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    Can we use blogs for selling? Im often asked this question and Ive also seen a bit of a debate going on around the blogosphere about it of late, so heres my take on it.

    For me, it depends totally on what you interpret as “selling”. According to what your response to that is, then my answer will range from “absolutely not” to “yes, of course, thats the whole reason for having a business blog”. Basically, anywhere from zero to ‘off the scale’.

    Not too much help as yet, I know.

    To help explain how I think selling should be done on a blog, Id like to tell you a story a fable from Aesop called The North Wind and the Sun. It goes something like this:

    The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him.

    At last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.

    The stated moral of the story is that Persuasion is more successful than Force. So let’s take that idea and look at it in the context of selling.

    If you are thinking of using your blog in the style of a door to door salesman, then please dont. If you are looking to focus on the interruption style of marketing that weve been subjected to for years, then I would also advise a rethink.

    Why? Most people have a real aversion to the hard sell and it’s certain to have a negative effect on your readers. In any case, a blog is never going to be a good method of engaging in this type of selling – blogs work best as a two way dialogue rather than a sales pitch monologue. This type of strong arm tactic, represented by the North Wind in the fable, will generally result in the reader leaving our blog, unlikely ever to return.

    However, there is another way. Instead we can engage in relationship or educational selling (or marketing if you prefer), building trust with our readers and letting them familiarise themselves with the product or service that we offer. How do we do that? Through our posts, we engage with them and allow them to get to know us. We also help them to understand what we do by continually delivering information which is relevant to them … and yet also relevant to our business, our products/services and the market in which we work.

    The result is a much deeper understanding of how what we do can benefit and impact their business – this is because they will have had the opportunity to examine and develop their ideas of its actual uses in their situation. Therefore, when you do sit down with the (now) prospect, it will be with one who has already gone far down the road to deciding that they want to commit and one with a much greater likelihood of implementing and using it properly.

    All of this benefits us because it results in a happier client, a strong ongoing business relationship and positive word of mouth about us and our product/service.

    At the end of the day, for me, its all about the difference between trying to sell something to someone and helping them decide that they want to buy from you. As a customer, I know which I prefer – so, be like the Sun and try the persuasive approach as a seller as well.

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    How many times have you been in a position where you are looking to buy something and yet are faced with an enormous choice of seemingly similar products. What’s the first thing that you think of doing? If you’re like me, you’ll either do a search on the internet, get someone else’s opinion ... or do both at once.

    If that’s your chosen route to “product enlightenment” then you’re not alone and it seems that the both at once option is becoming ever more common with customers’ opinions on the internet being a key factor in the decision making process. One recent survey targeting Generation Y (also known as the yoof of today in common parlance) reported that some 67% say that they use online reviews as a way of deciding what to buy, with 21% specifically stating that they have used blogs to help them make buying decisions.

    However, this type of reaction is not restricted to the younger generation. We all trust the opinions of others more than we trust the marketing blurb communicated by companies.

    • On Amazon, people look at the reviews to support the selection they have made;

    • On ebay, the customer review section is important to get a feel for the sellers;

    • On Hotels.com, the opinion of others that have stayed there is as important as the hotel information itself.

    All these opinions have a huge influence on our buying decisions and, in each case, effectively what we are looking at is online Word of Mouth.

    Working with your blog is going to give you a real headstart here. It can be a key element in starting up discussions and giving the opportunity for people to air their thoughts and comments on the products. All of this if course, creates extra content about the product on your blog which in turn will help raise your Search Engine profile and attract more visitors a virtuous circle if ever I saw one!

    There are a number of ways in which you can develop it from there perhaps use the blog as a place to highlight the reviews or write posts which link through (sparingly, please) to the products area of your site giving product details, how people use them, where new developments will be etc. You may also find the blog develops a type of community feel for your products and certainly let people review and talk about them openly.

    Remember that personal recommendation together with both peer review and peer pressure are all key factors in our buying decisions, so let your blog help facilitate this and in the process give potential customers a timely nudge in the right direction!

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    Over the weekend, I was chatting with a friend who used to work for one of the larger pharmaceutical companies here in the UK and, as you do, I mentioned my professional involvement with corporate blogging. Having given her a brief overview of how the business world is using blogs, she commented that she felt it was unlikely that there would be many blogs from the main pharma companies, and I agreed … in part.

    My own thoughts were that, on the drug side of the business, the legal elements would be too stifling and would never allow the openness and free comment that a blog requires. However, I felt that on the consumer side of the business, product blogs would be the perfect vehicle for some product lines – the example I gave her was from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) where I felt the Lucozade line would benefit immensely from a product based blog linked with their other online and offline marketing activities.

    Well, I decided to do a little investigating today, what did I find? Not one but two pharmaceutical companies have in fact recently launched blogs – GSK and Johnson & Johnson – so, of course I had to have a closer look.

    From GSK has come AlliConnect which is focused on the Alli Weight Loss product line which apparently is “the only FDA approved weight loss product available over the counter” – in the US, I presume. From a blog perspective, clean look (if a touch bland) with clear branding and has all the main components in place, as I guess you would hope since they have been working with Debbie Weil on this, who is also named as one of the authors. Wide subject matter from a small team with a lot of potential for development and some innovative uses of this product blog, and so one that will be interesting to follow from a professional perspective.

    The other from Johnson & Johnson is called JNJ BTW and has a little bit further to go, to be honest. It is written by one of the media relations team which rather sets the tone, and it seems to have a much less well defined remit in terms of what it is looking to achieve. With very little corporate branding, there are certain elements of the set-up which need to be dealt with (non friendly URLs, ‘Uncategorised” category, RSS all but hidden) and I don’t get the same feel of focus which concerns me when considering the impact it will make. I believe that they would have been better placed if they had focused on a single product area (and they have enough to choose from) rather than a wide ranging corporate blog which seems to be what they are attempting here.

    All in all, GSK have certainly the better starting position here and it does make me wonder whether engaging a blog consultant would have avoided a lot of the early pain that I foresee for the J&J blog – though, I admit that I might be biased here, given that it is what I do for a living. It’s good to see large corporates embracing blogs, of course, but I think that the public already has certain standards they expect and so therefore the planning and delivery of blogs is going to need more and more attention if they are to make the right impact from the start.

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