Blogging’s role in Branding your Small Business

Blogging can be one of the most powerful tools your small business can use to build your business’ brand equity.

This statement might be a bit confusing to anyone who thinks that “branding” begins and ends with logos, colors and images used on signage and in advertising.   Sure – those visual design elements are crucial elements in building your brand- but in and of themselves – these elements NOT your brand.

Rather – the careful creation and execution of those elements will help consumers identify your business – and help guide them on their journey to “branding” your business.

See -it is not your marketing team or advertising agency that builds your “brand” – but rather it’s your employees – the ones who have direct consumer contact – who are the “brand builders” of your business.

United Airlines learned this important lesson in 2009 when a social media shit storm arose from some exceptionally bad customer service – by not just one employee but many.  Social media is really great at telling customer service stories -and the root of “branding” is customer service.

You may THINK that your “brand” is a shiny logo, carefully chosen font and a tag line assembled in a committee meeting – but in reality – your “brand” is truly in the hands of your customers.

Just as the cattle who are branded are not wielding the  hot metal rod which marks their flesh – a business must accept that consumers are the ultimate “branders”.

Consumers have ALWAYS had the power of “branding” a company – but it’s only been since the web got “social” did businesses begin to sit up and take notice of that power.

So when you view “branding” and building “brand equity” through that lens – through the brutal lens of “we’re only as good as our last customer service transaction” – then and only then does blogging’s role become clear.

So often, business owners tend to look to blogging as a way to generate sales leads instead of a way to build trust with prospective customers.   Capturing sales leads is best done with a squeeze page – building trust is best done via a conversation.  Of course, the IDEAL situation is if you could sit down and talk with each and every prospective customer.  You could then explain in person why the customer should choose to do business with you and your company.  Even if you are able to do that today – count on the fact that you won’t be able to do that 5 years from now.   Your business blog posts can provide that information in a timeless manner.

Even better – those trust building business blog posts are doing double duty for your business.  Not only are they educating consumers to help build the trust needed to close the sale- they are also working hard to build your brand – a.k.a. your online authority if you’re a consultant or other independent service provider.

Whether you’re blogging for your business or not – your customers/clients/patients are sharing their tales of their interactions with you.  Good – bad – or indifferent – they are the ones “branding” your small business.

In the end – your business blog can act to support the good – upgrade the indifferent – and mitigate the bad.   So why aren’t your blogging for your business yet?

The One Essential Key to Business Blog Success

I recently got an email from a blog reader who wanted to know how to get started blogging for his business.  However, he had a “problem”… he didn’t have any clients yet.

“How can I blog about problems my clients are having when I don’t have any clients yet?”

This is a surprisingly easy problem to solve with a business blog. I’ve had SEVERAL client begin blogging for their business without a single client on their roster who have successfully used their business blog to land their first client for their fledgling business.

Not having any clients is by far the EASIEST problem a business blog can “solve” for any business.  However, there’s an insidious issue which can prove to be insurmountable which business blogging can not overcome.  That problem is…

Not knowing WHY people choose to spend their money with your business.

The critical KEY to success when you’re blogging to increase sales for your business is to know WHY people are doing business with your business.

If your product/service is solving a problem – then your business blogging mission is easy.  Simply create blog posts which illustrate how your products or services can “solve” the problem.  These types of business blog posts are the types of posts often shared via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  I’ve even seen such types of blog posts enthusiastically shared via email.

Tapping into this essential business truth is the KEY to business blog success.

Far too often, business owners do not recognize the problem their product or service is solving.  When that happens – business blogging becomes foggy – unfocused – and unproductive.

You can’t simply bang the “buy now” drum and expect consumers to flock to your business blog.  Business blogging simply doesn’t work like that.  Jason over at A Smart Bear writes in his post “Why business blogs should focus on cheerleaders – not leads” writes:

Your “cheerleaders” are those rare people who are not only fans of your company, but who put their own reputation on the line on your behalf. … [A] blog, as one of your marketing tools, is better suited for cultivating cheerleaders than for generating vast numbers of new leads.

Discovering the REAL reasons people are using your products and services  is truly the key to not only business blogging success but to the overall success of your business.

Business Blog Ideas to Increase Sales

Business blogging can be great for your business… but only if you’re creating the “right” kind of content.

A “Mommy blogger” has dozens of places from which to draw inspiration for blog posts.  A mommy blogger can compose a blog post about the cute things her kid said – or the destructive antics of her dog – or her outrage over what’s happening in the world of politics.  But as a business blogger – those kinds of posts usually aren’t very productive unless you can find a way to “weave” them into a compelling and selling story promoting your business.

Your business blog has a job to do – and filling your business blog with “fluffy” stuff usually leads to a business blog that isn’t doing ANYTHING towards increasing sales for your business.

What your business blog needs is plenty of timeless compelling content with a SIDE of “sweet fluffy” posts. 

It’s better to NOT create a blog post rather than create a blog post that you’ll regret in the morning – or next year.

I know that this is in STARK contrast to the recommendations of a few business blog experts.  There is actually a school of thought which advocates approaching your business blog posts using an approach similar to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog….

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-TfZslHKoo&feature=related[/youtube]

I’ve got to admit – I’m puzzled by anyone who advocates actively antagonizing and insulting your target customer as a way to achieve success.  It’s a technique that may get you noticed – and it may get you inbound links – but I’ve never seen it lead to increased sales.

Isn’t increased sales the reaosn why you’re spending time blogging for your business?

With that in mind – the following are business blog idea starters for a business owner whose goal for his/her business blog is increased sales. 

Business Blog Ideas to Increase Sales

  1. Look no further than into your email “sent” folder. Your email sent folder is full of answers your current customers/clients are asking – so what better source could there be than digging into those outgoing emails and rewriting them for the general population. 

  2. Your email inbox is another blog idea goldmine. 

    Once again, there’s nothing better than looking at the questions customers/clients are asking and then providing a public answer on your blog. An added bonus feature to looking to your inbox is you can often find blog post titles which zero in on the terms your target audience is using to find information about your product or service – which is often blissfully free from “industry jargon” and “insider speak”.Inbound phone call logs can provide similar inspiration.
  3. Win friends by lambasting a sleazy compeitor. 

    I’m  assuming you’re not in some rarified niche sand box where everyone plays nicely, no on throws sand and most importantly – no one is currentily performing the marketing equivalent of turning loose a herd of cats into the marketplace sandbox.   If one of your competitors isn’t playing fairly – or are making promises they never intend on keeping – you can respond by creating your own version of a”To catch a predator” kind of post.

    Creating blog posts which serve to educate consumers about questionable tactics employed by your competitors is a great way to build trust and gain credibility with your audience. You may(wisely)  decide not to name names – and instead provide a list of questions prospective clients should ask before signing a contract with any one in your industry.  If one or two of those questions expose a sleazy tactic being used by a competitor – all the better.

    If you decide to name names in this type of blog post- you might want to check with your attorney before you click “publish”.

  4. Interview a satisfied customer

    Nothing sells as well as success… so take a look at your client list and work up a series of questions which help to illustrate why your products/services are the best of the best.  Then send this list of questions to your best customers/clients and “interview” them about their experience with your business. People love to read stories about other people who are like themselves – and no story is better for your business than the one your current customers can tell. 
  5. Address common misconceptionsWhat’s the biggest misconception held by outsiders about your industry? Set the record straight with your business blog.

  6. Write a problem solving tutorialPeople have problems – and when your business offers solutions to those problems – then marketing becomes as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

    Create a business blog post on how your products or services address a common problem for your target audience.  This is prime “timeless” content which can keep on gaining strength LONG after you’ve hit the “publish” button.

These are just six ideas on how to create business blog posts which increase sales.   Feel free to share your ideas on posts you’ve used to build your business with your blog.

Building Business Blog Bridges

As I was updating WordPress for a client, I saw that someone had “discovered” her blog.  This is not necessarily a bad thing – but this person had decided to try to use the comments section of various blog posts for HIS sales message.

I can understand why he’d like to get his message out on her business blog. Years ago when we launched her blog, I worked extensively with this client to target the keyword terms which her prospective clients might use to search for information online.

We formulated a plan and she began blogging for her business.  Today she’s enjoying enviable SERPS which are the result of YEARS of consistent effort on her part.

Then this guy comes along and drops a few “turds” in her comment section.  Just because he left his name and URL doesn’t make his behavior any less “spam like” and doesn’t mean she should approve his comments.

How can you avoid committing this business blog faux pas?

So let’s say you have a business that needs some serious marketing help and you don’t want to work for YEARS building a business blog. I get it.  You’ve invested your blood, sweat and tears into launching this business and you need to see results like yesterday.

While it seems like a sure fire shortcut to success to hijack the comments section of a business blog with enviable SERPS… you’re more likely to burn potential bridges than build them.

Here are three easy steps to building bridges with successful business bloggers… and possibly EARN a chance to introduce yourself to an A list business blogger’s audience.

1. Launch your own business blog.

Every successful business blogger can remember a time when he/she were pounding out blog posts that no one was reading.  Believe me, you’ll be in a stronger position to ask for a “favor” if you’ve already demonstrated that you’re more than willing to go through the motions of building your own blog audience.

In my own personal experience, I’ve found that comments and guest blog post requests from business owners who are NOT actively blogging tend to fall into the “shamelessly self promoting” category.

See, a business blog post is not place for a “one call close”.  Your business blog is a place to woo consumers an to educate them.  While your ultimate goal is to seduce visitors into becoming your customers – you first must strive to earn their trust before you ask for their business.

That’s the nice thing about business blogging – it allows you to find the right “voice” while building an impressive library of useful web site content along the way.

Once you’ve launched your own business blog, determined your marketing strategy and created enough content to showcase your your own unique and authentic voice, then you’re ready for the second step…

2. Leave PITHY comments on other blogs.

Pithy means concise and expressive.  Your goal should be to add VALUE to the conversation at hand in the post – not to hijack it for your own sales pitch.  You’d be surprised how much “traffic” can come your blog’s way with a well reasoned comment or two.

Leaving regular, pithy comments on other business blogs is a great way to pave the way to the third way to respectfully use other business blogs to promote your own business….

3. Guest Post

Guest posting has the potential to be a “win-win” situation for both the blog owner and the guest blogger.  In my client’s case, if the author had launched his own business blog to promote his book – he could have contacted her and asked for an opportunity to guest post on her blog.

Assuming this author can write well – my client would get the double benefit of someone ELSE creating content on her established blog.  She gets a break from blogging AND still gets to offer fresh useful content to her readers.

Of course, if he has a history of leaving pithy comments on my client’s blog – this author would find my client is much more receptive to his offer to guest blog post.  By previously contributing to the conversation on her blog previously – this author would find my client more than willing to allow him a place to promote his point of view – and his book.

It’s a win – win – but only if the guest blogger has his own blog and has proven his ability to participate in a polite “blog style” conversation.

Guest blogging can be a GREAT way to introduce your products or services to a new audience.  On the other hand, it’s WAY too easy to delete shamelessly self promoting comments.

Business blogs are not SQUEEZE pages… don’t try to treat them as such!

Indecent Business Blogging Exposure and other forms of TMI

a.k.a. yet another reason why your business blog shouldn’t act like other blogs.

Blogging is great.  It allows you to publish content quickly and easily to the world wide web.  That content will live on long after it’s dropped from the front page of your blog and will continue playing a significant role in shaping your online reputation for years to come.

Business blogging allows you to create a search engine friendly comprehensive information archive about your business.  You can share the answers to frequently asked questions and share testimonials quickly and easily.  You can also choose to share any other content via your business blog as well.  The 30 second television commercial you paid to produce can “air” any time and the digital copy of your brochure can be downloaded  instantly.

Business blogging is truly a marvel- but like any other powerful weapon – it has a dark side.

Business blogging provides ample opportunity to create TMI business blog posts.

For some mystical, magical reason – writing on a regular basis seems to have the ability to “reveal” more than what is displayed on the page.

It’s called a Freudian slip when someone says something which unintentionally reveals what they’re really thinking.   Austin Power’s movie Goldmember provides an exaggerated illustration of this concept:

Austin: “Now who has my father?”

Dr. Evil: “Uh oh! Someone has some daddy issues.”

Austin: “Nothing could be my father from the truth.”

Dr. Evil: “Oops! You said ‘my father’.”

Austin: “No I dadn’t.”

Dr. Evil: “Did too!”

Austin: “Didn’t! Did not!”

Dr. Evil: “Shebah!”

Austin: “For me, this is a dad issue.”

Dr. Evil: “Hooh!”

Austin: “Dead issue! Dead dad! Dead beat dad.”

It’s funny when Mike Meyers does it – but if you’re not careful, it’s very easy to commit such Freudian slips.

Business blogging is at its best when it is authentic.

Business blogging works best when it’s authentic.  As you blog, you’ll be writing in a distinct “voice” – just as when you speak, you speak in a distinct voice.  The way you write – the way you share stories – the tone of your writing all comes together to create your authentic blogging “voice”.  The more of you that you share, the more distinct this blogging voice will be.

Like every good thing –  authenticity can easily cross the line and become TMI which is a BAD thing. You must be aware of this “danger” and be careful, that personal turmoil doesn’t find it’s way into your blog posts.

Like most things I share here, this “lesson” is roote in personal experience. A few months ago, I was launching another business and asked a colleague to help with the branding and design elements.  She read the posts on that blog and assumed that I had hired a ghostwriter who failed to capture my “spark”.

OUCH!

I hadn’t hired a ghostwriter – but I was having serious reservations about launching that business.

Quick aside – Some businesses are like selling  encyclopedias door to door.  Back in the old days, prior to the internet, when someone purchased an encyclopedia set, it was a one time sale.  Few customers would be willing to buy a second set of encyclopedias no matter how happy they were with the original purchase.  These types of businesses don’t have repeat sales or repeat customers  and as a result, are tough to launch and then grow.

I hadn’t wanted to face the fact that the business I was preparing to launch was looking like it was definitely a “high tech” version of encyclopedia sales.  That internal conflict had come through loud and clear despite my refusal to acknowledge it.

Should you avoid transparency in your business blog?

I don’t think you can successfully blog without some element of transparency.  With that said, business blogging is too important to take a “I’ll wait to blog for my business as long as life is perfect” mentality.  It’s the most powerful social networking tool available and one that – like fine wine – improves with age.

If you’re waiting for the perfect time to launch a business blog – that time was five years ago.  You’re behind – get moving and get started.

However, if your business is in a state of turmoil – if your personal life is in a state of chaos – I would recommend that you hire a copywriter to assume your business blogging activities.

There are a lot of benefits to hiring a writing professional.  First and foremost, a true ghostwriting “pro” can write in your voice – without ever making a Freudian slip.

Your clients or customers may love you – but they don’t need to know the intricate details of your latest bout with the flu.  🙂 Just one of many things that are better left “unblogged”.