Friday, October 07, 2005

The Gaping Void in Hamburg

Hugh Macleod, creator of the blog and website, The Gaping Void, is now speaking about blogs. His site gets about 15,000 readers a day. He contends that he has a much richer relationship with his readership than when a newspaper audience.

How does Hugh make a living blogging? He described a tailor friend of his who makes suits for the rich and famous. His friend wanted more business in America so they set him up with a blog "English Cut". Based on readers' interest in the deep insights into the intricacies of suits and tailoring that Hugh's friend was able to provide on the blog, his friend was able to triple his business in the States (be sure to check out the September 17th posting about "how to recognise anderson & sheppard: check the pockets" (you'll have to scroll down to see it).

Hugh thinks blogs are important because they have the potential to create a smarter, more engaging, conversation with your audience.

Hugh challenges the statement that the "best advertising is word-of-mouth". Instead he says that best advertising is the kind that "disrupts markets". As an example he contrasts McDonald's and Starbucks. McDonald's makes their seats orange and uncomfortable so that people will eat quick and leave. Starbucks disrupted this pervasive market practice and created a comfortable space for people to sit around, where real conversations can happen.

In his work with a wine shop they gave free bottles of wine to bloggers. This was done by posting a message saying if you're a blogger you can have a bottle of wine. They told the bloggers they don't have to comment on it, they can just enjoy it. A lot of the bloggers voluntarily generated their own peronalized WOM on their blogs. The point is that this was real, authentic contribution (this was contrasted with campaigns where people get "spraypainted in blue" to promote a product; the point is the WOM generated there has nothing to do with the conversations about the product).

One critique Hugh heard about the wine blogging was this: are you trying to turn bloggers into "wine pimps"? Hugh says no, that they're trying to connect with interesting people in authentic ways. (Presumably though there was a hope that people would talk about the wine and that it would lead to more sales of the wine). They also want to host dinners for bloggers. The idea is that it's just a cool thing to do. One effect of this is that this work is getting the internal employees excited about their brand, Stormhoek, which in turns get them excited when they talk about their products with those external to the company.

Hugh's advice for companies who are interested ian blogging is to read Robert Scoble's blog (Microsoft) for a year.

The take-away for me was this point: engaging the market in a more intelligent, meaningful way is a moral decision. Recognizing that there's no way to control consumer conversations, the best way to influence the conversation is to elevate the conversation.