Practical Ecommerce

Blogs Are One Way to Get Consumers

Are you “stuck on style?” If so, you may already be a fan of online retailer’s blog, Flypaper. Those three words describe the audience Bluefly, a discount women’s apparel e-tailer, is attempting to attract via the blog: women who care about fashionable clothing but who do not want to pay high designer prices.

Many online retailers are finding the phrase “stuck on” represents the appeal blogs have with customers when used as an adjunct marketing channel. Simply stated, blogs serve as a mechanism to attract people who are passionate about what the retailer has to offer, whether it is fashion clothing, video games, or even flowers.

As to why Bluefly made the decision to deploy a blog, CEO Melissa Paynor says Flypaper reflects “the company’s firmer resolve to cater to women who cared about what was currently fashionable, instead of selling discounted clothes that might or might not still be in vogue.” The blog “encourages them to visit often to check postings on styles, designers and fashion faux pas,” adds Paynor who spearheaded the effort when she took the chief executive’s job last year. Her goal was to craft the blog in a way that it would appeal to women “obsessed with fashion.”

Josh Grossman, co-founder of Beyond Blossoms, an online floral retailer, saw the potential blogs could provide when he heard about a campaign run by a competitor that utilized bloggers. The campaign involved paying bloggers, some 2,000 in total, to talk about the company in blog posts. Each blogger was paid $5.00 for a mention on their site, which resulted in a dramatic increase in ranking on Google.

Grossman decided against trying to mimic the competitor’s campaign, opting instead to start his own blog, where he writes about anything and everything flowerrelated, including one post about planting flowers in, of all things, a toilet!

“Beyond Blossoms chose to develop a blog in order to enhance the overall experience customers have when they come to our website to buy fresh flowers,” says Grossman. “A flower blog helps communicate our company’s love for flowers and deepen our brand’s connection with customers. The more interesting content we can provide, the more enjoyable our site will become to visitors. Since the blog is updated every day, we hope customers find it worth reading on a continual basis.” His hope is that the blog will become a gathering place for customers who are “stuck on” flowers.

According to a recent New York Times article, online retailers are starting to test the use of blogs to give their stores “more personality and their customers a reason to visit even when they’re not buying.” The biggest draw seems to be that blogs allow retailers to project their unique identities, says the article. A chief executive at hobbyist site eHobbies.com told the Times, “It lets us pull back the curtain and show how we’re a company of hobbyists who love participating in the things they’re buyers for. It humanizes us.”

Despite their popular appeal blogs do present retailers with new challenges. One question often asked is, “What do we write about?” In the course of a given day Flypaper, for example, might feature pictures of the singer Lauryn Hill’s new hairdo, runway models in the latest Milan show or full-length shots of random, fashionable pedestrians, accompanied by snappy, creative commentary. The key to attracting and holding consumer attention is to make blog posts interesting, creative, and fun.

Blogs tend to be a very soft sell absent of what might be called “marketing-speak,” presenting instead a more conversational approach, what one blogger called an “email to everyone.” That’s not to say marketers can’t talk directly about the products. It merely needs to be done in a more tacit, subtle way. For example, each post in the Flypaper blog is amended with a related link to a product in its online store.

Another question is “Who will write it?” Flypaper is written by employees in their free time. In Beyond Blossoms’ case, Grossman has assigned himself that task.

The real issue is whether blogs actually boost sales and affect the bottom line. Paynor asserts with certainty that Flypaper “is bringing some very positive things.” She adds that Flypaper visitors who click to the main Bluefly website from the blog are more likely to make a purchase than those who visit Bluefly directly.

A recent study by online market research firm ComScore Networks found that shoppers who visit blogs spend about 6% more than the average online shopper. That speaks in part to the demographic represented by blog readers. They tend to be younger, more online savvy, access the Internet via broadband connections, spend more time online than the average consumer, and represent a higher income bracket. Truly, they are a demographic online retailers ought to reach.

Blogs appeal not only to blog readers, but to other bloggers as well, who use their own blogs as a way to spread the message on the retailer’s behalf creating a viral, word-of-mouth marketing effect. How valuable is that? A recent study on consumer behavior by Intelliseek, Inc, a leader in word-of-mouth measurement, evidences consumer trust toward traditional advertising is being “challenged by growing confidence in consumer- generated-media and the recommendations of other consumers.” Compared to traditional advertising, word-of-mouth behavior continues to grow in importance in consumer awareness, trial, and purchase of new products. Consumers are 50 percent more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations from their peers than by radio/TV ads, for example. Blogs are certainly one way to take advantage of this trend.

The recent buzz about blogs should not tempt online retailers away from using more traditional techniques, such as email or search engine marketing. Blogs align themselves very well with both approaches. Their content-centric focus tends to enhance organic search returns, and frequent updates help fill gaps between email publishing cycles. Further, blog content can serve as a seed bed of ideas which can be fleshed out more fully and formally in email newsletter form.

Blogs are still in the proving ground stage as it applies to using them for marketing purposes. While they do present some unique challenges to online retailers, with some 18 million of them and more being created everyday, it makes sense to take advantage of their meteoric rise in popularity. They represent one more way you can get consumers “stuck on” you!

Paul Chaney

Paul Chaney

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