Advertising guru David Ogilvy was known for many things – his marketing quips and quotes can be found everywhere, for example, and his own particular style of advertising also was unique. Ogilvy believed that the more your advertisement looked like editorial, the more likely people would be to read the whole thing: “There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 per cent more readers.” In the print publications we receive, we have at times found ourselves tricked into reading an article that turned out to be an advertisement. Nothing really gave it away until the very end when the message evolved into something promotional and self-serving for the company “sponsoring” the piece. We were a little bit discouraged that we had fallen for the trick, but then again, you had to admit it was a pretty clever way to get someone to read along.

In the online world, this tactic does not translate well. This might seem counter-intuitive. If it can be viewed as a sly marketing approach in a trade magazine, why does it NOT work on a company blog? There are a few reasons, and we thought we’d share those with you to help you avoid future trouble.

1. Credibility – The online world is an environment in which a single click can lead you to a website that infests your computer with a virus. It’s also a place where anyone can self-publish if he or she wants, and people who self-publish don’t always take that all-important step of checking the information they are sharing. Because of these factors (and more) credibility is extremely valuable and it takes a long time to build. If you entice people to click on a blog post, for example, and it turns out to be a press release for your new product, your credibility will drop precipitously, and it will be hard to gain it back.

2. Expectations – When a person is leafing through a print publication, they’re going to expect to see advertisements. If you’re a regular reader, it won’t come as a shock that you have some promotional messaging within the pages of that magazine. Even if you go about your advertising in a creative, out-of-the-box manner, it’s still an expected advertisement in the end. In the online world, people are looking for more objective information versus news about your latest product or service. This is not to say that you can’t promote your company, but you need to establish expectations with your readers. If you have been blogging in order to build your thought leadership in your industry and then suddenly crush your regular readers with an extremely promotional blog post, that is not going to go over well. The same holds true for an e-newsletter, by the way.

3. Negative Ties – There are a lot of ill-advised or “black hat” practices online. One of them is choosing a title for a blog post that actually has very little to do with the content, or that at best might be a reach. A lot of companies have been advised to engage in these sorts of tricks in order to increase their Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Other people have found that if you can get enough people to click, the traffic will go up. It doesn’t matter really whether people read the entire post at that point. They’ve visited your page. Trickery of any sort online, even if your end result was accidental, can align you with these “snake oil salesmen.” That can be a real and permanent mark on your company’s overall reputation, not just your online reputation.

Marketing online can provide positive results. Marketing via an e-newsletter can be informative and can help build your database. But being transparent about what you are trying to do is of the utmost importance. If you want to start promoting a product or service, preview for your blog or e-newsletter readers that you’re going to be doing some promoting, but will still balance it with good information. In posts that fall into the promotional category, title the post appropriately. If you are worried that your readers might not react kindly to promotional content, consider your options carefully. There are ways out of that complexity, but you must tread carefully.

If you have not yet started marketing online, take the time to consider your long-term strategy. If you think you are eventually going to want to use your online presence or your e-newsletter to promote your company in some way, we advise you to make that clear from the beginning. That can mean tying your blog to your company name instead of to your personal name. That can mean infusing a bit of promotional material into your content from the very start so that if you want to make a push in the future it doesn’t seem out of place. And regardless of what your strategy is, do not attempt trickery in the online world. Call a post what it is. Preview, accurately, what your e-newsletter will cover using your subject line. Be honest on the front end. Market without obfuscation.

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