The older I get, the more I rely on electronic gadgets, online widgets and mobile apps to help me communicate.
We all enjoy this feeling of being connected — and not just on an individual level. Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter have professional applications, too. The magazine you're holding hosts its own page on Facebook. Our wellness supplement, SN Whole Health, has its own blog, WHRefresh.com. We still mail out hard copies of our magazine, without fail, 51 weeks a year. But today there's a real emphasis on reaching our readership through multiple channels, in the ways they want to be reached.
Becoming a Web-facing media organization is a daunting process, but necessary in an era where more people read stories on their PDAs while commuting than on the printed page. It's time for the supermarket industry to improve the way it presents itself to customers, as well. Companies currently operate colorful, easy-to-navigate websites, though what I'm talking about goes beyond home pages and online ordering. Home delivery might satisfy the service aspect of the business, but it does little to encourage relationships.
So, what are the next steps? How about blogging? Web logs have been around for a while now, but it's only recently that the industry has begun realizing what a powerful marketing tool they are. One manufacturer we recently spoke to discovered that blogging improved the company's rankings on leading search engines, and spurred a nearly 5% increase on sales of products mentioned in posts.
Some retailers are well ahead of the curve. Just about everyone is familiar with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's blog (www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blogs/jmackey); Fresh & Easy includes Chief Marketing Officer Simon Ewins among the bloggers on its website (www.freshandeasy.com/blog); and Steve Jenkins, the shoot-from-the-hip cheesemonger at New York's Fairway Market, writes long entries about the products he cares passionately about (www.fairwaymarket.com/blog).
New names are joining the list every day. Yoke's Fresh Market in Spokane, Wash., has just added three staff bloggers to its home page, covering wellness, meat and wine (www.yokesfoods.com/blog). Each blog includes a photo and a bio. They're personal touches that connect shoppers with the retailer, a sort of online version of the signs and photos shoppers find adorning in-store displays of local produce (and we all know how well that category is performing).
Of course, there are risks with this type of marketing. The more you reach out, the more attention you get. Studies have shown that for every 100 people who read a blog, 10 leave comments. Not every one of them might be complimentary, but so what? Just as every brick-and-mortar store has a courtesy counter, every website should feature an interactive, public forum for comments and feedback. Either way, your customer is going to tell you what they think.