10 Surprising Similarities Between Blogging and Direct Marketing

As a veteran copywriter and creative director, someone who’s made a living for over two decades putting together direct mail, email and direct response advertising campaigns that pitch practically every product and service imaginable, I may not fit the mold of the typical blogger.

But I’ve been helplessly hooked on blogging since my first post in 2004, never able to get enough of this newfangled mode of online communications.  I like it for many reasons, first and foremost because it’s such a refreshing change of pace from tired, traditional marketing riffs and age-old corporate-speak.

In the blogosphere, the prevailing communications standard is transparency, not verisimilitude.  There’s no spinning of the truth.  And you’re only as successful as you are trustworthy. But if you commit your time and energy to it, blogging can be an incredibly effective way to disseminate news, information and opinion to an audience of readers who are predisposed to be interested in what you have to offer.

Sure, blogging is all about being open, honest and yes, vulnerable.  Its most ardent devotees believe passionately in sharing generously with their audiences, engaging them frequently in particularly candid conversations in public forums where everyone has an equal voice. So it’s not necessarily the first place you’d turn if your priority is, say, e-commerce.  But the number of similarities between blogging and direct marketing tell me the two disciplines don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  Not at all. For instance…

1.  Measurable.  Of course, many of the benefits of blogging are qualitative, not quantitative.  But the fact that search engines such as Google and Yahoo are so quick to pick up blogs, especially when they’re updated regularly, is certainly a big plus. And there are many other blog metrics worth measuring, too – including subscribers, visitors, comments, third-party citations, inbound links and more – using tools such as Google Analytics, BlogPulse, Technorati, Icerocket and Clicky, among countless others.  You may not be able to gauge the success of a blog in response rates and ROI the way you would measure the results of a direct mail or email campaign.  But you shouldn’t be using it the same way, either.  In establishing their positions as thought leaders and practice experts, the best bloggers among us are building trust and credibility, flushing out leads on behalf of their corresponding brands.

2.  Targeted.  Like the most strategically designed direct marketing campaigns, most blogs are geared toward an audience of constituents and customers, like-minded people who are most likely to do business with the blogs’ authors and sponsors.  For three exemplary examples of well-targeted, niche-oriented blogs, check out Yvonne DiVita’s Lip-Sticking, Jeff Brooks’ Donor Power Blog and Laura Ries’ Ries’ Pieces.  Bloggers need to know who they’re writing for, what’s going to resonate most with their readers and move them to action.

“Make sure that you are primarily focusing on a particular topic, and the more specialized that topic is, the better you’ll do. It’s also key to step back and evaluate whether there are enough prospective readers in your chosen niche. It’s better to be brutally honest with yourself than to toil away and end up disappointed,” writes Copyblogger’s Brian Clark in “10 Effective Ways to Get More Blog Subscribers.”

3.  Offer-oriented.  Sure, blogging isn’t selling, per se. It’s listening, sharing and conversing, primarily.  And your offer isn’t a product or a service, either.  It’s your attention to your audience.  But like any good relationship, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.  You can’t expect an immediate return on your investment in blogging, not before you’ve established a degree of authority in the blogosphere.  But once you’ve earned a reputation as someone worth following, the likelihood is that your wares will be looked upon more favorably and you’ll see an increase in sales. John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing is an excellent example of a blog that helps sell its author’s products and services, as is Hubspot’s Inbound Internet Marketing Blog, which features lead generation offers (webinars, educational kits, etc.) at the close of each post.

4.  Interactive.  What’s always been regarded as one of direct marketing’s biggest benefits is, unlike broadcast advertising, the fact that it’s a form of reciprocal, two-way communications, giving the sender the ability to trigger a response from the receiver.  If your audience responds favorably to your offer, you have a hit on your hands.  It’s that simple.  What could be better?  Well, some might say blogging.  After all, not only can a blogger get a yes or no answer from his readers, he can also get opinion, feedback, input and advice.  While, in many cases, direct marketing is a well-choreographed sales pitch to an audience of passive prospects, one of the attributes of a blog is that it allows readers to provide honest, public comments that are posted below the author’s spiel. Blogging involves and engages readers. By granting the opportunity to respond almost instantaneously to any and all posts, a blogger is building a relationship with his or her constituency. As the level of confidence grows between blogger and reader, so does the potential for lucrative, new business activities.

5.  Inspirational.  You may already be familiar with the acronym, AIDA. It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.  It’s something direct marketers always have in mind when working on a campaign.  And it’s what every blogger should heed, too.  Think about it.  Your blog isn’t worth anything if it doesn’t capture your audience’s Attention.  You then need to hold their Interest and create a Desire for something, whether it’s more sharing of your expertise and opinion in subsequent posts or products and services your organization has to offer. It’s at that point that you want your readers to take Action.  One way or another, the best bloggers among us – Chris Brogan immediately comes to mind – have a way of inspiring their readers to act on their feelings through support, loyalty, devotion and investment of both time and, ultimately, money.

6.  Personal.  “People respond best to authenticity,” writes Susan Hanshaw in her post, Direct Marketers Know More About Social Media Than You Think, on the Inner Architect blog. And I couldn’t agree more with her. Having written literally hundreds of direct mail and email letters over the course of my career, I’ve always gone to great lengths to put myself in the shoes of the actual letter signer, whether he or she was a CEO of some huge corporation, a publisher of a magazine, or an executive director of a nonprofit organization.  I had to be him or her.  But blogging leaves little room for such impersonation at all. Such stark transparency on the part of those bloggers who “get it” goes a long way toward bridging any existing communications gap, fostering trust, respect, understanding, appreciation and some degree of business activity.  Read this post written by Todd Defren (principal at SHIFT Communications), or this one by C.C. Chapman (co-founder of The Advance Guard) to see just how up close and personal you can get with two of the most accomplished bloggers among us.

7.  Experimental. One of the tenets of direct marketing is the testing of one approach against another, the experimentation with offers and concepts in order to identify those elements of your campaign that resonate with your audience.  And once you’ve found your sweet spot, of course, you don’t hesitate to take advantage of it until something better comes along.  The same goes for blogging. You can alternate between long posts and short ones and see which ones are more popular.  You can test guest bloggers versus your own staff writers.  You can count comments on different topics and issues.  You can include a variety of outbound links in your posts and watch which ones are clicked through more than the others.  You can share news and information about yourself and your organization, your field of expertise or anything else under the sun.  And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, the approach you should settle on is the one readers like best.

8.  Creative.  In direct marketing, the longstanding 40-40-20 rule suggests the success of a campaign is equally dependent on the list and the offer, while its creative execution is worth the remaining 20%.  I’ve always questioned the preciseness of those percentages, but I’ve never disputed the upshot of the rule, which could just as easily apply to blogging.  Your creative should support, not predominate. The look and feel of a blog should be clean and simple, colorful and aesthetically attractive only to the degree that it is reflective of the author’s and sponsoring organization’s brand identity. A blog needs to stands out among the clutter, sure.  After all, there are now well more than 100 million blogs in existence.  But for the most part, what a blog should be remembered for is good, relevant, regularly published content, not bells and whistles.

9.  Formulaic. While the artist in me has always been hesitant to embrace anything too formulaic, my business instincts are strong enough to pull me toward industry best practices (not without incorporating a measure of creativity to stand out from the crowd).  That’s how it is for me as both a direct marketer and blogger, but that’s not to say there aren’t other ways to approach either discipline.  While your blog should be a direct reflection of you and your brand, anyone in the blogosphere should be mindful of the space’s established principles and practices, many of which are covered in detail in Naked Conversations, Join the Conversation, The Cluetrain Manifesto and Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day. In addition to the aforementioned books, read blogs written by the likes of such luminaries as Chris Brogan, Debbie Weil, Seth Godin, Steve Rubel, B.L. Ochman and Beth Harte. Blogging has been around long enough now for a whole cadre of experts and evangelists to have paved the way for your own success.

10. Powerful. Yes, like direct marketing has been for so many decades, blogging has quickly established itself as a powerful communications tactic to be strategically leveraged by advertising, marketing, PR and sales professionals.

“Listen to the murmur of your market, wrote Don Jackson in “2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success,” the book he put together with direct marketing guru, Denny Hatch.  “Create feedback loops in your database environment so that you can record what your customers and prospects are saying about your products, your service, your company and your competition.  There is no more valuable source of information.”

If you ask me, a blog is one such “feedback loop,” a way of interlocking a circle of people who are interested in you and your organization and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with each and every one of them.

And if that’s not direct marketing, it sure is similar.

Note: On May 7, 2009, from 10:45 AM-11:45 AM, Bob Cargill will be joining forces with Jennifer Brady, Director of Marketing at UMass Online, for a one-hour presentation on the “10 Surprising Similarities Between Blogging and Direct Marketing” for the New England Direct Marketing Association at Bentley University’s LaCava Center in Waltham, MA.  For more information and to register for this event, click here.

For more social media strategies, check out our webinar, “How to Build your own Blog and Social Media Marketing Strategy”

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