As bloggers become more respected thought leaders brand influencers and essential allies in the pursuit of word-of-mouth marketing they also grow savvier in their ability to block brand marketers that push too hard to get in their good graces. In July more than 1 100 women bloggers came together in San Francisco to attend the fourth annual BlogHer Conference.
At the event attendees checked out technical labs educational workshops and discussion sessions plus enjoyed sponsored activities and parties designed to help community members network and socialize. Events like BlogHer offer brands a rare opportunity to get face time with the buzzing blog community but there are a few simple rules of engagement to follow to make friends not enemies. Rule number one: ditch the hard sell. “It’s not just about trying to put our product out there ” says Natalie Johnson manager-social media communications at General Motors which activated at this year’s event. “It’s truly about trying to build relationships with bloggers.” Here top brands like GM Sesame Street and Michelin share how they struck just the right chord at BlogHer ‘08.
Zwaggle is an online hand-me-down network where parents can share and swap used kid’s gear with other parents. The underlying premise of Zwaggle is one person’s trash is another person’s treasure so the brand supported its website’s spirit of sustainability and reuse by sponsoring a swag swapping suite at BlogHer ‘08. Attendees could visit the suite to drop off items they didn’t want pick up tchotchkes they did want and walk away knowing that whatever didn’t get taken home would be recycled responsibly. Zwaggle’s staffers bonded with attendees by helping them make the connection between the swag swap and the Zwaggle service. “It was easy because people were so excited that we were doing what we were doing they were happy to talk ” says Adam Levy Zwaggle’s founder and ceo. “They’d say ‘This is such a great idea’ and we’d tell them about Zwaggle and they’d say ‘That’s a really great idea.’”
As an extra benefit the premium trading experience gave Zwaggle access to a wider crossover audience than just parents. “The benefit of Zwaggle is to save money and reduce consumption and waste so there’s a green theme a financially responsible theme and a socially conscious theme ” says Levy. “So we got a lot of pick up not just from mom bloggers but also from green bloggers and financial bloggers. It was exactly the kind of audience we wanted to get in front of.”
Word on the Street
BlogHer sponsor Sesame Street sought some mind space in the crowded mommy blogger category by transforming a suite at the event into a walk down memory lane. Well Sesame Street to be exact. The brand turned a conference room into a Sesame Street set where it offered bloggers a sneak peek at its new website showcased its new 39th season on clip reels and handed out muppet-themed cookies and cupcakes. But the main attraction was the chance to meet the muppeteers behind popular muppets like Abby Cadabby and Grover and create a personalized muppet video on the spot. “Having Muppets there wandering around the room not behind a wall giving a performance but on the arm of the muppeteer it was a priceless experience ” says Ray Hammerman assistant vp-domestic and new media publicity at Sesame Workshop. “We created this unique experience that would stand out from anything else they did at the conference.” Word of the Sesame Street suite and the take-home DVD spread throughout the event like wildfire and lines formed out the door. “It’s a group that doesn’t want to be hit over the head with a sales pitch so for us our success was measured by the great buzz about our room ” says Hammerman. “People were excited it was a positive unique experience for them and we did generate a lot of contacts with a lot of mommy bloggers across the nation.”
Women are often the decision makers when it comes to major family purchases so Saturn activated at BlogHer with a ride-and-drive offer that gave the women of the house a chance to check out its cars on their own terms. Before the event the brand reached out to BlogHer attendees to offer free transportation in Saturn vehicles for bloggers who wanted to travel via carpool to the conference. At the event attendees could grab a friend and jump into any of five Saturn models at any time for a quick spin. There were no restrictions on the ride and drives no sales pitches and no live demos or brochures in the cars. “It’s not about selling—it’s just about letting people enjoy the experience that they’re having ” says GM’s Johnson who feels brands will get more out of their blogger outreach if they consider it a two-way conversation. “If they like your product you’ll get some positive coverage ” she says. “If they don’t like your product you can at least start to understand why. One way to continuously improve is to be open to what consumers are saying and this gives us that opportunity.”
Turning a technical product like car tires into something to blog about required a two-pronged approach for BlogHer sponsor Michelin. First the brand worked with conference planners in advance of the event to target a short list of attendees with interests ranging from the environment to auto safety. Seven attendees were chosen and invited to attend a private event where they could test out the tires first-hand and then enjoy a dinner on behalf of the brand. During the main event the brand gave away tire pressure gauges. The items puzzled attendees until Michelin had a chance to make the connection at one of the general sessions when it announced it had paid to offset the carbon generated by the BlogHer event—nearly 200 metric tons of CO2. The strategy was right in line with what bloggers said they cared most about in BlogHer ‘07 event surveys plus provided Michelin a chance to reinforce its position as respectful of the environment fuel-efficient and safe. “We responded in a meaningful way that was consistent to what they were looking for and they really got it ” says Lisa Hickey brand manager at Michelin. “If there’s consistency between the brand and what the brand promise is and what that group needs or is looking for it makes a tremendous amount of sense.” Michelin tracked the blogosphere post-event and saw a spike in positive comments. EM —