Today’s consumers are smart, savvy, and more sophisticated than ever when it comes to buying things. The internet has made comparison shopping trivially easy — but it’s also opened the floodgates for all kinds of hazards: Spam websites, shady fly-by-night merchants, and shoddy knockoff products galore. The result is that if you’re lucky enough to land a customer, they’re likely to want far more information about you and your products or services than they ever received before. In the ’80s, a description on the back of the box or a pamphlet outlining your offerings were enough. Today that’s just a starting point to what is usually a long and involved conversation. Consumers expect a flood of information about you, your products, and your industry on the web. Is your company ready to have that conversation?
Many businesses have been experimenting with blogs as a way to enhance their credibility with customers and to show them that, as a company, they are indeed interested in a two-way discussion, usually about what’s going on in the executive ranks or what’s new on the shelves. That’s a great start, but today it doesn’t go far enough. The next step is to build an infrastructure that shows that your business isn’t just interested in talking to customers, but rather that it’s part of a larger ecosystem that puts the community first.
What do I mean? If you run a travel-oriented website, your company should be publishing independent and authoritative information about what’s going on with the airlines, how to get the best frequent flyer deals, and where delays are likely to crop up on the next holiday weekend. If you own a pet store, you should be talking about legislation that effects pet owners around the nation, advances in pet food science, and even studies that say how often your dog needs to get a walk in.
How is this different than simply blogging, ’00s style? Because it isn’t really about your business at all: It’s about the industry in which you operate, and it shows that you’re looking out for your customer even if you’re not directly involved in his issue.
Consumers love this kind of information. It’s not promotional, it’s independent. It may even be less-than-flattering to your industry. But it’s the truth. It’s honest. And it’s information that they’re going to get somewhere else anyway. Publishing editorial content is your chance to let the customer hear it from you first. Whether it’s good news or bad news, with a smart editorial strategy you’re in control of the message. And if you do it right — by not stuffing your messaging with come-ons for your products, however thinly-veiled they might be — over time customers will appreciate your independence more and more. The goal: Eventually you’re their first stop for travel news or information about pet care or anything else. And in turn that’s likely to translate into a lot of new customers.