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    Retail Markets: here are all the key posts


    I’d love to be able to describe a blog as an all powerful “magic wand” which will single-handedly solve all your marketing woes. Unfortunately, in spite of what some over eager blogging enthusiasts might have us believe, its simply not the case. What blogs are, however, are excellent tools which sit perfectly at the centre of your online marketing activity and which you can use to drive your business development efforts. Now thats not too shabby, is it?

    The problem is that that, all too often, a business blog is set up and run in isolation within the company rather than treated as part of a larger set of activities. No matter how successful you make your blog, it is still important to consider it as part of the overall mix – any company thinking of running one in splendid isolation is just guilty of actively stopping it from fulfilling its full potential. Running it in conjunction with other activities will prove to be far more effective both for the blog and your company.

    If, as is often the case, the blog is designed to help market the company and its offerings or enhance its branding efforts, then treat it as a part of the overall marketing mix. Make sure to link it with the other activities you are using or even use it as a hub to coordinate them online and gather the responses they generate.

    Ideally this coordination should happen at the planning stage so that the main interlinking set out in advance and all of the marketing strands can work in tandem. If not, then you will find that a blog is flexible enough to be able to adapt to a change in focus and direction later on if required. Employing this approach will give results which go far beyond those you could achieve using any of the activities on their own, boosting your blog and the overall campaign. The diagram above, while clearly only giving examples of the many online, offline and social media marketing methods available, tries to show the type of integrated approach that will produce the best results.

    Likewise, if you are using the blog for Customer Service or Product Development reasons, then again make sure that it is part of the overall process, integrated with your Call Centre, your Developers or your Product Marketing team and not stuck out on a limb under the control of a separate department. Use the information that your customers provide through it and share it with others. Treat it as the tool that it is, rather than a solution to all ills, and you will be able to tap into a collective resource that your readers and staff can jointly add to – you can then in turn make that available to all those who visit and use the blog, both internally to your company as well as externally.

    So, whatever the job you have in mind for your blog, make sure that from the planning phase onwards you run it in conjunction with the other activities you have in the same area. A blog can be a real hub for your customers, prospects and staff alike so dont isolate it connect to it and through it!

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    Market research with Focus GroupsIn a post called Using Blogs as Communities for Research and Development back in Sept 2006, I mentioned that one of the lesser known yet still ideal uses for business blogs is as a vehicle for conducting market research and product development. Why? Simply because your blog will create a community around itself containing exactly the type of people that you would love to get opinions and feedback from.

    I noticed that last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article called “The New Focus Groups: Online Networks“. Ah, yes indeed! Their focus was it seems prompted by the rise in Social Networks but as I pointed out in “Who owns YOUR Social Network?” the best type of network that you can possibly have as a business, and the one which will endure longest, is one that you run yourself. Essentially, your business blog.

    So with a blog as your best way to develop your own network, social or business, this is a ringing endorsement for using blogs in a market research capacity. It also brings the benefits of targeted market research within the reach of companies of all sizes, not just those with a budget of thousands to spend on external market research providers.

    The benefits of using the type of private community that a specially created blog can give you are clear. As the article points out:

    Companies use them to administer polls, chat in real time with consumers and even ask members to go to the store to try out specific products. The rapid back-and-forth between the company and the online community can help substantially shorten the product development cycle.

    Real interaction with customers, shorter product development cycles? Sounds just what the doctor ordered! And with blog consultants :) able to help you to develop these environments in double quick time (should you require it), you can concentrate your efforts on preparing the research you want to carry out, listening to what your customers tell you they are looking for and then delivering it to them.

    Almost sounds like joined up marketing to me!

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    Well, clearly Amazon believes that they have an important role to play in guiding potential customers to their site. They have just launched a series of widgets that bloggers and online social network users will be able to use, primarily as part of Amazon’s affiliate program.

    And just why is this avenue so important to retail organisations? The reason is that the personal recommendation is a powerful tool for retailers – in fact probably THE most important one they have if used correctly. Quite simply, we all rely very heavily on the opinion of friends or colleagues that we trust when making a buying decision.

    Online word of mouth, as I mentioned in Blogs, Peer Review and the Retail Market, holds enormous sway with customers and is going to be increasingly important. This is primarily down to the massive increase in the levels of online communication via blogs and social networks. But, importantly, this is not only the case with the so called Generation Y but with people of all ages as the increasing average user age of both MySpace and now Facebook is clearly demonstrating.

    So as a small business looking at retailing online, what can you do? Well, we will be looking at this in more detail next week as part of the Small Business Series on Better Business Blogging. But in the meantime, take a leaf out of the “big boys” book and think about making your own widget which you can distribute yourself to help publicise your online shop or products.

    For some ideas on creating widgets yourself, have a look at All about Widgets which is an excellent start point – it will also direct you to places and resources that you really should visit.

    In the meantime, try to keep an eye on what the main players in your own market sector are doing and, where possible, employ similar tactics to raise your own profile!

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