"The next five years will bring more change to retail than the past 100 years. In the next 10 years we will not recognize retail as we know it" (Daily Chronicle, August 15, 2012).
The way people get and share information, communicate, transact business and even socialize is changing at a rapid pace. We have started using tools and technologies to capture information, communicate and conduct transactions regardless of the time or place. I now use phones and bar codes to shop for my kitchen and I am sure many consumers like me are doing the same.
These are savvy, skilled shoppers, who put a high level of importance on individualism, self-fulfillment and personal involvement. This presents an opportunity as well as a challenge for small- and medium-size retailers who have personal relationships with many of their customers but also face the daunting task of using technology to increase their reach. In such a climate, every opportunity to interact with the customer becomes crucial.
Why would potential customers be more interested in reading a blog than going to a website? It's the same reason why people prefer entertaining/educational articles over ads. "Roughly six times as many people read the average article as the average advertisement" (Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy). Online customers trust blogs as they are more personal, with consumers sharing their experiences. Shoppers also use blogs to connect, discover, find, filter and try the next new thing in the market. Thus, a blog becomes a powerful platform to connect with shoppers on a one-to-one basis.
What are some features of a retailer's blog that would make it a hit with the audience?
Give Individual Focus to Customers
It is tiring to be at the receiving end of communication in the form of advertisements, brochures, user manuals, product descriptions, etc. Blogs come as a welcome change where interaction is the focus. They encourage shoppers to provide feedback, opinions, reviews and share experiences. You could earn some great brand loyalists just by listening to your customers and using their first-hand reviews to introduce revisions and variations. Petco's blog is a place to share tips and a love of animals. It has many pet owners and consultants in this great community, contributing experiences and advice. www.petcoscoop.com
Convey What the Company Stands For
The design, template, writing style and tone—everything has to be in sync with what your brand represents and what resonates with your target audience. When it is, you build trust with readers. The blog should also share your commitment to customer satisfaction and ongoing support. One example is a blog that represents the buzzing energy of the marketplace as suggested in the name of the company. "Bazaarvoice" emphasizes the need to listen to views and opinions of consumers, as well as trends and market factors that influence buying behavior. www.bazaarvoice.com/blog
Provide Fresh Information and Encourage a Free Flow of Ideas
A blog carries new information, new perspective and new experiences, in contrast to a website, which typically cannot change so frequently. The views expressed in a blog evolve moment-by-moment, in response to interactions with customers and changing preferences, seasons and trends. If you use your blog this way, you will set your company apart from other retailers, position the blog as a knowledge hub and keep customers coming back to you as a trusted resource. The blog at Harris Technology educates on uses of their CRM solutions, as well as shares technology trends and product innovations. http://www.harris-tech.com/blogs/
Weave a Story Around Uses of Your Products
Every product has a specific use and instead of sharing boring facts and descriptions of items, it is much more refreshing for a shopper to read stories that elaborate how the products were used by customers. When a rider shares his experience of buying a bike from you and using it to climb some of toughest mountain peaks, the product comes alive. It's even better when accompanied by photos or videos. I personally love the picture blog at Walgreens website where customers put up their pictures while using them in creative ways like in greeting cards, calendars, custom invitations, etc. http://www.threadless.com/blogs/blogs
Have People in the Trade Contribute Content
Contributions made by people from your industry not only add more meat to your posts but also attract additional eyeballs with their fans coming to your site. I believe that by having outsiders share interviews, their perspectives and their visions about products that are hot, your blog automatically gets brand ambassadors. A blog that is followed by many book lovers is the one from Powell's Books, which has contributions from authors, critics, media and booksellers. It is a treat for fans to know the people and stories behind books. http://www.powells.com/blog/
Make it Visually Appealing
Adding pictures and videos to your blog posts is a must and helps you engage your customers in an entertaining refreshing way. There are quite a few options to choose from:
- Pictures/videos of your stores, offices and/or staff work space
- New products launching and products being tested
- Products packaged/presented to mark an upcoming special occasion
- Interesting employee pictures (at some fun activity or celebration)
- Customers using products and suggestions for different uses of products (e.g., horse shampoo used by people!)
- Customer testimonial videos
- Product demo/installation/support videos
- Pictures from any trade shows or business events attended recently
- Pictures/videos of community service programs
Blog With a Desire to Network
Blogging by nature is a social medium and successful blogs become so primarily because of the strong sense of community surrounding them. A blogger who takes time to respond to comments and interact with blog readers gains trust from the audience. The readers tend to come back often to share opinions and learn new information. Networking on social sites, forums and more promotes the and the business itself. Here are some steps to try:
- Linking your posts on your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles
- Tweeting around the subject of your blog posts and sharing a link with those tweets
- Re-posting or tweeting other people's content to allow a natural social media interaction
- Installing social media share buttons at the end of your posts
Let us know what other ideas you have for a retail blog and what content and tactics have worked for you. We'd love to check out your blogs, so please be sure to share a link with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.