Blogging is one of several trends that experts predict will help retailers reach and communicate with a broader customer base. According to Technorati, a blog search engine, the blogosphere consists of more than 43.1 million blogs, and is still going strong.
It appears that everyone and his grandmother is blogging, according to Robert Scoble, a technical exeprt at Microsoft and author of, "Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way that Businesses Talk with Customers."
He believes that blogs are important for businesses that want direct customer feedback. And development blogs, where businesses get direct input about products and services from consumers, will soon become even more important, he says.
Scoble predicts a rise in regional blogs linked to Google's new local advertising program and Mapquest.com, for quick access to directions, giving people more insight into the local businesses they want to frequent. He also says we'll see more video blogs, which won't replace text blogs, but will more effectively communicate with some audiences.
The theory is based on the adage that a picture can be worth 1,000 words, or more. "If I'm trying to explain to you what Halo 2 (the video game) is, I can write 10,000 words and I'm not going to get it right," Scoble says. "But you can see a two minute video and you'll understand."
Other trends also merit consideration by retailers. While every idea may not apply to every business, most represent market forces retailers and other businesses can't afford to ignore.
1) Multicultural Marketing
By 2010, the buying power of African Americans and Hispanics is expected to exceed the gross domestic product of Canada, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia in Athens. It makes good sense to be sure these markets are not overlooked.
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, CEO of Enlace Communications, a multicultural marketing firm in Los Angeles, advises companies not only to translate materials when appropriate, but also to be conscious of cultural images. "In lifestyle shots, go beyond multicultural casting. Show scenes where the clothing, food and other backgrounds reflect different cultures," she says.
2) Add Experiences
Kathy Sherbrooke, president of Circles, an experiential marketing firm in Boston, says businesses must figure out the key messages of their brand and then find ways for their staffs and locations to reflect that image.
The image might be young and trendy, sophisticated and elegant, traditional, leading edge or one of a multitude of others. Once you determine a key message for your store and image, "Create an environment that's consistent with your brand," she advises.
Apple Computer's retail stores are one example she points to. Clerks use handheld checkout machines and pull some products out of their back pockets to reinforce the ease of use and streamlined processes for which Apple is known.
3) Inspire Loyalty
From hiring word of mouth marketing companies to creating incentives for customer referrals, businesses are placing more importance on customer evangelism, says Andrew Pierce, senior partner at New York City branding firm, Prophet. "Companies need to be customer-centric for this to happen," he explains. "If you're not finding ways to increase value and inspire loyalty, it won't work."
At the simplest level, Pierce advises using customer testimonials to add credibility to marketing efforts. This includes hosting webinars, in which customers talk about your company.
More extreme examples include buzz marketing campaigns where happy customers talk up the product. Another tactic is to invite customers to trade shows or other events where they can show their enthusiasm in person.
This story was edited from an article in Entrepreneur magazine.
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