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Marketing, design, and technical resources for making your digital and print communications more effective.

Why You Should Blog for Business

September 28th, 2006

Why would a business pass up a virtually free way to bring in new customers? Any business owner or executive should cringe at the thought of this, but research indicates that many are letting just such an opportunity pass by.

An interesting study was just published from a web hosting company in Britain. Even though the study is from Europe, the findings are very consistent with the experiences we’ve had here at RisingLine.  About half of the 2,300 small to medium businesses surveyed said they really liked the idea of using a blog on their site to increase traffic, but only about 3 percent actually plan on starting a blog in the near future.  This is odd behavior given the irrefutable evidence that consumers are increasingly flocking to consult blog sites before making purchase decisions. Blogs are no longer esoteric, they have grown to number 54 million (according to Technorati), with 75,000 new ones being created each day.

It really should be a no brainier. Blogs provide an easy method for businesses to develop rapport with their current clientele and create a like-minded online community that attracts prospects that are the most desirable clientele. Blogs allow non-technical business owners and executives to take control of their website without the assistance and delay of an IT professional, and to publish more authentic (and therefore believable) content for their site visitors.

Based on this study, it seems that a large percentage of business owners do realize the benefits…at least on some level, so the question is why is such a tiny percentage actually acting on the opportunity?  The survey showed exactly what we hear everyday…the business executive has no time to blog. Here are the three reasons why this exuse is not justifiable:

  1. It doesn’t take that much time. You don’t have to write a polished article…in fact it’s often better not to. Just provide concise and valuable insight, maybe a comment on a news item, for your target client. Here’s how: keep up to date on the most relevant topics using Google Alerts, write a few sentences in your own words of why a certain news item is important, and post it.
  2. You’ll Work smarter not harder. By spending 10 minutes each week to develop an online community of high value clients and prospects you’re ROTI (Return on Time Investment) can be exponentially higher than many other low-value activities you most likely engage in. You’re building a community of customer evangelists who will start driving highly qualified prospects to your business. Recycle 10 minutes of your time each week and blog! Set a reoccurring Outlook appointment to post to your blog the same time every week.
  3. You’ll gain a better strategic perspective for managing your business.
    By taking a few minutes each week to watch the trends in your industry, you’ll keep on the cutting edge of your market, mature into a trusted advisor, and gain more credibility with your clientele…not just on your blog but in all your interactions with them.

Customer Relations – Selling Through Your Customers

September 25th, 2006

As a marketing consultant, I often get caught up in the theoretical realm of academia and lose sight of tailoring my unique value proposition to actively engage with my target audience. You see, there I go again … what I mean to say is I shouldn’t use big fancy words to impress my customers just to make myself look smart. More importantly, I need to build relationships with my customers by speaking their language and providing them with services they truly need and value. If I can accomplish this feat, I will not only gain a loyal customer, but I’ll also gain a volunteer sales representative.

For the past two years, I’ve conducted a fair amount of research on marketing trends and I’ve noticed a lot of buzzwords have been created by consultants like myself to describe a very straightforward marketing truth that has existed for millenniums; namely selling goods and services through existing customers.

Call it customer evangelism, viral marketing, strategic referral program, grassroots marketing, or whatever; the main point is that successful businesses are built upon customers. Whether an organization focuses on business-to-business or business-to-consumer markets, a strong buyer-seller relationship is key to staying in business.

As I look back over my career, I recall having the mindset of using technical or academic language in an attempt to wow my audience by “educating them” and by utilizing gimmicks or creativity to gain their attention and to create top of mind awareness. What I failed to understand is that my audience didn’t care about how smart I or my firm was, what they wanted to know is what my company could do for them; and the dilemma was that my audience didn’t want to hear this from me or my advertising. They in fact wanted to know what others who had tried my service had to say.

Whether buyers are looking into finding a logistical consultant to assist in setting up a global distribution channel or simply seeking the best golf course in town, they’re likely to turn to their peers and/or business associates for advice. As a consumer, I often find myself asking a friend or colleague, “So what’s your opinion on … ” The answer I receive will undoubtedly play a role in my purchasing decision one way or another.

My opinion on this matter is supported by overwhelming statistical evidence that demonstrates people are making purchasing decisions off of referrals and testimonials. For instance, 83% of consumers base their purchasing decisions off of referrals when choosing a restaurant. The numbers are similar for prescription drugs (71%), hotels (63%), cars (58%), computers (40%), and financial services (57%). Without further researching the matter, I would strongly content that successful companies within those industries have a strong customer relations policy. One example, Apple Computers, has again received the highest rating on customer satisfaction by scoring an 83% score in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Now you know why we Apple freaks are so adamant about our machines.

So how do companies like yours use customers to sell goods and services? I hate to be master of the obvious, but you simply take good care of them by going the extra mile to make sure they’re happy. No, I’m not talking about giving stuff away or incurring a loss as a set-in-stone customer satisfaction policy, but simply assuring that your customer is happy with your performance by the end of the day. Now as a former sales manager, I know that some customer demands are unreasonable, but it’s always important to demonstrate to the client that your organization has their best interests in mind. Not wanting to expend too much effort on this matter, I’ll simply say that the best policy is to put yourself into your customers’ shoes and empathize with their position. When you do this, you have a much better chance at gaining their respect and understanding.

In conclusion, I simply advise to go beyond expectations in satisfying your customer. Don’t view this ideal as a reactive crisis response, but utilize it in a proactive manner so as to add value to your product or service. The last thing you want your customer to say to others is “I didn’t get what I paid for” or “the burger sure didn’t look like the picture.” If you bring value to your customers by going the distance for them, they’ll gladly pay a fair market price for your services in the long run.

Hitachi – Don’t Blog Just for the Sake of Blogging!

September 18th, 2006

Over the past few weeks, I’ve highlighted a few blogs that have succeeded in capturing the elements required for successful blogging – mainly developing content relevant to the customer or stakeholder.

Therefore, I thought I’d venture out to find the epitome of a poorly written blog. Needless to say, my venture was a short one as I quickly stumbled upon Hitachi Data Systems‘ ill-fated attempt at engaging the public.

As I meandered through Hu Yoshida’s blog, what caught my attention right off the bat was the content. Written purely from an executive perspective, I had a difficult time keeping myself awake while reading about Hitachi’s new storage widget or Yoshida’s traveling experiences in and out of Heathrow Airport. What Mr. Yoshida has failed to do is develop content that is meaningful to the audience. Frankly, I don’t know of too many individuals that would be compelled by Yoshida’s traveling experience. (yawn)

Compared to Ford’s Bold Moves site, which includes controversial commentary and passionate feedback, Hitachi has developed a site that is bland and uninspiring. My suggestion for Mr. Yoshida would be to drop the Hitachi-centric and personal traveling posts and concentrate on developing content that emotionally engages the audience. In other words, make me laugh, make me cry, or make me angry; just do something to compel me to contribute to contribute to your site. Unless the content improves, you can bet that Yoshida will shut down his blog within the next 12 to 16 months due to lack of interest.

If you’re reading this Mr. Yoshida, it would be great if you would contact me because your company has a compelling story and you’re on the right track with blogging. I’d love the opportunity to help you take this strategy to the next level by tailoring your content to address the emotions and needs of your target audience.

McBlogs | Putting the blogs of Dell Southwest and McDonalds in perspective

September 14th, 2006

As you may be aware, the practice of business blogging has become quite the rage within the last year with the latest trend being the launching of corporate blogs by some very large commodity companies. With the hype machine being cranked on overdrive, some are assuming that anyone or anything that launches a business blog is really on the cutting edge of marketing. I am reminded of a key principles derived from evaluating what makes great companies in Jim Collins book Good to Great:

Technology and technology-driven change has virtually nothing to do with igniting a transformation from good to great. Technology can accelerate a transformation, but technology cannot cause a transformation.

The corporate blogs of Dell (Direct2Dell) Southwest (Nuts About Southwest), and McDonalds (Open for Discussion) are easy to pick as poster children for the above principle simply because these companies have not gone through
a radical transformation, nor will they be in my opinion. These companies represent the points furthest away on the economic spectrum from the types of businesses that have the most benefit potential from properly utilizing the technology of blogs. I’m not saying these companies should not have blogs, on the contrary. I’m actually a huge fan of all three because they have perfected the science of efficient production and mastered the fundamental elements of quality that people like Eliyahu Goldratt and Phillip Crosby popularized last century. It’s just that they won’t be taking center stage in this new business era.

When a hot technology trend like blogging takes off, it’s easy for anyone to jump on the bandwagon and give the impression that just because their blogging means that they are on the cutting edge of the new marketing world of the 21st century. I need to qualify my statements a bit as the technology of blogging can apply to the dissemination of many types of information. Blogging in its most basic definition is the technical ability to regularly post and broadcast through RSS alpha-numeric characters. How those characters are arranged or what relevance they might have to others is not part of this definition. Now as tempting as it is here to take a stab at everyone’s favorite corporate villain McDonalds and say, “visit the McDonald’s Blog for an example of this definition,” I’ll hold my tongue because I know that within the few weeks I will be drawn to one of their darkened storefronts at some odd hour to devour two (OK five!) of those highly processed hamburgers laced with some sort of addictive chemical that I secretly love so much.

Back to the topic, the reference to blogging that I am basing this post on is the revolutionary social movement that has always been there just waiting for the technology of blogging to emerge. To me blogging is not a technology, it’s the mindset of revolution.  The revolution that empowers individuals and segmented markets to communicate their needs, value, to validate their legitimacy through community collaboration, and then, when validated, to expand their message through organic word of mouth evangelism.

These mass market corporate blogs are not real revolutionary components to the social phenomenon of blogging. If we look to them as examples of how blogs will change business and society we’ll be missing the real thing. Blogging is the vehicle for dramatic and revolutionary change in creating a highly segmented marketplace—not a commodity marketplace like Dell, Southwest, and McDonalds represent—where needs can be communicated and met on an individual basis.  Blogs and related new media technology didn’t cause this, but they do play the vital role in providing an effective and low cost venue to facilitate communication and business transactions thus allowing mass segmentation instead of mass marketing. Our individual needs have always been there, they’ve just been subdued by mass standardization from the industrial revolution and mass marketing from the “information age”.

So the point of my gentle stab against Dell, Southwest, and McDonalds is just to highlight that the radical growth we’ll see in business and society going forward is on those highly segmented and specialized businesses, most of which will be much smaller than Dell, Southwest, and McDonalds. Some experts believe that the mass market commodity model of business will die out during the 21st century, the most well known book with this opinion is The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. I believe that mass marketers will lose some market share from this revolution but will continue to succeed throughout the 21st century on a basic business model not radically different than what they have today…by being masters of discount commodity value. No one want’s to shop at Wal-Mart but we all do.

The real point is not whether Dell will be here in 20 years it’s that there is now the other market that has been opened up to compliment the commodity market. Now we can have our $500 notebook pc, take a $76 flight to Seattle, buy a $.79 hamburger at the airport McDonalds and enjoy participating in the highly segmented new media marketplace for those needs we choose to go there with.

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