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
Comments

13 Responses to “Open Post to All Marketers – Why Blogging Matters”

  1. Jim Kukral says:

    Yes, trust is everything. This is some amazing content here that all should read.

    Trust is the blood of a successfull blog, which is why I made these blog honor badges. Free to all.

    http://www.blogkits.com/bloghonor

    Great blog here.

  2. Hello all. Am honored to be here among many who have
    jumped into the blogosphere long before I even knew it
    existed.

    For a decade, I simply had a website (of my cartoons) and
    built a following thinking perhaps one day the right newspaper editor or syndicate would see it and publish it around the world. Well, so much for daydreaming.

    So as time went by, and my illustration team and I became cyber-weary, we decided to blog.

    Suddenly Londons Times Cartoons was on the map. Alexa was rating us as a top cartoon (we then had about 6000 in our inventory of images at http://www.londonstimes.us).

    For several years, after acquiesing to the fact that we would more likely win the lottery than become syndicated, we began to subscribe to other blogs about online business, etc.

    We learned about image licensing, Ebay, manufacturing of
    products, drop shipping, and all kinds of “fancy things”.

    Suddenly out of the blue, we found a large manufacturer willing to take a risk on us. We gave him exclusive
    licensing rights, drop shipping and manufacturing, and Londons Times Superstore (www.londonstimesuperstore.com)
    was launched in September of 2006; almost ten years after the founding of the cartoons in a rural Mississippi warehouse without air conditioning or heating.

    Suddenly thousands of our products were appearing on shop.com, ebay, amazon.com and other nifty places.

    The blog at http://www.writingup.com/blog/beardiethor
    is particularly fun to me because it is a place I can
    do (totally opposite of pr…push the envelope a little) talk about personal, health, and family issues with others, and even blatantly, shamelessly (self-promote) new products and such when they develop.

    I don’t surprise people with my blog entries. If I am selling something, I put it in the headlines. If I am talking to someone personally, I don’t sell anything (I have a signature with the store name). What the reader sees is what he or she gets. I don’t spring some product on them after talking about Watergate or the mid East or why I love San Diego.

    I certainly don’t say my brand of blogging works for everyone. I live about ten or so miles from Bentonville, home of Wal-Mart headquarters (I know, one either loves ‘em or hates ‘em, but whatever one’s feeling about them, one has to salute Sam Walton and his ability to “blog in person” long before the Internet existed, that is, (if one reads his biography) he truly took interest in his customers early on. That was as big a focus as making money. And he made money, he says, because of the personalization early on, that climate, that existed in his store.

    I believe to a certain degree, if a blog is both personal and business, depending on the mood of the day, one can create a “mini-Wal-Mart” (or whatever business they are in) of their own.

    Staying in touch with people, whether they be customers or newly found friends is one of bloggings biggest assets in my opinion.

    I can’t count the number of non-customers who have told other people about our superstore, and the fact that it has probably the biggest inventory (65,000+ items) from tee shirts to wall clocks, on the Internet, that is one of the biggest, if not the biggest cartoon gift and collectible sites on the Internet.

    Yes, our creative and administrative team had to have a little talent, that is a given. But more importantly we had to become “cyber-friends” with people who recognized that talent.

    Word of mouth on the Internet is powerful. It’s like
    feral cats in a a way. They multiply rapidly. One email
    mentioning one’s business from another person, can shoot around the world and become thousands of emails within a matter of seconds.

    The Internet and blogging are strange animals, for certain,
    but they are certainly business and social-friendly and the learning curve is steep, I can testify to that. I am way down on the learning curve and it is already working for us.

    Thanks for letting me share. Sincerely, Rick London
    Londons Times Superstore
    http://www.londonstimesuperstore.com

  3. Reid Carr says:

    Time and again we get from clients a basic consensus that blogging is for teenagers. However, it is our contention that blogging can give a faceless company a personality and a pulse. Glad that this article is out there (ironically in the blogosphere).

  4. Val Evans says:

    It is really interesting to hear how blogs are being used in the Corporate world and in marketing – being able to engage with your clients online is a fantastic idea.

    I’m wondering if anyone out there is using social software, viz blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and/or virtual conferencing for staff learning/knowledge sharing within your organisations. I am undertaking a research project for the Australian Flexible Learning Framework and we are investigating the use of social software/Web 2.0 technologies both for capability development and for teaching and learning at the frontline.

    If you have an example of how Web 2.0 technologies are being used in your organisation to support staff learning I would love to hear from you. You can post links and/or comment on our research wiki at http://socialsoftware-research.wikispaces.com/ (Go to the Capability Development section) or comment on our blog at http://social-software-for-learning.blogspot.com/ or email me directly.

    Many thanks.

  5. Reid Carr,

    Blogs in the hands of teenagers can be dangerous things — especially when their off color postings get picked up by prospective employers. When it comes to company blogs, I suppose we are all adolescents — trying to figure out our identities as we adjust to whole new way of communicating.

  6. Joe Seale says:

    Corporate blogs certainly give the brand a pulse and open the conversation with the consumer, trying to persuade clients to open these conversations often results in two main questions:

    1. Do they really want to hear what the consumer has to say? I’ve had clients explicitly ask us to remove any negative comments about the company, virtually killing the purpose of the blog.

    2. Do they have the money to manage this blog/forum? Beyond the cost to have someone write interesting articles for the blog, there are also time consuming tasks to filter spam and manage the conversation. It’s important that clients are aware that the success of their blog will result in spend more money and time managing it.

  7. Dan Greenfield says:

    Joe Seale,

    You raise some good points. Honestly, I have always maintained that you need to understand the corporate DNA before you launch a corporate blog. If management is uncomfortable with blogging’s decentralization, transparency, and candor, they should not blog in the first place. Blogging can’t just be a marketing tool; it has to be a conversation. You can be selective about what negative comments you respond to, but not all negative comments are bad. They can be opportunities to set the record straight and demonstrate that a company is willing to listen.

  8. Alice Mike says:

    Eerst Europa Doelstellingen: De Ci2i Verzekering (Ci2i) zal het nummer een gebrandmerkte pan Europese commoditized online verzekeringsmakelaar door 2010 zijn.

  9. Rick London says:

    Thanks for the comments. I have learned not to get to “overly-excited” about the Internet; I notice the occasional overzealous entrepreneur who has deemed it a deity of some sort. Several years ago, through my cartoon site at http://www.londonstimes.us, I met a man named
    Dr. Vinton Cerf, known as The Father Of The Internet. He invented tcp-ip at Stanford in 1969; of course later to be known as Arapnet. Very nice man. We talked a long time and I got to know his feelings about his own surprise of what it has become (he is very humble). I explained to him that I felt, if anything, the Internet has “leveled the playing field”. Suddenly a homeless person who can make it to a library has the exact same
    access to information as Donald Trump. Warren Buffet, or Bill Gates. I am even in my 3rd year at an accredited private university on the net. There is just no possible way I could have done that if this tool did not exist. But I have to remember, it is a tool. And I know when television was invented, nobody in the world thought anything that magic could ever be invented again; am guessing the same is true of radio, etc.
    But take my word, in thirty years or so, something new will come along, and we’ll look back at the Internet in
    a nostalgic way. I hope I’m wrong. I love the net, love working on it and communicating with friends and relatives on it. But the human mind can create and a good human mind can create originally. Time will tell what comes next. Thanks again for letting me share.

    Sincerely,

    Rick London
    Londons Times Cartoons And Superstore
    http://www.londonstimessuperstore.com
    http://www.londonstimes.us

  10. Kevin Kayhoe says:

    Ah,…Blogging about blogging…wait just a mintute.

    Quoting Mr. Will Waugh, “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.”

    AMEN! Being a new business owner myself, I am always looking for more ways to advertise my products, services, and just my business in general. I have learned the power of advertising my company in blogging, using MySpace.com, when I first started my business. And, it’s working! More so than those sites that offer “free advertising”, link exchanges, etc.. However, not many are flocking to my company blog. And, business has been slow after the holidays. I firmly believe blogging is a powerful marketing tool. I am just waiting for the holidays to have passed far enough, and people have let their wallets recoup, and I am sure my blogging will pay ME back with more customers, and customers that care to blog on my site. Or, maybe I’m just waiting for people that even care there is a blog belonging to my company. But, on my end, it works!

  11. Rathod says:

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Blogging is one way in which we can change this. There aren’t many bloggers in our space and those that are there tend towards covering specific aspects of the niche which we do not. There’s a need, a desire and a place for our voice. As we speak with our customers, our brand, as defined by them, will change.
    ————————–
    Jennysmith

    Social Bookmarking

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