Every marketer is looking for cost-effective ways to drive sales amid the current budget-constrained environment. Meanwhile, purchasing for many products has become a more drawn-out process due to the availability of shopping-related information and consumers who want to gather input from peers and experts. One way to reach your target audience when they’re researching their purchases is to leverage the power of blogs. Recently, when I shopped for a mobile phone, the Verizon salesman recommended checking CrackBerry.com, which contains a collection of blogs, for more product information. Obviously this salesman felt this blog would add more credibility to his offering than anything he could say face to face.
Power of Blogs Research
Blogs influence roughly one in five readers at important purchase-decision stages, according to BuzzLogic and JupiterResearch’s “Harnessing the Power of Blogs” report. Specifically, blogs help consumers discover products and services, refine choices, get support and answers, and decide on a specific product or service. From a direct marketing perspective, these findings make sense because blogs aggregate customers who have similar demographic, psychographic, and behavioral traits.
Blogs as a digital media format have become mainstream. “Harnessing the Power of Blogs” underscores this point. Many readers consume lots of information, checking multiple blogs in one session. User comments as well as blog entries aid purchase, while blog links help consumers navigate for additional information. Involved readers also consider blog ads to be relatively credible sources. According to the research, readers trust blog content more than social media sites for shopping. This makes sense, since shoppers look for detailed information to help them make a decision rather than engage with random posters who may have opinions about products.
Focused on the pre-buying process, this research neglected to check blogs’ impact on post-purchase support. It’s common for blogs to also help customers use products they own better while reducing returns and complaints. From a company perspective, these factors can be important cost considerations.
Five Marketing Reasons to Use Blogs
As a marketer, revisit using blogs to help enhance your marketing mix. They can help in several major ways, especially in a resource-constrained environment:
- Provide information across a wide range of topics related to your offering. This can help customers at different points in the purchase cycle, including post-purchase support and advocacy.
- Leverage internal staff expertise. Depending on your company and employee expertise, you may be able to utilize nonmarketing staff to author a blog, such as product developers, merchandisers, and customer service personnel who have offering-related expertise. The advantage is that these experts can give the blog an authentic voice that doesn’t sound like marketing jargon.
- Aid search optimization with additional content and internal and external linking.
- Enhance content offering using other media formats, including photo galleries, videos, and podcasts, to help customers better visualize how they would use your products. Associate text with nontext media for search engine optimization.
- Enable consumer interaction through comments, which should be moderated. This input can help both your firm and customers. It can be broadened to include message boards and photo galleries.
Three Blog-Related Considerations
When using blogs to enhance your marketing, assess the full impact of the blogs, because they aren’t a one-shot promotion yielding immediate returns.
- Blogs require an ongoing investment. This point needs to be stressed, since blogs may be created by nonmarketing staff where there isn’t a management-reporting relationship. To help spread the workload, have several people work on entries. Use an editorial calendar to ensure timely coverage of relevant topics and to help employees schedule their time.
- Blogs can take time to have an impact on purchasing and search optimization. Unlike other online marketing formats where results are realized quickly, like e-mail or search advertising, the sales impact of blogs happens over an extended period.
- Blogs require transparency. As with any form of social media, this is critical and needs to be thought through before the blog is made public. Among the areas to consider are how negative customer comments will be handled.
Five Blog Metrics to Track
As with any marketing strategy, using a blog to enhance the purchase process must be monitored to ensure you’re achieving your goals. Remember, these metrics may take time to yield returns.
- Traffic and/or revenue. As with any Web site addition, measure the number of visitors. Once the blog has reached a critical mass of content, utilize other forms of marketing to help extend its reach. Where appropriate, track sales back to blog entries. Remember, customers may use blogs in the pre- or post-purchase phases, and more complex methods of assessing their sales impact maybe required.
- Internal expenses. As with any marketing program, track the associated costs. Since blogs may be an addition to one or more employees’ workload, determining costs may be a little tricky.
- Customer input. Monitor blog comments as well as input from other customer touch points to determine how consumers feel about your products and your blog. Circulate these comments internally to show customer engagement and give management a better understanding of customers’ perspective.
- Search rankings. Track search rankings for important keywords covered in your blog. Bear in mind that it can take time for the search rankings to build.
- Branding. Use surveys to monitor consumer perception of your brand and company across a variety of brand-related metrics before and after you’ve started blogging to calculate change in mind share.
While no longer the latest, sexiest form of online communications, blogs can be highly effective and cost-efficient in driving sales. But they aren’t a quick marketing fix. They’re a form of online media that requires a long-term investment to help and engage your customers and create more interest in your product offering. By their nature, blogs also aid search optimization and reduce the burden of post-purchase support and customer service.