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Would You Buy a Car from this Blogger?

Would You Buy a Car from this Blogger? Steve Rubel

As blog readership rises, some smart marketers are wisely dipping their toes into the blog marketing waters. However, they’re overlooking perhaps one of the most attractive and untapped opportunities -- signing bloggers to product endorsement deals.

In 2004 the blogosphere established itself as a major influence on public opinion. According to a study released earlier this month by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a full 27 percent of all online users now read blogs, a 58 percent increase from early last year.

With interest in blogs rising, some bloggers are rapidly becoming celebrities. They’re popping up in the press, attracting flocks of followers and, in some cases, even a roster of advertisers. And why not? They deserve it. After all, these “A-listers” can easily sway the opinions of thousands.

Unfortunately, minus a few exceptions, most marketers are still playing very safe when it comes to blog advertising. They’re taking a big media approach to the new wild, wooly micro media world. This includes buying ads on blog advertising networks operated by BURST!, BlogAds, Pheedo and Google AdSense, or sponsoring entire blogs outright as Audi did with the Jalopnik auto blog.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these methods, they fail to capitalize on the blogosphere’s greatest value -- their influence. Blogs are very different animals than mainstream sites. They are written by passionate individuals you can reach out and touch, not by professionals. Bloggers share a deep sense of connection with their readers that marketers would die to tap into. They’re like rock stars. This is why you should treat bloggers like celebrities who can have tremendous power to inspire and lead others, rather than treating blogs as just another place to advertise.

Consider this. Mention the name Michael Jordan and what product immediately comes to mind? Naturally, it’s Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers. For years millions purchased Air Jordans simply because they wanted to “be like Mike.” On a smaller level and at a far lower cost, you can sign bloggers to different types of endorsement deals. Here are five ideas worth considering:

Hire a Blogger to Write a Custom-Published Blog: Many bloggers feel a higher holy calling to maintain their integrity by not outwardly endorsing products on their blogs. Nevertheless, they still might be interested in making a buck on the side. Consider enlisting a well-known blogger to write a blog for you either about your product/service or perhaps a broader subject that’s related to it. For example, if you sell enterprise antivirus software, you could hire an IT blogger to track this issue on a separate custom-published blog.

Put a Blogger in Your Ad Campaign: If there’s a blogger you feel will be instantly recognizable to your target audience, consider getting in touch with him or her to see if they would be interested in appearing in your online/offline advertising campaign. Like celebrities, they can carry instant cache.

Get Bloggers Using Your Product: Sports marketers have been doing this for years. They identify a personality who they feel resonates with their audience and then pay him or her a nice hunk of change to use their product on the field or court. You could easily do the same thing with a blogger.

Build PR Campaigns Around Customer Evangelists: If you have a valuable product or service offering, there’s a high likelihood that there are some vocal yokels talking about your product in the blogosphere. Find these individuals, learn how they’re using your widget and build a case history PR campaign around them. If you are successful in generating media coverage, you can go for a two-bagger by encouraging the blogger to spread the word.

Hire a Blogger to Work for You: If there’s a particular blogger you have your eye on who has truly achieved superstar status, hire him or her to work for you. Microsoft’s “investment” in Robert Scoble, who was hired 19 months ago because of his Scobelizer blog, has already paid off ten-fold through positive PR and online word-of-mouth. You get extra credit if you hire a blogger who was recently fired from another company for blogging.

Now that blogging has gone mainstream, savvy companies would be wise to endorse bloggers. It’s cost effective and, if it’s done right, can offer a high return. I even bet that new firms will soon emerge to negotiate endorsement deals for bloggers, much like CAA does for celebrities. Now is the time to get in the ground floor while the fees are still low.

Steve Rubel evangelizes the application of blogs and RSS in traditional public relations campaigns. He is Vice President of CooperKatz & Company, a New York City public relations firm, and author of the Micro Persuasion blog.

Be emotionally satisfying

Reinventing an old-fashioned brand for the Millennial market requires understanding both the rational and emotional need states that the product or service satisfies as well as how those need states evolve over time. While rational needs rarely change, consumers' emotional needs do evolve to take on new meaning. As such, old-fashioned brands need to put in the effort to understand current consumers' emotional needs (i.e. how they want to feel) and then help them feel that way every day.

Key principles

FOMO, or the "fear of missing out," has always affected young people; it's rooted in human anxiety about not being included in the group. However, the rise of smartphone technology and social media sites like Facebook have heightened Millennials' fear by providing them constant access to updates on what their network of peers is doing, who they are with, and, ultimately, what they are missing out on. Think of the teenager who is constantly using their iPod to check their Facebook news feed or the college student who sleeps with their mobile phone under their pillow…just in case. There's no doubt that Millennials today are in "a FOMO state of mind, and it isn't pretty," as JWT Intelligence reports.

Seeing it in action

Heineken is a great example of an older brand that has invested the time and energy to understand the emotional needs of its target audience, tapping into FOMO for its 2011 global marketing campaign. The "Sunrise" campaign includes an 85-second video of a man drinking responsibly at a Heineken-sponsored party. As a result, he is able to party until morning, eventually leaving to enjoy the sunrise with an attractive woman he's met at the club (celebrity DJ Audrey Napoleon).

5 old brands that won over Millennials

A Twitter component encourages Millennial participation by inviting other all-night party animals to "Tweet your sunrise and celebrate with the world." The message from the Heineken brand is smart and simple: A few beers lead to a good time, but overindulging increases your risk of having to leave the festivities…and missing out on an epic occurrence.

Not all brands are quite as successful as Heineken at interpreting consumers' emotional need states. In 2011, the Snapple Group launched Dr. Pepper Ten, a new diet soda targeted at male Millennials. The company chose the tagline, "It's not for women," after research found that "men shy away from diet drinks that aren't perceived as 'manly' enough," as stated in USA Today.

5 old brands that won over Millennials

The commercial spots featured aggressive, action-movie like men racing through the jungle battling snakes, shooting lasers, and drinking cans of the new diet beverage. The campaign was meant to poke fun at stereotypical gender norms through the use of comedy. Only male Millennials did not feel a need to be distanced from everything containing the word "diet;" they were found to be quite comfortable with more fluid definitions of gender and sexuality. If Snapple had only invested the time and energy to understand the nuances of gender definition, this snafu could have been avoided.

Things to keep in mind

In order to create an emotional connection between an old-fashioned brand and the Millennial cohort, brands need to understand exactly how Millennials want to feel in the first place. What are their dreams and, equally as important, what keeps them up at night? Millennials' heartstrings are the key to success for old-fashioned brands looking to reinvent themselves.

Share your brand's heritage story

To borrow from Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry analyst at The NPD Group, "it's very easy to allow an iconic brand to remain true to its heritage and at the same time obsolete itself." Brand heritage, in and of itself, is not enough to make an iconic or old-fashioned brand successful in the long-term. After all, do you like a brand because it's old or because you trust that brand to deliver on its promise?

Key principles

Brand heritage can be an effective storytelling device for old-fashioned brands looking to become relevant with Millennial consumers, according to the "Brand Heritage Guide." The fact that a brand has a heritage story to share provides reason to believe in the authenticity of the brand and the quality of the products and/or services it sells. After all, how could the brand have survived if that was not the case? Amidst an environment of economic uncertainty, Millennials want "to trust what they are spending their money on and enjoy the comfort and validation [that the brand's story of] heritage provides."

Seeing it in action

Burberry has done a great job utilizing its heritage as storytelling device in order to build trust with Millennial consumers. In 2009, the 157-year-old brand launched "Art of the Trench," a photo-sharing website dedicated to images (past and present) of people wearing the brand's signature trench coat.

5 old brands that won over Millennials

The site included images from professional fashion photographers as well as images from fashion blogger, Scott Schuman, also known as "The Sartorialist." In addition, Burberry invited consumers to submit their own photos and select their favorite photos posted by others. This digital activation by Burberry provided Millennials with a reason to believe its products were worth the extra cost, even during an economic recession when money was tight. The brand was clearly experienced when it came to designing and making quality trench coats that last.

Not all heritage brands share their story in as straight-forward a manner as Burberry. Microsoft's recent advertisement for Internet Explorer, "Child of the 90s," is an example of a heritage brand that relies on nostalgia as storytelling device to earn Millennials' trust.

5 old brands that won over Millennials

So why does showcasing popular products from the 1990s such as Pogs and the Oregon Trail computer game work? The answer is that the advertisement reminds Millennials of memories from their childhood; a time in the past when life was much simpler and much more manageable. Instead of fretting about getting a job or making a rent payment, Millennials could enjoy playing with friends. The message of the advertisement is simple and effective; both Millennials and Internet Explorer are children of the 1990s and, as such, they should instill trust in one another.

Things to keep in mind

Overall, heritage, in and of itself, is not enough to make an old-fashioned brand relevant; it's only when heritage and/or nostalgia are used as an authentic storytelling device that they have the power to make a brand current.

Embrace adaptation

Millennials are smart when it comes to marketing and advertising. They know that they are an attractive target for brands and have learned how to navigate the barrage of messages flying at them. If they aren't entertaining or emotionally-relevant, they ignore them. Thus, for old-fashioned brands reliant on the Millennial market for future growth, adaptation of the brand and marketing approach is crucial. This generation's attitudes and behaviors are much different than those of generations past.

Key principles

A study of 4,000 Millennials by Edelman Berman confirms that 80 percent of Millennials like to be entertained by advertising -- that is, as long as the brand is current and the offering is appealing or relevant. There is no use creating an entertaining advertisement for an old and stodgy brand that is averse to change. 

Seeing it in action

Old Spice is the best known (and most talked about) example of an old-fashioned brand that has effectively reinvented itself for a younger audience…and with good reason. Repositioning longevity as a core strength (as opposed to a weakness) gave the brand more freedom to be creative in its advertising tactics and messaging. Whereas the brand's previous advertising featured a whistling sailor and was a bit stale, its new ads feature a confident, comedic brand character known as the "Old Spice Man."

5 old brands that won over Millennials

The shift in positioning and development of entertaining content helped the brand become the leading deodorant and antiperspirant brand for men in the U.S.

Intel's "The Museum of Me" is another great example of entertaining online content on behalf of a brand looking to connect people through their digital lives.

5 old brands that won over Millennials

The site allows users to create a virtual hall of memories by visualizing Facebook elements such as friends, photos, and "likes." Instead of pushing messaging about its new core processor onto uninterested persons, Intel created a brand experience that demonstrated the product's benefit while providing entertainment to those who gave the site a try. "The Museum of Me" was a huge success, resulting in more than 540,000 "likes," 790,000 shares, and 130,000 impressions on Facebook.

Things to keep in mind

Creating entertaining advertisements and online content is not always enough, although it's a good start. In order for old-fashioned brands to get noticed, they have to create compelling content and think about the context in which that content is being consumed.

Putting it all together

 All brands have to evolve to survive and, for many, the Millennial market promises the greatest opportunity for future growth. Here's a synopsis of the top three ways to become relevant with an audience that will undoubtedly impact your business:

  • Provoke their innermost emotions: Find out how Millennials want to feel and make them feel that way every day.

  • Don't be afraid of being "old": Being "old," and having a heritage, means that you're more experienced than other brands. As such, consumers are more likely to trust you. Embrace your age. Share it. Be proud of it.

  • Stop talking, start listening, and get inspired: In order to be appealing and relevant to a younger target market, you need to spend time listening to their needs and doing your best to provide solutions. In need of entertaining content? No problem.

By focusing on these three ways of reinventing your brand for a Millennial audience, you will be setting yourself up for long-term success. After all, it's makeover or move over. No exceptions.

Ayanna Mancuso is a brand planner at AMP Agency.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Beautiful woman with many shopping bags" image via Shutterstock.

Steve Rubel is a senior marketing strategist and one of the most influential bloggers in the world, according to Technorati. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President with Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm. Rubel is charged with...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Megan Lagesse

2008, July 03

What are some companies that have hired bloggers to blog on their behalf?