Getting The Boss To Blog (Or At Least Let You Start One)

My friend Tim McAlpine writes:

What if your credit union could acquire new members and sell products by blogging? I’ll bet there would be a lot more credit unions blogging if the leadership and marketing department understood how they could use this new medium to better connect with members and to sell more products and services. The alternative is to bury your head in the sand and send out yet another direct mail piece that yields a 1% response rate. Am I wrong or am I right?”

Tim, I’m really sorry to say this in a public forum, but you’re wrong — on a number of fronts: 1) You confuse acquisition marketing with retention marketing; 2) You confuse relationship building with selling; 3) You completely miss a number of alternative tactics; and 4) You pooh-pooh some potentially good economic returns.

I believe that to develop a strong relationship — whether we’re talking about in a business or even personal sense — two parties have to be engaged (not the “to be married” kind, wiseguy). And I believe in the potential for a blog to help banks and CUs develop customer relationships by engaging customers in conversations that they probably would not have entered into otherwise.

But while a blog might be the final tipping point that gets a prospect to join the CU or open an account at a bank, it’s very likely to not be the main selling point. And it’s very likely to not even impact very many prospects at that. Especially — and this is the critical point — when compared to other tactics and approaches to customer acquisition.

This last point hints at why Tim’s blog post rubbed me so wrong. Blog advocates (I’m not saying Tim did this) too often come off with an attitude that just screams “OMG, blogging is the answer to all of our marketing prayers! We just have to start one! It doesn’t cost anything! We HAVE TO experiment! You JUST DON’T GET IT!”

OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but the common thread among too many advocates is the lack of context — that is, how will a blog fit in with our investments (of both money and time), and with our overall business and marketing strategy?

Anyone advocating for a blog at their financial institution better be prepared to answer the following questions:

1. Who else is doing this? It’s great to be a pioneer, but many senior execs are, understandably so, a little on the risk-averse side. So you better be prepared to tell them who else in the CU/banking space is blogging, and, just as importantly, what types of blogs they have.

2. What results have they achieved? It’s not just an ROI calculation. Citing the stats that Verity CU has made public is good data. But I’d also want to be able to tell the senior execs how many customers and prospects participate in other firms’ blogs.

3. How do they deal with negative comments? This is such a common objection or fear that you better be ready to deal with it. Personally, I think you can turn it into an advantage — namely, by showing that you plan to publicly acknowledge negative comments and demonstrate the firm’s commitment to satisfaction and timely service (or something like that).

4. Who’s going to write blog entries? The advocate is likely to say “I will!” That could be the wrong answer. I spoke to one exec at an FI that was contemplating a blog who said “I’m not sure I want Marketing to be the primary contact point to our customer base. That’s what our account managers are for.” If you’re going to emulate Verity CU’s approach (which I like a lot) — with contributors from Marketing, HR, and the exec team — then you better line up that support before going upstairs to advocate for a blog.

5. What are we going to write about and how often? On the other hand — and I don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing Verity, here — it’s the 22nd of January, and they have one blog post up for the month (which does a great job of linking Bob Dylan to its Velocity checking account, by the way).

6. What should we stop doing in order to free up the time to blog? Here’s where I think a lot of the blog advocates just don’t get it. Smart CEOs don’t just manage the ROI, they manage their firm’s attention span. They know it’s better to focus on the right number of the right initiatives. If you’ve got the time and energy to start a blog, then somebody — you or your boss — has been underutilizing you. Managing even medium-sized organizations is about making tradeoffs. I’m not saying that every exec is going to ask this question — but you should have an answer to it.

7. How will we know if we’ve been successful? “Stop our direct mail efforts” is not the answer to question #6. If I send out 10,000 direct mail pieces and convert 1% to customers, that’s 100 new customers. Assuming $0.50/piece and $50 profit per customer per year, that’s 100% ROI at the end of year two. And you’re scoffing at that? My assumptions could be way off here, but the point is that other marketing efforts have projected costs and returns associated with them. Blog advocates better walk into the exec suite with some projections of how many customers are going to be impacted by a blog, who those customers are, and how the blog is going to impact their relationship with the CU/bank.

8. How does this fit in with our current acquisition and retention efforts?
This is another area where blog advocates don’t button everything down — they don’t put the proposed blog in the broader context of the firm’s overall marketing strategy. As a blog advocate, this is where I would trot out Wells Fargo’s student lending blog, or better yet, Common Wealth CU’s (Canada) Young & Free blog that puts a blog at the core of a coordinated, focused strategy for attracting a specific market segment to the CU.

9. Is there a strategy behind all this? In other words, have you thought about the answers to the previous questions, and put them all together in a cohesive fashion. Are you walking into the exec suite ready to talk business and marketing strategy?

You’ve got to remember that you’re not the only one whispering ideas into the CEO’s ear. The call center wants to add 50 people, cuz’ hey, what better way to develop member relationships than to have more staff in the call center for them to talk to. Branch managers want more branch personnel, cuz’ hey, what better way to develop member relationships than to have more staff in the branches for them to interact with.

Now tell me again: Why we should drop everything and start a blog?

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