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Friday, February 22, 2008

To Blog or to Email? That is the Question...

A friend of mine had a client pose an interesting question: Why should I do a blog? Why not run an email marketing campaign to my customers instead?

It got me thinking; here’s five points I’d probably respond with:

1) Blogs are viral. Technorati today tracks over 110 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of social media content. With all of those blogs out there, that's a huge amount of content, and your challenge will always be rising above the tide. When your subject matter is interesting, engaging, provocative, blogs become a great medium for taking off and being passed from person to person or picked up by aggregator sites like Technorati and put in front of a mass audience (much broader reach than any email marketing campaign).

Emails can get forwarded to friends, true, but when you consider the fact that email filters are out to catch this kind of activity AND people as a whole are (mostly) trained to treat messages that have been forwarded from multiple sources along the way to you as suspect (i.e., “Please forward this to 5 of your friends in the next 24 hours and you’ll have good luck” anyone?).

Blogs can take off easily around the internet, and the fact that sites like Technorati can aggregate these ideas and get them in front of a bigger audience increases the likelihood that someone could find out about your idea/product/service/etc. This coupled with the fact that they can take on a life of their own through user commenting ensures that an idea can grow and mutate into something bigger and better (or worse) as it gains velocity makes for a very power viral tool indeed (especially when it becomes a conduit for bringing in new customers that otherwise never have heard of you)!

2) Blogs can have voice; email is a marketing message. People’s trust in corporations or corporate messages is on the decline, and it’s fair to say that in the Information Overload Age we’re constantly honing our own personal B.S. and filtering meters. The fact that ratings and reviews are so popular on e-commerce sites is based on the fact that consumers are willing to trust peers rather than a carefully crafted marketing message from a company (do a Google search on the Edelman Trust Barometer and you'll see some interesting results from a research firm that monitors trust online and its implications).

People come to blogs (especially those from businesses) looking for voice and a personality, and honesty. Done well, this can humanize your business. Your readers are seeking something that's more direct and personal rather than finely polished PR statements that are edited and sanitized for Wall Street investors.

Personality and honesty should always be the goal, of course, but it’s also fair to say that this can often be easier said than done (one reason many CEOs have a hard time doing blogs).

3) Email Marketing is selling, but blogging is branding. Along the lines of #2, your blog reinforces your brand. It's not just how honest you are, or how frequently you contribute to your blog (although these are important), it's also the way in which you respond to feedback. Since your blog offers the ability for your customers (existing or new) to comment back to your message, there's an implied responsibility to respond back and maintain an open dialog. This back-and-forth dialog will establish yourself and your company’s position as either being responsive to customer needs or, sadly, not responsive. The way in which you’re responding will speak volumes to who you are and what your company represents.

A classic case (and probably the #1 fear businesses have that prevent them from starting a blog in the first place) is customer complaints. If you’re open and honest in your dialogue, others that are reading your blog but not necessarily contributing could have their opinion swayed. And the person with the compliant could turn from a detractor to a supporter, or even an evangelist and lifetime customer. Why do blogs have this power? Because they’re all about building your brand’s perception in the minds of your customers.

4) Blogs have history. An email campaign by its very nature is a snapshot in time with (generally speaking) a defined start and end, and (hopefully) a purpose. I’m on Borders’ mailing list and have numerous email offers like “40% off for the Next 2 Days Only”. It’s a drive to get people to their site and get them to purchase quickly, but after the 2 day window expires the promotion ends and we all go about our business. Those of us with weaknesses for books have ended up with a heavily discounted book added to their collection. If all goes according to Borders’ plans, we’ve also added something else as an impulse buy and will come back again.

But a blog is a timeline and has history over time. Each post you make builds over time, and with it comes content that remains and grows. This very point helps give your blog weight (if you’re posting regularly over time, you’re sending the message that you’re serious about this and you’re looking at it as a true communications tool, not a hobby that you try out for a week or two and then abandon. Your readers can search your blogs over time as you build your body of content, and the longer you’re around, the more content you generate, the more people will find your content, the more people will link to you, which increases your chances of attracting new customers.

5) Blogs have great search benefits. Consider that with an email campaign, I’ve got a number of hurdles to get through before my message gets to the actual recipient. Even if I can get my legitimate email address through AOL, Yahoo, MSN, or Google, I’ve still got individual spam filters to contend with. And despite the fact that my content is valid (I’m not selling Viagra or naked celebrity photos, unless of course that’s your business model and you’ve got legitimate opt-ins that you’re mailing to!), people’s spam filters may trap your message and you may never see it.

Not so with blogs. Since they live out on the web, your readers choose to read your content or not, and can be alerted for new posts with things like RSS alerts that can dynamically update web-based RSS aggregator sites like iGoogle or Netvibes. And since the content you’re generating lives on your site, you’re building a mountain of content over time.

It’s fair to say that the more content you’ve got, the better your chances for getting found on Google, but it’s a more accurate statement to say that the more content you create, the more legitimate you establish yourself to be, the higher the number of people that will link to you, and therefore the higher your overall search rankings (all without paying any additional money to search engine optimization firms to improve your rankings).

2 comments:

Jenni said...

Great post, Seth! It is worth mentioning that attorneys with whom I have spoken (and attorneys are my main client base) overwhelmingly report that when contacted by potential clients, their highest retention rate is by far from clients who come from their blog. Even higher than clients who are referred by advisors! A blog is definitely worthwile!

Keep up the good work!

Jenni Buchanan
www.blogprofs.com
http://www.blogprofs.typepad.com/

The Bradys said...

Jenni,

Great point! Loyalty/retention rate is another great differentiating factor that I missed but certainly shouldn't be understated.

You could certainly make the argument that consumers and customers are much more likely to build loyalty to a company based on a blog written by a live person and some aspect of their personality (essentially promoting themselves as an expert on subject matter based on the quality and relevancy of the content that they're posting) versus than the (oftentimes) 1-way message someone would otherwise be pitching via the email marketing channel.