A-List Bloggers Agree: ‘Entertaining Differentiation’ Is Key to Success

A guest post from Bamboo Forest from Pun Intended

If I were to offer you a beautiful Ralph Lauren shirt and in the same breath an equally beautiful no-name shirt, which of the two would you select?

If you’re anything like me, you’d unhesitatingly go with the Ralph Lauren.


Simple, when we’re offered two items of equal quality, we go with the known one. That’s the way we humans work. If only we bloggers would put this principle into practice more often.

Let’s look at another scenario. Again I have the random urge to give free stuff away and through a healthy dose of serendipity I cross paths with you. I offer you either a beautiful solid color Ralph Lauren shirt or a no-name shirt of the same quality, except this time the no-name shirt has attractive patterns of bamboo adorned on it — which one are you now going to select?

Many (but not all) would justify selecting the no-name brand because of what it uniquely offers.

Let’s face it… most of us bloggers are no-namers. I sure as hell am, and that’s precisely why I strive to offer something unique, something that even them big boys can not.

Do you do the same?

Another avenue to take to gain attention is to blog on topics that aren’t well covered in the blogosphere. If you’re the only one blogging on a particular subject and there is a human demand for it, you’ll do quite well. There’s only one problem: most subjects that people actually enjoy have already become nicely saturated. So unless you think you can make parrot herding popular again, you’re really out of luck.

Recognize Entertainment is a Major Reason People Read Blogs Before Differentiating

Ask yourself this one question: “Why do I read blogs?”

If you really think it through you’ll come up with many answers and the most prominent one won’t be: “I want to get the best education possible on a given subject.”

Ha! That’s not why we read blogs!

I can envision a blog providing really good content on a subject while still failing to stimulate me. That blog, though good at giving the information I seek, will never rise to the top.

You gotta entertain while you’re at it; you need to be interesting, otherwise you’re not fulfilling a deep desire blog readers have beyond just learning — regardless of whether they’re cognizant of it.

The following is what Jon Morrow of Copyblogger concluded worked best for his own blog after much trial and error:

” . . . I gradually realized that my role as a blogger isn’t to educate the world. People will buy a textbook if they want to learn. They come to me if they want an interesting little diversion with a few valuable lessons.” [Bold Emphasis Mine]

Never forget this reality. Of course you have to convey something of value to your readers. But if you’re doing it exclusively in an informational way and not being fun and creative about it — don’t expect to get too far when going up against the big boys.

We bloggers are entertainers just as much as we are educators.

Subscribing to Blogs is Time Consuming

Some of you may be thinking, “What the hell do you mean it’s time consuming?! I’ll go right ahead and click on over to the RSS feed here at Write to Done! See, took me only a couple seconds Mr. Smarty Pants!”

The action of subscribing doesn’t take long, but people do actually think critically before adding another blog onto their long list of subscriptions. They understand that subscribing to one more blog means designating more of their limited time to it, time that once used can never be had again.

That’s pretty heavy, don’t you think?

This is yet another reason why differentiating yourself is so critical. People really do need a reason to subscribe to you.

Look at this hypothetical scenario. You just did a guest post for ProBlogger and you feel like a bucket load of thousand dollar bills because of it! You take a look at your stats and bask in the warm glow of knowing that readers from ProBlogger are coming over to check you out.

There’s only one problem, you also write about blogging and yet you really don’t offer anything new or special. Your angle is the same too.

Do you know what those visitors say to themselves when visiting your blog?

“Nice blog, but I gotta be honest… you offer basically what Darren Rowse does and there’s only so many blog posts one can read in a day. No, I’ll take the name brand thank you very much.”

Here’s what Dosh Dosh has to say and he’s never done a guest post in his entire career:

“I’ve seen some bloggers guest blogging actively while getting on the Digg frontpage and offering ebook incentives for subscription. Some of them used to have more subscribers than me but not any more. I and others outgrew them.”

He goes on to say,

Incentives and other gimmicks aren’t going to get you very far if you don’t know how to consistently put out content that differentiates your site.” [Emphasis Mine]

You can guest post until you’re blue in the face… but unless you give people a really solid and irresistible reason to subscribe to your blog, you will never reach the prominence of the A-listers.

By the way, I just took a look in the mirror: why does my face appear to have an odd shade of blue?

Spend Mountains of Time Bolstering Your Brand

Your brand encompasses just about everything, from how you write, the look of your blog design, even the kind of pictures you choose for your blog posts. It’s all a part of your brand, and it is this overall presentation that enables visitors to distinguish you from everyone else.

In an interview with John Chow, Eric Hamm of the Blogopolis Blueprint asked:

Paraphrasing, “What are most bloggers doing wrong… they’re working their butts off and not making any money… any one specific thing a lot of bloggers are doing wrong?”

John Chow explains,

“I don’t think enough bloggers give enough importance to branding. . . . The A-list blogs have a brand. We manage to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the pack. That’s one of the reasons I still have food reviews, it’s just part of my brand. People know that I write about what I eat [in addition to making money] and that distinguishes me from the rest of all the other bloggers who write [only] about making money.”

In a post on Write to Done, Leo Babauta of ZenHabits had this to say about differentiating himself:

“The other blogs grew quickly but soon hit a sort of plateau, because of one of two reasons:

1. They limited themselves to a smaller niche, and thus limited their potential readership. Once they had most of the potential readers in this niche, growth slowed; or

2. They didn’t differentiate themselves from the crowd. They were one of many other blogs, writing about the same things with the same angles.

These are both fatal mistakes if you want as big a readership as possible.” [Emphasis Mine]

How to Actually Stand Out

I was wondering when you were going to ask this question.

The reality is that very few blogs ever really do stand out. Most of us just blend in with our surroundings as if we were all dressed in camouflage standing in the midst of a tropical jungle.

And there’s obviously no simple equation to make us stand out and make a real impression on all the prospective readers (except for maybe a flying whale as your header). If there were — perhaps we’d all have the success we seek.

But knowing that we must differentiate ourselves from the rest of the crowd puts us in a position to actually do so.

Differentiating yourself doesn’t guarantee success. But without it, you’re pretty much guaranteed that you won’t rise too high either.

In the words of John Chow also from the aforementioned interview:

“The number one question you have to ask yourself is how are you different from the blogger next to you. If you can answer that question then your chances of succeeding is probably 90% higher than the person next to you.”

There’s a lot to be said on how to actually differentiate yourself in a winning way. But I’m not going to delve too much into that because this post is primarily on why it’s so imperative to be different, not the how.

The one thing I will say (because I love you my dear readers) and it’s about as clichÈ as it gets: People are like snowflakes, there’s no two alike.

Considering this truth — be sure not to entirely model yourself after other blogs. Use the wisdom and strategy they can teach you, yes. But as the sun is descending behind the mountains — put a little something unique into your production. Something that comes from deep within you.

Clearly we have a lot of competition out there. And it just isn’t enough to be as good at what our competitors excel at. We must also do what they’re not, and do it really well.

Bamboo Forest writes for Pun Intended, a blog that blends humor with inspiration. To ensure you never miss a good hearty laugh or a good dose of inspiration, subscribe here.

A Heads-up for WTD readers
Leo and Mary will run the next A-list Blogging Bootcamp, How to Create a Blog that Rocks from 13-17 February. Everyone had a blast last time! We’ll be emailing some great articles on blogging. Get yourself on the mailing list by clicking on Leo’s report in the sidebar.

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31 thoughts on “A-List Bloggers Agree: ‘Entertaining Differentiation’ Is Key to Success”

  • The info about the effort/time to subscribe is sooo true. And I know the challenge of differentiating is to actually BE different. I believe that in the world of Christian publishing, blogging has provided me the opportunity to explore the different way I have of expressing my faith views without worrying if a publisher will think I’m too “out there”. Because of that freedom, I’ve found my voice and an audience. Thanks for the challenge and the reminder to stay the course!

  • This is a really thought-provoking article. Why should people read my blog? I need to ask myself that question each time I sit down to write. Thanks for the insight.

  • @ Lori Stanley Roeleveld: Being “out there” is good stuff when it comes to reading content. Dare to be different, I say!

    @ Melissa Gorzelanczyk: Yeah, John Chow was right on the money with that question.

    Only two comments?! Come on fellas… my name is Bamboo Forest and I kinda got a rep to uphold.

  • This is what i try to ask myself every day: what makes your blog worthwhile? Why should people subscribe to you?
    I try to write content that is useful to people and that will help people solve their daily problems. My part time job as a blogger wouldn’t be worth it if i knew i wasn’t helping anyone. I think this is what makes you stick out more than other blogs or writers. Are you more useful and unique is what we should be asking.
    -great post, thanks for the advice

  • Julie says:

    This is a great post and good reminders to not blend with everyone else… while this worked great for me in basic training, I think it is imperative to stand out in the blogosphere… it is the HOW that can be tricky outside of posting a naked picture on my blog… hmmmmm….

  • @ David Parsons: Being useful will certainly help you stick out. Especially if you’re telling people things that isn’t being told by every other blogger out there.

    @ Julie: Thank you. Standing out is certainly critical if you want to gain large numbers of subscribers. One way I suppose you could do it is by looking at other blogs in your niche and figuring out what they’re missing.

  • Good point. Branding really is key when there’s so much stuff out there in the blogosphere. I didn’t realize how important it was when I first put my blog together, but my niche is the first thing people remember about me. Apparently I’m now “that girl who writes the neuroscience and creative writing blog”

  • zz says:

    I like this Bamboo Forest. I’m just starting out with my blog and to be honest I don’t have know where I fit, I don’t a five year plan or strong desire to monetize, or even a really polished and articulate reason for why I’m blog (How about this: “I write because I can’t not write, I want to share and grow and and SHOOT FOR THE STARS kisshug”*.

    Despite my apparent lack of any kind of hope for “success”, I’m quietly confident that I have something different to offer (in tiny seed form). But then that could just be because of all those “I’m special” t-shirts my mother made me wear well into my teens.

    *work in progress

  • @ Livia Blackburne: Major corporations go to great trouble to brand themselves effectively. We bloggers should also effectively brand ourselves. Your blog looks interesting. I like your about section. Rock on, girl.

    @ zz: I like your prospective reason for blogging. Certainly, blogging will do wonders for making you a better as well as smarter writer.

  • PAPA says:

    Okay, I’ll admit, I just now subscribed to PunIntended because you totally nail the “fun” concept. And because this was a solid, good post. Don’t worry about the number of contents, they’re probably off checking out your site.

    Keep it great!

    (though i do think you guys should add a pic on your about page at Punintended, more personal!)

  • @ Papa: Papa… because of people like you I’m glad I wrote this guest post (And to anyone else who subscribed).

    Thank you for the nice words. We try.

    I like to get myriad comments when I do a guest post, of course. But this post gives me an opportunity to use some of my ninja skills. Responding to every two comments or so really inflates the number of comments and makes it appear as if I have more comments than I actually do. I don’t play when it comes to guest posting. I put my game face on.

  • Jeb says:

    You definitely practice what you preach, BF. Though you may not be a big fish yet, it’s coming (um, hello? you have a whale on your header – biggest fish (sorta) of them all). Very much digging the BF brand. I’ll tell you what got me hooked from day one, if you really want to know… storytelling. Different. Good. Subscriber.

    Nice work.

  • Kat Eden says:

    I’ve never thought about it like this, and this is quite a good wake up call for me. I think I can tend to take myself too seriously, expecting that people want each post to be packed full of ‘can-do’ advice. Maybe I need to lighten up a little!! Thanks.

  • @ Jeb: haha… Thanks.

    @ Kat Eden: Can do advice is very valuable. But… how you deliver the actual information has lots of possibilities. Explore them!

  • Flying LlamaFish says:

    Wise words, brother bear.

  • Eric Nishio says:

    Thank you for the much needed post, Bamboo Forest. Branding is not just a part of a luxury brand’s business scheme. Every individual, freelancer or job-hunter, should consider developing his or her own profile, as Louis Vuitton would develop their brand. We should figure out how to become the Pepsi Max (versus Coca-Cola) of the world of millions of individuals, and differentiate ourselves from the person in front of us.

  • @ Flying LlamaFish: Thanks bro.

    @ Eric Nishio: Good insights. Well said.

  • Absolutely on target! Differentiation is the key. Of course, if you’ve always been considered different, weird, out-there, etc. you’re halfway there.

    I immediately gravitated to blogging because it gives me a platform for sharing ideas in my own quirky way, with my own slanted observations and on whatever thing pops into my head. At first I fought against my natural leanings to try to get in line with the popular bloggers, because with my competitive nature I wanted to “win.” When I relaxed and went back to being me I found my voice.

    Some people will like my voice, some won’t, but it’s very important to me that I”m true to it.

  • Luc Reid says:

    Bamboo, thanks for posting this. I’m finding it particularly useful to think about the “education vs. fun” angle you bring out. I’ve been investing a lot of effort into clearly communicating useful, well-researched information on how motivation works, but apart from a few blog posts that seemed to lend themselves to being more entertaining, I really have stayed away from trying to be fun for fun’s sake, and you’re absolutely right: if it’s me, I’m going to be much more likely to stick with a blog if I’m getting some whipped cream on my broccoli. (OK, maybe that’s not the best metaphor.) I have to think carefully about how to continue to convey reputability if I’m going to add more playfulness, but I think that’s well worth the effort I’ll need to put into it. I’m really very grateful for the advice!


  • @ Flora Morris Brown, PH.D.: ‘Being me’ is essential. When we write for ourselves that’s when we actually create our best stuff. Of course certain principles have to be respected while doing this, but ultimately writing for ourselves is the best method.

    I read a copyblogger post recently talking about how you can’t please everyone. Best to cater to those who will like your voice. Make them happy and your blog will grow.

    @ Luc Reid: Glad you found my advice helpful. One thing I notice copyblogger doing a lot is they use entertaining/interesting metaphors for the points they’re trying to get across.

  • mokibobolink says:

    Some very good points. Really makes me think about my blogs and what they are really for. Thanks for this.

  • I like the idea of branding our blogs.

    Some of my favorite ones have a certain feel to them and I just think to myself “wow I really need to read this blog.”

  • @ Mokibobolink: You’re welcome. Glad this post was helpful.

    @ Rocky: “a certain feel” That’s a good way to see branding.

  • Joanna Penn says:

    This is a great post – thankyou. I am sending it on to many people.
    I think differentiation only comes with time and courage. When you start blogging, you read other blogs and think you need to be like them. You have to beat down your fear before you actually share personal information.
    But really, the only original thing is you as a person, which is why personal branding for your blog is so important.

    Thanks, Joanna

  • Writer Dad says:

    Awesome Bamboo! Tis true, tis true. Not only a great argument, but a wonderfully articulated one as well. Thanks!

  • @ Joanna Penn: Yes. By expressing what we can only express we will go a long way in successfully differentiating ourselves.

    @ Writer Dad: Thanks.

  • Jim Harris says:

    I have always said one of the most important aspects of blogging well is “infotainment” – that combination of information and entertainment that, when done well, can turn potential readers into raving fans.

    Thanks for sharing an excellent post!

  • This was a good read. I’m a relatively new writer with a brand new site, and I’m still figuring out how to use my blog to my advantage. To be honest, it’s not something I want to spend too much time on…but if I’m going to have one, I want it to be a value add. This gave me some ideas to chew on. Thanks!

  • mk akan says:

    great post bamboo,
    so true,the competition now is very overwhelming ,we just have to differentiate or DIE trying.I totally agree with your point of entertaining while educating.
    having a good LAFF while LEARNING something is more interesting and effective than just reading a boring post.
    listening to Eddie Murphy give a lecture on blogging will be more interesting than listening to a Prof give the same lecture.
    think about it.

  • I thought this entire article was great but this:

    “We must also do what they’re not, and do it really well.”

    Was the best and truest piece of advice I’ve read yet. It might also be the hardest to attain – and that is perhaps why success is difficult for so many.


  • Why should people read my blog? I need to ask myself that question each time I sit down to write. Natural Health Tips

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