Should lighting retailers use blogs as a marketing tool?
 

In January blogger “Susanna” fed this item to mega-retailer Lamps Plus’ LightPost! Web site (blog.lampsplus.com): “The colorful, jewelry-like look of this table lamp from our Bijoux Collection caught the eye of the Woman’s World editors…..” Clicking on a hyperlink within the text opens Purple Bijoux’s “Collection Details” page at LampsPlus.com. The price is $59.99; the shopping cart is one click away.

Though lighting retailers like Lamps Plus are beginning to explore whether Web logging (or “blogging”) fits within their mainstay marketing strategies, the jury’s still out: At press time, Purple Bijoux had four customer reviews, but its blog post had attracted no comments.

A cheap and easy form of social media (the software platforms used to produce blogs are either free or cost just $5 to $15 a month to maintain), blogging can include networking sites, like Facebook and new technologies like podcasting.

“Blogs are important. If they’re done well, they can be very convincing,” says Debbie Weil, blogger, consultant and author of “The Corporate Blogging Book: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know to Get It Right.” “They will make your customers nod their heads, feel closer to you and, ultimately, buy more from you.”

The true value of blogging lies in participation. Good blogs create a sense of community and, often, inspire ongoing online conversation. But to be recognized, a blogger must write with a personal, down-to-earth style.

“It’s not marketing-speak. It’s not corporate-speak. It’s not the way you write the copy for your ad,” Weil says. “It should be human. Most importantly, it should be useful.”

Launched in October, the Home Decor Blog produced by Garbe’s Lighting & Home Decor (garbes.com/hd-blog) is user-generated. The blog invites shoppers to upload photos of their home decor makeovers and offers prizes as incentives for sharing the information.

“We’re trying it on for size,” Garbe’s owner Mary Schulze says. “[And] it’s bringing interest to our site.”

For its part, Lamps Plus’ LightPost! is relatively new; its archives date only to July 2007. But the retailer is definitely in the game, also targeting builders via a blog on HousingZone.com written by field consultant Jeff Emmerson.

Quick and dirty headlines — “Top Decor Trends for 2008” or “Five Tips for Buying a Chandelier” — appeal to readers and move them to subscribe to a blog. The key, however, is then inspiring them to regularly interact. Some blogs start with good intentions but quickly fade: Houston-based Residential Landscape Lighting & Design’s attempt (residential-landscape-lighting-design.com/lighting-blog-directory) debuted in February 2005, but at press time, no entries had been posted since October 2007.

Still, when done right, a blog’s audience can compound quickly, like a snowball. Blogs like LightPost! feature tips, trends and YouTube links. It’s what savvy Internet users want and expect, even when most of the posts link back to products for sale through the host’s retail site.

“As long as a blog is not obnoxiously self promotional, it works just fine,” Weil says. “People have no problem with a link going to a product page, [especially] if they’re looking for something.”

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