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Are Blogs the Once-ler of the Net?

Are Blogs the Once-ler of the Net? Alan Chapell
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One of my favorite childhood stories was The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. For those of you who don’t know the story, The Lorax is a cautionary fable on the dangers of corporate greed and disregard for the earth’s environment. The Once-ler, the faceless narrator of the story, describes how he arrived in paradise, built a factory, used up all the natural resources around him and left a desolate wasteland in its wake. Very cheery stuff indeed!


The metaphor still works on many levels -- including perhaps, the interactive space. Don’t believe me? Is ad clutter helping or hurting the online ad market? And what has the proliferation of spam done to the email marketing  channel?


Now we’ve got these great new things called blogs. Ok, they really aren’t all that new. It just seems that way with all the attention they’ve received over the past several months. Blogs started out as personal diaries, where people could share their opinions on a myriad of topics from social issues to politics, to that great band they saw Saturday night. The concept has increasingly been adopted by companies as a serious communications tool, and is now considered ripe for use as a marketing and advertising vehicle.


There is definitely some level of concern in the blogsphere that this trend may ultimately ruin a pure and simple medium in much the same way the Once-ler ran roughshod through the land of the Lorax. For example, Fark.com  has allegedly been selling links on its blog without clearly identifying them as ads. Rick Bruner, a marketing consultant, commented on his blog that “this kind of blatant editorial fraud is nothing but trouble for the blogosphere.” So did Fark display an innovative use of this new medium, or signal the beginning of the end? I guess time will tell.


Regardless, there seems to be no shortage of companies starting their own blogs. Many are doing great things with their blogs, including some old-school brands which I hadn’t previously thought to be on the cutting edge. I spoke with a number of companies who are utilizing blogs as a marketing or customer relationship tool. And while I certainly acknowledge that marketing blogs are in their nascent stage, there are some lessons to be learned. Here is the Chapell view on marketing blogs:


Product, issue or personality focused


First, a caveat: I’m usually reluctant to spend too much time sorting things into neat little categories -- particularly when describing something such as blogs, which are still evolving rapidly. But I think in this case it makes sense to spend some time grouping, as it helps frame the discussion. Most marketing blogs can be segmented into three categories: product-focused, issue-focused and personality-focused.


Product-focused blogs provide lots of rich data on a product, and discuss how that product can be used. They are well suited to support software, consumer electronics and other technology products. Issue focused blogs provide content that is of interest to a majority of people who use the product. And personality blogs typically follow the pursuits of an engaging persona as he/she/it uses the product in daily life. Of course, some marketing blogs have more than one focus.


The focus that is best for any company has a lot to do with the nature of the product. Technology products seem to lend themselves more to product focused blogs so the company can provide technical information and solicit feedback from prime customers. Microsoft and Dell use blogs for that purpose.


Issue-focused blogs make sense when the majority of your customers feel strongly about a certain issue, or when your company was founded around a particular social issue. For example, Stonyfield Farm, a yogurt manufacturer in Vermont, focuses its blog on environmental and women’s issues -- issues that are near and dear to many of the company's customers, and which are in line with the company’s other marketing messages. Travel guide publisher Fodors’ blog is primarily an issue blog. Bloggers discuss stories that might be of interest to the frequent traveler or tourist. However, the Fodors' blog is also a personality blog, as it seeks to personalize some of Fodors’ editors, and differentiate them from the competition.


Personality-focused blogs work well to highlight new products or new and unique ways of using those products. Demonstrating how an intriguing person is actively incorporating your product or service can help generate interest, and can make your marketing blog a more enjoyable read/view. For example, the blog for Sega’s Beta7 football game highlights the exploits of an enthusiastic (ok, he’s flat-out deranged) fan of a particularly violent sports video game.


Maytag blog… Really?


Even some of the old-school companies are moving into the blogosphere. For example, Maytag setup a blog  around its new Skybox product. For those of you who don’t know, Skybox is a personal vending machine product -- basically, it’s a new type of refrigerator that suburban male sports fanatics will place in their home-built bar between the foosball table and the Dig-Dug game.


Now, as a New Yorker, I’m still trying to justify the space taken up by the empty fridge in my apartment, so I’m probably not an ideal customer for them. However, there seems to be no shortage of people out there who would love to feature a Skybox as the crown jewel of their "man-cave." (That is Maytag’s term, btw -- I prefer to refer to that room as “the study” or “library.” It somehow makes it seem more dignified than that you’ve set aside a special room just so you and your friends can swill beer.)


Maytag uses its blog primarily for product- and service-related messages. These things are fine, but I think the Skybox blog would be much more effective as a personality blog. The type of person who pops into my head when I think of the Skybox is the fanatical sports fan. So why not run with that? Tell me about Rob, the rabid Packer fan from Oshkosh, Wis., who hosts a party with 10 of his fellow cheese heads every Sunday afternoon. Or highlight the exploits of Dave from Vernon, Conn., who has the entire family down to his man-cave to watch the UConn Huskies hoops games.


I’d like to see Maytag build more buzz around the whole man-cave experience. Dr. Don Cook, associate professor at the University of New Mexico, says, “Consumers love it when they get the opportunity to craft their own unique environment around a product.”


Perhaps Maytag could host a contest for the best man-cave and get Skybox users to vote on it. Heck, the man-cave could become what scrapbookin’ is for the suburban housewife set. And that would surely have a positive impact upon sales.


Tomorrow: Advice for marketers -- start small, keep it transparent and incorporate feedback. 


Alan Chapell is a consultant focusing on Privacy-Marketing -- helping companies understand privacy and incorporate consumer perception into product development. He has been in the interactive space for more than seven years with firms such as Jupiter Research, DoubleClick and Cheetahmail. Mr. Chapell is the New York Chapter Chairman of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, and he publishes a daily blog on issues of consumer privacy.

Digital analytics specialist


Part research rat, part numbers geek with a hefty allotment of computer science nerdery, the digital analytics specialist might become the hub of marketing as the knowledge holder of market intelligence. Perhaps the evolution of the Web Analytics Association to the Digital Analytics Association in early 2012 is one of the best indicators that rapidly multiplying digital data streams necessitate occupational specialization, education, and support.


Think about it: The marketing manager can't stay current with her analytics training, thanks to the headspin-inducing advancements and customizations delivered by products like Google Analytics and Adobe Omniture Site Catalyst. It might have been acceptable to bolt-on web analytics to a mainstream marketing job function six or seven years ago, but with the rising importance of targeting and relevancy (not to mention results), companies really need someone whose full-time job is to track down opportunity and feed information and insight to other functional marketing roles so they might optimize customer communication and brand touches.


Job openings I've seen for digital analytics specialists require experience in database marketing, direct marketing, and computer science. Companies are looking for candidates with experience in web analytics and metrics reporting tools, marketing automation tools and techniques, database analysis, social analytics platforms, and statistical modeling. It helps to be a strategic thinker, have a creative and curious nature, and have a high degree of technical aptitude.

Outreach and community manager


Any project management professional will tell you that key behind meeting expectations -- of customers, internal stakeholders, or external influencers -- is a steady and reciprocal flow of information and communication. Key to the outreach and community manager role is the management of information flow and the tactical processing of the ensuing tasks that follow interaction. This individual is one of the "point" persons for the brand and, as such, has a hand in prioritizing strategic opportunities across the business.


You might be scratching your head right about now. "Is Robert talking about a social media community manager?" Indeed, the two share some objectives and responsibilities. But this new evolution (as I see it) blends in a bit more big-picture project management functionality and plays a supporting role in meeting long-term sales and brand marketing objectives. The outreach and community manager draws on diplomacy, relationship-building, and problem-solving strengths while he or she proactively liaises with a company's publics, including media and trade members, clients, and sales prospects, to sustain positive visibility.


But wait. Are we now talking about a public relations specialist? Not entirely. But the PR department, just like the sales and customer service departments and marketing personnel, should have running dialogue with the outreach and community manager -- an amalgamation of communications expert, customer relations specialist, facilitator, and PR pro. Institutions like the University of San Diego, Mass Energy Consumer Alliance, and Ameritas College each have variants of this title on staff.


With a focus on fostering and maintaining open communication through education, support, and exploration, the outreach and community manager might play a vital role in an integrated marketing campaign, lead a customer satisfaction discovery initiative, or coordinate communications with key accounts regarding a new product release or introduction. We will likely see this role mirror data gathered by social media education company Social Fresh regarding pure-play community managers. If so, expect to see more women with 5-plus years marketing experience hold the outreach and community manager role and earn around $62,000 annually. That salary should rise as more companies adopt the role.

Chief customer officer


I write a lot about the power of storytelling -- ways brands can creatively enmesh customers in the brand's history, its present, and its intended future to evoke an authentic emotional attachment. The art of sharing the brand story is the privilege and responsibility of all employees, with their actions essentially elevating them to ambassador status among their own circles of peers, friends, and family. Clever corporate communications and PR folk cultivate quotes, testimonials, and experiences from both internal and external audiences as strategy pillars to support the dynamic story of the brand.


Presumably you're in business to impact people's lives in some way. Your product or service is a big time-saver, satisfies needs for security (you've paid attention to Maslow, right?), or makes annoying or tedious tasks easy. In the past, you might have relied predominantly on a mix of advertising, marketing, and lead development techniques to keep production humming.


But the jarring power shift between sellers and buyers likely changed all that. A plethora of choices and self-empowerment shook consumer confidence in businesses and the degree to which claims are trusted. The importance of story -- something brand and consumer could conjointly own and perpetuate -- grew exponentially. But even the best stories must be grounded.


Enter the chief customer officer, an executive whose job is to ensure the public story is mirrored in practical, real-world customer experience. Forget fast claims and lip service that fool few. Consultant and coach Jeanne Bliss, author of "Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action" and former CCO for brands like Lands' End and Mazda, extols that "memory creation is the currency of your brand...know what memory you want customers to have and make the decisions to prepare your people and your operation to deliver it." In other words, your brand has a chance to make a significant mark in the minds of its customers. Story is an important part of the indelible memory, balanced by one's actual experience. The chief customer officer's job is to make sure the memory is sustained across channels and media to maintain favorable brand associations.


Technology companies like Radian6/Salesforce.com and SAP, retail chains like True Value and Pep Boys, and CPG brands like Hillshire all emphasize the importance of customer experience to their organizations with CCO positions on the organizational chart.

Chief marketing technologist


The time-starved nature of our lives today can be seen in the way more companies are conducting their marketing. Originally implemented in manufacturing and, more recently, software development processes, all types of companies are experimenting with, adopting, and adapting their own iteration of lean or agile marketing approaches. Why? Simply put, the window to launch -- to connect with customers at critical points in the decision journey -- keeps lowering. Efficiencies have to be made in marketing operations, lest we miss opening.


Scott Brinker, co-founder and chief technology officer for ion interactive, writes extensively about the ways smart marketing organizations are evolving to recognize the increasingly dominant role technology plays in enabling and fueling strategy and communications. Perhaps his prescient post from 2010 titled "Rise of the Marketing Technologist" spotlights the opportunity best: "Marketing technology isn't just software you buy -- it's also software you create. Web applications, widgets, Facebook and iPhone apps, Android apps, interactive ads, the semantic web, and even the connected features of your products are now part of marketing's realm."


Brinker goes on to state that marketing is getting harder, thanks to the growing number of technology decisions marketers must now struggle with. We have more decisions to make -- and more consequences to face.


Brinker sees -- and I agree -- the chief marketing technologist as the lead decision-maker where technology decisions and marketing strategy become intertwined. Armed with the marketing vision, technical experience, and overarching business knowledge, the CMT brings together strengths from the three areas critical to leading digital marketing. The tools at the CMT's disposal to help "accelerate the operational tempo of marketing" include agile marketing methodologies. Expect to see more CMT positions and requirements for agile-trained marketers in the years ahead.

Digital media planner and buyer


We can't really talk about career opportunities in the digital marketing field without taking a look at what's happening with social media and the mobile market.


Some interesting news from BIA/Kelsey sets the tone. The firm, which advises companies in the media industry, forecasts that advertising revenues for social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter will reach $11 billion by the year 2017. The company also reports that mobile local ad revenues will reach $9.1 billion the same year.


But what trends will lead to the significant ad revenue increase? Well, you probably have the answer in your pocket or hand or on the console beside you: your mobile phone and the myriad ways it facilitates your life and your interests. "Social networks are evolving their ad products and features to improve performance," said Jed Williams, director of consulting and senior analyst for BIA/Kelsey. "Native social formats, including video and mobile-social advertising, will be the principal market growth drivers."


We knew the demand for app developers was huge, but until now it's likely few of us non-devs really understood the career opportunities created by the social marketplace and our hunger for location-specific ease, at least from an advertising perspective. While the traditional media planner of yesteryear is somewhat of a one-person department (or even merely a name on a list of approved outsource vendors), the digital media planner and buyer might be part of a department in the making.


The Adobe Systems Digital Index report indicates that video consumption in 2012 increased 300 percent, driven by mobile devices and social sites. A 2012 report by Nielsen underscores the influential power of video in stating that 36 percent of respondents trust online video advertisements. When you think about pre-roll ad impressions and post-video messaging in context with consumption -- a behavior that's likely only to increase, given our content-hungry ways -- you start to see the wide-open country before you.


Interested in getting a toehold in this hot market? Visit the GoMo News site for a list of agencies specializing in mobile advertising and marketing. Stalwarts of the advertising field like Carat, Ogilvy, Publicis, and WPP Group boast their own mobile-focused boutiques.


There you have it -- five hot and emerging jobs bubbling up in the career pool today. If I were to explore a sixth, I'd proselytize that boning up on your writing, grammar, and storytelling skills would be rewarded, what with all that content being planned and produced. Call it a marketing storyteller -- or a story manager. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. And, "House of Cards" is calling.


Robert Rose is chief troublemaker at Big Blue Moose.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.


"Burning fire" and "fire flames" images via Shutterstock.

Chapell & Associates is headed by Alan Chapell. In 1997, Chapell founded the privacy program at Jupiter Research, an internet research firm focusing on the consumer internet economy. During his four and a half years at Jupiter, Chapell also...

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Comments

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Commenter: Customer Service Chat

2010, January 30

Hi,
Blogs helps me to run my business successfully. You have done a good work. Interest in blogging is gaining day by day now a days. This post is really helpful for me in running our business effectively. Thanks, keep it up.

Customer Service Chat

Commenter: Business Plan Writers

2009, November 04

Hi,
That's a great info. Thanks for sharing, really like your view. I can see that you are putting a lot of time and effort into your blog. Keep posting the good work.

Commenter: Business Plan Writers

2009, November 04

Hi,
That's a great info. Thanks for sharing, really like your view. I can see that you are putting a lot of time and effort into your blog. Keep posting the good work.

Business Plan Presentation