Saturday, May 07, 2005

Is your blog your office? Or a quantifiable marketing tool?

The answer is both. But it's better to decide what your expectations are ahead of time.

I love this quote from Dave Winer that Susan Mernit featured yesterday:

"My weblog is my place of business."

I've heard Dave (and Doc, for that matter) on this topic before: you don't ask how you're getting a return on your office, your cell phone bill, your computer. These are costs of doing business, and you consider them fixed, and necessary. Taking it a step further, it's quite difficult to even quantify your return on tools which are specifically meant to generate leads and ultimately business: advertising, event sponsorship or exhibition, sending your CEO to speak on a panel.

When it comes to the online world there is something attractively quantifiable about it. You can track visitors to your site. You can, if you are so inclined, see where they came from, watch them travel through your site and observe whether they end up buying something or signing up for your newsletter or sending you a request for more information.

If you're running search engine ads, as opposed to newspaper ads, highway billboards or, God forbid, TV commercials, you get very specific data about how those ads are doing. To do the same with most other kinds of marketing you're talking about focus groups, surveys etc to calculate changes in brand awareness et al.

Blogs can have their feet in both buckets: fixed cost of doing business and quantifiable marketing channel.

And you'll be happier if you decide which you want yours to be.

Take Stonyfield Farms. They swear they are not looking for quantifiable marketing results from their blogs. The CEO feared they would lose touch with their core customer base and felt blogs were a way to keep Stonyfield feeling small and folksy, even as they grew. I don't see them offering yogurt offers in the blog. I don't see them running contests to develop a database...nothing like that. (I only personally subscribe to two of their blogs, though.) They are pleased with their blogs, though, and have even added a fifth since they started, but their satisfaction is based on the subjective, perhaps even anecdotal evidence that the blogs are a success.

But, let's look at the cautionary tale of the one blog client I have had that tried a blog for about 3 months and decided they weren't "getting their money's worth" out of it.

See, they wanted to be able to quantify their return on that blog, but they didn't want to offer any promotion to blog readers. So, no matter how many times I pointed out that the impact the blog was having on sales would remain opaque if they provided no trackable offer, they continued to want quantifiable sales results, without implementing anything that would allow it to be so.

Truth be told: I think blogs are excellent marketing tools, but no necessarily great sales tools. How is that different you ask? Well, blogs are conversations. And if I may be so crunchy-granola, blogs are about organically developing a relationship with your potential and existing clients. They're great for creating awareness, for giving people something to talk about, for building a positive image in the minds of your audience. It's about inching your way into someone's brain space, until you occupy a little slot there. GM blogging doesn't make me run out tomorrow and buy a car, but when I shop for a car, GM and Saturn are going to occupy a little space in my brain where they weren't before, because I appreciate their blog.

SO it's contradictory to say, "come in, read our blog, get to know us, spend time, let us invade your brain...BUT GO RIGHT NOW, AND BUY SOMETHING, RIGHT NOW...THIS IS A CALL TO ACTION...GO, GO, GO!!!"

People like to say that having a blog is going to become like having a web site: something you simply must do.

And then there will be the people saying that a web site should never just be a sunk should always be a tool on which you can quantify ROI. But what do you count as quantifiable?

Back to Dave's point. Sure, a computer is a part of doing business, but if you really wanted to, you could justify getting a faster, better computer because it would save time. The quantifier is time, not literally money. And you may not have an e-commerce web site, but you might decide the quantifier for your web site is rankings in the search engine.

Somewhere inside we make a decision about everything we spend money and time on: is it worth it?

And it's a pretty general rule that we always feel better about our investments of time, energy, money when the outcome meets our expectations. And as business people it is incumbent upon us tothink about our expectations before we implement something.

That's what we get paid for. Or in my case, that's what I get paid to make sure my clients do!

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