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Creative Marketing Destruction: Add Water and Blog

  |  February 15, 2005   |  Comments

Stop thinking about blogs as mere digital diaries. What's before us is a radical new publishing platform.

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) recently launched a new Web site for members and prospects. Not perfect, but pretty darn good. It includes lots of content, links to key resources, fields to sign up for key services, e-commerce tools, and much more.

What's the big deal? After all, most Web sites do this.

Well, WOMMA's site is built on a blog. Yes, the same platform powering the "digital diary" and consumer-generated media (CGM) revolution.

Beyond the Diary: A Publishing Revolution

At the end of the day, blogs represent a fundamentally new publishing format. Far beyond their role as personal diaries and scoop-laced news journals, blogs provide easier ways to create and manage Web sites and site content, in a highly sticky, almost addictive manner.

Now, I'm not talking about those lame, $15-a-month Web sites all the domain registrars try to hawk, or the create-once-ignore-it-forever site templates of GeoCities lore. I'm talking about a fully dynamic CMS (define), complete with add-water-and-stir publishing tools, measurements capability, and more.

Just for perspective, the "deluxe" version of Six Apart's TypePad, my personal favorite of the tools out there (I have Blogger and LiveJournal accounts as well), costs about $15 a month.

"We've got a content management system that would have cost $200,000 two years ago. The best part: I did it myself, in a week, over the holidays, while eating donuts," says Andy Sernovitz, WOMMA's CEO.

What's happening with Sernovitz and WOMMA is just the tip of the iceberg. As blog publishing tools continue to improve, things are going to get messy and disruptive for the traditional Web site lobby. Don't shoot the messenger!

Current Pain Points

Some perspective: Most brand Web sites are impenetrably inflexible; this, despite all the promises of overpriced CMSs, which tend to promise more bells and whistles than a puppy farm. Yes, we romanticize Web sites' real-time nature, but we secretly dread, nay, hate, the time, hassle, and bureaucracy involved in making even the slightest site changes. Ask a brand manager if she really has control over her Web site. She'll likely toss the question over the cube. Ask about the frequency of site changes, and that manager will start to dry-heave over the prospect of incremental agency fees or IT department cross-charges. Then, there's legal review.

Last week, nearly half the Super Bowl advertisers failed to fully exploit their Web sites as a promotion device for their ads. Most of the site search engines fired blanks when you typed in the term "super bowl ad." My guess is most marketers had a good hunch the Web site could help promote their $2.4 million Super Bowl ad, but they concluded getting the site changed would be akin to running the New York Marathon blind and barefoot.

Blogs Release Our Repressed "Inner Child"

Now we have blog publishing tools, and they seem to release the inner children of marketers who have long felt repressed and constrained by Web site bureaucracy. Believe me, when I created my first personal blog, I felt like I jumped the Berlin Wall. When I created my first business blog, and did so without denting my marketing budget, I felt like Sir Edmund Hillary atop Everest.

"Push-button publishing fulfills the original promise of the Web," says Kevin Dugan, marketing executive and author of the Strategic Public Relations blog. "With each version, blogging software will become simpler to use and offer more powerful features."

With blogs, iteration is not an ideal, but a price of admission. Thousands of ad industry insiders are now tasting the fruit of the blog publishing platform in their personal time, and it's bringing vitality, and even a bit of empowered impatience, to their thinking about what can be done with Web sites.

Some other important implications:

  • Traditional agencies will make a play for interactive. Agencies overall will have a hard time keeping up with clients who exploit blogs on their own to shape and test messaging. That said, traditional agencies may have the most to gain from add-water-and-stir blog tools. Yes, there will be protocols, check-offs, and, of course, legal review. But the nature of building the Web site may actually be the easiest part. Interactive agencies will try to resist, but they won't always be able to hang out the "we know technology" sign.

    Adds Dugan, "Simply designing sites won't be enough. Web agencies will move upstream to keep up the billable hours. We'll see some innovation and a flood of new services, including back-end application development. We'll also see some creative uses of front-end technology, like podcasting."

  • PR firms will find a new voice. Add-water-and-stir blogs will further open the interactive space to PR agencies and firms. Blogs uniquely lend themselves to managing events and influencers. Historically, PR firms have had real domain expertise in influencer management. In addition, PR firms typically sit on more real-time event news their clients can exploit on a more dynamic, content-rotating Web site. If the CEO and employee group insist on an externally facing blog, it's hard to imagine PR firms not getting first right of refusal on the business.

  • Webmasters and IT managers will move corporate blogs forward. The ease of blog publishing will start to make many Web site gatekeepers very uncomfortable. They'll push back, but innovators in the organization will blow off the old rules and create their own awesome sites with blog publishing tools, quickly winning the CEO's favor. (Remember, these things are viral.) CEOs themselves will begin to experiment with blogs without the usual protocol. The ease of expressing innovative ideas through cheap blog publishing tools will rock the boat -- for the better.

  • Blogs will "nip" at consumer affairs. Eventually, borrowing a page from Microsoft's highly disruptive Channel9, employee blogs will nip at the heels of so-called "consumer affairs." Consumers will benefit enormously from better, more intimate feedback loops. Mind you, this is a zone where Web feedback protocols rarely change. Where the vast majority of "contact us" tools are designed to reduce, not build, relationships, despite radical shifts in how consumers talk to brands. Blogs such as Channel9 will hold consumers affairs to an entirely new standard of excellence and customer intimacy.

There you have it. Stop thinking about blogs as merely digital diaries. Let's get beyond Dan Rather. What's before us is a radical new publishing platform.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pete Blackshaw

Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."

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