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Providing samples to bloggers doesn’t necessarily cause a spike in traffic or sales to Undergear.com, but it still provides a huge payback, Bavaro adds. “These posts often lead to a snowball effect, especially if it’s a highly influential blogger who posts about our product or news,” he says. “That blogger’s followers will then pick up the posts and put them on their own blogs, or other social networks.”
Indeed, the growing influence of blogs as marketing tools is creating significant new ways to connect online consumers with products and brands, as several data points indicate:
Last month, comScore noted that 101 million people in the U.S. read blogs, for 300% growth in three years.
50% of blog readers said blogs have influenced a purchase, a percentage that rises to 62% among people who read blogs more than once a month, according to a study by JupiterResearch, a unit of Forrester Research Inc., and sponsored by BuzzLogic Inc., a company that helps companies place ads in multiple formats on blogs.
70% of bloggers refer to brands, and 38% post reviews of products or brands, according to the October 2009 State of the Blogosphere report from Technorati, a provider of a blog search engine and other technology and services to blogs.
Ad spending on blogs and social networking sites grew to $108 million in September 2009, up 119% from $49 million in August 2008, according to Nielsen Online, a unit of The Nielsen Co.
Other blogging strategies are attempting to separate product endorsements and other forms of advertising from blog editorial content. BlogHer, a network of 2,500 blogs with 20 million unique monthly visitors, tries to go beyond the FTC guidelines by maintaining separate sections in blogs dedicated to either ad content or editorial content free of ads, says BlogHer co-founder and chief operating officer Elisa Camahort Page.
“The FTC guidelines are not a change for our bloggers, because our guidelines are tougher than the FTC’s,” Page says. She adds that she welcomes the FTC’s guidelines because they bring more credibility to blogs. “Applying these guidelines says blogs are a marketing force to be reckoned with,” she says.
Other marketing experts say the fuss over bloggers’ independence from advertisers points to the need to develop new ways to apply blog content to engage consumers. Andrea Harrison, strategy director at Razorfish, a marketing agency specializing in digital interactive communications, says online retailers can engage consumers with blog content more effectively by pulling content from blogs into a retailer’s own branded setting instead of pushing products to them for review.
At DiaperPail.com, a retailer catering to the needs of parents with young children, Razorfish has worked to link content from several bloggers that provide general advice about maintaining a home with babies and young kids. Even if such blog content doesn’t directly mention DiaperPail.com’s products, it provides a more credible, content-filled shopping environment while providing the bloggers with valuable exposure, Harrison says.
As blogs continue to evolve in how they influence consumers, retailers on the marketing cutting edge will continue to find new ways to put that influence to work.