Blogging is suddenly at the eye of the media storm. Mainstream sources such as BusinessWeek and The New York Times are covering blogging as if it were brand new. Yet blogs are almost old news. The 2004 political conventions catered to bloggers, the White House recognizes bloggers as press, and bloggers caused CBS to reexamine its fact-checking.
Marketers must look beyond the hype to determine how blogs can influence their products and how to effectively add them to the marketing mix.
As the digital equivalent of Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner, blogs empower people to express their knowledge and opinions to anyone who cares to listen. This is important for marketers because consumers now control part of the conversation and can influence a brand’s future based on their personal perceptions. In this context, the issue is how a Web-enabled public evaluates the quality of information on blogs and related posts, and to which messages they pay attention.
Blog Marketing Strategies
Regardless of your product, blogs can be an integral part of a marketing strategy. This doesn’t necessarily mean running out to start one. There are other ways to harness this fast-growing medium’s power:
- Gather market intelligence. Monitor public buzz to determine how your brand and close competitors are faring. Knowing where, why, and how you’re being trashed (or praised) in a public forum allows you to respond appropriately — and quickly. Any angry customer or disgruntled former employee can launch a blog at no cost. They may even get higher search rankings than your brand.
- Engage bloggers by commenting on key business topics. Read blogs related to your product or company to understand the blogger’s perspective and audience. Strategically respond to postings to initiate dialogue. More genuine that a PR pitch, this approach can also help correct misinformation.
- Advertise on blogs to reach influencials, target a niche audience, or extend a media buy’s reach. Though only about 25 percent of Internet users (about 32 million) currently read blogs, they tend to influence other’s thinking. Bloglines readers check an average of 20 blogs daily. Informal BlogAds research shows blog readers are high consumers of expensive, well-researched content, such as The Economist and The New Yorker. “Blog advertising can engage an important niche,” says Morra Aarons, Edelman VP, “enabling you to reach a critical market segment or to broaden the impact of your marketing spend.”
Blogs vary in size, approach, and ad opportunities. You can advertise directly on a blog that reaches your target market or through an advertising network such as BlogAds or Pheedo. Banners and text copy must be contextually relevant. As users visit often, it’s important to change ad content frequently to prevent impression fatigue. One option is create a dialogue with a series of related ads.
- Humanize your company with corporate blogs. One or more employees, the CEO included, may blog. Corporate blogs require a level of transparency. As a result, they may not work for all types of companies. Corporate bloggers must have access to, and support from, senior management, PR, and legal.
- Build business or brand by connecting with consumers. Both small businesses and major corporations can use blogs to build closer relationships with their customers. Best Buy created the entertaining Slothmore Institute. The only connection to Best Buy is the sponsored ads.
Whether or not you have a blog, the related analysis is important to track how your business and brand are being discussed to better understand your consumers’ perspective:
- Monitor the Web for references to your brand, key officers, and major competitors:
- Set up tracking on Google News Alerts, Technorati, and PubSub. You must be able to react to relevant topics brewing in the blogosphere before they become full-blown issues. Involve PR in this process, and respond quickly and decisively to engage bloggers.
- Analyze comments, links, and trackbacks (define) to determine the relative importance of audience perceptions. Use tools such as Intelliseek’s BlogPulse or a firm such as BuzzMetrics. This analysis will help determine who the influencers are and what their connectivity level is.
- Analyze broader category or product information. Consumers may discuss products in general terms, without using brand names or model numbers. So narrow tracking may not reveal the full picture. Monitor the information landscape to determine the macro trends and issues that influence buyers and the language they use. A food producer may check for terms such as “diet” and “low carb,” for example. According to Julie Woods, Cymfony EVP, “Ongoing trend analysis examines the conversations to find relevant information that can be used to guide marketing strategy.” It can reveal pain points, consumer language around your product, market changes, and competitive actions. In turn, these findings can direct your marketing and creative approach. They may also reveal other terms you should be tracking.
Blogs create more opportunities, and more challenges. As with any communications strategy, consider what you hope to achieve from consumer engagement. Don’t ignore blogs until something blows up! Use them as another way to listen to and involve customers. People talk about you in the blogosphere; use the opportunity to influence the conversation.