Alternative marketing isn’t so revolutionary any more. Not so long ago, Toronto web design, with its creative, irregular, quirky ways of reaching the public was a real eye-opener. You’d see an ad for some product or other on the sleeve of your morning Starbucks, on the tunnel wall of the subway, or on the handrail of the escalator you were riding, and you’d notice it, because it was so unconventional. You would probably pay more attention to what it was saying – especially the second or third time you saw it – than you’d been paying for a long time to television commercials.
It’s more than likely now that when a TV commercial begins, the little device you attached to your TV set mutes the sound. Or maybe you get up and go get a snack, or swing your chair around and check your e-mail till the program resumes. As for print advertising, can you even remember the last time you actually read the ads in your Sunday paper? But guerrilla marketing and buzz marketing, along with web design have been around for a few years, and Toronto consumers have begun to recognize them for what they are. With recognition of marketing tactics comes the origin of immunity to them.
Consumers tend to be intrinsically cautious, especially where their money is concerned. They know that the marketers’ and web designer’s single goal is to persuade them to spend their precious money on one product rather than on another. In some cases, a marketing scheme is intended to convince people that one brand is better than any other. For example, almost everybody now spends at least a few minutes every day online. People shop via the Internet for all sorts of commodities, from clothing to food to entertainment. They make travel arrangements online, they keep up with their friends by e-mail, and they even pay their bills online.
Thus, it’s up to companies to compete against each other for your patronage. Will you still choose a dial-up connection, which is usually your cheapest option? There are dial-up companies waiting to tell you how much faster, cheaper, and better their connection is. Do you want much faster connection capability? The companies want to talk to you about speed, value packages, and technology. Whatever questions you can come up with about Internet service, the service providers will have a variety of answers for you.
In other cases, it’s not only a matter of persuading customers to buy a particular brand, but of convincing them that they even need this type of product in their lives. Now we are talking about the luxury goods market. This is the level of sales that is most lucrative for the marketers, and most expensive for the consumer. The luxury market attempts to make consumers believe that by owning a (fill in the blank: fancy car, designer jacket, wall-size television screen…) they will become fashionable, hip, cool. They’ll be part of the trendy scene. For this kind of market, word of mouth has been found to be especially effective. Buzz, too, is useful: the trick is to get people talking about your brand or your product because it’s trendy, exciting, and newsworthy.
Unfortunately for the marketers, even word of mouth and buzz are getting a little tired. And so are consumers: they are becoming fatigued just by the effort to keep up with fashion and ahead of their neighbors. One sign of this “fashion fatigue” is the increasing popularity of magazines like “Natural Living” and “Real Simple.” These publications focus on getting back to the basics of life, “going green,” recycling and reusing old stuff in new ways. Their readership is growing rapidly.
We are becoming almost as bored with the cleverness of alternative marketing as we have been with the insipidness and shallowness of the traditional marketing media. The cynicism and irritation we once reserved for commercials are beginning to spill over onto street team campaigns and viral videos on YouTube. How will the alternative marketers and web design companies find new ways of building trust in what they say about the products they are pushing?
Blogs to the Rescue!
Wikipedia.com defines “blog” – short for “web log” – as “a website, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.” Similarly, Merriam-Webster Online tells us that a blog is “an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.” Sounds friendly, comfortable, believable, doesn’t it? When you are considering whether or not you should purchase a particular product, would you sooner trust a corporate web site, fancy and slick, cleverly produced, or an online personal journal?
Anyone who can connect to the Internet can set up a blog. You can buy the services of a webhosting company to create a website exclusively for your blog; or you can use the free blogging that comes with social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Classmates.com, or LiveJournal. Or you can pay a marketing company to set one up for you. There are so many possibilities for blogging on the Internet that the term “blogosphere” has been coined to encompass blogs and their interconnections.
Blogs began as online diaries written by ordinary, everyday people in their own personal voice. Many still function that way; but others have taken on the role of commentator on news events, often in contradiction and criticism of the media. Such commentary is usually expanded by the inclusion of links leading to backup stories.
It was inevitable that the marketing sphere and the blogosphere would intersect at some point. Generation Y-ers and hip young Toronto professionals go to the Internet to find services their parents look for in print. You can get instant driving directions from any place to any other place. Whole telephone directories are online. You can look up people you haven’t heard from in years, and find them wherever they may be. And increasingly, this segment of the population gets its daily dose of world news online. The Internet is the perfect place to attract new customers; and blogs – friendly, homespun blogs – are the perfect medium for creating credibility. What better way to create “buzz” for a product than through the interconnection of personal online conversations?
At the same time, that very quality of friendly, personal, down-to-earth communication that’s found in many blogs is exactly what makes blogging tough to use in advertising. Consumers need to trust that bloggers really are just everyday folks who want to share their thoughts and opinions online. They will pay attention if one of those everyday folks says something positive about a brand or a product, only because they believe that the blogger is, indeed, just an ordinary person.
Bloggers are not television actors portraying fictitious characters for entertainment. They are real people, expressing real, personal ideas and opinions. The television audience is entertained by the actions of the characters, but entertainment comes with a price: the suspension of disbelief. Bloggers interacting with other bloggers are unwilling to suspend their disbelief. Trust and transparency are the very essence of blog communication. To pay a blogger for promotion of a product would be a violation of the audience’s trust.
But of course, now that they are emerging as a viable marketing and web design tool, blogs will be commercialized. In fact, it’s happening already. Commercial blogging websites like Smorty, Reprisemedia, and ProBlogger offer endless tips to web designers on how they should use blogs to sell their products. Here are a few from Macromedia, a blogging pioneer:
• Realize that blogs are not the voice of the company; they are the voice of individuals who are passionate about something.
• A firm and unfailing commitment to honesty in blogging is a necessity.
• Guidelines for postings need to be established from the start.
• Blog authors and web design owners should be chosen from among your “company evangelists.”
And most importantly: if you’re hoping to market your product through blogging, never forget to keep it real!