the post, share our work with your fans. If you're not 100% sure that a blogger is going to be okay with you sharing their post or their photos around, then send them a quick email asking permission first. I can't speak for all bloggers everywhere, but I will say that I would be pretty darn surprised if you ever have a blogger tell you to please NOT share their work. You remember how I was saying way back there somewhere that bloggers do what they do for the love of it? This is true, but they also do it for the love they get from blogging. One of the huge payoffs from working with brands directly for a small or emerging blogger is the potential exposure when you share our work with your fans - if you don't share links or pictures, we're losing out on part of what we gain from the relationship. 

Of course, there might be a situation where as a brand, you're not happy with what the blogger has produced. Maybe they said terrible things about your product, or just didn't do them justice. Understandably, you're not going to be too keen to let everyone see this coverage. In this case, it's not a problem to not share the links or pictures around. However, be aware that if you don't share links to work you DID like, the blogger WILL assume you weren't happy with them. If you went on a date with someone and you thought it went well, but they never replied to your follow up message, what would you think? You'd assume they'd had a bad time, and so will a blogger. So just keep in mind what message you're sending back by choosing to share or keep it to yourself. 

Phew! So that's pretty much all my feelings on indie brands and bloggers working together. What do you think? Did I miss anything? Am I totally wrong? What would you add to this?


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  2. Cassie, thank you for being so incredibly generous with your wisdom, expertise and experience. This series is full of invaluable stuff. While I blog about polish, my readership is small and doesn't constitute what I think would be attractive to an indie brand looking to market their creations. But I love what you've written in these two posts, have soaked it up like a sponge and bookmarked them both for future reference. Learning about the marketing back and forth between bloggers and indie polish makers is enlightening in a very fundamental way that will inform my blogging even if I never participate in such an arrangement. I'm grateful for you!

    1. You're very welcome! I hope it helps you at some stage - while your readership might be small now, it might not always be. And honestly, even a small readership can be helpful to some indie brands, if your readers take your opinion seriously. 50 devoted fans are worth more than 100 that don't trust your opinion!

  3. Thank you thank you thank you for writing this! As I've just written my first proper review for an indie brand, it's so good to get some more knowledge and advice before/in case I do another one :D

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