E-Mail vs. Blogs

A friend and former colleague of mine just started a blog. According to Technorati, he’s in good company; 100,000 new blogs come online every day.

The blog is a good tool for meeting his business goals: to position himself as an expert and softly market his consulting services. Many people in his position have the same goals, but they use an e-mail newsletter to meet them. It got me to thinking about the similarities and differences between marketing with e-mail newsletters and marketing with blogs.

Just as with e-mail newsletters, there are good blogs, not-so-good ones, and terrible ones. One reason: their popularity. There were 100,000 blogs in 2002, according to Technorati. In 2004, the figure jumped to 4.8 million. Today, there are 57 million blogs.

Blogs were big news in “BusinessWeek” magazine in late 2004. I was in a meeting in early 2005 where an agency pitched a marketing blog idea to my client. Agency reps listed the top executives who would host these blogs… and went on to list the agency copywriters who would ghostwrite each of the blogs. Not cool.

The whole idea behind a blog is it’s someone’s thoughts. You can’t say this is Joe’s blog but Jane writes it. That is misleading and misses the point of blogging. You can have an agency write your e-mail newsletter for you, but not your blog.

Which brings us to my second point about blogs: you need to “have a take and don’t suck” in the immortal words of Jim Rome. You can create an e-mail newsletter that’s “just the facts,” and it will be received just fine. Not so with a blog; it’s got to have some personality to truly be a blog. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

For a client, I vetted blog entries it had commissioned on a concert tour it’d sponsored. The entries were boring. They consisted of each show’s attendance and the names of a few celebrities in the audience. Yawn. Not something an artist’s fans would be interested in, nor something that would have people checking out the blog on a regular basis.

Blogs are also, by design, interactive. To be interactive you have to give people a way to add comments and give then a reason to comment. Some organizations fear allowing visitors to post. What if they write something offensive or negative about the company? Others allow it, but the blog entries aren’t conducive to further comment.

For example, there’s a consumer publication whose blog is really just a series of short articles. A recent entry was about where to pick your own apples. It wasn’t written in a conversational voice, and it didn’t encourage readers to interact. Well, except for the comment button at the end (the comment tally read 0 even days after the post). The publication could have easily made this interactive by adding a call to action to share apple-picking experiences or favorite apple recipes. But it didn’t. That’s not a blog, it’s a series of articles.

In spam, however, e-mail and blogs are equal. E-mail has been battling spam for years, and now the blogosphere has spam in blogs, sping, and splogs. But enough about the seedy underside.

All in all, doing a good blog is more difficult than doing a good e-mail newsletter. Readers expect blogs to be updated at least daily; you can get away with doing an e-mail newsletter once a month. I’ve thought for years about doing a blog, but I’ve never actually ventured in. I think I’m also concerned about “foot in mouth” syndrome, where I’ll write something wrong or something that accidentally offends someone. I like the luxury of being able to sleep on what I write, then review it with fresh eyes before it’s published.

Years ago, I was part of a panel discussion about the death of e-mail. One of the other panelists was advocating blogs instead of e-mail, while I was defending e-mail as alive and well. I’ve always been inclusive when it comes to marketing channels. I don’t believe there’s a perfect channel, and you need to deliver your content in whatever formats your readers want to receive it. If that’s a blog, fine. If it’s an e-mail, great. Carrier pigeon? If it gets read and leads to sales, I’m all over it.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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