Thursday, January 04, 2007

Blogs and personal product marketing

We absorb so many marketing messages that it can be very hard to make intelligent buying decisions. I doubt that is a surprise to anyone.

What might be a surprise to those who aren't paying attention is the way that bloggers are providing some interesting twists on marketing. There are so many products on the shelves these days that picking the best one can be a huge challenge. Sometimes it doesn't matter. I probably won't be upset by which Tide detergent my wife picks from the six different scents.

I would, however, be very upset if someone that I knew went out and bought a Volvo without listening to the challenges that I have faced. I wrote the post, "High tech car, low tech dealer," back in the fall of 2005. I am still getting comments on it. In fact one came in today. It closed with this comment.
I have completely lost faith in Volvo.
Now a few people complaining about Volvo isn't going to do huge damage to the company. Still in a world where people are becoming more and more connected it isn't going to Volvo any good either.

The thing is that as more and more intelligent buyers start to depend on each other's opinions, it will matter. In fact as marketing gets more questionable, the opinions which gain credence on the web will start to make a difference.

Today I had an article, "What Jobs told me on the iPhone," published in the Guardian Unlimited in London, England. In less than twenty four hours eighteen thousand people had taken the time to click on a link from the article and visit one of two main blogs, "Applepeels" or "View from the Mountain." My Ocracoke Waves blogger site is one where I don't track the traffic, but I am sure some folks wandered by here.

I had numerous notes and comments which lend me to believe that people trust what I say. I take that trust seriously. As someone who has been selling things since he starting knocking on doors in the first grade and selling first aid kits, I have always sold things in which I believed. That includes Angus cattle, Vermeer Balers, Apple's computers, G3 Systems Inc. integration services, and outsourced email from Webmail.us. It hasn't mattered whether I was selling it in a face to face meeting or recommending it in my writing. My integrity has always come first. I am not going to sell or recommend a bad product.

I have also tried to separate my personal dislikes on companies from their products. Some places it is easier to do that than others. Writing about Apple, it's pretty easy to love many of the products while not be very excited about the company. Yet even with Apple, when I have a product that has problems, like the MacBook I recently bought, I'm not very shy about saying something.

I would like to think we are heading into a world of products which receive personal reviews that I can trust. The trouble is that most of the time I cannot find the right information. A good example is my latest purchase of an "AIO" or "all in one printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine" I searched the web for good information. All of it was rather worthless.

I talked to friends, no one had current experience using a Mac with one of the machines. I went to the big box electronic stores and most couldn't even make them work. I ended up gambling on the purchase. Yet when I got it all working, I wrote about it and the articles, "HP AIO Photosmart C6180 and Mac OSX," and "The not so reluctant home system engineer," have been very popular. I am now the expert and get questions about the product almost daily.

I try to answer as many as possible, but the interest I have seen in these posts borders on more than I can handle for free. This interest in finding real answers is very indicative of the lack of trust that many people have in the standard over-hyped marketing that we're seeing today. People are accustomed to buying things where the performance doesn't match up to the marketing materials.

Over time the smart people become cautious and look to other ways to evaluate important purchases.

Companies haven't figured out how to utilize people like me since I don't want anyone to give me a product. If that happened, my review would probably be worth as much as the reviews done by magazines that are trying to protect their advertising revenue. Maybe people like me are a disorganized low budget free Consumer Reports without any consistent standards but with lots of personality.

I'll take a personal recommendation from someone I know over any marketing that I see. It might be interesting if Blogger or Typepad developed a rating system for bloggers like eBay has for buyers and sellers.

Just maybe we would find it a little easier to find out what we need before we give these companies our hard earned money. I encourage everyone to speak honestly about the product you use.

I love where I live, I tell people about my experiences on North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks (SOBX). There are certain restaurants that I really like. I want them to stay in business so I write about them. My favorite place to buy fresh shrimp prompted me to write about how to fix shrimp in the post, "The easy way to perfect shrimp." The shrimp then need the right cocktail sauce so I have to tell people about Kelchner's Cocktail Sauce.

I don't consider it wrong to give a plug for something that I enjoy or which has provided me with good service or great taste. I don't make it any money for my positive comments, and most people like to have recommendations to help them filter through all the marketing hype.

I have started recording some of my recommendations on a new blog, "Coastal NC Daily Record." I hope it ends up being useful for at least a few smart consumers.

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