Macromedia taps Weblogs for marketing

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When Macromedia Inc. was putting together a marketing plan for the biggest product launch in its corporate history, it turned to a simple yet red-hot online publishing tool that let its product marketers talk directly to its customers online.

In support of the delivery of its MX line of Web development and graphics software tools last month, Macromedia empowered its developers to create Weblogs—Web sites characterized by their straightforward, calendar-driven design, drop-dead-easy site management tools and a personal narrative voice.

It may be the first broad-based corporate marketing use of this relatively new grass-roots publishing tool, known by the shorthand term "blog." Despite some bumps, Macromedia says its venture has been a major success.

"With very little marketing, it’s proven extremely successful," said Tom Hale, Macromedia’s senior VP of developers. "Broad marketing efforts can be incredibly expensive, and they are all about getting a single idea out there to a lot of people. Blogs are incredibly inexpensive, and they are about delivering a deeper message to small numbers of people who are already forming their own affinity groups."

In recent months, literally hundreds of thousands of Weblogs have been launched as this once-niche phenomenon has spread to the mainstream. Recent coverage by The New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC and other media have given Weblogs a blast of exposure.

Many Weblogs read like online diaries. Indeed, most are started by individuals looking to express themselves online. But the form has been picked up by independent journalists, mainstream publications and now corporate marketers, all looking for a way to speak with their audiences in a direct fashion.

Weblogs another channel

For Macromedia, the Weblogs offer another channel for its so-called "community evangelists" to reach out to customers and provide support for them online, Hale said.

"We needed a vehicle to be able to respond and get information out to customers as quickly as possible," he said. "The beauty of the Weblog is it’s simple, no-brainer publishing."

But the effort, which basically put one-to-one marketing and support responsibility directly into the hands of a small group of Macromedia evangelists, bucks some b-to-b marketing traditions, Hale admitted.

"There’s definitely this idea of marketing discipline, where you say one thing and say it everywhere you go," he said. "The way we tackled it was to try to keep the marketing out of it. The bar we set was to provide information in a timely manner on a platform that was more imbued with the attitude and point of view of our evangelists as people than from the company’s point of view. It was all about having a relationship with a person, not a company."

By being one of the first companies to adopt Weblogging to support its marketing effort, Macromedia opened itself to criticism from the very vocal blogging community. An article on the Wired Web site about the Macromedia strategy was widely linked to in the blogging world, and criticism of the company’s strategy quickly surfaced.

For instance, Meg Hourihan, who runs the Weblog and is the author of an upcoming book on Weblogs, criticized Macromedia for not making it clearer the blogs were corporate-penned. "Passing off a work as a truly personal site [when it’s obviously not] can be misleading to readers," she wrote.

Macromedia evangelists responded quickly to Hourihan and others, Hale said, addressing the concerns on their Weblogs and changing them to make it clearer who the authors were.

Indeed, for Macromedia, the criticism went to the heart of the exercise.

"To be really effective, a Weblog has to have a human," Hale said. "We did need to be more explicit that this was a Macromedia vehicle. But the point is that human beings like to talk with human beings. When a corporation can take on a human face, that’s a very powerful thing."

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