Small business and marketing blogs

I was thinking more about blogs and marketing today. I keep reading Scobleizer and other blogs that easily give the impression that any company without a blog is, well, almost without marketing. But at a lot of smaller B2B companies I can see how a blog is a pretty wild and far out notion. I can imagine the conversation:

Would be Blogger (wbb): Hey, we should create a blog so we can communicate with our customers, and make our relationship with them more intimate.

Boss (B): [wincing at the word “intimate”] Really? What kind of stuff would we put on it?

wbb: Well, it would have to be more of a one-on-one voice, and more of a personal voice – you know, none of this “everything’s wonderful” corporate voice, nobody wants to read that junk…

B: You mean the corporate voice we spend oodles of money on each year?

wbb: Well no, not exactly, but we could tell people what really happens around here – kind of a behind the scenes thing…

B: What, we’re going to talk about late orders???

Anyway, you get the idea. There’s a lot of folks out there that are petrified by the power of the first impression, and who live in fear that the facade created by the standard marketing collateral might collapse and everything will be revealed. Not to mention that all of that old marketing stuff probably cost a small bundle to create, and nobody’s in a hurry to revisit that issue. Small businesses are often pretty conservative.

But if thinking about this a little further, a drawing sprang to mind (and into my notebook later):

If we consider the spectrum of information available to the average consumer these days, it ranges from the modified truth we hear in a corporate voice in standard marketing materials to a more naked truth found in user reviews and first hand experiences. Not so very long ago, the corporate voice was the only voice someone would hear on your product, unless they knew someone who’d used it first hand. In that case, we bounce to the right hand side of the chart, and get a more naked truth of similar experience & first hand experience. But generally we didn’t so that stuff over to the naked side carried a lot of value.

With the explosion of the internet, the information toward the right hand side of the chart is much more easily come by. Product reviews abound, both in newsgroups and on sites like Amazon. User groups and forums spring up regardless of the wishes of the manufacturers.

But the thing is, when that naked, real voice comes from the company, it’s suspect. A salesman whispers that a product really isn’t that good (and a more expensive one is better) or that a special deal will only last today. We’re used to hearing only the corporate voice from the company itself. If we hear something less processed, well, it’s hard to tell how genuine it really is. That is, unless you have access to a lot of the information from the entire spectrum. The danger of speaking to your customers in that real voice is that it’s a shock – they won’t know what to do with it. Of course, if they’re already reading newsgroups and digging for info elsewhere, they’re far more likely to see the blog for what it is and accept it.

Blogs allow you to speak in multiple voices

Because blogs can be highly contextual, and can be as detailed as necessary, they can communicate in a voice far more real than normal marketing stuff. They can also use a range of voices – either different authors, or the same author writing in different styles. This brings a lot of value and flexibility. It can also act as a kind of bridge between the corporate voice and the real voice.

But there’s another reason why a blog can be an good marketing tool even for a small B2B company. There are lots of things we’d like to communicate to our customers, but cannot in normal channels. For example, suppose your sales process is far different from your competitor’s. You believe your folks are more diligent, more up-front about the realities of the product, and are far more committed to partnering with customers. You try to describe this in your normal communications, but since everyone is talking about the same thing it just doesn’t carry much punch.

Anecdotes can be used to explain what you can’t discuss

On your blog you write about a recent experience with a customer. You describe the entire process in detail, which you can do because it illustrates something else entirely (say, the new software you’re using to process quotations) but at the same time you’re giving much more reinforcement and evidence that you really do business differently than your competitors.

And there’s one more aspect – the original fear about people finding out how the company really runs, or the less attractive aspects of it becomes less founded as your customer base becomes better informed. The more people read online, even news postings from former employees, the less secrets there are to be held. That’s not to say one should bare everything, but as with sex and one’s children, it’s probably better to be the best source available.

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