Take Me Out to the Blog Game: With some coaching, B2B blogs can score points with prospects and customers

Posted: May 19, 2009 in Guest Blog
Tags: , , , , ,

By Debra Yemenijian

Marketers need not be baseball savants to recognize the expression, “If you build it, they will come.” For the past 20 years, executives in board rooms across America have proposed countless ventures by utilizing this maxim, which originally emanated from Ray Kinsella’s cornfield in “Field of Dreams.”

The success of a company’s marketing enterprises is only as great as the number of prospects that see them. This is especially true for the corporate blog, notably one of the most challenging marketing ventures for which to attract an audience.

Blogging is a challenge that companies are not handling well, according to a 2008 Forrester Research report. The study, which reviewed 90 business-to-business (B2B) blogs, determined that most blogs are uninspiring, and almost three-quarters of them don’t receive comments because they don’t engage readers. Further, more than 70 percent of B2B bloggers do not imbue any personal insight or experience in what they write.

Those are only the first three strikes against corporate blogs. Fortunately, with the expertise of an outside B2B marketing agency, blogs can hit a homerun.

While a business shouldn’t entirely outsource its blog to an agency, a company can rely on its outside marketing team to play a vital part in developing and maintaining the blog. From strategy and competitive research to feeding content and monitoring results, an agency can recommend the right elements to keep a company’s blog in line with its brand.

Stepping up to the plate

Undoubtedly, blogging is a great means for building a corporate brand online. Devising a format and design for the blog is the first step. Any marketing agency worth its weight in salt will coach business executives to ensure the blog’s design doesn’t depart from the company’s corporate identity and make certain that the blog’s name resonates with the core business, products and services.

With so much free and low-cost blog software and hosting sites available, it’s no wonder B2B blogging is more widespread than it was 10 years ago. But while those pre-existing sites may be easy on the corporate bottom line, they come at the cost of control and design limitations. Companies should not cut corners on blog design if it prevents the blog from reflecting corporate identity or readers from easily navigating the site.

Connecting a blog to the company Web site is a sure way to keep the look and feel of the brand in check. This should not just be a hyperlink to a blog hosted on an outside platform. Marketing experts can recommend a blog platform such as WordPress or TypePad that will allow a company to host its blog alongside its corporate Web site.

The marketing team can customize the page design beyond what the pre-set software templates allow. Tag clouds, about us pages and library archives are just a few custom features an agency can design and create for the blog.

Taking a swing

Creating content that meets the needs of a company’s target market is the next step. Each B2B blog is a venue for showcasing a company’s unique expertise in its industry niche. Blogging builds corporate and personal credibility, positioning a company as having few credible substitutes in the marketplace. Blogs also provide a glimpse of what it may be like to work with a company, which helps reduce perceived risk in the minds of prospective buyers.

At first, breathing life into a blog requires little more than jotting down observations about company life and product innovations, and responding to what’s happening in the marketplace. But that’s not always easy. Busy executives will say that they barely have time to answer e-mails, let alone trawl the Internet for what customers and competitors have to say. The advantage of having an agency dedicated to blog management is that it can aid in reading outside blogs and following trends to provide B2B bloggers with palatable topics.

The agency also can help the company get into the practice of blog-rolling, or creating a list of other valuable Web sites and blogs that relate to the industry. When combined with fresh content, blog-rolling encourages communication between multiple sites. When bloggers ruminate about what others have to say and link back to them, it helps make a bigger splash in the blogosphere.

ERA: Earned Reader Average

Top-notch blogging — the kind that keeps readers coming back — should not just spew marketing jargon. Further, each blogger must present a fresh perspective and not rehash what others in the blogosphere have written. The more compelling and relevant the content, the more likely it is that the blog will support the corporate branding effort.

The Forrester report indicated that more than half of corporate blogs repurpose company news rather than provide thought leadership by company experts who can share their knowledge on a particular topic. Unfortunately, if the blog content isn’t original, no one will care. Nothing will make a reader remove a blog from his or her RSS feed faster than a blog that hasn’t been updated in months.

People who read blogs look to them as a form of daily information, and that means customers and prospects will perceive the blog as a source of industry knowledge. This does not mean the blog requires a daily update; posting at least three entries each week is a good start. Plus, it gives the opportunity to explore different topics and weed out subjects of less interest to readers.

Blogging about relevant topics is paramount to capturing a reader’s attention. In a 2008 article in Slate, Michael Agger had this to say about how people read online: “You, my dear user, pluck the low-hanging fruit. When you arrive on a page, you don’t actually deign to read it. You scan. If you don’t see what you need, you’re gone.”

So, each blog post should be packaged in a way that grabs readers and entices them to read more. (See sidebar.)

The marketing agency can keep track of which entries receive the most attention and direct corporate bloggers to focus on those topics. Along those same lines, the agency can monitor the amount and quality of traffic the blog receives. If Web hits are down, bloggers can vary their subjects to boost interest. They just need to watch out that they don’t stray too far from their expertise or industry niche.

It’s also important to encourage readers to interact with the blog by leaving it open to comments. Leaving the commenting function turned on allows readers to engage in conversation, which is one of the key reasons for creating a business blog. For those worried about collecting spam, the marketing team can help manage comments separate the credible messages from junk messages if the problem arises. Also, blog software can be set to hold comments for review, which further prevents spam messages from appearing online in real-time.

That’s the game

Successful business blogging is not a one player game. The company team should remember to stay focused because the industry isn’t seeking generalities about the marketplace. At the same time, they need to keep an ear to the ground to discover what their blog audience wants to hear.

There is a wealth of information available to customers and prospects online. With the coaching of a knowledgeable marketing team, companies can draw readers to their little corner of the Internet.

So, if you build it, they will come. Just be sure to give visitors what they came to see.

Debra Yemenijian is a public relations executive at Schubert Communications Inc., a full-service business-to-business marketing communications agency in Downingtown, Pa.

SIDEBAR

Homerun Headlines

Eye-catching headlines aren’t just for newspapers anymore. Because Web site visitors have short attention spans, a great title should make someone stop to read a blog. Here are some suggestions to hook readers.

  • How-to: Prospects will want to know for what applications a product is used, and returning customers may be looking for other uses. Draw readers in by telling them in the title that you’ll show them how it’s done.
  • Benefits, benefits, benefits: Any marketer worth his or her weight in salt knows the key to success is showing the benefits or a product or service up front. Corporate blogs can use benefit-driven headlines to attract prospects by determining the most compelling product benefit and using it here.
  • Now we’re curious: Thought-provoking titles are more likely to get readers to click through to the blog than those that state the obvious.
  • Ask a question: Often, posing a question will prompt a reader to answer it in his or her head and then continue reading to see what the blogger has to say.
  • Why ask why?: While clicking through the Web quickly, readers may only stop to read a blog if there’s something in it for them. A headline can simply answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” and get a prospect to engage in blog content.

PULLOUT BOX

Top ways a B2B marketing agency can support corporate blogs

  • Design, name and launch the corporate blog.
  • Work with executives to designate one or more employees as bloggers who will contribute regularly.
  • Educate bloggers about best practices for blogging.
  • Keep abreast of industry trends and provide bloggers with food for thought.
  • Consult on ways to increase blog traffic and search engine optimization.
  • Retain administrative rights and handle deleting spam.
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