Strategic Research

This One’s for the Blog-Writers and Readers

Which, if you’ve read this far, is probably you—no matter how I titled this article. Why?

Because your clients…

… and mine…

are not reading blogs.

I have been doing a lot of Experience Audits for websites and blogs lately—many more than usual—and darned if that pesky fact isn’t coming up again and again.

Does your Ideal Customer read your blog?

The last time we visited these statistics, research said that only 29% of U.S. adults have ever read a blog at all. I think we need a drum roll here, because whoo, the numbers are up:

The newest figures say that only 32% of U.S. adults have ever read a blog.

Only 24% read blogs currently.

That’s right. 76% of your neighbors say they do not read blogs. 68% believe they have never read one at all.

(My Canadian friends: the same survey stats are not available, but social media participation Canada-wide is far lower. Expect that fewer of your neighbours are reading blogs.)

The ever-brilliant David Meerman Scott has made an important point that I hear you asking about right now: They say they don’t read blogs, Kelly, but what if they just don’t know they’re on a blog?

I’m with you, dear reader. I’ve always believed that numbers of casual blog readers are skewed. As David says, “Many people who reach blogs via search don’t even know they are on a blog!”

Fair enough. But if you’re running a business that you’d like to be growing through your awesome thought-leadership on your incredible blog, there’s a bigger picture. Those 68% who believe they’ve never seen a blog?

They didn’t stick around.

They didn’t subscribe to your fabulous daily or weekly updates through your easy email subscription or your handy RSS button. (If you’re new here, please do!)

They did not hang out long enough to know they were on a blog. And they don’t care.

So while David is certainly right that these semiannual surveys give figures that are way too low, the point of the surveys to me are in what your local and global neighbors, your potential customers, believe. And a lot of them still believe they don’t read blogs.

Yesterday, during a website audit:

Me: “Do you read blogs often?”

Daily Internet user, who is clicking through a blog: “You mean forums? Sometimes, but they’re pretty crazy places, aren’t they?”

But wait, there’s more!

I promised Experience Design lessons, not just gotchas about how regular folks use the wild, wild web.

If your blog is part of your business strategy:

FORGET that it’s “a blog.” Most testers I work with call your posts “articles” after they get the hang of wandering around, and they can get pretty excited to see someone’s written dozens or even hundreds of articles on their chosen subject.

You are informing your potential customer. You are convincing them that you know your business. You are having great conversations in the comments (we sure are), you are enjoying your growing readership (I do!), but remember: you are not hanging on to the majority of search customers or even word-of-mouth recommendations as subscribers, anymore than you’re subscribed to daily updates from amazon.

We don’t want to be amazon’s friend or have a long-term relationship, we want to buy what we need, if they can solve our problem. (If the company’s as great as yours is, that will lead to a relationship—but that’s a story for another post.)

That’s how someone who wants to buy from you thinks of your website. So adjust your thinking. Think of it as a series of whitepapers. Standalones. Every article, full of words I might search for, situations I might find myself in, and phrases that remind me (subtly) why working with you would benefit me. When you have got me there, convince me right away. A sales piece a day. If you’re writing a blog to grow your business, you’re a copywriter. (So that’s what Copyblogger means!)

Try to assume everyone walked in to your blog fresh today. Beware of bloggers’ standbys: 2.0-jargon, insider talk, and “remember that funny thing last week at that other blog that only three of us know about.” A little goes a long way, even when it’s relevant. Better saved for the comment section, where your prospects seem to expect things to loosen up.

STAY on topic. A lot. Very, very tightly on topic. I know at times it’s boring to you, the author, to come at the subject of baby rattles or wine cork manufactury or kneaded erasers from one more angle. You want to talk about your trip to Ibiza and the trouble with shopping for a new car.

Folks, you’re going to have to write a post about how shopping for a new car is just like a baby rattle, because when your potential customer clicks on a post (and they’re weird, it’s a free world and they think they may click anywhere, how dare they), it’s got to relate to what you want to sell them. Or they’re frustrated, confused, and gone.

CLEAN up the design. Think website, not blog. I promise you: unless you are willing to say, This One’s for the Blog-Writers and Readers, every day, and accept that only they are your potential customers, you have got to make the site a lot easier to get around. Fewer choices. Fewer accepted blog conventions, like blogrolls and other offsite links. You lose sales when I click away and don’t know I have, as I saw happening over and over in one recent audit. I’m not always there to guide your prospect back. Don’t let them get lost, get frustrated, or heaven forbid, get away before they’ve made their decision.

Guide your prospect through the sales process. Clear, baby steps, as if they’re walking through your store. (Yes, Experience Design works the same online as it does in your brick-and-mortar shop.) Ask yourself as you’re eliminating clutter: What action should they take next? Is that the only step they can see, and is it right in front of them so they can’t miss it? It’s okay to have more than one right path. It’s not okay to have wrong paths (dead ends) or so many choices that the “exit” sign looks enticing. They’ll choose it, every time.

CALL to action. This is going to scare you: Louder. This is going to freak you out: In the text.

Banner blindness, sidebar blindness, adorable sparkly rollover image blindness, have reached peak levels. NO ONE LOOKS at your ads, even your ads for yourself. They assume it’s for someone else, and they assume it’s been randomly placed. But if you’re writing something good, they’re reading it, and they’re hoping you’ll tell them what action to take next. What testers are saying to me consistently as they’re reading:

I didn’t see that. (To your fancy-schmancy ad in the sidebar.)

I read that, but I didn’t get it. (To your gentle text link to your contact page, worked into the paragraph oh-so-sweetly.)

It needs to be red or something if they want me to buy! (To your subtle link colors, coordinating fabulously with your tone-on-tone website.)

I’m waiting to get the point. I’ve forgotten if they’re trying to sell me something. (While reading with increasing frustration through post after post with no calls to action at all.)

TEST, test, test. I say it frequently here and not one of you has taken me up on it. Go now. Get your mother to check out your site. Cheap, easy, and you will learn stuff you’ll just hate. But that outside Perspective will help you grow your business, and that’s what Experience Design, Bloggy-Style, is all about.

Email me if you’d like someone else’s mother to audit your site. My team of user-testers is always hungry for a new challenge.

Since we can’t go back to being blog-reading newbies like so many of your search hits and word-of-mouth referrals are, let me ask you this:

Even as the knowledgeable blog-reader that you are, are you more likely to become a paying customer when you’re new to a blog than after you’re a loyal, longtime reader?

What else can a blogger do to convert you to a customer in that new-reader honeymoon phase?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. Very necessary aside: There’s a shiny new badge over in my sidebar. (That’s the area on the left.) Revered trade publication AdAge keeps track of the top blogs in marketing and advertising in their Power 150, and I’ve just entered their ranks at a very, very respectable #543. That badge may say something different today because the rankings are constantly updated, so (until I get tired of it and put up a plain badge) you can peek over there to see how we’re doing versus all those really boring bloggers like (the inimitable) Seth Godin, who tops the list, and (one of my favorite guys) Chris Brogan, who shaved his head for charity the day when he toppled Seth for a nanosecond. (If you want to help me topple Seth for a nanosecond, I’ll drive to Boston and let Chris shave my head. Yes, I will.)

By the way, this is the insider talk I suggest you hardly ever do at your blog.

Have a glass of champagne with me, dear reader, because I wouldn’t be ranked at all were it not for your loyal eyeballs and kind links and recommendations. THANK YOU.

P.P.S. Completely totally unnecessary aside: In researching for this article I wanted more current information than the statistics I’ve cited here from December 2007 about how few of your customers believe they have ever read a blog.

So I typed “never read a blog” into my favorite search engine, thinking the stats I needed would be right at the top of the search engine results. Instead, I discovered that I am old. This is because Peter Buck, guitarist and cofounder of R.E.M. who were my absolute heroes when I was a young teen, is 52. If you click that link you will note he doesn’t directly mention that I am old. But holy moly. He made his point.

By now you have clicked and discovered that Peter Buck has never read a blog, so I am not worried that he will read this mention, either. Still, Peter—next time I’d prefer you did not point out how long ago I must have been a teenager.

This, sadly, is the “what kind of whitepaper is this?” talk I also recommend you rarely engage in. But sometimes, we have to break the rules…

P.P.P.S. Rule: We always read the postscripts. So click here to email me if you’d like your very own Experience Audit for your site—and if you’d like to get updates delivered free by email or RSS, you’ll find everything you need at the top of that sidebar on the left. Go on, now. I’d love for you to become a regular at the Maximum Customer Experience Blog.

Offering the Ideal Solution:

Do you need to know everything about your customer?

Demographics are stale. Maybe even dead. We live in a global world— “white guys from Hoboken, New Jersey, with an Audi and a subscription to Sports Illustrated” isn’t what you need to know about your customers, and frankly, I doubt it’s true. If you know what circumstances brought the buyer to you, you can look for ways to target that circumstance.

While I recommend you know everything you can about him or her, you don’t need to know everything about your customer—even though you have an Ideal Customer, and for some businesses, they may even fit a certain demographic. That doesn’t make them your ideal.

That customer is your ideal because when they have a need, they remember that you have the Ideal Solution.

When they have a need

Your buyers came to you when… X.

Know what X is, you can look for people who are about to have X in their lives, and build a relationship with them in advance.

If you’re a blog author, picture that circumstance when writing the blog, then weave it into the narrative over time. You’ll get bored coming back to the theme over and over, but you’ll never bore the reader who says, “Yeah, that’s me, today! He really understands X, and I know he can help!”

If you’re a store owner, work it into your marketing materials, and make sure your staff knows all about X, too. To stand out from the crowd of wanna-bes, they’ve got to be trained in empathy for the symptoms (even if it’s needing a lipstick after The Essential *Boom* hits). They’ve got to look for the telltale signs, they’ve got to cater to the needs. You are in business for your customers, and when they choose you as the Ideal Solution to their problems, you can not afford to disappoint them. You’ve got to engineer delight.

Look for people who are about to have X in their lives

If you wait to build a relationship after X has come and gone, the business will go to those they already liked, trusted, and had faith in before that circumstance arose.

Who loses out?

The luncheonette I drive past on my way home from work every day. I’m forever saying, “Next time I want a new experience,” but when next time comes, I’ve forgotten them. (Until I drive home….)

The catalogue that comes with a nice fat coupon the week after I bought a tool that does the job, maybe not as well, locally.

The baby product manufacturers who drown new parents in marketing materials after the hospital sticks them on a mailing list (almost ten years later, I’m still plagued by this junk!). Too late. I bought everything before the seventh month when it seemed like “any day now”; I got recommendations from friends before I ever saw your irritating pink-bow mailers; I wouldn’t be swayed by cheap glossy mom-and-baby shots even if I’d waited, because right after baby’s born I’m thinking I should save the Earth for her and you’re cutting down trees to interrupt my bliss.

Build the relationship first. You’ll find your own way to do that, but keep this in mind: It isn’t who wandered into your shop, office, or blog that you need to know—it’s Why today?

Think back to the last new purchase you made, last new service you decided to try, or the last new restaurant you visited. Why that day? What circumstances made you change your buying behavior?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

A Monday Series

It’s that summer Monday. The one where you’re getting the grill ready, if you live in the U.S. or Canada, and hoping it’s not too cold for one last dip in the pool. Enjoy your Labo(u)r Day!

If you need something to do while the coals are warming, you might want to:

Clear Out the Cobwebs

Smile for the Birdie

Have a New Logo Designed

Get Your Kids Involved

Read at the Beach

Walk the Grounds

Log In

and Cheat and Save Money!

If you’re burnt-out, antsy, and need to revitalize your attitude as much as your business, this is the series for you. Experience Design for beach-dreaming business owners comes to your summer Mondays.

Summer Is a Great Time to Drop In

This week let’s get out of the shop or office, to stretch that holiday a little further. Get out of the pool and dry off, devour the last juicy steak, and relax today. Then take Tuesday afternoon to try on an Experience Designer’s shoes.

Competitive Intelligence?

Competitive Intelligence. What is it really, and how can it help you drive business growth?

Maybe you’ve heard of mystery shopping—having an audit done on your own company’s sales process by an outsider who won’t be recognized as they shop your store, restaurant, or office.

At VisionPoints, we get much more comprehensive than simply buying a pair of shoes, or eating your lunch, or keeping an appointment. Our Experience Audit is like turbocharged mystery shopping, looking at the entire Customer Experience from first touchpoints (advertisements, signage, telephone and online Experience) to last (packaging, satisfaction, followup). The anonymous shopping trip is still the critical center of an Experience Audit. In gathering competitive intelligence, we perform an audit of your main competitors’ Experiences.

This week: You get out there—drop in on the competition—and give it a try. What’s been bugging you about your Customer Experience? Do you have an idea of where sales may bog down? Make a special note of a few points you have concerns about, then try out the competition.

Take an afternoon. Go out with fresh eyes, and note the strengths and weaknesses of the top two or three, looking for how they handle the issues you’re worried about. Do they have some work to do, or have they got it figured out? What can you learn from the competition?

Yes, you probably do this informally all the time. You’ve got your eyes open for innovative ideas from any corner, and your ears open for praise or complaints about the other guys in town. If you’re like most, you feel funny looking the competition square in the eyes and buying from them. Go on, do it anyway.

You’ll learn where you excel and where you could improve, by seeing what others offer, and how they sell it.

If you think you’re too hot in your field, think again; even the Big Boys do this all the time.

If you’re sure they’d recognize you, don’t give up—get an employee or a trusted friend to do it.

Wondering what to look for? Read The Mom Test.

If you are the employee reading this, volunteer. Some owners don’t realize how much they can gain from an afternoon of gathering competitive intelligence. (Haven’t you told your boss to read Maximum Customer Experience yet?)

That was easy!

The purchase is made, the notes are taken. All done, right?

Wrong. Summer’s over, dear reader, and fall is the busiest time of year for Experience Design inquiries for a reason: Now’s the time to hunker down as the leaves flutter past, analyze what you’ve learned, and do the hard work of transforming your business.

What can you do better? What do you do that they don’t?

Now that you’ve checked out the rest, tell me why should I choose only you?

Answer it, emphasize it in every customer interaction, and make sure everybody knows it. Only you provide the Ideal Solution, when the Pain Point is ——what?

From where I stand, you’re looking hale and hearty and ready for the challenge. Summer’s been good to you! I hope you’ve enjoyed doing something light with your Mondays lately.

Now put down that beach ball. It’s time to grow your business.

What can you learn from the competition?

BONUS: What will they learn, when they come to your place to gather competitive intelligence?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Search Results: *Blushing Blogger*

I can’t tell you what happens when I do a search for my own name. It’s not me, is all I’ll say to you. If you’re a blogger you’ve probably heard about doing a search on yourself a half-dozen times. Business owners who are newer to the Internet, may be surprised at the idea.

Why search for yourself? To check who’s linking to you, writing about you,* and what they’re saying, and to check that you rank well for yourself.

Some recommend you have alerts sent to you for your own name, your business name, blog name, etc., to monitor changes. That’s all right (unless your name has a problem like mine has), but if you actually run a business, you’re busy; I’d say it’s a bit obsessive, like worrying over any other Internet stats. Just remember to check in with Google, Yahoo!, or your own favorite once in a while. Make sure your sites are ranking highest for “you” if at all possible, and if not, make sure you are making progress—ranking higher each time you check. Lots of great people have written about how to make this happen, so I’m not gonna go there right now.

And I Don’t Mean Stinks

For a real eye-opener, type in “[Your Business Name] S–ks.” In quotes. If things come up at all, you’re in trouble. If lots of things come up, you’ve got a long row to hoe. Pick up your tools or hire a gardener, metaphorically speaking, because you’ve got to start changing the Customer Experience for the better.

Remember the old saying that if you get one complaint, there’s probably a hundred folks who didn’t bother to tell you they felt the same way?

New rule: on the Internet, if you find one “Jay’s BBQ S–ks” article, it’s not just that there’s a hundred who felt the same but didn’t have blogs or couldn’t be bothered. It’s that a thousand (or a million) people may see that, and never come near enough to decide if your business is, indeed, terrible.

The Internet is written in indelible ink. You can’t fight what’s written about you. What you’ve got to do, starting right now, is decide what you want written about you. Then put every detail in place to make sure that is the only thing possible for a customer to write, from this second forward.

Don’t spend time playing with stats and alerts. Obsess over getting the Customer Experience right.

What happens when you Google yourself, your business name, your blog name? Do others rank better for “you” than you? Do you s–k?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*People are writing about you even if you don’t have a website or a blog, so jump on the bandwagon now!

Just Tell Me Where It Hurts…

In sales and marketing circles you will hear a lot of advice about finding a prospective customer’s “pain point.” A pain point is the when and the why, the reason customers choose you: the point at which they realize you offer the solution to their need (their “pain”). I choose Lowe’s when I have a home improvement need because they’re comprehensive, generally helpful, and nearby; I choose a nail when I want to hang a picture because it’s simple, cheap, and readily available. The Mexican restaurant I choose most frequently, I patronize (when I’m hungry!) because it has the good fortune to be quite near to me, but mainly because my daughter, who rules our roost, is treated like a young lady there, and she loves their food and the fish they keep in a tank in the dining area. I’d bet they wouldn’t guess at least two of those pain points (Upscale Mexican restaurants satisfying small dictators? Fish tanks?). They’ve (probably accidentally) solved my pain points. This can be planned.

Today’s Experience Design case study: A friend is a loosely associated stakeholder in a local pub. They’ve got growth issues, as in they aren’t getting enough. My friend knows this and has been knocking around some ideas about how to pull in more patrons. We talked briefly about a somewhat gimmicky idea he’s had (it might have some merit), and then I asked the question not everyone is ready to hear: How about the basics?

How About the Basics?

My friend is one of many with an interest in the pub. I gave him a few thinking-points to go back to his group with, including most of the questions below. Try these to start your strategic thinking:

  • What is the growth plan for the business? In other words, how do you know you’re not reaching your target, and how will you know when you are?
  • What’s the overall Vision? Why are you in this business, doing it this way?
  • Do you know why current customers choose you? (This is their “pain point.”)
  • What is current business like (in terms of numbers, typical order, time in store, etc.)? Do you have regulars (fans), or once-and-done guests?
  • (This pub has a fairly captive stream of actual foot-traffic, actively NOT choosing them, so also) Have you asked about the habits of prospective guests who are not coming in? (Why are you not their solution to the pain?)
  • Do you patronize the pub when you’re nearby?
  • What’s your Internet presence like? (I did my homework–theirs is distinctly uninformative and uninviting.)
  • Are your signage and entry drawing people in?
  • What’s the atmosphere like (interiors, fellow patrons, noise level)?
  • Is your menu clear and inviting? Do guests have to guess at or hunt for information?
  • Have you anonymously evaluated the service?
  • How’s the food (the drinks, and the wait)?
  • Have you interviewed the bartender, the chef, and your servers to get their opinions of what is and is not working? Remember, these internal stakeholders may be much more in tune than office staff to the problems and the potential of your business–they interact with customers every day!
  • Before throwing good money at gimmicks, what efforts are you currently making in publicizing the business? What sort of return do you see on these efforts?
  • Have you devoted enough effort to the research and strategic planning that will tell you whether an (expensive) gimmick is the right step for the pub?

I invited my friend to suggest VisionPoints if they’d like help working on growing their business. Will I hear from them? Sometimes prospects are not yet ready to listen to your message. (Just like the patrons they want to draw in to the pub!) Their pain is not yet acute enough to see the need for an outside solution.

What would you add to this list? What basic points should owners and managers evaluate to discover the holes in their current Customer Experience? How do you find and resolve the “pain points” of your current and prospective customers?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. Still thinking about gimmicks? Don’t miss Seth Godin’s take on transforming gimmicks by adding customer value.

How Did You Find Us?

Start asking this simple question today. On the phone, in person, on the Internet. It’s the quickest strategic research available to your growing business. I’ll be writing more about this subject soon, but I don’t want to you to wait another day.

Track the responses you get in a simple database, or your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software if you have it.

This simple question can train you to see which opportunities will enhance the public’s Perception of your firm, and which are already falling on deaf ears. I hear money being saved, and put to better use!

What is the most surprising answer you’ve gotten when you asked, “How did you find us?” How did it help you align your company’s Purpose with the public’s Perception?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson