To Blog or Not to Blog… That’s a Good Question

If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a contraction of “Web log” and can be used as a verb or a noun. There is no standard definition of a blog, but it usually means a Web page that is updated daily by one person who posts a continuing stream of personal commentary and links, writing in an informal, conversational style.

Still don’t get it? Take a look at this Web log on business strategy and philosophical musings by author, speaker, and Linux expert Doc Searls.

Most bloggers self-publish, using automated technology that lets you post new information or a new thought to your blog with the click of a mouse. Blogger is one of the popular applications that let you get your own Web log up and running in minutes.

In addition to professional journalists who have a propensity to blog, thousands of blogs are being published by individual enthusiasts on thousands of obscure (and often boring) topics. See eatonweb portal for a directory of some of the better ones.

(An example of a personal blog that is smart and elegant-looking is that of Web designer Jason Kottke.)

But a few businesspeople are beginning to use Web logs as an online — and interactive — marketing tool. A good example is SherpaBlog, just launched by MarketingSherpa publisher Anne Holland.

Yes, there is a connection to business-to-business (B2B) email marketing, so read on…

Every B2B email marketer is struggling to pierce through the clutter of inboxes by sending relevant, targeted, personalized messages. And, let’s admit it, dropping click-through rates (CTRs) and open rates prove that we’re finding it difficult to do so.

An August 2001 report by Forrester, “Effective Email Marketing,” tells us that, 49 percent of those who’ve been online for more than four years delete promotional email without reading it, whereas 36 percent of those who’ve been online for one year or less do so. Ouch! But wait, there’s good news, according to Forrester analyst Shar Van Boskirk, who authored the report.

“Customers say they are interested in learning about products and promotions through email,” she said. Some 43 percent of those who’ve been online for one year or less expressed this interest. And if they’ve been online for four years or more, 34 percent want to receive email marketing messages.” (The report is based on consumer surveys, but the increasing trend to delete applies equally to B2B email, Van Boskirk said.)

So what’s the problem? The fact is, email is still a relatively new marketing tool. And we’re still getting the hang of how to use it most effectively.

At present, many promotional email messages are not truly “one to one.” They don’t grab us at the right moment in our buying cycle or touch on what is truly motivating us. And, most important, we don’t feel an intimate connection with the sender of the message. (The premise of Forrester’s new email report is that email is becoming less effective and more of a nuisance and that the way to combat this is through “email conversations” based on customer motivations and buying cycles.)

If one-to-one marketing is your goal, perhaps there is more than one way to reach it. Why not use a blog as an adjunct to your company’s e-newsletter or email marketing program?

It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Remember the fashionably controversial The Cluetrain Manifesto exploring “the end of business as usual”? One of its central tenets is that “markets are conversations” and “word of Web” is more powerful than any paid advertising or planned marketing campaigns.

According to the Cluetrain (Doc Searls is a co-author), it’s all about engaging your customers in a conversation with a human voice. It’s not about one-way corporate marketing messages.

To wit, MarketingSherpa’s Anne Holland has been amazed at the reaction to her SherpaBlog. Although she gets several messages daily responding to the weekly e-newsletters she publishes, she is receiving 20 emails a day in response to her blog.

She regards it as a marketing tool, because “readers feel like they can reach out to the writer of a blog. I am able to touch them in a way that I can’t with my formal e-newsletters.” She writes in an off-the-cuff, casual style, with “maybe even a typo.”

Many of Anne’s blog readers are her newsletter subscribers, of course. And while she is careful not to promote her newsletters or other information products, she is finding that those who respond to her blogging are “10 times more likely to buy from us. People who feel a personal connection to a company are more likely to become a customer.”

And where does she promote her blog? In every one of her e-newsletters, simply by adding a prominently placed link.

Online news expert and blog pioneer Steve Outing publishes a group Web log, E-Media Tidbits, and fills it daily with contributions from a dozen other online content experts. His blog tips are these: Keep your items short, solicit feedback, focus on a narrow niche, and write about what interests your audience. He calls blogs “a new form of column writing.”

So how does this translate to your email marketing program? If your objective is customer retention and you are sending an e-newsletter to your house list, you could easily include a link to your CEO’s blog — or a blog by another executive in your company who has a keen wit, writes with style, and has something to say. (Maybe you’ve already got someone in your company who is posting knowledgeable and articulate comments to email discussion lists. Blogging is not dissimilar.)

But therein lies the rub. As a corporate marketing tactic, it works only if the blog author has talent. You need someone on your team who can write in a genuinely engaging voice, who can be intimate without telling you what he or she had for breakfast, and who knows the line between openness and damaging innuendo.

Well-known e-marketing author, consultant, and speaker Jim Sterne publishes a “mostly monthly” e-newsletter called “Full Sterne Ahead.” It’s written in an informal blog style, he admits, but it’s not a blog.

Corporate blogging presents a huge challenge, he says. There are three requirements:

  • Be clear on who your target audience is (customers? suppliers? partners? PR types?).
  • Know what you’re trying to accomplish (create a buzz? stimulate sales?).
  • Use a writer who has talent and let him or her loose. Then monitor your blogger, but don’t micromanage.

Blogging is like viral marketing, Sterne points out. You can budget and plan for it, “but you can’t forecast the results.”

OK, I’ll admit that I’ve blogged a bit in this article. I’ve jumped around, touched on a number of topics, and tried to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Hope you enjoyed it anyway. I’d like to hear your thoughts on blogging as a marketing tool.

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