As regular Naked Conversation visitors may recall, Diva Marketing's Toby Bloomberg and I had a bit of a tiff on the subject of character blogs a while ago, and in fact, as she says, on that subject we agree to continue to disagree. What is also true is that through it all we have continued to share a mutual respect. I think that Toby is a top-notch marketing thinker, and one of the few people who have focused on the issue of how blogging fits into overall marketing strategy. She also maintains that blogging will morph into a marketing function as it matures, a vision that history well-supports, even if I may not. Here are my questions and her answers.
1. Can you tell me a little about your background and about Diva Marketing, your current practice?
Bloomberg Marketing has its roots in interactive marketing. In 1997 when I began, the Internet was frequently a mystery to many companies. My focus was, and is, to help companies integrate e-marketing tactics into strategic marketing plans.
My Diva Marketing blog is a Bloomberg Marketing website alter ego. Bloomberg Marketing was developed not as a commerce site, but to increase credibility, awareness and to provide value-add to customers and prospects through links, articles and information. In keeping with blogosphere philosophy, Diva Marketing blogs offers a more personal look at what “Toby” is passionate about vs. the who-what-why-how of the Bloomberg Marketing site.
2. When and how did you become interested in blogging? When did you start?
I read a ClickZ article about blogs in 2002. I began to promote weblogs to clients and in e-marketing workshops as a means to establish a cost-effective, easy web presence. However, the more I read about blogs and the more I read blogs, I came to realize that they were not “just another website.”
After talking about blogs to clients and in workshops for two years, Blog Savant’s Dana VanDen Heuvel, challenged me to start my own business blog. I had been writing a column called “Diva Marketing” for an online lifestyle publication that had recently shut down. The blog seemed like a good way to continue it. I launched Diva Marketing in May 2004 as a test and to learn more about writing a business blog. Little did I know that I was in for the adventure of my professional life!
3. How has blogging changed your practice?
Diva Marketing has become an effective tool to market Bloomberg Marketing. The blog quickly turned into my own body of knowledge where I direct clients and prospects for information on marketing and blogging topics. That, in turn, has served to increase credibility and often a viral buzz.
As I become increasingly involved in this emerging industry, my passion for blogging as a marketing tactic increases. I’ve added a new offering to Bloomberg Marketing – blog consulting and have created a process to help clients integrate it into their marketing plans. This positioning has led to multiple speaking engagements. The lift in search engine rankings also has brought writing and speaking opportunities. The increase in search rankings alone is worth the effort to launch and maintain a blog.
Blogging has also expanded my network to include marketers from all over the world. These relationships are among the most valuable aspects of blogging to me. It would have been unlikely to have met most of these people without blogging.
4. How has it changed you?
I think I’m still the same person I was before I began, but I must admit the challenges I’ve faced from the public blogosphere regarding the GourmetStation character blog, did encourage me to reexamine my opinions about marketing, blogging and belief in myself. The unexpected support from friends was a heartening experience.
What bloggging has done for me is to open doors to people and opportunities that in no small way have changed my life both personally and professionally. I’ve been fortunate to have met some of the nicest people in this industry and in marketing.
5. Can you give me a success story regarding Diva Marketing?
Surprisingly, blogging has done something else for my business. Within a very short period and on very little capital, it has positioned Diva Marketing Blog as a brand unto itself. I’ve been referred to many times as “the marketing diva,” a wonderful compliment.
One of the most professional experiences has been the opportunity to chair the American Marketing Association’s Hot Topic Workshop on blogs. With a team of some of the most respected bloggers in the business, I’ve traveled from coast to coast introducing marketers to blogs as a credible marketing tactic. The response has been overwhelming and exciting to watch as new bloggers launch corporate-based blogs.
6. Do you see blogging as world-changing or simply incremental to a company’s marketing mix?
From a business perspective, are blogs the saviors of marketing and may companies die on the vine without a blog? I think not. Blogs add one more tool to a marketer’s repertoire. As with any marketing program, to be effective, blogs must be integrated into a master marketing plan that supports the integrity and positioning of the brand.
Blogs can be a powerful experiential marketing tactic. How much closer can a customer get to a brand than talking with the CEO or the people who are the heart of the brand? The emotional value that is associated with a blog can help inspire trust and credibility that may lead to brand loyalty and increased sales.
Companies that do not include blogging, as part of an integrated marketing plan, will miss out on significant opportunities and be at a competitive disadvantage as organizations in their space adopt blogs. As a concept that helps organizations get closer to its customers and customers closer to brands, blogs are a powerful tool that few can afford to ignore. Bottom-line if your target audience wants a blog you had better blog.
7. When do you suggest to clients that they should blog?
If blogging can support an organization’s goals and objectives or solve a business challenge, then it’s time to consider including it in the master marketing plan. Every marketing director I’ve ever met is looking for innovative ways to create stronger customer relationships. Blogging is one of the best tools to accomplish that, so I’m recommending that all companies explore the possibilities of blogs. Especially for service and consulting firms, blogs are an excellent way to establish and promote thought leadership.
One of the questions I often hear is, “How much time will we have to invest?” If time is an issue or deal breaker, I encourage companies to develop multiple author blogs. Since several people are sharing posting responsibilities, it is an excellent way to experience blogging in smaller time-chunks. Another benefit multi author blogs offer is allowing more employees a “voice to the customer” and the customer a broader look at the voices inside in the company.
8.Should all companies blog? Who should? Who shouldn’t?
Any company can benefit by opening the doors of communications wider— at least any company who doesn’t have harmful secrets buried. To me, it’s not “should companies, blog” but “will the company culture support a blog?” Marketers must realize that blogs are a longterm strategy and not a short-term fix. Organizations must be willing to dedicate people and time resources.
If the company culture is manipulative, employees are not treated with respect and customers are thought of as commodity items…then no, that company should not blog. Actually, that company should close its doors.
9. Today blogging, for the most part, centers on political and technical communities. How do you see it evolving over time?
If we only had a crystal ball Shel, you and I could retire! It seems to me that as blogs become ubiquitous in journalism, politics, education and the lives of everyday people, they will add another dimension to communications. From team project blogs or wikis to blogs that support obscure communities, the technology will bring an ease and depth of global interaction that is definitely world-changing.
Recently you and I found ourselves on opposite sides of the character blog debate. Why do you favor them? What has been the result of a character blog for your client, GourmetStation?
My interest with blogs centers on the business/marketing application. Blogs are a new genre at the initial stage of their employment as a marketing tool. If character blogs can move a brand forward, create new levels of customer relationships and increase customer loyalty resulting in the five-letter word that many bloggers seems to cringe at: s-a-le-s, then why not explore innovative avenues?
The purpose of the GourmetStation blog was to support the brand’s strategy by providing value-added content about international food cultures and traditions. Based on that our goals included creating an entertaining experience where customers could interact with the brand and share their experiences about food, travel, culture and wines.
Since, T. Alexander (TA), the brand icon, had a strong established identity with GourmentStation’s patrons, it was natural that TA be presented as the voice of the blog and used to reinforce the branding elements while also creating a fun environment.
It’s too early evaluate the results but, the opportunity to expand the presence of the brand through rich content and increased search engine rankings has been successful. Donna Lynes-Miller, GourmetStation president, appreciates that a blog is a long-range tactic. I admire her commitment and patience to allow the blog to run the test of time. If I were to give marketers advice, I would encourage then to keep their customers at the heart of any new strategy, to maintain the brand’s integrity and never attempt to deceive by not disclosing that the voice is a “character.”
10. How will blogs, used for marketing, evolve over time?
It's been fascinating to watch the rapid progression as marketing/business blogs move from a shoot-from-the-hip attitude to a structured and strategic approach.
People will always be interested in ideas and information, so standalone blogs that voice opinions and industry news will continue. However, blogs will integrate into larger marketing strategies similar to the sophistication we’re seeing with email strategies. Marketers will develop “short-term” blogs that only run the length of a campaign.
I’ve been asked how to find good blogs. As the blogosphere becomes more cluttered and fragmented, perceived value content will become more important. Niche communities of blogs will also evolve. Those communities may have the feel of portals but with additional social networking software included that encourages real-talk conversations.
Blog ads will grow more competitive and take a slice of the pie away from website ads. As people turn to aggregators to read blogs, bloggers who include ads on their sites will have to find ways to drive readers to their blogs. Perhaps they’ll add links or white paper downloads accessible only on the blog. Industries that are shying away from blogs such as healthcare, will find ways to come to terms with regulations and the type of information that they can comfortably disseminate.
It’s only a matter of time before blogging is incorporated into job responsibilities. With one more communication channel accessible to customers an additional level of customer service standards (how frequently to respond to comments, how to respond) will be created.
Although they may not be the savior of marketing, blogs will continue to impact the way we do business and how we develop communication strategies with customers, prospects and other stakeholders.