Monday, October 23, 2006

Open Post to All Marketers – Why Blogging Matters

Introduction

Technology has enabled customers to dramatically change their attitude towards marketing. As a result, they are tuning out in increasing numbers and talking back. Customers are shifting massively their entertainment and information consumption away from traditional media to the new web space.
 

Marketers are responding by shifting their advertising to web properties, but online advertising is struggling to gain trust. According to a recent Forrester survey of US households, only 6% trust search engine ads and 2% online banner ads. Customers trust themselves and each other in influencing their perception of a brand.

Yet few marketers have embraced blogging, although it supposedly enables a more personal and two-way interaction with the brand. So does blogging matter? All of us are senior marketing executives in established corporations but we also share a common passion for blogging. At the initiation of Eric Kintz at Hewlett-Packard, we decided to all get together to share our thoughts about the opportunities and challenges of this new marketing frontier. 

Join the conversation.  

David Armano – Creative VP – Digitas – Logic + Emotion  

Peter Blackshaw – CMO – Nielsen Buzz Metrics – Consumer Generated Media  

David Churbuck – VP Global Web Marketing – Lenovo – Churbuck  

Dan Greenfield – VP Corporate Communications – EarthLink – Bernaisesource            

Eric Kintz – VP Global Marketing Strategy – Hewlett-Packard – Marketing Excellence

Will Waugh – Senior Director, Communications – ANA – Marketing Maestros  

 #1 – PR and Blogging – A Love Story or Peaceful Coexistence
Dan Greenfield  is vice president of corporate communications at EarthLink.  His personal blog Bernaisesource explores the intersection of new media, public relations and journalism.  He lives in
Atlanta, GA.

Depending upon your perspective, bloggers and PR practitioners are either a couple in the early stages of a promising romance or Cold War adversaries seeking peaceful coexistence.  To be sure, corporate blogs (official) and employee blogs (unofficial) and PR are fundamentally aspects of corporate communications.  Ideally, they both inform, engage and help shape a company’s brand and reputation. On the other hand, they appear to be working at cross purposes.
 

Traditionally, PR has followed time-honored practices to reach mainstream media reporters — press releases, press conferences, message points, and media training.  It is centralized, formalized, and top-down.  PR rolls up into marketing or corporate and allows you greater control of the message.  PR is measured, and it is mediated.  PR speaks through a media filter to reach its audience. At its best, it can cost effectively extend corporate positioning and garner tremendous good will.   

Blogging is everything that PR isn’t supposed to be.   Blogs are conversations between company and customer.   They are decentralized and informal, based on practices being created as we speak.  Employee bloggers have a great deal more freedom.  Their comments are not market tested and rarely reviewed beforehand by employers.  Adhere to disclosure policies and provide a disclaimer, and you are more or less on your own.   Blogging is not for the weak of heart in companies where management is uncomfortable with unpredictability, informality and transparency.  Done right, blogging can help humanize a company.  When employees ignore the rules, however, blogging can become a nightmare for the legal and HR departments.   

Despite their differences, the cold reality is that blogging and PR complement each other.  Companies are looking to find new ways to reach media saturated consumers who are tuning out more traditional forms of communication.  With blogging, PR is no longer beholden to traditional media to legitimize a story.  Corporate blogs can be used for the “long tail” of news that does not warrant a press release (or would not get picked up).  And because real estate in cyberspace is infinite, you can escape the time or space restrictions of a news broadcast or publication.  At  EarthLink, for example, we have used our blog to make announcements and pre launch products to generate awareness prior to issuing a press release.  We have also used our blog to address customer concerns.  

Unlike the one way communication of a press release, a blog posting is two way, allowing for comments and feedback.  As such, blogging lets companies personalize the news.  It provides a platform for individual perspective and permits an informal tone that may be “inappropriate” for a more traditional news story.  Blogs are more about opinions than just the facts.  But that’s ok.  People can contextualize the information and adjust their expectations accordingly.  

We are living an age where boundaries are collapsing, definitions are changing and roles are combining.  Blogging and PR need each other, belong with each other, even though they can sometimes appear to be working against each other.  I don’t think blogging will replace PR, especially when the news is financial or material in nature.  As in life, there is always room for both formality and informality.  The key is to understand when each is appropriate. 

 #2 – Blogging and the “new influencers”
Eric Kintz is VP, Global Marketing Strategy at Hewlett-Packard. He authors a corporate blog – Marketing Excellence  that explores innovation in marketing and the impact of new trends such as web 2.0. He is based in Palo Alto, CA. 

The blogosphere has disrupted the economics of publishing, dramatically lowering the costs of content creation (most bloggers are not paid), content production (free blogging platforms) and circulation development (free links by other bloggers). This has allowed in turn a micro-segmentation of customer markets that was not economically viable in traditional publishing business models and the rise of new influencers, who are closer to those markets and are in the best position to appeal to their specific needs. As Paul Gillin highlights in his new book on the New Influencers, marketers have become fixated on big influencers in the second part of the twentieth century: national newspapers, broadcast TV networks and star radio personalities. Now the pendulum is swinging back and marketers should start paying attention to bloggers-influencers.   

The Wall Street Journal relates a great example of this new trend with the emergence of influential fashion bloggers, who are now getting invited to Fashion Week. They cite the example of Pamela Pekerman at Bagtrends and her influence on trendy bag purchases. A publication targeted at fashion bags would not have been economically viable in a traditional publishing model, but Bagtrends reaches a focused customer segment, which appeals to the organizers of Fashion Week. Similarly leading bloggers will influence brand perceptions and purchases through their recommendations: case in point, Guy’s detailed car recommendations, read by hundreds of thousand of readers (he is a top 50 blogger).

This will require traditional marketers to develop new skills and a solid understanding of the blogosphere. Marketers will need to identify first the new key blogger-influencers in their space, using tools like Alexa or Technorati, and treat them more and more like some of the other influencing constituencies such as analysts or journalists. However, this can prove to be more difficult to do than for traditional influencers as levels of blogging influence can move in either direction very quickly, for example when a blogger stops posting or when a new blog emerges and gains immediate momentum. It requires constant monitoring of the blogosphere to detect new trends. Marketers will then need to develop relationships with these bloggers from inviting them to traditional offline events, to giving them access to products or engaging in blogging discussions with them.  

 #3 – The role of blogging in the changing world of advertising
Will Waugh is Senior Director, Communications – ANA. His blog is ANA Marketing Maestros. He is based in New York City. 

Corporate blogs are on the rise. Marketers on the sidelines are asking ANA if they should enter the blogosphere; others are in preparations to launch in to the space. Some marketers, particularly in the B2B space, have blogs deeply entrenched in their integrated campaigns.  

The level of involvement and engagement with blogs in the business space is considerable. Any marketer in the B2B space who does not have an accessible blog should seriously consider applying the resources necessary. What is the time requirement? It depends how you measure and does that include time spent reading and surfing the blogosphere? Or is that in writing posts, responding to comments and skimming a few select blogs from your reader? Maybe a couple hours? In fact, the manpower investment is inconsequential, particularly in a mid to large size company that loses hundreds of hours of productivity to smoke breaks. 

More and more advertisers (B2B and B2C) see the blogosphere as a must in their integrated plans. The utilization of blogs is critical, particularly in a growing world where social currency is more and more important. They are powerful communication and business tools which can connect with a variety of audiences for your brands/products/services. These audiences range from core customers to prospects to influencers to investors. 

While some might dismiss blogs as another fad that will eventually be rendered irrelevant by the next big thing, all signs point to blogs’ permanence. Right now they are one of the most cost effective tools you can use to reach influencers who will recommend you to others. 

 #4 – The role of blogging as part of an integrated web strategy
David Churbuck is Vice President, Global Web Marketing at Lenovo. David authors a personal blog Churbuck.   

Justifying the presence of a corporate blogging strategy can extend beyond the usual “Cluetrain” sentiments of entering into a conversation with one’s markets and customers. Looking at a corporate blog or blogs in the wider context of an organization’s overall web strategy can yield some interesting benefits if applied tactfully and with basic measurement. 

In context, a blog is an efficient way for a corporation to quickly publish onto the Internet and through a syndication pipeline, messages that may need rapid dissemination or a more personal voice than the corporate online edifices represented by so-called traditional web sites. Taken as a “light” content management system, blogs can be regarded as loosely associated sites that can have a strong effect on the organization’s primary web presence. 

In terms of functionality, the primary differentiation between a blog and a standard site is the ability for the audience to comment and engage. Measuring that engagement on a classic ROI metric is nearly impossible, but some discussion is emerging on the proper ratio of postings to comments. Some bloggers attract more than 100 comments per post, but a ratio of three comments to every post seems healthy for a relatively new blog. That ratio is an excellent measure of engagement, one of the primary benefits held up by advocates of corporate blogging. 

There is an interesting side effect of blogs which has been exploited nefariously by “splogs” and “link farms” – and that’s the beneficial lift a blog can bring to another web page through links to that page. Simply put, a blog can be a useful addition to one’s search engine optimization strategy, but if done primarily for lifting a page’s organic rank in search results, can quickly turn into an exercise in blog gaming and result in penalization by the major engines, or worst, a loss in faith by the audience who may regard the blog as little more than a lever to improve page rank.  

#5 – Drive Harmony in Conversational Touchpoints
Pete Blackshaw is Chief Marketing Officer of Nielsen BuzzMetrics (formerly Intelliseek), a leader in measuring and analyzing consumer-generated media (CGM), which includes over 40 million blogs.  Pete authors blog entitled ConsumerGeneratedMedia. Earlier, Pete founded PlanetFeedback.com, a CRM intelligence portal, and co-led P&G’s first interactive marketing effort. 

Whenever I’m asked by brands whether they should initiate an external blog, I always come back with the two simple requests:

Call your 800 number

And look into the mirror

The biggest risk for brand in initiating corporate blogs is creating what I’ll call “touch-point discontinuity.”   Advocates for blogs (I am one of them), talk a mean and persuasive game of customer intimacy, community, engagement and so-called “participation.”  The problem is that that vision is often at extreme odds with the company or brand’s existing listening infrastructure: consumer affairs, the call center, feedback forms, online surveys.  What we need to avoid with consumers, at all cost, is coming across as though we’re speaking through two mouths.  So many of the companies and brands waxing poetic about the “conversational” attributes of corporate blogging are divorced from everyday consumer listening protocols in their own backyard.

The disconnect stems in part from schizophrenia in corporate operating structures.  The marketing department is typically divorced from consumer affairs and customer service; even worse, there are often competing reward and incentive structures around managing consumer attention.  Most customer service departments are rewarded for minimizing consumer attention, while the pro blogging community (derived from marketing and PR and digital strategy circles) usually sings an enticing tune of attention cultivation and recruitment.  This can create difficult disconnects, and not so insignificant spending inefficiencies.

In fairness, one could argue that isolated corporate blog initiatives grounded in meaningful participation and “conversation” can help catalyze, ignite, or inspire impenetrable brand bureaucracies into getting to a better “conversational” place overall.  But the principle of consistency still holds: you can’t sing through too many mouths in the eyes of your consumers. Consistency matters.  Consistency drives credibility.

Here we need to take a step back and reflect on actual blogger behavior.  Bloggers not only like to be “first to know, first to tell” but there have exceptional radar when it comes to spotting disconnects, discontinuities, and outright inconsistency.  Corporations put themselves at risk of external criticism by allowing incompatible silos of activity endure too long.  Bloggers notice.  The media and financial analysts harvest cues and tips from bloggers.

This is one reason why I think consumer-affairs is a very smart starting point for corporate blog initiatives, and why the approach Dell Computer (Full Disclosure: my company has worked with Dell and other computer/electronic companies) is taking with the Direct2Dell blog - after an onslaught of negative buzz over customer service and one particularly bad experience with one of the web’s most prolific bloggers — is a smart one. It’s certainly not the path of least resistance — the bloggers out there are holding Dell to a very high standard of expectations — but it has high potential to drive more consistent cultural change across the organization, and bring powerful new learning to the CRM operation. Laurent Flores hit these points exceptionally well in his Customer Listening blog.

At the end of the day: we need present ourselves consistently across all consumer touchpoints. Blogging is a great way to put a fresh new face on a corporate structure, but the rest of the organization can’t be too far behind.  As corporate leaders, we need to develop the right strategies and tactics to ignite and catalyze positive change leveraging blog tools and methods while keeping the rest of the organization in tow.  What’s most needed right now is a holistic vision and discipline around what I term “Listening-Centered Marketing“ which presumes from the get-go consistency across all consumer touchpoints.  

#6 - Creativity, Innovation + Blogging
David Armano is Creative VP at Digitas. David authors a personal blog Logic + Emotion 

Blogging is becoming a powerful tool in the creative process.  Here are some of the ways blogs can be used in regards to creative ideation, insights and marketing.

1. Instant feedback from a qualified network of peers
One of the things I’ve experienced while blogging is the ability to solicit feedback from a diverse group of peers who offer invaluable insights,  The process is simple, if I have an idea—I put something together in a format that people can relate to.  Then I post it on the blog.  The interesting stuff happens in the comments area—but I also get e-mails. In a short amount of time—I am able to test, validate and refine my ideas.  The next step is to post the iteration of the idea and see where it goes.  Blogging acts as a collaboration tool in some ways and the collaboration can spill over into other peoples blogs as well.  

2. A digital journal, scrapbook and sketchpad
Looking back at my blog after nearly eight months, I realize that in addition to building a community and gaining momentum—I have created a the ultimate digital sketchbook for myself.  In it, I can easily recall thoughts, images, and comments not to mention links.  It’s all been documented.  I can pull it up on any computer and even use search tools to track down something I am looking for.  So it’s portable as well.  Blogging is a great way to document your creative process for future reference for say, writing a book.

3. The ultimate marketing and brand challenge
Anyone who runs a successful blog should consider themselves a marketer even if they are not. The reason for this is simple.  The blogoshphere is filled literally millions lf blogs—over 55 million and growing.  That’s a lot of noise and clutter.  It’s not very different from the traditional marketing challenge which entails developing content and experiences that break through clutter and connect with the consumer.  And further, most influential bloggers act as “personal brands” meaning that they connect with their readers on a personal if not emotional level and foster “brand” affinity and loyalty.  So if you’ve been able to do this a blogger, then you’ve learned something about the meaning of brands and relationships.

Of course there is more, but these are some of the biggies.  For me personally, blogging has opened up the floodgates of creativity and insight.  It’s a highly interactive way to share ideas, educate and be educated in the process.

Posted by Dan Greenfield in 16:00:11 | Permalink | Comments (13)