Web 2.0 formats can be a Godsend to those with a strong product or service offering, but not enough juice to lubricate the passage to market.
For those without adequate resource or access to a ready database, or competence (or confidence!) to mount a high-profile launch, or even the now-favoured formula of launch PR and media buzz plus direct marketing, a good strategic launch-pad could be the blog and social media; especially if concept-selling is the first item on the agenda.
If you don’t already have a database to generate the first leads, you may find DM via mail, outbound email and telemarketing still too expensive; and complementary search marketing too slow to drive RoI. As a start-up, you’re small: you may not have even the manpower for hands-on liaison with vendor agencies. If not a start-up, you may still have a small budget for a particular offering. But a viral campaign based on the blog format can save your bacon.
The blog can draw leads from your targeted prospects like a magnet. Whether they’re consumers or institutional buyers, the Internet is where prospects come to you, as in a mall. They do the searching and evaluating – calling the shots on enquiry or purchase. The blog route can give you salience; ensure that your prospects seek you, instead of you shedding lakhs to locate them.
Of course, nothing comes slam-dunk easy.
A low-cost start-up entails some homework, some shrewd targeting for you. Whatever your product or service category, you need to know what needs drive your target prospects, and motivate them to search the Internet for a solution. That makes it somewhat easy to anticipate the keywords they’re likely to use to reach you.
The not-so-easy part is writing your blogs. The wise marketer has begun to realise, as the numbers come in, that nifty (and sometimes only border-line legal) manipulation of search engines is not the name of the game. The embedded and hidden battery of keywords may bring the horse to water, but it’s the horse that has to drink. The bottom line is getting your blog site’s visitors to respond as you want them to.
The blog is such a flexible medium, and admits so many variations of content, style and tone of voice. Your site gives you enormous freedom to approach the same set of consumer concerns from many different angles, using fundamental consumer appeals, topical issues – maybe the screening of a blockbuster, or even popular controversies.
At the same time, a blog cannot become a blatant selling tool, for then it loses its basic purpose: the dialogue, the interactive process. This again is not as difficult as it may be, as long as you approach it in the spirit of R&D rather than marketing, i.e., retain an objective outlook, inviting discussion as focus group leaders do, and gently leading the dialogue into your desired channels.
Here’s also where that software tool we mentioned enters your picture: an SEO tool that will analyse and report on the success rate of your blog, help fine-tune it, and show far you have advanced its appeal. You cannot do without one such tool; but again, it’s the blog’s content and relevance that count, that would whet the surfer’s appetite to go from blog to website where you pick up a live lead, or close the deal.
The success of the blog site can bring you two kinds of reward. It can generate leads, and it can give you more detailed feedback on your target’s mindset. It can even tell you if your offering has the potential to serve more than one segment or consumer group. It can include invaluable data that can steadily improve your offering’s features and marketability, and also build the long-term dialogue that helps retain customer loyalty, as well as invaluable assets in the epoch of globalisation, when you never really know from where and how your next competitor will emerge.
So, if you really know what needs your offering is meant to fulfill, you know what will arouse and hold the blog visitor’s curiosity and interest.
The experience in other countries has thrown up some interesting cues.
Blogging to tease: Start your blog before your offering hits the market. Give your bloggers a preview or a series of peeks. During the product-development period, build on these relationships with several types of bloggers, adding comments to their postings and advancing the ongoing dialogue. Depending on the product or service type, the process can be initiated months in advance, raising the perceived need for your offering several notches before it culminates in the launch.
Blogging at the launch: From this point on, the blog becomes a CRM tool in its purest sense. Besides visitors who have already been a part of the blogging environment, mentioning the blog at the launch will bring in more visitors: the early trials will provide authentic feedback on the consumer experience – bouquets and brickbats (which can be very useful for making timely course corrections).
Blogging for shareholder value: The blogging dialogue on your product or service may seem to have no relevance to the value of your stock. But doesn’t it? If you really keep your ears pricked up, the quality and level of dialogue in your blog could help give you pretty fair sounding of your standing in the capital market. Even more so if you are able to channel the dialogue in such a direction when getting ready to make a stock offering.
Blogging and the rest of your media mix: We started with the premise that where scarcity of resource is a constraint, blogging can provide a relatively low-cost alternative route to prime targets. What happens after? Do you shut down the blog site? There may be some justification for doing so if your website alone suffices in the normal course: certainly, a mere ornamental blog is of no use whatever.
If you’ve made a successful start, however, it is certainly a regressive step to shut down or downgrade a blog. For a blog could be the most effective weapon in the armour of integrated, interactive marketing. Communications in almost any other medium – including a PR medium such as the press release – can be made to invite responses to, and through, your blog site.
The medium that makes for cost effective communication for a low-budget launch now becomes the vehicle for a potentially endless interaction with buyers keen to communicate with you – true symbiosis.