Resist Corrupting Blogs With Messages

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Blogs are a temptation marketers desperately need to resist.

It will be hard. After all, the blogosphere (as bloggers like to call their world) seems tailor-made for what marketers have been dreaming about for over 10 years: personalization. Rather than sending out messages that marketers know only a tiny percentage of the recipients want to hear, personalization promises to talk to each member of the market about exactly what's interesting to her, thus overcoming the built-in inefficiency of mass marketing through mass media. Imagine that those micro-markets could be as small as a single person. We'd go from saturation bombing to sniper fire.

Blogs seem designed for this. Bloggers often talk about what they like and dislike, so a cat-food company can find people who care about cats and car manufacturers can find people who are enthusiastic about cars.

Bloggers are necessarily doing this talking in an electronic medium, so it's guaranteed that they can be reached electronically, although it may be hard to get the e-mail addresses of some of them. And with over 20 million bloggers so far, there are enough to get the attention of some serious companies.

So, it's no surprise that marketers look at blogs the way a fox looks at a hen house. But in this case, smart foxes will stay well clear, at least until they've mended their ways. There is a cultural disconnect between blogs and marketing. If a marketer doesn't understand that, she's likely to find that she's the star of the horror film "Revenge of the Chickens."

"Revenge" is the right word because marketers for decades have been waging war on their markets. The aim of the marketer has been to cause markets to do what they otherwise would not have done. In the age of mass markets, the primary tactic has been to come up with a simple message and drive it into people's heads until some single-digit number of them comply. Marketing's hostile attitude toward its victims is apparent in its very militaristic language: strategies, campaigns, targeting.

Personalization increases the efficiency of marketing, but there is still nothing personal about it, and one-to-one marketing has a real human being on one side of the equation but a corporate marketing department on the other. Bloggers are highly sensitive to marketers pretending to care, when in fact the marketers have an ulterior motive. And bloggers are highly sensitive to the artificial language marketers so naturally fall into, a way of speech that has too many exclamation points and never even the slightest admission that a product may not be perfect in every regard.

Blogs, on the other hand, are truly personal. They're written by individual humans who-for whatever reason-want to talk in public about what matters to them. Unlike what we hear from marketers, bloggers write in their own, spontaneous human voices. While messages simplify to the point of idiocy, blogs complexify. They do this individually because generally we're interesting when we are showing that something that looks simple actually has nuances we hadn't noticed, and blogs do this when taken together because they let readers find many shades of opinion on any one topic. To make matters even more complex-which is a good thing-the blogosphere is not a set of stand-alone op-ed pieces. The essence of blogging is that it is a conversation with readers and across blogs, linking to others and commenting back and forth.

So, if marketers enter the blogosphere by messaging, they will stand out like an ad on a birthday cake. Messaging simply won't work in the blogosphere because bloggers have gotten too used to the sound of honest talk with other customers. Worse, messagers will suffer perhaps irreparable harm to their reputations. Besides, blogs are much more interesting than marketing messages.

The opportunity is not for marketers to pick off the chickens one by one but for marketers to unlearn what they have spent so long teaching themselves. The blogosphere is a vibrant human conversation. If marketers can learn to enter that conversation as humans first, talking honestly about what they care about, identifying themselves and exposing themselves, then they will be welcome in the blogosphere. But, of course, that means they cannot enter it as marketers.
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