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We’ve relocated our blog! You can now visit us at http://www.acadiacreative.com/blog

Blogs have been around for a long time. My creative services firm, acadia creative has had a blog for years…because everyone had one. What did we ever actually DO with it? Well. Nothing. And that’s just the problem. You see, the more I read about weblogs, blogs, bloggers, blogging, and so on, the more I realize what an incredibly powerful tool they are. And it makes me ask the real question…why WOULDN’T your business have a blog?

The most popular two types of business blogs are SEO blogs (Search Engine Optimization), and Lead Generating blogs. We like them both, because both have a purpose. Each will have an impact on how often your information reaches and teaches your public.

SEO blogs are written with keywords in mind. They are full of keyword rich content that the search engines are going to gobble up. They are harder for a copywriter to write, but easier for a search engine to find. Lead Generating blogs are written to create credibility in your business and a buzz about your product or service. While it will inherently contain “keywords” about your business and services, it is more topic-driven than the SEO-based blog.

If you are still questioning the blogging culture, and whether it’s right for you, then read on. Yes – Blogs USED to be very personal in nature. A place where you could post pictures of your dog and your grandma. But how about now? Is the world of blogging still for the pumpkin pie recipes and the knitting clubs?

We don’t think so and here’s 10 reasons why.

Blogs are easy to set-up.
Blogs are an amazingly easy content management tool for business information. A blog can be created in a matter of minutes, and populated with tons of content about your business, your clients, and your expertise in just a few minutes more. Blog applications like WordPress or Blogger.com are free and offer predesigned templates for you to use. A blog can be branded with your logo and photos of your products or services with WYSIWYG tools that come with these online blog applications. Or, for a few bucks, a web design company can edit blogging applications to make your blog look just like your website.

Blogs are a new way of communicating your message. Faster.
Have you Googled anything lately? If you look closely, most of the results are actually referencing blog posts about whatever topic you are searching for. Do you know what that means? It means that search engines are indexing blog content FASTER and more often than they are indexing website content! So your blog could potentially be seen by more people than your website. This is a truly powerful moment for your business. Because now you have the ability to use your blog as one of your greatest, and least expensive marketing tools.

Blogs are Viral Marketing at it’s best.
Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace aren’t just for kids. They are a very powerful network of people who may need or know people who need your products or services. Most blogging software applications have plug-ins that will tie your networking sites right to your blog. Acadia creative uses WordPress plug-ins with Facebook and LinkedIn. It publishes posts as we write them to those pages for all to see. Another plug-in allows readers to share your content with just the click of a mouse. Did I mention how inexpensive blogging is? How about FREE. ‘Cuz that’s what viral marketing is, folks. Cash in on it.

Blogs build credibility.
Your website says you sell foot pain relief products. But what do you know about foot pain? Blogging about something you know a lot about sends a clear message to your readers that you are an expert in what you sell. Be it a service, a product or what have you. If I’m having foot pain, and I can go to your blog and read in-depth articles about my condition and ways to treat it, using your products, then I am more inclined to click through to your website and see these products you speak of, and even more inclined to buy them. This method can be applied to just about anything.

Blogs generate traffic to your website.
See above! Blog about your business and create a buzz about what you do! Generating interest in your business is the first step to getting readers to seek more info by visiting your website. Blogs make it ridiculously easy to put calls to action IN action.

Blogs can serve as a filter for content
Blogs aren’t always generated by one person or company. There are blogs out there that filter and display content relevant to what readers are searching for. For instance, one blog could post 10 blogs worth of content about marketing your blog. Your content could be populated without any effort from you! How easy is that? In order to get involved, you can go to http://www.pingmyblog.com and add your blog to all the engines that feed content to the web. In one click. Have I mentioned how EASY and FREE this is?

Blogs and Video can work together. And it’s EASY!
Blogs make it super easy to post a video of your product or service in action. If a picture is worth a thousand words, than imagine what you could say with a video!

Your Enewsletter and your Blog can share content.
You can save money and time by sharing the same content you are writing for your enewsletter on your blog. Blogs serve as a great way to archive newsletter content, and a great way to reach beyond your mailing list.

You CAN make money with your Blog.
Steve Pavlina has a great blog post here: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/05/how-to-make-money-from-your-blog/ Since he’s an exceptional expert on this, we’ll let him do the talking…

Other Blogs are a great resource.
Reading other blogs is a great way to generate topics or gain research for your own blog.
Need a guide to follow as you begin your quest into the great blogosphere? Click here to read We Know Blogs Small Business Blogging Basics.

Like everything out there, there are some cons to blogs. Some folks have too much free time and post negative feedback (you can set up your blog to approve all posts before they actually get published), and there is definitely some legwork involved to get your blog out into cyberspace – traffic building is the key to your success. But the big brains at acadia creative don’t think the cons even come close to outweighing the pros. And for the price of an hour or two of our time… why WOULDN’T your business have a blog?

Happy Blogging!

Ali Goodwin, Main Brain at acadia creative

It’s true: A picture really is worth a thousand words, especially on your Web site. Your customers can’t touch, taste, smell or test drive your product. The words and the imagery become crucial selling tools as a result.

Now, as a Web writer, I confess that I’m partial to the words. But even I can spot glaring examples of sites either misusing or neglecting photography. I recently worked on a Web site for a recruiting company that didn’t have a single picture of a person…even though they are essentially in the people business.

Alternatively, there’s the law firm that wanted to come across as personable and approachable. Their story is about being a small firm that delivers one-on-one service with its partners, not some junior lawyer. The text is written to tell this story, but the photos clinch it: Each of the partners’ photos that accompany their bios is a casual, black and white shot, with shirt collars open, hair tossed back, postures relaxed. They are informal and real and warm. These photos add credibility to the marketing message the law firm wants to deliver. (In contrast, imagine the typical law partner photo: stiff, formal, with suits and ties, and everyone shot in the same position. Those photos would not communicate the idea of warmth and personal service at all.)

So let’s consider a (somewhat) hypothetical example for practice with this concept: the Web site of a personal chef. What is the story we want to tell for this chef via her Web site? We want people to know that she makes tasty food that’s pretty to look at, that will jazz up their parties and impress their friends. Ultimately we want people to hire this chef because they’ve been to her Web site.

Obviously, just words and boring photos of produce won’t tell his story or convince anyone to hire her. Think about what pictures will tell the story, like a child’s book with only a few words and plenty of colorful illustrations… Most importantly, we show photos of the food she has prepared, quality photos ideally staged by a food stylist that make these dishes so visually appealing with texture and color that the site visitor can practically smell the garlic. That’s because we are selling the food.

Next, we show the chef. We show her in her element, cooking the food, because that is also part of the story we are telling: the food is prepared by this capable professional in this commercial kitchen. We also use photos of happy clientele enjoying her appetizers at a party or toasting with wine glasses at a sit-down dinner. All are smiling and obviously enjoying their dishes. That’s the clincher: Our story is about great food that’s well-prepared and bound to be a hit with the customer’s guests.

Should a chocolate company’s Web site show a picture of a truffle or should it show someone eating the truffle, or even the making of the truffle? Should a grass seed Web site show pictures of the seeds, or photos of croquet being played on lush green lawns? Should a coffee roaster’s Web site show the beans or the bags filled with beans? Or the roaster? It all depends on the story you want to tell.

Your Web site has to speak for itself. Using the right pictures will help you say more.

And if a picture’s worth a thousand words, a great Web site is worth a million. Don’t leave your pictures—or your Web site—up to chance. Work with professionals for professional results.


Sharon Long Bearny of We Know Words

DesignWise & MarketSmart is a joint publication of Acadia Creative and We Know Words.

Whether a Web site or a whitepaper, We Know Words writes content that speaks to your customers, not at them. We know words, and we know what to do with them. Messaging for business growth.

Harper Studios

Is there a question you’ve been dying to ask a designer but were too afraid?
Ask us!! No, seriously! We love to hear from our subscribers. Who knows, your question might get answered in the next post on DesignWise. Email Us.

I just want to let everyone know that I’m done with my Christmas shopping. No kidding. My mom and dad are going on a cruise, my brother is getting some new snowboard gear, and my sister… Well, I’m not giving away ALL the presents!

My point in telling you this is to say that ANY company – be it service or product oriented, can easily take advantage of ecommerce technology to sell online. Many people, just like me, don’t want to deal with the day-after-Thanksgiving lines at Macy’s or just find it easier to walk online through the aisles of our favorite retailer or make travel arrangements with a credit card and the click of a mouse.

A big part of selling your wares successfully online is making sure your online presence aligns with your current branding. Everyone knows Kleenex. And do you really refer to other brands by their name, or when you need a Kleenex, you ask for a Kleenex? Brand recognition is incredibly important – especially online! Establishing trust through brand recognition with your online customers will result in more sales.

How do you do this? By maintaining the same quality and integrity on your website as you would for any of your printed materials. (Remember my post on Corporate Standards? They apply here too!) Template website programs or ecommerce solutions may be easy, but do they look and feel like something that would come from your company if you were to send it in the mail?

And whether you are selling a product or service, you’ll need some sort of shopping cart. Be sure that your company logo and corporate colors are a part of it. Be suspicious of third-party shopping cart solutions that don’t allow this. Company or customer service contact information should always be clearly posted in case there’s a problem with the check out process. If a customer wants to make any kind of purchase through your website, make them feel comfortable doing so. You’ll be glad you took the time to do it right!

The Story of Rossi Pasta
Rossi Pasta was in a pickle. This purveyor of specialty gourmet pasta had a nationwide reach through it’s mail order sales. But they realized that the lack of an online store left customers hungering for a more satisfying shopping experience.

So Rossi Pasta turned to acadia creative for help. They’re seasoned pros when it comes to design and ecommerce projects for gourmet and specialty foods. And Rossi Pasta craved the online success that acadia has brought to clients like ChefShop.com, Holl’s Chocolates, Napoleon Co. and Seattle Chocolates Online.

acadia creative started by whipping up a new site, translating their gorgeous print catalogs into a look and feel that was conducive to online shopping. They spiced up pages throughout the site with strategic placement of Rossi’s delectable products. Overall, acadia creative created quite a stir with the customized design and technology solution they cooked up for the online store. The Rossi Pasta site now dishes up an easy and fun shopping experience their customers simply relish!

I’m staring out the window at the gas station across the street  – half daydreaming about what it would be like to start riding my bike to work because I can’t afford to put gas into my less than eco-friendly pick-up truck – and half thinking about what the next E-newsletter from acadia creative is going to be about.

And then it hits me. How many of you actually KNOW how to create an E-newsletter? I mean – you probably get them all the time, but haven’t you ever wondered how they are created and how you email them to everyone you know on the earth without crashing your Outlook Express? Would you believe me if I told you it didn’t cost a fortune and you didn’t have to be a computer genius to do it? It doesn’t, and you don’t.

First, you need to compile your email list. You can easily export your contact list from your Outlook program into an excel spreadsheet. Quite often, this same file can be imported into an email management program with little or no tweaking. You can also buy lists, however I recommend thoroughly checking out the source of those lists before purchasing them.

Next, you need to identify a good online list management program. Sounds expensive. Well it can be. I’ve done the research and I’m very happy with the system that acadia creative uses to build and maintain the list for this newsletter. For a nominal monthly fee, Constant Contact allows me to place a sign-up box on my website for the newsletter.  The information entered gets added to my list of email contacts in the list management program. The management software also works as a cleaning company. If a message gets sent to a bad address, the system automatically removes it from the master list. Now that’s genius.

Well, you ask, how do I send my message? Good question. Along with the list management, programs like Topica also offers pre-designed templates that send a very nice, structured HTML e-newsletter. You don’t have to worry about HTML code. Simply write your content and plug it into the template. It’s that easy. The downside is that while you may be able to upload your logo and a photo or two, the template choices are limited and it may be hard to reflect your company brand. Hiring a designer who’s familiar with HTML and marketing will get you the best results if you’re trying to stay true to your brand. It will also give you an edge over the rest of the template users out there by creating something that is uniquely yours.

Once you’ve created your template with your content, select the email list you would like to send it to, and hit SEND! You can also schedule your mailing for a certain date and time. This works great if you’re lounging on the beach and you’d like everyone to think you’re hard at work. Eh hem.

So – what about results? Everything we do when marketing our business should be trackable, and with a list management system it is. Right down to who opened the email and how many people clicked on the links within it. This is valuable information and should be used as a tool for fine-tuning the content of your next newsletter.

I’m watching you!

While doing our annual spring cleaning around the studio (OK, maybe NOT annual, but close!), we discovered a few of our own self-promotional pieces that never made it past the cutting room floor. We collected them up and displayed them at our next staff meeting for an open discussion on why we had chosen not to use them.

One person claimed it was because of the cost to produce them. Another claimed we had decided to focus on another project. While still another felt that we had found a better way to communicate the message. One thing we all agreed on – our branding and collateral needed a little spring cleaning to ensure we were sending the right message.

Was a complete redesign in order? No! Just a little trip to the powder room for some freshening up!

Have you looked at your brand lately? Have individuals in your organization been committing “branding violations?” By this, I’m asking whether or not anyone has gone willy-nilly with the logo and recklessly plastered it onto anything they can get their hands on? Has it been stuck on a word document and stretched beyond distinction? Has anyone taken it upon themselves to come up with a “fun” new color palette for your marketing pieces? Or how about trying to “play” with the logo just enough to celebrate a season or a holiday?

Yikes.

Us designers aren’t afraid of those right brainers trying to be lefties. In fact, we celebrate them for giving it the ole’ college try. Some of the best corporate identity systems have been derived from the unexpected twist on an old theme. However, it’s important to understand what an impact all of this may have on your customers and your clients.

When putting a little spring in your brand, pay attention. Don’t do anything that will potentially harm the brand recognition you’ve worked so hard to build. If your customers relate to you because they like the sharp clean look of your brand, and the quality it represents, make sure that you continue to play that up. Would you know it was Nike if the orange swoosh suddenly became a purple square?

If you don’t really understand how all of this works, ask a designer to create a corporate standards guide (sounds important, doesn’t it?!). This could be as full-featured as how the signage in front of your building should look – or it could be as simple as how your logo should be placed in a Word document or a PowerPoint presentation. You don’t have to be a multi-million dollar corporation to have one of these – just smart.

The power of this document is priceless, because it holds everyone in your organization to the same standard. If you (or someone sitting at a desk near you) starts suffering from spring fever and feels the urge to add a little ooomph to the company brand, you’ll know exactly what you can and can’t do! As one of my favorite design professors used to tell us, it’s much easier to smartly break the rules, if you know what they are.