By Muneeza Shoaib of Middlesex University Dubai
The past ten years and more have seen the rapid rise of non-traditional media and the so-called decline in the effectiveness of the traditional advertising. Some terms that have become marketing buzz words are: content, digital, analytics, blogs, social media, adwords, trending, streaming, likes, fans, tweets, shares, hits, viral, stories, followers, etc.
These terms are relevant and popular because they reflect the very ‘things’ and ‘activities’ that customers ‘do’. In the past, or let’s say traditionally, the customers and marketers were happy with the one-way communication that took place through the broadcast or print media.
But now, the customers want two-way communication and they want be more involved. With the shift towards the digital medium, audiences are no more just passive receivers of communication; instead, they want to be active contributors and creators in the marketing process.
The ongoing debate
While there will always be an ongoing debate that newer marketing communication tools have made traditional tools outdated, the two primary marketing goals remain the same. First, to acquire customers and, second, to retain those acquired customers. In the age of heightened competition, 24/7 easily accessible information, comparisons, apps, websites and online shopping, the task of acquiring and retaining customers is keeping marketers on their toes.
The task of customer retention is even more challenging and important for companies. Traditional advertising tools are useful in acquiring customers; non-traditional tools play an important role in retaining them. Customers want to build a relationship with the companies they purchase from and they expect greater communication and connection with them.
Today, customer engagement is a prime driver of customer loyalty and brand advocacy. Therefore, after acquiring customers, companies try to keep those customers engaged with their brands and try to convert them into loyal customers by building a strong relationship with them.
Power to consumers
Digital technology has enabled companies to give more power to customers and involve them more in the overall marketing communication process effectively and efficiently. The online channel allows flexibility, creativity, promptness and relevance to companies to reach out and connect with the right audience. Within digital media, blogging is a cost-effective way to make businesses more visible and meaningful online.
Blogging involves developing short-term content, called a ‘blog post’, on a company’s website. Each post is added to the blog section of the company’s website, which serves as a repository of content. The content posted on such blogs gives the brands and companies an opportunity to show up in search engines and also helps drive traffic to the company’s website. Blogs also make brands and companies more discoverable through social media.
Each new blog post gives people shareable content on their social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Through blogs, companies give people a reason to visit their site, effectively mobilising inbound marketing and at the same time controlling the story they share and brand personality they want to build. Where a person’s mind may be less receptive to an advertising message on traditional media, a compelling story on a blog is a good way to cut through the consumers’ likely blocking of the advertising message.
The blog question
Once a visitor has landed on the blog, its content encourages them to convert to a potential lead through creatively presented information. By offering them something for free – for example, a free download – the prospects can be encouraged to share their personal information.
This, in fact, becomes that starting point of a relationship between the customer and marketer and helps the business reach out new audiences through inbound marketing.
Unlike traditional marketing, inbound marketing focuses on providing a rich resource of information where prospects learn about the company and its products, understand their story and may be even become a part of it. In this way they become more engaged with the content and feel that they have been educated instead of merely receiving a sales pitch.
An educated lead who has received relevant product information and who is interested in the blog content is more likely to buy from the company than a prospect who has only been exposed to an advertisement. The exploration through blogging and its content naturally makes the prospective customer more receptive to the marketer’s message.
The engaged prospect is more ready to process the message in the anticipated way and is more likely to give the desired response to the communication. The content on blogs determines which audience will be attracted to the blog and what their level of engagement will be. Correctly engaged audiences and customers actively participate on company blogs, essentially becoming brand activists and promoters.
To develop content for their blogs, many companies use bloggers who command authority and trust, and have a following within their established communities. Bloggers are experts in their fields, know their audience well, have usually mastered their writing and content creation skills, and can present the brand to consumers in extremely relatable ways.
Companies hire writers to create content for their blogs that allow customer engagement and connection on a personal level. Clearly, blogging provides marketers a smart way to engage customers with their brand, help in telling a story about the brand, connect with influencers (bloggers), share opinions, contribute to content, and advocate their brands.
Threat or opportunity?
Today’s connected customers like to interact, contribute, influence, create and share. All this is easily possible through digital technologies, but is not possible through traditional advertising, which is basically one-directional and allows little consumer engagement. This brings us to the following questions: is traditional advertising a thing of the past? Can we consider blogging to be a real threat to traditional advertising?
Broadly, the answer to these questions is yes. However, there are many who argue that traditional advertising can never die. It is still one of the best marketing and promotional tools to acquire customers. But if advertising has to play a role in customer retention, it needs to integrate itself strongly with the more inclusive digital mediums. Customers want to be included in activities and things that a company does. For customer retention, it is imperative that customers get involved through creative content. It is said that now that the most effective form of advertising is content.
The mass and inflexible nature of traditional advertising is less effective than blogs and other social media tools in achieving the targeted communication effects. Blogging has the interesting and flexible characteristics of getting integrated well with company websites, social media and search marketing. As the trends suggest, digital media will play a greater role in influencing the consumer decision-
It will become more and more important to have tools that can directly reach out to and connect with customers. Content is king in the game of marketing for now and creative blogging works well to deliver the content that will successfully engage customers and retain them for long-term growth.
An expanded version of this article appeared in the May 2017 issue of Gulf Marketing Review.