When dealing with client-side marketing teams looking to adopt inbound marketing for the first time, we often hear concerns about starting a blog aimed at generating leads. Marketing managers, for instance, will complain that their boss doesn't believe in blogging as a marketing tactic or that the VP won't approve spending on the website beyond initial setup (i.e. the web "brochure" mentality). Just recently, we met with a subsidiary manufacturer whose marketing director said that the parent company's legal department forbids any blogging because of liability concerns.
Today, I'd like to arm marketers who find themselves in a situation where they have to defend blogging with the tools they need to defend it. In this three-step explanation, we'll reposition blogging as a format of writing, not a mode. We'll also review how to explain a blog's function within a modern marketing plan, and I'll discuss just how broad blog writing can be.
How Should You Define A Blog?
Generally, when we ask prospects how they would define a business blog, they usually describe a "place on the website" where they write "posts" that will help "build an audience" and "appeal to prospects." There are several things wrong with this sort of description, and often, this negatively affects how the boss/legal/parent company understands the value of a blog.
1. A Blog is a Publishing Format, Not a "Place on a Website."
Marketers commonly misunderstand the function of a blog—and just how technical that function is. It's not a place on your website called "Blog," and it's certainly not a place where just anything should be published.
The best definition of a blog is that it's a web page format that enables users to publish on the same template quickly, repetitively, and regularly—just like the news industry does. To use an old-school analogy, it's a bit like using columns to publish newspapers and magazines. It's not that it's especially pretty; but it enables rapid layout that can be used over and over again so that regular publication is possible.
On a website, a blog operates the same way. It's a format; the choice of what content goes in it is up to your company's marketing plan.
2. A "Blog Post" is an Article, So Start Calling It That.
The reason many marketers get confused about the function of a blog is because most people understand a blog as a kind of writing—i.e. a genre—not a format. This misunderstanding is reinforced by major publications such as the Wall Street Journal, which often differentiate their online content as either "blog" content or regular content, even though nearly all articles published online utilize a blog format.
When selling the idea of having a "blog" to propel your marketing, you should explain that a blog post is just a way of formatting an article. It doesn't, in any way, determine what that blog post contains. We publish lots of different material on a blog, including press releases, announcements, feature stories, editorials, explanations, how-to guides, etc.
Not every company will be comfortable publishing such a wide array of content online, but every website should still use a blog to publish whatever kinds of content they do want to distribute. An article is an article, regardless of whether you publish it using a blog format or if you created a custom web page design just for that 1,000-word piece.
It's the responsibility of a marketing manager to work with his/her supervisor to define what subjects and genres a blog publication will cover. When you're arguing that a blog is an essential part of a marketing strategy, be sure to clarify that choosing to have a blog is in no way a choice of defining an editorial or content strategy.
3. A Blog Has A Specific Purpose: To Attract Leads.
If you tell your boss that you want to "appeal to prospects," then you've just damaged your definition of a blog's purpose and function within your marketing plan. Content (in the convenient format of a blog) has a very specific purpose: to attract visitors that your greater plan of action will convert into leads.
If you're looking at building an inbound marketing plan, then arguing for a blog requires an engrained understanding of how content operates to attract visitors and how a blog is situated alongside calls-to-action to convert visitors into leads. Specifically, you should tie the choice to have a blog to the decision to publish quickly and often. Inbound marketers would tell you that visits to your website increase with more content that appeals to visitors' needs and wants.
That means newspapers attract large numbers of readers because their articles cover content that appeals to the public. Analogously, B2B company blogs attract large numbers of web visitors when the articles cover content that answers the needs of prospective customers.
If you explain blog content in this way, then it should be clear to the higher-ups that content on a blog is very similar to the content spoken by sales and customer service representatives. Depending on the industry, proprietary information may be excluded, but the core concept contained in the editorial strategy—helping the customer—shouldn't be controversial internally.
Troubleshooting: What if...
The reasons why a supervisor or legal team might object to a blog are plentiful, but none are relevant when you consider the modern buyer's journey, which largely consists of online research looking for answers to business problems and solutions that show a return.
However, if you ask for clarification on what specifically is the barrier to adopting a blog, you might be able to troubleshoot the problem. For instance, sometimes a legal department's only major problem with a blog is the usual blog comments section that accompany the format. The solution to this problem, however, is quite simple: 1) set up a required approval of all blog comments before an auto-publish, or 2) turn off blog comments altogether. Even though turning of all comments is a somewhat drastic choice, it doesn't ruin the lead generation effect of having a blog.
Get Blogging Right the First Time
When you're selling the idea of having a blog, it's imperative that you get your explanation right the first time. Don't fumble the process by explaining the importance of blogs in general terms. Be specific, and tie the definition of a blog to its actual function in your marketing plan. Inbound marketing emphasizes organic attraction of leads through rapid, regular publishing, which necessitates the use of the simple, but elegant blog format.
If you explain it right the first time, then prove its value in your first attempt at publishing blogs, you'll be well on your way to effectively showing the worth of an inbound marketing approach.