Summer 2011
Overcoming Bloggers Block By Carolyn Howard Johnson

You already know that a blog is a great way to promote your store on the Internet. And unlike Facebook and Twitter, a blog offers you more freedom in terms of length and content. Yet if you don’t update your blog frequently, interest and traffic suffer. Here are some ideas for overcoming bloggers’ block.

Writers worry about writers’ block; if you have a store blog, you might worry about bloggers’ block. Don’t let that concern keep you from starting a blog. Reassuringly, there is a wealth of material out there just waiting to be mined for your blog.

To attract and keep readers, a blog must include practical information or ideas that others can use or relate to. It is not that hard to blog and the process helps you focus on your store’s strengths and those aspects that make it special. Glean ideas as you go about your day. Everything you do might spark an idea for a blog or other marketing vehicle. Carry a notebook and pencil everywhere you go.

And remember: your blog posts don’t have to be long—often, just a quick paragraph will do. And if you do feel like expounding, a blog is a perfect way to do so. Unlike Facebook updates and Twitter “tweets,” a post can be just long as you want it to be.

While each store is unique in its own way, there are some aspects of blogging that are common to most retail gift shops.

Here are some topic ideas that will work for gift retailers like you:

Blog-only bargains. They might be the most natural subjects for most retailers to come up with.It works from a marketing standpoint as well. Keep in mind your profit margins and inventory when offering weekly specials, for example. Watch for closeouts from your vendors and attend surplus tradeshows for items with a high perceived value and low cost. These can be a regular part of your weekly blog-only offers. Remember that some products qualify to be freebies, better than others. In addition to having a high perceived value, a freebie should ship at little or no cost, offer information that will encourage sales and inspire loyalty; last a long time and contribute to your store brand; and enhance your image as an expert in your field.

Your merchandise. New lines. Old lines. New shipments. The licensed artists for these lines. You might even interview the artists and craft a valuable story behind your products. Customers love to hear the story behind products and put a name and a face to the products they love and treasure. Remember to use tons of images. You already know pictures sell merchandise. Include shots of pretty displays, pretty windows, you, your staff. Some bloggers do whole blog posts using nothing but images and brief descriptive passages.

Your employees. New ones. Employees getting awards. Employees celebrating long-term anniversaries with you. Employees who came up with ideas to improve your operations. The bonus advantage here is that being featured on your blog might work as an inducement for staff members to be more creative and loyal.

The parts of retailing that the public finds exotic. New window displays. The buying process and the traveling you do as part of that buying. As you walk the aisles of a gift show, ask yourself what angles you can write about. Talk about retailing in general. In general, people are very interested in what retailers are doing and the choices they make.

Yourself. If you spend time in the store, you will be of interest to customers. Remember to steer clear of sensitive topics such as religion or politics (unless you have a related store) but your customers might get a kick out of sharing a birthday celebration or even new babies in the store’s extended family.

Anything that is in the news that relates to your store or product lines. If Oprah picked out one of your product lines to endorse, set it out on a separate table display and blog about the news. It’s okay to get specific about your products. If you carry porcelain, blog about how it’s made. If you carry patio furniture, explain how one of your lines is made with sustainably harvested wood. If you install something like a solar-heated water system, it’s definitely blog-worthy. If you and your store are in Vermont, having an especially warm spring, blog about it to potentially increase traffic. An especially icy week is an occasion for a “free shipping with phone orders over $25” offer.

Vendors. Get them involved. Get them involved. Link to the articles on their blogs and websites. Request their participation in some way—either through written material or product giveaways.

Customer service. Things like your rewards card, layaway plan, customization options and gift wrapping services belong here.

Mix and match. Remember it adds a personal touch, when you talk about not only the new products you found at the National Stationery Show but also the $25 mocha martini you had on the roof of the Marriott in Times Square. It really is up to you how personal you want to get in your blog. Some retailers are more willing than others, to share more private details about their daily lives on their blog. Remember that the Internet is a permanent archive so it’s very hard to erase what you put up there.

Store events. These are huge and a blog is a great way to promote them. Arrange specials and giveaways tailored to boost traffic for events.

The outside word. Look for ideas outside your store. Television is good—a foolproof outlet because it appeals to people across the spectrum. Can you somehow tie your blog to “American Idol” without losing focus? Commercials in television are also fair game. When you read the daily papers or watch the news, jot down ideas about how you might relate your blog content to current events. Tear and save clippings out of magazines, newspapers and even junk mail in an easily accessible area, as a way of generating ideas for blog posts.

Use the carnival concept. A carnival is a kind of blog that lists the best (or most noteworthy) blog posts in the blogosphere, which are related to your blog’s focus. All you’ll essentially have to do is group the links to these blogs along with a synopsis of each. A note of caution: Carnivals save writing time, but you might have to spend a significant amount of time finding and reading related blogs to find good content.

Here are some more ideas that might serve to light that inspirational spark:

  • Review books that related to your products or business philosophy.
  • Let readers follow along with the process of a store expansion or renovation. This helps build enthusiasm for the eventual unveiling.
  • Create contests for merchandise prizes.
  • Let customers submit materials for blogs.
  • Encourage your employees to submit articles or anecdotes about your store.
  • Quotes from blogs or websites with a focus related to yours. Make sure not to tread on copyright law when doing so.

Make blogging part of your work every day. That way it takes little or no extra time for promotion and flows seamlessly into all the things you do to promote your store.

Carolyn Howard Johnson

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the award-winning How To Do It Frugally series of books for writers including Frugal and Focused Tweeting for Retailers. More information...

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