– on the complex relationship between brands, bloggers and bother
If any one phenomenon has utterly changed my life around for better and for worse in the past five years or so, it would be that phenomenon known as social media networking. On Facebook I’ve made some amazing connections with people I might otherwise never have known, through my three blogs I have had the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with my readers on whatever subjects piqued me enough to write about, and on Twitter I could toot my horn loudly and slather the word around like so much virtual virgin olive oil:
There’s a new blogger out there, people. Watch out, world!
But social media these days are a lot more complex than simple shameless self-promotion platforms – for one thing, they are quite possibly the most exciting thing to happen in marketing since the invention of TV commercials. Brands everywhere have sat up and taken notice…this thing called social media marketing. They’ve joined Twitter, created Facebook pages, held promotional events and competitions for new product launches etc, building a brand identity and online presence through the one thing that distinguishes social media marketing from the old school of advertising:
Engaging in a dialogue with their customers.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the noisy blogosphere, for no other reason than here is where a brand can be made, made over or pilloried by the new media superstars:
Ordinary – or not – people like you and I, people with and without backgrounds in professional writing, people who are armed and dangerous with the courage of their convictions and more to the point – are not afraid to put those convictions out there in the virtual world for all to read and interact with. In some areas, those bloggers have become entities in their own right – for better or worse, as in the fashion industry.
If a blog is to succeed, said one of my ‘How to promote your blog’ newsletters, it needs to have a defined focus – one topic or passion that will appeal to others who share that passion. Once upon a time, I thought that was the worst sort of bs. This was until I started writing about perfume and gained far more followers and feedback than any of my other blogs ever had. If you write about a product – as we perfume bloggers do – then you need product to write about.
You need the brand that makes it happen – in this instance, perfume houses who make the juice you get to sample and then to write about. Don’t believe for a moment that those perfume houses could care less about your opinions, because trust me – they do!
So we have that delicate symbiosis between brands and bloggers, like flowers and butterflies, each benefitting from the presence of the other. Bloggers are the best ever free PR any brand could ask for – and in return, a blogger can get noticed/promoted/read or even get to the point of actually becoming a brand in his or her own right.
On the other hand, we all know it – there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And in the world I live and write in, there is also such a thing as personal integrity.
Say…an independent perfume house would like to read what stories their perfumes could evoke in my dubious prose. My email is right on my profile page. I receive an email – would I like to review X, Y or Z?
I am several hundred miles away from anything remotely resembling a brick-and-mortar department store/niche perfume boutique. I’m also relentlessly curious, as well as too poor for a credit card. In due time, I receive samples of X, Y or Z – sometimes entire alphabets – and in turn, I have my own part of the bargain to fulfill: to write what I think, publish the results and sit back to watch the fireworks. Since I’m also on Facebook as well as Twitter, I also share the link, tweet my newest blog entry, and in some cases, email/PM/DM the perfume house to let them know it’s there. They get the PR – and I get the benefit of building my own reputation/brand as a blogger who may or may not have something unique to contribute to the ever-expanding world of perfumed prose.
Actually, I have another nefarious agenda here: I want to write for a living, and I have the hubris to believe I can. If I can write about the ephemeral art of perfumes – a very difficult subject matter, since our sense of smell is so subjective – then it serves two purposes at once: I become a better writer, and also gain a reputation as one.
So what would the brand of Tarleisio be? What can I do to be unique in the perfumosphere? I realized a long time ago that I had to be true to my own voice above all else. In other words, if you want a ‘professional’ review, this is not where you’ll find it. So many other bloggers are much better at proper ‘reviewing’ than I will ever be. You’ll find most of my personal favorites listed on the right of this blog.
My angle is different – I choose to go with the genies in the bottles and follow them where they lead. If that means that I can evoke a sense of what a perfume smells like or what the perfumer/perfume house was trying to say, if you as a reader become curious through my words and my idiosyncratic perspective and passion, then it’s all good. If not, well…there are much better perfume bloggers on my bloglist!
Back to that personal integrity. I have on more than one occasion received a few things that left me cold/unimpressed/disgusted. Since I consider perfume a high art form on a par with any form of creativity, I know from personal experience how much destructive criticism can hurt. Therefore, I try to be fair in how I react. Just because I can’t wear something doesn’t mean someone else might not love it.
So I will praise what I can appreciate – dedication, concept, care of execution – and note what did or didn’t work…for me. If I rave, I rave because I think it’s exceptional enough to rave about. If I rant, it’s because it was a bad idea badly executed.
I have never received any kind of payola for my reviews and never will. I also reserve the right to decide what I review and when I do, which is a lot less often than I’d like. Hence, my whopping backlog of guilt over all the marvels I want to review and all the time I don’t have.
Do I have favorites? Yes. I tend to rave about the perfumers/houses who continually push the limits of what a perfume can achieve, who keep trying and keep challenging not just themselves but their customers. In other words, those who evolve in terms of artistry, just as I try to do the same in my writing.
There is an awful lot of awful out there. What is also out there: an awful lot of incredible discoveries to share. Without perfume blogs, I would never have known about niche perfumes or independent perfume houses, and my life would have been infinitely less rich for it on all levels of my existence. I truly was at the point where I thought perfumery as an art form was dying, since so much of the mainstream left me unimpressed or disillusioned.
I’m not immune to the lure of loot, luster or lucre. I’d be thrilled if I had 2000 followers and an online presence to match. But I blog con amore – for love. For the love of perfume, my passion for sharing that love, and a personal dedication and perspective to writing about it that I try to keep my own.
Just as flowers need butterflies and bees to keep blooming through time, we perfume bloggers need perfumes to write about. Just as no flower is identical to any other, neither is a perfume or a blogger. Which is not at all the same as saying every nectared flower is equally sweet – but then, all butterflies are different, too.
Even this one.
Image: Dottie Dee, fineartamerica.com