Today's blogs aren't just for journalists, aspiring writers or the technically gifted. More retailers are learning that a business blog can become a major asset to their operation. From large chains to small brick and mortar shops, business blogging has become an acceptable form of marketing communications.
Like any other aspect of retail store operations, blogging should be carefully planned and executed to create value for the reader. Done incorrectly, a business blog may not be the best return on investment and could harm the retailer's reputation. However, once retailers learn how to blog properly, they're finding that a blog can increase sales and build customer relationships.
Why Retailers Should Blog
Naturally, there are risks to every venture and blogging is no exception. A business blog that is well-written, frequently updated and lends a personal voice to a retailer will be far more beneficial than a poorly organized attempt.
Some opponents of business blogging feel the time and effort involved with maintaining a blog outweighs any benefit. We disagree. Retailers can use a business blog to:
- Keep website fresh and updated
- Attract new customers
- Provide expert advice
- Build customer relationships
- Gain a competitive edge
- Build a brand
- Recruit retail staff
Most Common Objections to Blogging by Retailers
Here are a few of the most common objections to blogging by retailers. We also give a response to each.
I don’t have time to blog AND run my retail business. Do you have time to create a sales event? Develop a newspaper ad? Send a newsletter? Retailers should think of blogging as a form of marketing and not like it's just another chore. A couple of blog posts each week can take less than an hour to write.
No one will read what I write on a blog. If your blog posts are interesting and relevant, you may be surprised to learn that your customers want to hear what you have to say.
My writing skills are terrible. Are you not giving yourself enough credit or do you truly lack the ability to write intelligent and intriguing entries? Maybe you have a talented employee already on staff that could assist with the blogging. If not, many journalism students would love the opportunity to intern with a company to gain experience. Some retailers may even be in the position to hire a professional blogger.
I can't afford a website with a blog. Can you afford NOT to have a website or a blog? Blogging creates awareness and is an excellent way to generate new prospects and revenue. Even if the business has not yet developed a website, there are many free, stand-alone blogging solutions available.
A website or even a web hosting account isn't required to begin business blogging. There are several different blogging software options available to retailers. Some are free, some hosted, and some require a subscription.
Consider a self-hosted, custom-designed blog that is integrated with your website or e-commerce site to build a professional and cohesive look. Before you make a decision regarding blogging software, research the different blog solutions to determine which is best for your business.
Tips for Maintaining a Retail Blog
After you’ve chosen the blog software, here are some tips for maintaining a retail blog that will benefit customers:
Regular business blogging keeps the reader interested and coming back. It also can play an important role in search engine placement. Many search engines give preference to blogs that are frequently updated. Try to add a new post at least 2 or 3 times a week.
Tailor blog posts
In order to reach your customer, use a personal tone and avoid business lingo. The consumer is your target audience. Remember the purpose of the blog is to build customer relationships, not to write marketing hype.
Unless your demographic is a highly niche segmentation, be sure the blog content is meaningful to a variety of customers. Not everyone reading your blog post may be a buyer, but they may still share the post with a prospective customer or influence the buying decision of another person.
A great way to build relationships with consumers is by giving them a voice and offering a response when needed. All blog software has the option of allowing readers to respond to written entries. When customers leave comments, they may offer product ideas, suggestions or other feedback that retailers will find quite useful. Other comments may be negative. Be sure to respond to any inquiries just as if you are face-to-face with that customer in the store.
Blog Topics for Retailers
Now that you understand how to blog, what do you write? Earlier we suggested avoiding marketing hype, so what’s left for a retailer to blog? A lot! Here some business blog post ideas:
- Announce new product lines
- Write product reviews
- Solicit customer feedback and suggestions
- Share customer product reviews
- Discuss hot industry topics
- Tie in products with topical news
- Promote special store events
- Write ‘how-to’ articles for product use
- Post open retail positions and corporate career opportunities
- Allow retail staff contributions
- Spotlight individual employees
Just like all retail store operations, a business blog needs a set of policies and procedures to maintain integrity and professionalism. A few best business blogging practices are:
Be Relevant, Be Interesting
Think about any blogs you frequently visit. What keeps you coming back? Chances are you go back because the blog is relevant to your life or work AND you find the writing interesting. A business blog should be more than some dry corporate brag box.
Be cautious not to post your trade secrets, financial information, or give away any other confidential or proprietary information.
Think Before You Write
Consider the consequences of what you write. Although blog software offers the capability of deleting a post, once the publish button is clicked, it may be too late to undo any damage an errant rant or inappropriate blog post may cause.
Play-Well With Others
A business blog doesn’t give retailers the right to bash competitors or bad mouth a supplier publicly. If you have a complaint with a vendor, writing a blog post about it probably won't resolve the problem. In fact, it could even ruin the integrity of the retailer. Always be respectful of others, including vendors, customers, and competition.
Copy and pasting a news story or related article to your blog is considered bad form. The proper way to blog about a timely piece of news or relevant information is to offer your insightful commentary and provide a link to the original post or article. Be sure to cite sources and give credit where it's due.