June 2008

While there is a growing recognition of the pivotal role that social media can play in business marketing and the key role of a business blogs at the very centre of that activity, I still get the feeling that some companies often wonder whether they could also benefit from this or if it’s just for others.

Personally, I feel that there are very few cases where businesses cannot gain enormously from using a blog in the key area of interaction with their customers. Clearly they need to focus (and perhaps plan – heaven forbid!) to deliver real results and that, as always, is key. This applies whether they are using the blog as part of their marketing and business development activities, their customer support, their product development or as another key touchpoint. The benefit would then feed back into all parts of the business.

There are also certain “company types” which would particularly benefit from elements that a blog could give them; a few examples include:

Companies needing to differentiate themselves: on occasions, professional services organisations have been accused of all having a rather “grey” image, causing them to blend into the background. By using blogs to help break down these preconceptions, companies can really differentiate themselves as well as reveal some of the personalities carrying out the work together with their expertise – this can only help in developing greater trust with your potential clients in a generally very competitive and customer focused environment.

Companies which rely on their specialist knowledge to attract clients: consistently demonstrating expertise in a chosen field can quickly help to build a positive reputation and encourage potential clients to contact you. Client case studies go part of the way, but displaying both your general and specialised knowledge over a period of time and giving the opportunity to interact helps develop this more than a sanitised case study can ever do. Think of it as multiple case studies on steroids if you like. This is particularly relevant for independent consultants and specialist consultancies.

Companies which have progressed beyond the hard sell approach: direct advertising and the hard sell has become less and less successful as a business development approach. We tend to be put off by “interruption marketing” nowadays rather than be attracted by it. However, an educational marketing (or relationship marketing) approach, where you provide potential clients with information on which to make their own informed decision on their purchase, has gone from strength to strength. Help your customers decide they want to buy from you rather than go all out to sell to them.

Companies wanting to become more of a partner than a supplier: engaging with potential clients through your Business Blog helps develop trust and a relationship which can position you as a partner rather than a simple supplier. People prefer to work with and buy from people and companies that they trust – a blog will allow you to achieve this.

Companies wishing to be THE information resource for their market niche: most of the information that your prospective clients are looking for is available somewhere on the web. It’s just a case of finding it! So rather than let potential clients wander round the web looking for it and perhaps finding it on a competitors site, provide it yourself or provide links to it on your Blog. Become the preferred place to go for this type of information and let this attract anyone interested in your niche to your blog.

Companies organising conferences, seminars and exhibitions: blogs are the ideal focal point for collating and distributing information to attendees pre-Conference and for gathering feedback from them during and after the Event. You can update the conference details and add new information yourself, and you automatically develop a powerful online Search Engine marketing tool as well.

Companies looking to develop a network or community around themselves: as a networking tool, a business blog can help in many different ways but one of its most powerful is when it allows the creation of a network of like minded people interested in a particular area. It is particularly positive for the company setting this up and running it because they find themselves at the centre of this network and therefore in a high profile position.

Companies developing new products or services: customer feedback and input is essential in the product development process. By taking the step to allow this feedback to take place on a Blog, you are allowing discussions and generating ideas which can be invaluable to the process. Added to this, you have a group of people who have contributed to the product and so are likely to be its strongest evangelists and advocates.

Ah, so many options! What other types of companies would you consider to be ideal candidates to consider using blogs

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Buzz MarketingMarketing Week ran a front page item a couple of week’s back which focused on buzz marketing – the question they asked was whether the new EU Law is likely to spell “The end for Buzz Marketing?” So what is it all about and are these bleak prophecies really warranted?

According to Marketing Week, Buzz Marketing is “the practice of creating a buzz around a brand” with the focus generally being on newer online channels such as blogs, social networking sites to create Word of Mouth marketing etc. As it happens, the Law in question (The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations) doesn’t simply target the fake blogs which is where much of the article’s focus is placed, but rather any activity, online or offline which sets out to deceive or coerce consumers.

Essentially, the Law is there to protect you and me from people making claims which are untrue or representing themselves falsely – an online example might be leaving testimonials on your own site under a false name or submitting a positive review of your company’s service or product without revealing your identity or without making your connection to the company clear.

In the same way, flogs or fake blogs such as the “Walmarting across America” fiasco and the “All I want for Xmas is a PSP” which was more painful than deceitful, will now be illegal rather than simply downright stupid. As it happens, in these cases, the blogosphere did an excellent job of policing itself and the companies in question quickly admitted responsibility and withdrew the blogs.

So is this the end of the world in terms of online Buzz Marketing, now that we are no longer able to lie to and deceive our customers without falling foul of the long arm of the law? I think not and indeed my own opinion is very much in line with Simon Quanse’s comments quoted in the article when he states that

“the new regulations will only have the potential to affect those using “underhand” buzz marketing techniques”.

Spot on.

There are many innovative ways to communicate with, interest and interact with customers without deceiving them. Although not online in this instance, you only have to look at the recent Honda campaign and the “live ad” with the skydivers to recognise that these are great cases of buzz marketing and just because a fake blog or similar is the easy route, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the best, even if you can get away with it.

So be creative and open and above all respect your customers – with those three things in mind, you’ll be in a position to create successful campaigns and keep your customers’ respect … as well as their ongoing business, I suggest.

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