Melanie Teed-Murch has been with the retail chain since 1996.
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Blogging software developed for the program by Seattle e-mail technology developer What Counts will, in effect, make bloggers out of store personnel who use the tool to post local events and schedules. But while that content reflects the personality of REI as a company to the extent that it supports company values and mission, it’s not, at this point, intended as an extended platform for the personal attitudes of the individual blogger.
“We’re using blogging technology, but it really will not be presented as a blog,” says Meg Reynolds, director of e-mail marketing at REI. “We are not educating the 50 or so users that they are going to be blogging. We’re simply creating a new user interface that makes it incredibly simple to post content.”
Marketers who blog say that with web sites already up and running, it’s time, more than hardware or software, that’s been their primary investment. Even so, whenever new initiatives compete for resources of any kind, consideration quickly moves to the question of ROI. But that’s an answer the pioneers of company blogging are still trying to figure out.
Pionek says that when StoneCreekCoffee.com launched the blog and announced it in the company’s e-mail newsletter, a click-through to the new blog was the top-used link in the newsletter. For now, though, Stone Creek is not applying traditional sales metrics to the blog. “Eventually, we’ll look for standard metrics such as click-through from products mentioned,” says Pionek. “We expect during the course of working with the blog to identify what those metrics should be.”
A new success metric
One such metric is emerging. Google’s algorithm is believed to favor fresh content, and because blog content changes frequently, it’s expected to help boost a web site’s placement in natural search results on Google. Pionek says that’s already happening. “After we started the blog, our search rankings for a couple of terms went up. We were nowhere to be found and then suddenly, we were on page three,” he says. Web analytics packages can capture click-throughs from any products mentioned in the blog to purchases on the site, but sales don’t tell the whole story when the company blog’s objective is to build brands or relationships.
At GourmetStation.com, Lynes-Miller attributes a 5% increase in traffic to the blog launched in April. While she plans eventually to be able to track click-throughs off the blog to purchases on the site, Lynes-Miller isn’t currently looking to sales as the primary measure of the blog’s value. “In the beginning, it can’t be,” she says. “This is a brand extension. It allows GourmetStation to extend itself to being more than just a company that sells food, and that’s what we wanted to be.”
REI planned to initially blog-enable the web pages of 15 of its northern California stores in July; the other stores will be added shortly. Once the stores send the blog content to their subscribed local e-mail lists, REI will employ the same metrics on click-through and conversion for these e-mails as for its other marketing e-mail and it will track through from the blogs to purchase by REI members in stores.
But, as with others using blogging technology in marketing applications, success at this point is less about traditional sales metrics. “We do have some opportunity to look at a dollars per e-mail kind of success mark, but we don’t have the same expectations that we do for our other marketing e-mail,” says REI’s Reynolds. “This is part of our education outreach and what we are hoping to do is increase visibility and attendance at our store clinics and events.”
Marketers are just starting to probe the marketing applications of web logs. For those who are watching them to see what others are saying about their products and brands, blogs have been called the world’s largest free online focus group. For those who take the next step and enter the dialogue by putting blogs on their sites, they’re an easy way to post fresh and fast-changing content that offers the prospect of conveying corporate attitude and opinion beyond traditional marketing messages-if the blogs are handled transparently, if they’re compelling enough to garner readership, and if the marketer is willing to risk taking some lumps from others who respond with posts of their own.
Either way, “You need to engage,” says VanDen Heuvel of Blog Savant. “If not, a disconnect will form over time. There’s the status quo part of the market, and there is the opportunity segment of the market. If we don’t chase after that with new media and the new ways consumers want to communicate with us, we are going to lose out.” l