Don’t laugh! Michelle Brisebois tells how to collect consumers and their loyalty($) at the click of a mouse.
Hyde Park in London, England, has an area dedicated to free speech. Since the mid-1800s, people have used this space to pull up old orange crates and speak out on any issue. They are allowed to speak without fear of legal repercussions. The only topics forbidden are the Royal Family and overthrowing the British government. In Canada, our equivalent to such a venue would be the televised “Speaker’s Corner.” What if some of these people were discussing the bakery industry? What if they were discussing your business? What if you could get feedback from a large cross-section of consumers by tapping into this forum? It’s easier than you think. Don’t pull up the orange crate – pull up an Internet connection and explore the amazing world of Web logging or as it’s commonly called — “blogging.” It’s the next wave in retail marketing strategy and it’s not that hard to do.
Fast, measurable promotion
A “blog” is short for Web log. According to Technorati (a blog tracking firm), there are currently 14 million blogs with 80,000 added every day. They report that 30 per cent of the 50 million Internet users are blog readers. In short, a lot of people are reading and writing blogs. Blogs are really websites formatted to be easily updated; and they often allow for comments to be posted by readers. The author of the blog — called a “blogger” — writes updates and posts them to the site regularly. It can be several times daily or infrequently. The topics vary as much as the people who create these blogs. There are blogs on politics, gardening, parenting, fashion and food. In fact, it’s been noted that one of the most popular topics for blogging is food. At a recent blogging conference in California, a panel of popular bloggers spoke to the question “Is the next Martha Stewart a blogger?” Given that the more popular bloggers are scouted by publishers — and they’re getting book deals — the answer appears to be “yes.” Here is why you, as a business owner/operator, should care about blogging. Reading blogs will give you insight into consumer trends; and writing a blog will allow you to promote your business and get feedback from customers. It’s fast, measurable and very inexpensive.
Click for product research
Reading blogs about food provides bakeries, wholesalers and manufacturers with one of the fastest ways to stay on top of new consumer trends. You needn’t spend hours searching for the information. Remember, Google is your best friend. One quick way to search various blogs is to go to “google.ca” and on the menu over the search field click on “more”: you’ll get a list of various options – click on “search blogs.” You’ll get an entry field that allows you to type in whatever blog topic you wish to search. Try typing in the name of your business – you may be surprised to find out that bloggers have written about the amazing wedding cake you created for their nuptials. That’s great PR! You can also search more general terms. Try typing in “trends in baked goods” or “best breads and rolls” to read blogs to identify upcoming trends or innovations. If you want to narrow your search even more quickly, just go to Food Porn Watch, a site that scans hundreds of foodcentric blogs for new content every hour on the hour. From there, the sites are just a click away. My quick search located many baking-related blogs with catchy names like “Canadian Baker,” “Brownie Points,” “Baking Sheet” and “Do you know the Muffin Man?” You can tell which blogs are the most popular by the number of comments left on the site with each entry. If a blog has more than 10 comments per entry, you can tell it’s fairly well read and could be considered an influencer. These are the blogs worth monitoring. Blog reading only addresses half of the blogging equation though – the outbound marketing benefit comes from creating your own blog.
Having your own blog allows you to dialogue with your customers. Many retailers — regardless of size — use a blog alongside their store website as a means of showcasing new products and new trends. Creating a blog is quite easy. There are a couple of places where you can create and maintain a blog for free. Blogger is one and Typepad is another (through friendster.com). You simply join the community, enter basic information and choose a template. There are often forums where members can post questions and share technical tips. By picking up a copy of “Blogging for Dummies,” you’ll have all the information. The key to a successful blog is updating it frequently, finding a “voice” or personality and including lots of images. Your blog can refer people to your website or it can substitute for one. The challenge will be in keeping it updated and fresh. This may be the perfect project for one of your younger staff members. Chances are that a few of your junior employees are fairly tech savvy and would enjoy the challenge of blogging. You can also measure Web statistics on your blog and see at a glance how many visits per day you’re getting, where they’re coming from, what they’re looking at and how often they come back. Statcounter.com offers such a package for free. All of this is very useful in understanding what consumers find interesting about your business. If you employ a comments section – consumers can post questions or feedback – it will allow you to converse with them directly and learn what they want.
Seize the power
Take some time to acquaint yourself with the power of blogging. Begin by monitoring some good existing blogs. Sign up at bloglines.com and as you find blogs you enjoy reading, subscribe to them at bloglines. You’ll be able to log into bloglines and glance down the page to see who’s updated their blog since you last visited. This allows you to zero in on new content and not waste time clicking on entries you’ve already read. Once you’ve identified what blogs you admire and what you’d like yours to look like, dive in and create one. You can keep it to yourself for a while and play with the posts until you find your rhythm. Readers will eventually stumble on your blog and start tuning in. You can also promote it in your advertising once you’re ready to unveil it. Blogging isn’t a fad – it’s a trend and one that can accelerate your business success. Don’t think of it as intimidating technology – think of it as “word of mouse.”
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at OnTrend Strategies by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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