Chapter 5 Little Companies—Long Reach

May 7, 2005 · 7 comments in Miscellaneous

The time will come when you will hear me.” —Benjamin Disraeli

The famous executives interviewed in the last chapter are very different than most of us. Unless this book does infinitely better than we imagine it will, we anticipate no pack of journalists trailing us around eager to quote or misquote whatever we say. For those of us who have businesses that are less-than-globally monolithic, blogging is our only chance to be heard — and to listen — on a large scale. Most companies have tight marketing budgets and the results have been less in recent times than we had hoped.

We have to admit, that in many ways, researching this chapter was our favorite part of writing this book. There is a special place in our hearts for the chutzpa and resourcefulness of entrepreneurs — not just start-ups, but people in all sorts and sizes of businesses, who show passion and ingenuity and we think the companies discussed here illustrated the power of blogging as a communications channel.

While Mark Cuban and Bob Lutz have the luxury of choosing to bypass the press by blogging, most people in business have trouble getting their names in the newspaper to begin with and their ad budgets often cover little more than Yellow Page ads. Blogging gives them global reach, and in a few interesting cases, they extend hometown advantages to hometown businesses.

Some of the blogging companies we investigated are far from tiny. They are established and have multimillion dollar budgets. But they are not global powerhouses. Stonyfield Farms, for example, is the largest North American organic dairy. The Fellowship Church is among the five largest independent churches in the U.S.

The Man Makes the Clothes

Thomas Mahon and Hugh MacLeod were bending elbows (er, spending time in bars together) and commiserating. Mahon was a tailor. Not just a tailor, but a Savile Row tailor. Some say these artisans with the prestigious address make the world’s finest suits. But in Europe, like the U.S., the demand for custom suits costing as much as $4,000 was at a global nadir. Worse, rent on the fabled London street was steadily rising through the well-maintained roof.

MacLeod is no tailor. He’s an ex-advertising executive who had grown cold to the work and cultures of ad agencies. These days, his creativity was channeled into edgy ink cartoons that mostly made fun of the ad  culture from whence he came. His living comes in part from selling these edgy, expletive-riddled cartoons in books, on t-shirts and on the back sides of business cards and he consults. Most admirers follow him through his popular Gaping Void blog where he posted cartoons, ink-drawn on the backs of business cards.

Mahon and MacLeod shared two affinities – the aforementioned “bending of elbows” and a need to enhance income. Says MacLeod, “Thomas wasn’t interested in blogs and I wasn’t interested in suits I could not afford. The idea for English Cut, a blog displaying the passion and authority required to make some of the world’s finest suits, “sort of started by accident,” MacLeod told us. “We didn’t have a vision or anything like that. But, over drinks, MacLeod started filling Mahon’s “head with Cluetrain and blogging stuff,” and slowly Mahon got interested. They formed a partnership. Mahon would make the suits. MacLeod would sell them. Mahon would blog about what he knew. Hugh would coach him and use his blog juice to direct traffic to the new blog.

Mahon, wisely, didn’t try to sell suits on the new blog. Instead, he showed his knowledge and love of the craft. He explained the labor, and why the cost was justified.” Hugh assured him that the people who cared would find the site. Mahon entered his first post in his new blog, English Cut in January. By April, hundreds of bloggers had written about and linked to English Cut.

In the world, there are perhaps 10,000 people with both budget and desire for Savile Row suits. They reside in some of the world’s most fashionable geographies, yet Mahon faces the economics of a local merchant. His ad budget might cover a phone book insertion, but little more. His business was mostly built by word-of-mouth, and he has long been traveling to New York City a few times annually, in part because he likes Manhattan, and in part to serve a smattering of American clients. If he sells two suits each time, it pays for the trip. If he sells three, he eats and gets to pay rent. A five-suit trip is a bonanza. When Mahon was in New York, in December 2004, he sold only two. When he returned 10 weeks after starting a blog, he sold 20 suits and eight sport coats, better than he had ever done in an entire year.

But more than that happened on his New York City visit. MacLeod had become email buddies via blogging with David Parmet , a career public relations consultant who had found himself unemployed after pushing too hard to get his agency to update its services to include blogging-related services. MacLeod had made a post under the headline: “Would somebody please hire this guy?” Then, recalled MacLeod, “I just asked him out-of-the-blue if he would fancy trying his hand at generating PR for English Cut,” Parmet might have resisted, but he had a secret soft spot. “I had always had a thing for Savile Row suits, ever since I saw Brian Ferry wearing them on the MTV.” Parmet signed on after learning that Mahon was Ferry’s suit-maker. By email, he committed to escorting a British tailor, whom he had never met or spoken with to meet several of the world’s most influential media companies. In return, Thomas would compensate him, not with dollars or pound sterling, but with a classic, well-fitting suit that perhaps he could wear in his next job interview.

Why would Parmet, a seasoned pro, take such a risk? He was unemployed, but far from desperate. He knew that his real customer was not the client, but the editor, and he was hanging his credibility on the line for people he had never even met. “Perhaps through blogging, we had built a mutual trust for each other. “When Thomas and I finally met, it didn’t take long before we felt we were old friends,” recollects Parmet, and it turned out to be a risk worth taking.

The media loved the story. The result is an exclusive article in one of the world’s most prestigious publications and television coverage on a global TV network. This media coverage will extend Mahon’s position as the world’s most famous Savile Row tailor, but the blog had already achieved that its first few months. For Mahon, his blog opened doors where previously there had only been walls. Measuring from one New York trip to the next, English Cut had increased Mahon’s business by at least 300 percent in less than 10 weeks. In Manhattan it had increased by nearly 15-fold.

Mahon is an example of a local merchant gaining global reach through blogging. He speculated he could now go to any major city in the world, and be known well enough to sell a fair quantity of elite threads. All he has to do is post that he will be in a certain city at a particular time, and the customers will find him. It’s still a word-of-mouth business, but blogging scaled it to global levels.

There are lessons for a great many local merchants in Mahon’s story. Being first was essential to Mahon’s success. Being the second blogging tailor may not be nearly as remarkable. Showing passion rather than salesmanship was essential for this story to have happened. There is another aspect: blogs such as Mahon’s, like some ad campaigns, may have limited time in the spotlight. We are already seeing evidence that the excitement and novelty of it are on the wane.

It doesn’t matter. Thanks to blogging and a resourceful drinking companion, Thomas Mahon today is the world’s best-know Savile Row tailor. And thanks to the increasing number of inbound links, the site continues getting better rankings on search engines.

Like Pulling Teeth

While Mahon and MacLeod thought global, Isshin Dental Clinic in Yokohama Japan has improved its business by 80 percent in less than a year by thinking local. The Haisha Business Blog, (‘Haisha’ means dentist in Japanese) was designed just to reach community residents in need of care. Built on MovableType, the multiple-page, RSS-enabled, blogsite presents Isshin as a friendly, non-intimidating place for filling and cleaning. Photos depict smiling white-coated staff. Topics include dealing with pain, general advice, a Q&A, and “voices of patients,” but allows no actual comments. According to Ginger Tulley, Six Apart director of worldwide strategy and analysis, who guided and translated a few Japanese sites for us, the clinic feels they set this up as “a reasonable investment” that resulted in the number of patients doubling in a short period of time. Tulley says the blog delivered 80 percent of new patients since it started.

Japan, Tulley told us, is experiencing the most rapid blog adoption rate outside the U.S. While consumer blogs lead the way, global companies including Nissan Motors, Proctor and Gamble (Japan), and a joint venture between Hitachi Data Systems and Casio are making contributions. Another, small Japanese site, Lloyd’s Antique Online Shop of Tokyo, a Japanese language site that, in many ways acts British, and for some reason prominently displays the Swiss National White Cross Crest. It is essentially an online catalog, where each posting shows a photo of an item for sale, with descriptions that are sales oriented, such as “sturdy wood. There are comment and Trackback options.

The Connection King

Every industry has them and you probably know a few in your sector. They are professional connectors, people who know everyone and have their hand on the pulse of what’s happening. They help people find jobs, make deals, form partnerships, and so on. They know about new products and services before they’re publicly introduced.

In blogging, ActiveWords CEO Buzz Bruggeman is the Connection King.

Everyone who has met him understands why he’s called ‘Buzz’  and perhaps the term “buzz marketing” was named for him. At conferences he works the room like a mayoral candidate. He keeps an ongoing email dialog with scores of people, each influential in some way, or in need of a favor. He totes a bag filled with early versions of the latest gizmos which he hands out generously. Bruggeman connected the authors of this book, played a key role in inspiring Dan Gillmor to write “We, the Media,” and has probably been quoted as an “informed source” in an article you recently read.

In short, when you really want to know what’s going on in the PC industry, Buzz Bruggeman is the go-to guy.

Although he’s generous by nature, he’s hardly the Mother Theresa type. There’s strategy and just a touch of reciprocity involved, ActiveWords, is a highly regarded software utility company whose product gives users neat little navigational shortcuts to measurably increase productivity. The company reports 100,000 downloads from its site on a six-year marketing budget of less than $15,000. Blogging, Bruggeman thinks, played a role in nearly half the downloads and like English Cut, blogging has been fundamental in facilitating an impressive quantity of national press clips including the New York Times, Business 2.0 and PC Magazine, PC World among others, and, says Bruggeman blogging has significantly contributed to landing a couple of company-changing OEM deals.

But Bruggeman, by his own estimation, is no uber-blogger. He posts to his two sites a few times a week rather than per hour as do leading denizens like Doc Searls. Searls has described Bruggeman as a “C+ blogger and an A+ blog reader,” a description Bruggeman finds apt.

Our point in covering Bruggeman is you don’t need to spend your life posting and answering comments for blogging to help your company; nor do you need to write like Hemingway to use blogging to boost business.

Bruggeman found the blogosphere because he had to. He’s played a pivotal role a couple of times because he is resourceful. A few years back, he realized ActiveWords didn’t know much about marketing software and he “decided we’d better figure that out fast.” The company needed press coverage, particularly product reviews, but it had no money for a PR agency or marketing staff, even if they could find it in Winter Park, Fla., so Bruggeman, a former lawyer decided to make himself become company evangelist. But try as he might, it was excruciatingly difficult to get traditional journalists to listen to him. Cold calls to business editors got cold receptions, if any at all. Emailing product editors in an attempt to get them to download only got his correspondence relegated to junk mail folders.

Bruggeman represented a promising new company with a useful product. But he was an outsider to the partially insulated tech influencer community. He kept circling the perimeter looking for an entry point but couldn’t find one. He started attending tech conferences and hanging out where he could be closer to people who could make a difference for Activewords.

Then blogging came along and he was struck by differences. “In the traditional media, I couldn’t easily get to the guy who wrote the article. But, I could get to the most influential bloggers. When I reached out to Doc and Dan Gillmor they responded.” He shifted his company’s focus over to the blogosphere. “People have an incredible desire to create and be heard and have a voice, and blogging gave it to them,” he said. He built relationships by figuring out what everyone’s passion was. He would funnel material on subjects that interested each blogger.” On Searls advice, he started Buzzmodo

Mostly, he found reasons to link to better-known bloggers.
Bruggeman found his way into the center ring in April 2002. As Gillmor recalls in his excellent book, We the Media, Joe Nacchio, CEO of Qwest a telephone company with a near-monopoly hold in several states was on the dais of the prestigious PC Forum, a tech industry executive conference. Gillmor writes that Nacchio was complaining about difficulties in raising capital. Searls and Gillmor were blogging on it in near realtime from the audience and neither were impressed. But then the two “A-List” bloggers received email from Bruggeman in Florida within minutes of their original postings:

“Ain’t America great,’” Bruggeman wrote, according to Gillmor. Bruggeman linked a Yahoo Finance webpage showing that Nacchio had cashed in more than $200 million in stock even as his company’s stock price headed downhill under his stewardship. “I immediately dropped this juicy tidbit into my weblog with a cyber-tip of the hat to Bruggeman and Searls did likewise,” wrote Gillmor. The event’s host, Esther Dyson would later write, “around this point the audience turned hostile.” Apparently, attendees were following the two bloggers. Sitting 2,000 miles away, Bruggeman had altered the course of an elite private event, and damaged the future of a CEO he had never met. Nacchio was already in trouble with his job, but after PC Forum, he found an edgier and more hostile press and not long after, would be ousted. Gillmor wrote that he considered the event watershed to his own understanding of blogging’s power.

Later that year, Bruggeman teamed up with author-blogger JD Lasica to cover another tech conference called PopTech. Both had ulterior motives. JD was interested in interviewing speakers for his book—-Darknet, Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation (http://www.darknet.com/) and Bruggeman wanted to a free pass into the conference. Both got what they wanted, but the blog itself surprised them. “Every time we posted, we’d get about 200 hits, two-thirds from people outside the conference. We realized we were extending the reach — and participation of the conference.”
Today in the tech sector, most events are covered by blogs. While a couple of years back, bloggers had to pay to get in, now they are pitched by conference producers to attend. More than traditional journalists, bloggers change an event by participating, adding global reach. We imagine in a short while other events in other industries will start being blogged.

Bruggeman credits Jim McGee with one of the best explanations to blogging’s surprising power: Bloggers, according to McGee, are the agents that tech companies tried and failed to produce with software and something called artificial intelligence. Those agents were supposed to go and fetch useful information and retrieve precisely what users wanted. Except the stuff never worked, in part, because computers lack common sense. Bloggers have become the intelligent agents. They have common sense and add knowledge of their own. They run around the Internet and the real world finding all sorts of stuff and sharing it interactively through blogging.

This new generation of intelligent agents are willing to go to work for bloggers, as Winer mentioned when he discussed the instant answers he got to blog-posted questions. When Bruggeman posted thoughts that Microsoft may never have intended its Outlook application program to serve as a third-party development platform which has caused instability, he received over 20 comments from “some of the industry’s smartest people, who piled on ideas of how the question I posed was right or wrong. Without a blog, I would never have had access to that kind of intelligent capital. It’s like every blogger can hold an interactive symposium,” he marveled.

Bruggeman has also learned to keep his oil and water separately contained. He used to mix his business commentary with impassioned, left-leaning political views. One day, someone wrote in: “I love your product. I hate your politics, and I will pray for you.” Bruggeman spun a new blog out of Buzzmodo, called Buzznovation, which gave him a venue to air his views on the new venue, while keeping constructive and businesslike tones on the other.

Like other successful bloggers, he avoids selling on his blog. “It just won’t work and you lose credibility People will be smart to avoid the temptation,” he says. He mentions ActiveWords only in about one in four Buzznovations postings.”

Naturally Curious People

The Dallas-based Fellowship Church is among North America’s five largest independent churches. Founded in 1990, its four campuses receive as many as 20,000 people for worship at 10 services on a typical weekend. Obviously, Fellowship understands evangelism’s power. Brian Bailey is the church’s Internet manager his evangelism has been of the technical variety and the result is that Fellowship is rapidly adopting blogs in myriad ways to improve internal and external communications.

Bailey’s blog, Leave it Behind, covers much of the same “geeky” stuff you might find in Scobleizer. It’s where he has particular passion and authority. Through blogging, he’s become Scoble’s friend, and like Scoble, he was first turned on to blogging by the ubiquitous influence of Dave Winer.

He started Leave It Behind in April 2004, naming it for a U2 song about letting go in the here and now for the eternal. It’s a personal blog, addressing diverse subjects. While devoted to Chrisianity there’s little discussion of it on his blog. “Preaching is not my calling,” he told us.

But he’s been spreading the word on the power of blogging for years, at first to ambivalent ears. He tried to start an internal knowledge-sharing blog back in 2001, but it was tabled, he quipped, because “the return on ministry wasn’t yet clear.” When he started his blog quietly at first, at first, not mentioning it to his boss, Terry Storch, a Fellowship Church executive. After all, it was not church-community directed. “I would be very disappointed if all of my readers were Christ-followers. My goal is to gather a diverse group who enjoys being exposed to different thoughts,” he told us. He said he is “obsessed” with finding commonalities between people.

But at Fellowship his tech evangelism has paid off big time. When Storch learned of Bailey’s blog, he saw the value and started his own. A year later blogging was pervading just about every aspect of the church. Blogs had been added to two of the four websites Bailey managed and RSS syndication was being added to a good number of pages. There are a couple of departmental blogs, with an inter-departmental blog in the works. There were plans underway for a blog from the church to volunteers and from volunteers to each other and the list was rapidly expanding. Nearly 20 church employees were blogging on a variety of subjects.

Christian evangelism is certainly among primary objectives. “Our goal is to use every tool possible, including technology, to meet each person where they are. Fellowship is an intense, challenging and infinitely creative organization that never loses sight of what’s at stake,” Bailey told us.

Bailey has posted at least once daily since he started and he remains committed to maintaining the regimen. “The only way to prove the value of a weblog and see what the true impact would be was to dive in.”

He sees three areas where blogs have impacted Fellowship:

(1) Internal. This is where the most dramatic change has occurred. Blogging improved multiple communications levels. The church vision and has added transparency to how ideas develop.

(2) Personal. Bailey feels his blog has made him wiser by exposing him to new ideas. He has become better-known and by writing every day, more articulate. Like others, he says he’s learned to listen better to people with opposing views. 

(3) Community. The increased openness has given people a closer sense of connection with the church, whether or not they are members, “curious seekers or leaders of other churches with whom we exchange ideas and advice.”

Bailey believes blogs can be useful at multiple organizational levels. “I see weblogs as completely natural — a written transcript of the thoughts, conversations, ideas, mistakes and victories taking place every day in every organization. What isn’t natural is sharing that with the rest of the world.”

Because the best blogs take risks, he advises, “get out of your comfort zone. An organization must be willing tolerate some mistakes and criticism, knowing that the risk is worth the innumerable benefits of open communication. Blogs encourage honest conversation within an organization, pushing both change and growth.”

He advises companies to understand what blogs are and are not: “I don’t think you can launch blogs as a new corporate initiative in the same way you introduce a new health plan. You need to locate the people in your organization that enjoy writing and have a passion for your product or service and want to be evangelists. How do you begin? My advice is to find the naturally curious people and let them start.”

From Kitchen to Nuclear Lab

It was one of those slap-yourself-on-the-forehead ideas—so simple you should have thought of it yourself, but you didn’t.  DL Byron, founder of Textura Design, Inc. (LINK: ) actually did and called it Clip-n-Seal. If it’s not yet in a retail store near you, chance are it will be. Byron fashioned a couple of pieces of plastic into a rod-and-clamp mechanism that worked in a similar way to how gold prospectors used wrappers to keep food fresh. Clip-n-Seal lets you put two sheets of plastic around something—anything— and melds the plastic wrap to form an airtight seal around it.

In 2003, he started exclusively marketing it for the kitchen or maybe biking and hiking excursions from his blog. End users came as he had hopes. But something else happened.  Other markets found him and these were industrial users including hazardous waste and nuclear labs, Scuba, aerospace, dairy farms, body bags and organ donor deliveries, commercial coffee bean packaging and a great deal more. Online distribution was bolstered by Amazon.com picking up the product.  Brick and mortar specialty stores started stocking it on their shelves.  When we interviewed him, he was in talks with Target, the #2 retail chain. But Clip-n-Seal has gone well-beyond the inventor’s vision into industrial applications that include.  In two years, it has shipped more than 40,000 units all over the world, at a retail price of $4.95 per unit.

According to Byron, as the company grows in adoption, markets, products and brand, It may need to stretch beyond the blogosphere, even though blogging has built It to what It Is today.  "New markets came to us," becausee of blogging, he said, and those industrial applications have changed the business. The company now uses innovative marketing to attract more commercial customers. It is currently running an industrial design application contest, and It has changed the wording on some of their Google ads to address industrial audiences. But, he added, "I doubt any of our industrial customers care that we have a blog or even know what that is.  What’s important is that they could find us, they got to know us on the site and our product meets their needs. It’s not about the blog. It’s about the product."

Byron  sees the day when Clip-n-Seal may have to turn to traditional advertising, to reach prospects who are untouched by the  blogosphere. "Blogging is still a small market and we need to remember that," he observed.

Blogging, however, is important enough to have changed the focus of the parent company. Byron, whose career has been web-centric since 1994, said Textura Design has shifted Its core core focus from design to blog consulting.

Blogging, however, needs to be kept in realistic perspective.  Clip-n-Seal sales may get ahead of the blogosphere, and the company may need to use traditional marketing to maintain its potential growth.

Yes, but we wondered where Clip-n-Seal would be without blogging? Byron’s answer: "one of the millions of inventions that never made it."

7 Cows—Five Blogs

When Gary Hirschberg, chairman, CEO and president, founded Stonyfield Farms in 1983, it was a small, folksy, people-friendly operation. Stonyfield began as an organic farm school in pastoral Londonderry, NH, with its chief assets being seven cows. Today, the Stonyfield brand is more valuable than entire herds.

It’s no longer exactly what you’d call a small business in the sense of Activewords or English Cut. It has grown into the world’s largest organic yogurt company with 2005 revenues estimated at about $200 million USD. Stonyfield sells about 18 million yogurt cup a month plus mountains of natural ice cream. While continuing to operate independently, the company is mostly owned by Groupe Danone, a French food products company operating in over 40 countries with stock listed on the Dow Jones Industrial index.

Yet, when you go to their website, and read any of their five blogs, three of them written by Christine Halvorson, chief blogging officer, you get the sense of the same folksy organization started more than 20 years earlier. The company has made great effort to maintain a trustworthy, accessible image. It has become the meaning of their brand.

To achieve this position, Halvorson says the company does far less some traditional print and television advertising than other food companies. “It’s only recently we did paid advertising at all,” she told us. The company does maintain a traditional PR campaign which operates on a comfortable budget.

But Stonyfield’s central focus is in innovative “guerilla marketing” tactics. Stonyfield attends and sponsors community events distributing food samples. They sponsor “Strong Women Summits,” because women are the primary customer, and the company markets to issues of female concern. For example, Stonyfield has programs to put healthy snacks into public school vending machines. Since the beginning, Stonyfield has used packaging as a communications tool. Yogurt cup lids are used to spread “whatever messages we think are important — and those are often related to saving the planet,” Halvorson says. Blogging fits with all of that because “we’ve always been a company with a particular point of view,” she said.

With all that in place, Stonyfield had both culture and strategy conducive to blogging. Hirshberg was concerned that growth would force the company to lose its customer intimacy, when he discovered blogging during the Howard Dean presidential campaign. He told BusinessWeek magazine that he saw the campaign was using bloggers to do with voters precisely what Stonyfield had been trying to do with customers since the days when they were still milking their own cows and the company used to write: “Let us hear from you” on the back of yogurt containers.

He hired Halvorson, a career writer, from a Monster.com ad. In addition to the three blogs she writes, Halvorson also edits and posts the Bovine Bugle (LINK), written by one of their contract organic dairy farmers. Baby Babble (LINK) is a collaborative effort by six Stonyfield parents of very young children and babies. Halvorson recruited the latter team because she is not a parent and could not speak from personal experience.

We wondered why a company whose brand connoted simplicity and an interest in saving the world needed five blogs. Halvorson explained that the company saw itself as serving five niche markets: (1) women, (2) people concerned about junk food in schools and healthy kids, (3) organic farmers and people concerned about organic food production, (4) parents of very young children and (5) customers.

Halvorson feels the ongoing dialog has increased awareness, loyalty and perhaps some customers for Stonyfield. “We know the readers … are enjoying them. The Bovine Bugle, which discusses everyday life on an organic farm, inspires nostalgia while providing insight. The Baby Babble inspires parents — or at least gives them a place to rant and find like-minded parents. We hope we are entertaining, that folks are finding us from other blogs, or accidentally stumbling upon us, Halverson told us.

“It’s hard to quantify, but we assume we’ve garnered some positive impressions among our readers, and that’s what counts most, not necessarily our ROI. Also, “we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from professionals in the marketing community about what we’re doing.” The PR community, however, watches with a wary eye because blogging messages, delivered without controls, are different than how it has been traditionally done.

She advises companies thinking about blogging not to bog the process down with excessive policies and procedures. As so many other bloggers advise, she says to blog often, be authentic and of course — be interesting. One other thing — have a thick skin, “Bloggers aren’t necessarily nice,” she observes.

Feeding on a Downhill Business

North Conway, NH, with a year-round population of about 7000, sounds as hometown as Londonderry. But it rests near some of the most popular—and most treacherous— ski slopes on the Eastern seaboard, proximite to it’s tallest mountain and surrounded by hiking and cross-country trails not to mention breath-taking fall foliage and rushing whitewater rivers. While skiing dominates the town is at the center of a four-season destination vacation region. The regional tourism publicists have dubbed the area the oxymoronic name of Mount Washington Valley and on peak week-ends the population swells to as much as a half-million.

These visitors bring prosperity and gentrification. Week-end and seasonal second homes dot the lower slopes. Famous-maker factory outlets have come in and brought shoppers from bigger cities.

If you’re a tourist, Horsefeathers is the kind of local eatery townies will send you to for a good dinner.

It’s a neighborhood place opened in 1976 Brian Glynn and Ben Williams and among the local favorites, where you can gran a burger at the bar, or eat in one of two dining rooms or enjoy live entertainment or book a private party upstairs. Many of their “regulars” are actually in town only for a week or two each year, but they return year-after-year. Patrons chat about sports and slopes and weather and how the town has changed.

But fast-food joints, chains and franchises have been inundating the town. While they’re not direct competition, every family car that drives through a MacDonald’s or grabs a flat box from Pizza Hut is one less table in some local establishment. Horsefeathers depends on the loyalty of repeat customers who represent 60 percent of Horsefeathers’ $3 million in annual business. Williams needed to keep customers loyal enough to “not wander down the street to try something new.”

A few years earlier the partners started a newsletter to keep in touch with customers in their primary homes, so that when they returned to North Conway they’d still feel part of the community. It worked for a while and the list built to 2000 but then spam made group mailings and newsletters less effective.

Of course, Horsefeathers has a restaurant website, just like every other restaurant. But according to Williams, theirs was dull with a few pictures and a menu that never changed — just like every other restaurant website. “Customers would look at the site once and, seeing nothing new, never return.” So Williams decided to try a blog. Taking a strategy that Bruggeman could have recommended, he focused on a single purpose: retain customers. “We had no desire to sell sandwiches via Pay Pal,” Williams told us. Nor was it aimed at telling strangers they should come and eat. Word-of-mouth from happy regulars would do that.

The blog strives to extend the sort of conversations online that you would have with Williams if you were at a Horsefeathers dinner table or sitting on one of the 13 barstools. Williams blogs about local happenings such as ski and river conditions. Recent postings profile of a local archery range and some historic tidbits on perilous Tuckerman’s Ravine, where extreme skiing began. He never hypes Horsefeathers itself. “No one wants to hear how wonderful we think we are,” he says. He posts often and that, of course, helps the restaurant appear prominently in search engines, which is likely to provide the second benefit of new customer acquisition. Google probably helps put Horsefeathers on the tourist "must see” list.

In the blog’s first year, it received over 50,000 visitors. “For us, this is a huge number. On an average day 150 to 200 people will electronically check-in at our home base. We have as many people visiting Horsefeathers.com every day, as we have seats in the dining room. The busiest day is always Thursday and the heaviest traffic occurs right after lunch. “You have to think that these are our customers checking in to see what’s up for the weekend,” he speculated.

Consequently, Horsefeathers is reducing its traditional advertising budget. There is one trade off Williams sees for cutting expenses.  It takes a lot of time to blog often and well.

While the diversities of these business organizations is apparent, so are the similarities.  In case after case, we hear successful business bloggers advise: (1) Talk, don’t sell, (2) Post often and be interesting, (3) Write on issues you know and care about (4) Blogging save money and costs time and (5) You get smarter by listening to what people tell you.

{ 7 comments }

gapingvoid January 19, 2006 at 1:12 am

tech crunch party

Already “Sold Out”:The fifth TechCrunch Meetup is on Friday, February 17, 2006 at the TechCrunch house in Atherton, California. We will celebrate the launch of Naked Conversations, the new book by Shel Israel and Robert Scoble.I’ve already read Naked…

gapingvoid January 19, 2006 at 1:10 am

tech crunch party

Alread “Sold Out”:The fifth TechCrunch Meetup is on Friday, February 17, 2006 at the TechCrunch house in Atherton, California. We will celebrate the launch of Naked Conversations, the new book by Shel Israel and Robert Scoble.I’ve already read Naked…

Teblog May 15, 2005 at 1:40 am

Blogging for better business

It’s been a busy week, a lot of blog postings had to be diverted to the clippings folder. One of them was Chapter 5 of the Naked Conversations [Red Couch as was] book. If you find yourself advising people on

hugh macleod May 8, 2005 at 11:03 am

Great Chapter. Thanks for mentioning English Cut.

Two points:

1. Thomas used to cut suits for Brian Ferry, back when he worked at Anderson & SHeppard. He no longer does.

2. I wouldn't say interest in English Cut is waning from the $4000 suit market… there was a lot of initial interest from the non-suit-buyers (i.e. bloggers in general) at first, as a case study for succcessful business blogging… but once they got the story, they moved on.

Now our readers see to be mostly people actually in the market- which seems quite a natural development to me.

-b- May 8, 2005 at 9:29 am

Thanks for the great chapter. One correction on Clip-n-Seal. We're not in talks with Target, but really hoping for talks with Target. Maybe a buyer will see this chapter!

Changing Way May 7, 2005 at 7:09 pm

Red Couch: Ch 5, and…

The story so far: Shel Israel and Robert Scoble are writing a book on blogging. The project’s code name is Red Couch, the book’s title has yet to be decided. They are posting material from the book on the Red Couch blog, which recently had the honour o…

Randy Holloway Unfiltered May 7, 2005 at 6:23 pm

Long reach

The Red Couch: “In short, when you really want to know what’s going on in the PC industry, Buzz Bruggeman is the go-to guy.” The fifth chapter of Scoble and Israel’s book is now online….

Comments on this entry are closed.