Connect with us

Business Management

Blogging for Business

Weblogs could be a valuable tool for your sign business.

Published

on

You might be familiar with the term "blog" only because you’ve heard it uttered by teenagers, or candidates from the 2004 election season, who used it to create buzz and communicate with voters.

If you don’t know much about blogs today, you can expect to hear more and more about them in the near future. Chatter about blogs, which are basically online journals, crops up in conversations everywhere. And, if you go online, you can explore the more than nine million blogs that currently exist.

Many personal blogs, formally known as weblogs, provide a platform for its writer (referred to as a "blogger") to ramble about personal musings or post links. Some businesses are also beginning to use blogs as marketing tools — including a few in the sign industry.

Only time will tell if blogs are truly the future of communication, as some blogging proponents purport, or an overhyped fad, as others suggest.

A blog relatively simply and inexpensively expands a business’ online presence without requiring much technical savvy. It also can help businesses differentiate themselves — or gain an advantage — over their competition. The financial investment is small — most blog host sites allow you to set up and operate a blog for free or for a small fee — making it an accessible marketing tool for even the smallest businesses.

Businesses should monitor blog content — you wouldn’t want to spill any trade secrets. If proponents are right, and blogs become impactful marketing tools for every business, you might still walk in on the ground floor of what a BusinessWeek cover article by Stephen Baker and Heather Green calls "the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself."

Advertisement

Blogging around the signshop

Various online searches for a sign-industry blog unearth only a handful of regularly updated blogs.

Several electronic digital signage (EDS) company blogs (webpavement.blogspot.com, wirespring.com, eyecaptare.com/blog) explore trends and news in that industry segment. Gerber Scientific Products (South Windsor, CT) is blogging (more on that later). And, then, there’s Signs Never Sleep.

J.D. Iles, who, with his wife, Vicki, owns Lincoln (NH) Sign Co., is a bit of a trailblazer. As far as he knows, he’s the only U.S. signshop with a regularly updated weblog. SignsNeverSleep.com debuted when Iles redesigned the company’s existing website shortly after they purchased the shop in 2004. Seeking a simple way to connect with customers online, Iles launched a blog, which offered him a low-tech (compared to updating a website) way to communicate regularly and showcase his work.

Inevitably, he explains, a customer would stop by the shop right after he’d just spilled paint on the shop floor or the day after a gorgeous carved sign left the shop.

"The blog allows me to present myself on my terms and to show our best work," he said.

Advertisement

Iles updates the blog several times per week with brief reports on signshop events, including photos of the latest projects. The most recent entries are listed first and later archived by topic, which allows someone interested in carved signs, for example, to click for all related posts. The blog also serves as a lasting portfolio of Lincoln Sign’s work, which can be accessed by prospective customers.

Iles no longer prints brochures for his shop, which specializes in carved, dimensional and sandblasted signs, and also creates vehicle graphics, lettering and other sign types. Instead, the website and blog have become his marketing tools. When a potential customer calls, Iles ends the conversation by obtaining the customer’s e-mail address. He then sends a thank-you e-mail for contacting the signshop, plus a link to his blog.

In addition to chronicling his business, Iles occasionally shares personal, often humorous, anecdotes, such as his two young sons’ excitement over Halloween, accounts of family outings, back pain from an installation and his joy regarding a new personal electronics purchase. Iles also "blogged" about a segment of PBS’ New Yankee Workshop filmed at the shop (see ST, March 2005, page 10).

Such personal information allows his customers to get to know him. "It lets you know the business’s personality and allows a person to make an emotional attachment to you," Iles said. "People don’t want to do business with a sign company, they want to do business with people they like."

Iles surmises that most of his regular blog readers (averaging up to 65 per day) just find it interesting — they likely aren’t from New England, don’t need a sign and have no sign-industry connection. But for impressing prospective customers, the blog shows its value.

Some customers Iles has never met have handed Lincoln Sign projects — instead of seeking multiple bids — based solely on what they’ve seen online.

Advertisement

The blog also smoothes communication. In one instance, various condo-association members wanted to learn more about Lincoln Sign before they placed an order. Iles directed them to his blog, which accelerated approvals.

Beyond business benefits, Iles admits that blogging has also become his hobby. "It’s a pretty new concept, and it’s one of the only things I can ever say ‘I was there first.’"

Having visited J.D. Iles at Lincoln Sign, |1137| sensed blogging’s opportunity; Gerber entered the blogosphere in January (gerberscientificproducts.blogspot.com).

Dana Goodale, Gerber’s director of customer development, posts to the blog whenever possible. Gerber’s blog provides conversational information — instead of "hard" marketing — to anyone interested. It wasn’t designed to be a sales pitch, Goodale said. Instead, it offers a more personal approach to communicating with customers, prospective customers and distributors than the more traditional information sources allow, Goodale said.

Goodale self-polices his content and tries to cover myriad topics. The blog includes announcements of a new training opportunity, new product information, product tips and tricks, and customers’ project photos.

"It would be nice, ultimately, if the blog creates sales, but that’s not the goal," he said. "It’s more on the information-sharing side of things. We want to give customers a reason to come back and read."

Blogging as marketing

Blogging, though inexpensive, requires time, Iles said. "It takes a certain personality to want to do this daily."

A blog designed as a marketing tool, if not updated regularly, can lose its value (and its readers). Some companies even hire bloggers or such business-blog-consulting firms as Radiant Marketing Group (Tupelo, MS).

Paul Chaney, Radiant’s president and a longtime blogger, said a good business blog shouldn’t be a hard sales pitch. Rather, it should be subtle. "In terms of sales, blogs are more of a ‘heads-up’ than a sales pitch," Chaney said.

A blog should be conversational, honest and open. Readers should feel that you are "speaking from the heart," regardless of topic, he said. Blogs can allow businesses to open informal conversation with customers through comment sections after each post.

"Blogs are more dynamic in nature than a website," Chaney said. "They’re not as one-sided."

Blogs can offer a platform for sharing knowledge on a subject, and you can possibly gain the reputation as an expert source. You can also establish relationships with your customers, he said.

In a keynote address to Scanvec Amiable resellers at the ISA show in April, Teresa Young, president and CEO of Sign Biz Inc. (Dana Point, CA), a sign-business licensor, encouraged sign businesses to consider blogging as a public-relations and marketing tool.

In an online copy of her speech, Young said tools such as blogging "will reshape our client relationships."

Atlanta marketing consultant Tony Bloomberg said — as quoted in a recent Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA) newspaper article — blogs let people reestablish the corner-grocery-store relationship with customers.

Chaney highlights three basic blogging principles for a successful business blog that serves as a marketing tool. First, the blog should be updated at least three times per week.

Second, it should be well written. Use spellcheck and proper grammar, but also write in your voice — it should be conversational, Chaney said.

And third, the blog should be keyword oriented. Learn what relevant keywords attract search engines to list your blog as search results. Search engines can help readers find you.

Chaney advises new business bloggers to have a little patience.

"Don’t expect immediacy of return. It takes time to build an audience, to build readership. It takes time to get your message out there," he said. "For the first few weeks at least, you’re primarily talking to yourself. But, I think you need to give it a good six-month run before you make a determination whether it’s worth your while to keep doing it or not."

Potential Benefits of a Business Blog

• Blogs help mold your brand.

• Blogs attract search engines, which can bring readers.

• Blogs directly communicate to (and with) customers.

• They provide competitive differentiation.

• ‘Relational marketing’ puts a personal spin on your business.

• Blogs serve as public-relations, media-marketing and reputation-management tools

Terms from the Blogosphere

• Weblog: A blog is a regularly updated online journal where the most recent entries are listed at the top. Blogs can be used to discuss a business, post links on a particular topic, serve as an online soapbox, cater to a niche hobby or, really, be whatever you want it to be. Blog entries are typically brief and adopt a conversational tone.

• Blogosphere: The online world of weblogs

• Blogger: A person who blogs

• Trackback: A posting on one blog about something that appears in a different blog

• Blogroll: A collection of links to other blogs

Some Links to Learn More

• www.blogger.com — free blog hosting

• www.typepad.com — blog hosting (fee)

• www.radiantmarketinggroup.com — blog about business blogging

• www.allbusiness.com — small-business information

• www.bloggingbusiness.com — blogging as a business-marketing tool

• www.problogger.net — blogging as a business

• www.signsneversleep.com — Lincoln Sign Co. blog

• www.gspinc.com — links to Gerber’s blog
 

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

Who’s Steering Signs of the Times?

We dive into the history of the sign industry’s oldest trade journal, highlighting some interesting facts about how it all started to where it’s headed. Did you know that Signs of the Times is nearly 120 years old?

Promoted Headlines

Advertisement

Subscribe

Facebook

Most Popular