“Will you please blog about my shop/product/event/contest/project?”
This is a question I get asked many times each week. And when I have a new product to market, it’s the first question I ask other bloggers. But you know what? That question is broken! And I believe the time has come for us to evolve a fresher, more effective means of doing marketing in the blogosphere. I have a modest proposal for one method we might try, and I’d love to hear your ideas for others.
(A word of warning, too… there’s a wee bit of vitriol here and there in this post. I usually edit that stuff out, but in this case, it’s an honest reflection of my own frustrations, so I left it in. I intend no offense toward anyone.)
Image by Gabriela Camerotti, via Flickr
What’s broken now…
The way we’re marketing things in the blogosphere right now looks way too much like old-school mass-media marketing:
- We have something to sell. So we contact a bunch of bloggers who have bigger audiences than we do.
- We ask them to talk about our product/event/thing.
- We hope that exposure will bring us sales.
But you know what that approach is more likely to bring? Dull blog posts, written by someone who feels obligated to make a marketing statement. Dull tweets and Facebook posts, in which someone says “Here’s a thing to go buy.”
Coverage like this gets widely ignored, because there’s so little genuine enthusiasm behind it. Why are we bothering?
Image by rustman, via Flickr
Push vs. Pull
What we’re essentially talking about here is the difference between “push marketing” and “pull marketing,” which is another way to express broadcast vs. engagement.
When the product is the whole story, and that product is thrust upon you without your invitation, that’s push marketing. Push marketing feels intrusive, I think, to most of us, and rarely gets our full attention – whether we’re reading about it or being asked to write about it.
In pull marketing, however, the product is not the main story. The product, paradoxically enough, is somewhat incidental to the story. But if the story’s good, then the product becomes intriguing. And we’re attracted precisely because we aren’t being pushed into it.
Image by Greything, via Flickr
Friends vs. Strangers
I’ve talked before about the idea of forming relationships with people as a form of sharing your product, and I still believe in that model, but I’m also not sure it’s enough of a marketing plan for most of us.
Seth Godin wrote about how much easier it is to market to “friends” than strangers, but honestly, that’s pretty easy to say when you’re Seth Godin and have millions of people already listening to you. For most of the rest of us, we have people listening, but not enough to make them the only marketing channel we use. Most of us have to find ways to reach people we don’t already know.
…But the challenge is, how to do this without sounding like mass-media marketing and therefore being mostly ignored! (Stay with me, I’m getting to that part.)
Image by tokyostories.pnn.com, via Flickr
I’m as guilty as anyone of descending into “marketing voice” every time I have something I need to market. I’ve asked other bloggers to review my ebooks or mention my classes. But honestly, these efforts rarely create enough sales to be worth the energy to set them up, because I’m essentially just push marketing.
(Some of you will be thinking at this point, “Why not do a contest or a giveaway?” I get that some marketers swear by them, but I’m going to stand right up and say: I think both tactics have been overused in the blogosphere, and I suspect that they do little to drive actual purchases. Contests and giveaways seem to attract people who want freebies. I need customers instead. But I digress.)
Image by John Wardell, via Flickr
The stakes are high for all of us here.
As a blogger, you carry a big responsibility: you’re charged with sharing stories that your readers will find consistently interesting and useful. And your audience is like a fingerprint, not a demographic – every blog draws a different group of readers. As a blogger, you know best what your readers want to read.
The minute your blog smacks of too much non-relevant marketing, your readers have only to click the Unsubscribe button. And in an era where everyone’s on the verge of information overload, we are all looking for excuses to click that Unsubscribe button. So the more overt push marketing you participate in as a blogger, the bigger the risk you run of losing readers.
As a small business owner, of course, if you can’t reach out to people you don’t already know once in a while, then you have little chance of growth.
So this marketing thing really needs to be a team effort. If we’re to effectively help each other promote our work, and keep readers interested, then we simply have to find more genuine, more interesting, more story-based ways to do it. Here’s my idea….
Image by piccalilli days, via Flickr
I think what we’re looking for is to form “storytelling partnerships” with bloggers (and podcasters, and video makers). This goes way beyond merely asking people to write about your product/event/project.
To form a storytelling partnership with a blogger, you first need to do your homework. Read a lot of posts, and suss out what stories this blogger is telling to his or her readers.
- What are the broad themes of the blog?
- What are the bloggers’ ongoing struggles and obsessions?
- What kinds of comment discussions are this blog’s readers having?
(In other words, don’t look at the home page for fifteen seconds and then email the blogger, “I love your blog.” Ahem.)
Once you have a sense of the stories this blogger is telling, then you figure out some ways you and your product can participate meaningfully in these stories. And instead of asking the blogger, “Will you write about me,” you offer them your story proposals.
Image by Carissa Marie, via Flickr
Let me give you a real-life example of this approach. Tara Swiger, about two years ago, launched a “Learn to Knit Kit”. She was looking for bloggers to blog about it so she could get the word out.
Tara contacted me, but instead of merely asking “Will you write about this,” she analyzed what was happening on my blog. She noticed that I’m not really a knitter and don’t write often about knitting. And, taking that information into account, she offered up these story ideas:
- Since I’d blogged before about my ongoing difficulties with learning the craft, she offered to be interviewed about why knitting can be challenging to learn, and how to overcome these challenges.
- Since so many beginning knitters have trouble casting on (and I’d written about my struggles with this), she offered to write a guest post about the methods her beginning students have had the best luck with.
- Since some of my readers had commented in the past about their own struggles with knitting, she offered to do a “knitting Q&A” on my blog, where my readers could submit their questions for her to answer.
Do you see what’s happening here? Tara’s Learn to Knit Kit isn’t the main story in these pitches. But any of these posts would have been interesting to my audience (and to me), and therefore would have drawn positive attention to the kit. Tara took the time to find my stories, and then she took the time to offer me some complementary stories that gently incorporated her product.
I appreciated Tara’s approach so much, I undertook to learn knitting from her kit and wrote honestly about the experience as part of a post series I was doing about indie publishing. The resulting post is (I think) more interesting than a “here’s a product, go buy it” post.
Image by ElvertBarnes, via Flickr
The key marketing skill for the 21st Century…
I’ve said this to my blogging students many times: the more ability you have to tell a compelling story about your business, the more successful your blog will be. I think the same storytelling skill applies to marketers, too – the more you can help bloggers tell their stories, the more effective you’ll be at marketing.
Yes, marketers have to do much more legwork to market on the web than they used to do through broadcast channels. But I think that the resulting coverage is way more effective than broadcast marketing, because it’s the result of friends telling stories to friends.
When you ask a blogger, “Will you write about this,” you’re not only asking for free publicity, you’re putting all the impetus on them to make your product interesting. I say no to a healthy handful of these kinds of pitches every single week. As a blogger, I’m too busy to figure out how to market your product to my readers. If you step in and help me with that part, I have a lot more reason to listen to you.
“Big Bloggers” aren’t the proper targets anymore.
Here’s what I think is cool about storytelling partnerships: audience size doesn’t matter. What matters is that you identify bloggers whose stories are actually aligned with your story. A lukewarm post on a “big” blog will never garner you as much response as a genuinely excited post on a smaller blog.
This means that more of us can meaningfully support our fellow crafters. It means that more of us can form mutually-beneficial alliances, so we can all more effectively promote our products and services. For pete’s sake. it means we all stand to make more sales. Exposure isn’t controlled by a handful of “cool kids” with big audiences. Exposure is controlled by how well you’re able to find story partners.
What do you think about this model? Have you tried it? Are you willing to give it a try? And what other ideas do you have for moving beyond “Will you write about this?”