Direct Marketing & Blogging: Engaging Customers One Post at a Time

Blogging isn’t the tool of choice for most direct marketers. For some, writing posts seems to be a waste of resources. They reason that their time should be spent doing things that generate sales. Others find it scary to think about opening their thoughts and company to public scrutiny and competitive eyes.

The biggest challenge is the lack of hard numbers that prove blogging is worth the investment. Trying to measure the effect is similar to quantifying the benefits of smiling, helpful clerks or a warm, inviting store. Intuitively, we know that without them, shoppers won’t linger or return. But, in a bottom line economy, every investment needs justification.

Multichannel customers spend 3-5 times their single channel counterparts. Even so, they are not always the most profitable because they are expert bargain shoppers. The best customers (we call them “platinum”) shop consistently with or without sale promotions. In other words, they are fans of your company and brand.

In most companies, they are an untapped resource. Given the opportunity, they are willing to share their experiences with friends and strangers alike. Social media provides a platform for their raves. Blogging encourages them to come forward.

There are three keys to direct marketing blogging success:

  • Strategy – Starting a blog without a plan is like starting a trip without a destination. You have to know where you’re going if you want to get there. Before you write your first headline, decide what you want to accomplish. Do you want to educate your customers about your products/services? Are you looking for more sales at lower costs? Or, do you want to attract prospects?

    Your objectives have to be clear and tangible. If not, you won’t be able to justify your blog’s maintenance. For example, blogging is a great tool for increasing traffic. Google includes blogs in their search and often ranks them higher than other sources. One objective might be to increase traffic 30% and sales 5%. Traffic alone doesn’t provide value. If sales aren’t increased by the additional visitors, you are using your bandwidth without a return on investment.

    Even if you don’t accomplish your goals, you will be successful if you start with a strategy. It is a learning process that improves with every tweak and test. The things that don’t work are as valuable as the ones that do. They redirect you to the right path for your customers and company.

  • Integration– Effective blogs are part of a circular sales path. The typical sales cycle is:

    Sales Cycle 1

    The company drives the marketing, sales, and fulfillment stages of the cycle. Consumption, the using of the product or service, is usually left to the customer. This is an opportunity hot spot that needs attention. When people have challenges with this stage it increases their resistance to future marketing attempts. Following up with them to insure satisfaction makes it easier to motivate return visits.

    Integrating blogging with direct marketing adds engagement to the cycle. Your customers who are actively participating look forward to new items and promotions. When there are product or service challenges, the ability to search your blog for answers increases their trust and reduces your operational costs. The new sales cycle looks like this:

    Sales Cycle

    A completely integrated marketing plan encourages customers to cross channels, media, and platforms. It also makes it easy for them to contact you with their communication tool of choice. The easier you make it for your fans to engage with you and share information with others, the more bang you’ll get out of your marketing dollars.

  • Measurement – If you don’t measure your marketing, you won’t know what works and what doesn’t. Blogging is a soft sell approach. The goal of direct marketing is to get more sales. Your blog’s goal is to get your customers and prospects actively involved. The bonus is that you get more sales. (How cool is that?)

    The first step in measuring is to establish benchmarks for key metrics like lifetime value, average order, response rates, and traffic. Once you have the baseline, you can see the effect when you test blogging. Without a starting point, there are too many intangibles to identify cause and effect.

    Analytics are not always absolute. Many times people get lost in trying to balance dynamic numbers. Using trend analysis when hard numbers aren’t available provides insight into the effectiveness of your social media efforts.

How do you know what to write about?

If you think your customers aren’t interested in your company, you’re right. They’re not. They are interested in what your products and services can do for them. They will read for hours (well, maybe minutes, but you get the point!) about how someone used something that made their life better, easier, or more fun.

Blogging is like fishing, only noisier. There are a lot of voices out there. Find the right bait and your target market will ignore the others. For example, if you sell kitchen products, write about cooking. Your products become bit players in a bigger story.

Tell about what happened when you made your first biscuits from scratch. If you’re like me, family members still laugh. Mine were so rubbery that you couldn’t open them and they bounced when you dropped them on the floor. Never mind that I make great biscuits now. The first ones get the mention.

Be sure to include a recipe and links to the products you use when you make your biscuits now. (My fav is a stoneware pan that evenly browns them.) Your posts need to be dynamic to accomplish your objectives. Use links and references to drive readers towards products and services.

Make your blog like Hershey’s Chocolate World Tour. It promises to show you how chocolate is made. You follow the cocoa bean from the rain forest to rivers of dark and milk chocolate to the grand finale: The store. By the time you’ve finished your journey, complete with multi-sensory chocolate attacks (the smell is intoxicating), it is impossible to resist the cash register. They promote it as a free experience, but I doubt anyone escapes without opening his or her wallet!

Once they are hooked, invite your best customers to participate by commenting and guest writing. What are their funny stories? How do they use your items? The more you get others to join in, the better the results.

Keep your marketing circular.

Design your blog posts so they move your readers to the next step. It can be reading more posts, commenting, contacting you, or buying. Every post should include a call to action. Subtle efforts work better than overt. For example, including a list of related posts encourages visitors to read more.

Use your direct marketing to invite people to participate in your blog. Don’t expect them to stumble upon it and move your company to the next level. Give them reasons to go there and become involved. Make it fun and worthwhile so the value overcomes any resistance.

What next?

Blogging is a process without end. Seek continuous, measurable improvement. The steps are simple: create, measure, evaluate, and repeat. It is your opportunity to visit with your customers. Be personable, but don’t make it too personal. There is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. It is different for every organization.

Don’t let other voices drown you out. There are voices that say you shouldn’t do anything promotional in social media. Others say to blast your promotions at every opportunity. They may or may not know what works for them. (Seriously! If they aren’t measuring, they’re guessing.) They definitely don’t know what works for you. If you don’t test it, you won’t know. So, start with your best ideas, test them, and adjust as needed.

If you aren’t participating in other social media, start testing it once you get your blog going. If you are, integrate it with your blog and direct marketing. The best companies provide a seamless customer experience from marketing to shopping to service after the sale. Become the company that customers never leave and the leader everyone wants to follow.

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