Think you know to reach your market? Don't blink. Today's 18- to 34-year-old demographic, along with the up-and-coming “'tweens” represent a group of potential remodeling customers almost as large as the baby boomers before them.
But you're not going to reach them with TV, radio, or newspaper advertising the way you did their parents. This generation grew up online and barely remembers life without MP3s, SMS, IM, wikis, podcasts, VoIP, RSS feeds, and blogs. If you want to reach them, you need to infiltrate their “social networks” online (and off).
One example of this social networking phenomenon, MySpace (www.myspace.com), alone boasts more than 4 million 18-to-34-year-old subscribers who join to form online peer groups, creating blogs to share all manner of digital communication with one another, from messaging to music to digital image and video files. If all that sounds like Greek to you, or if you're hoping that the whole “Internet thing” is a passing fad, be prepared for your lead pipeline to start looking like Death Valley in July.
Blog-What? “Blog” is short for “We b log,” and it's simply a personal journal published online. A “MoBlog” is a mobile blog, with posts and images originating from various handheld camera phones and other gadgets. It's estimated that there are more than 50 million active blogs in the U.S. alone, with 80,000 new ones created every day. Free or inexpensive software and services such as Blogger (www.blogger.com) and Moveable Type (www.sixapart.com/movabletype) make it possible for anyone to be a Web publisher.
Why should you care about any of this? Because blogs can come out of nowhere to develop readerships that rival national print publications and the highest-traffic commercial Web sites — just by word of mouth, blog search engines, other bloggers linking to them, and, most important, the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) RSS feed. If you've ever seen the little orange box that says “XML” or “RSS” on a Web site, that's what it's for.
Online 18 to 34s interested in a particular topic (say, “remodeling”) might start their search on MySpace or with a blog-specific search engine such as BlogDigger (www.blogdigger.com) or Google's Blogsearch (http://blogsearch.google.com). From there, they can subscribe to relevant posts using an “RSS reader” like FeedDemon (www.feeddemon.com) or NewsGator (www.newsgator.com). Some products such as BlogLines (www.bloglines.com) combine both search and aggregator functions, and MSN, Yahoo, Google, and AOL now offer personalized home pages that will display RSS feeds.
What You Need To Do In 2006: Start monitoring blogs. A recent Forbes magazine article “Attack of the Blogs” summarized how one or two unhappy bloggers can bring down a national brand. Use blog-specific search engines to keep track of anything that's being said online about your company, and your competitors.
Advertise on blogs. Many high-profile blogs are sponsored or accept advertising. Consider diverting some marketing dollars from traditional media to popular local and regional blogs if you're a remodeling contractor; and to nationally popular blogs if you're a product manufacturer.
Publish some blogs. A blog by one of your more tech-savvy lead carpenters, salespeople, or warranty managers could be a very effective marketing tool. The key here is honesty. Talk about the problems that show up on jobs, and be sure to point out to readers how you resolved the issues. Award-winning Kansas City, Mo., remodeler Jake Schloegel is sticking his toe in the blog world with the “Reality Remodeling” blog (http://blog.remodelagain.com), which is chronicling a basement/rec. room remodel from the point of view of his project managers, subs, and the homeowners.
Do the right thing. Thanks to the Internet, there is practically no way to take advantage of the public without getting caught. Blogs are the ultimate word-of-mouth advertising. Always play fair and take care of your customers, subs, and suppliers, and even if you get a negative blog post from time to time, there will be an even greater number of happy bloggers coming to your rescue. — Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry. Reach him at email@example.com.