Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To blog or to knol: that is the question!

A colleague recently asked me to explain the difference between a blog and a knol. She wondered if it made more sense to use a knol for presenting expert information.

I thought that was a good question. So, here's my answer.

A Knol is a giant blogging site. However, it is more often compared to Wikipedia than a blog. That's because a knol is typically written in an authoritative manner about a single topic. For instance, a knol could be about "Insomnia" or "How to easily fit into Japanese society."

The main differences between a knol and Wikipedia include:

• Wikipedia has one page per topic, while a knol allows multiple authors to write on the same topic in different places.

• On Wikipedia, you are not to create pages for self-promotion. You may use a knol to promote your business or products and services.

• Anyone can edit most Wikipedia pages, while a knol is written by one author. Yet, you can allow different levels of collaboration by others, including wide open editing, moderated editing, and no editing.

Now, back to the original question: what's the difference between a knol and a blog? Well, first of all, here's how they are the same:

• The sign up process is similar to signing up for a blog.
• The interface looks a lot like a blog. You write your content. Add any graphics or titles.
• Knols allow comments just like blogs.
• You can elect to allow ads just like with a blog.
• You create an author profile, the same as a blog.

Now, how is a knol different than a blog?

• A blog can really be about any topic, whatever is top of mind for the writer that day. A knol is about a specific topic.

• A knol is more scholarly or professionally written when compared to many blogs. However, business blogs, like this one, can also have an expert tone.

• A blog is designed for continuous posting of ongoing content. While it's easy and helpful to update the content of a knol and keep it fresh, knols aren't meant for continuous posting.

• Readers can rate a knol, and these ratings will help the best content emerge at the top of search results.

So, here's my recommendation:
If you recently fixed a leaky faucet, and you want to give expert advice on the steps you took, write a knol. If you want to wax on about your life or a particular business topic with ongoing postings (such as direct marketing), then go with a blog.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Are You Ready to Go On-Demand?

As postal rates, paper prices, and printing costs continue to increase, it may be time to rethink how you communicate with customers and prospects. It’s time to do direct marketing that’s on your terms.

Direct marketing on-demand can help you send more customized, relevant marketing materials to your audience. You may be able to mail less, while increasing your response rates.

How can you decide if direct marketing on-demand is right for you?

Let’s take a look at the two ways that direct marketing on-demand can benefit a company.

1. Give marketing managers more flexibility.
You may have a marketing staff that manages the creation and production of your direct marketing materials. They need to be able to adapt and customize marketing efforts quickly and cost-effectively. For instance, a mortgage company might need to adjust interest rates within a direct mail package. It is more effective to do highly customized messages that speak directly to the needs of customers or prospects.

2. Support your sales staff.
You can provide your sales representatives or agents with direct marketing materials that they can use to build leads and close sales. An on-demand system allows your sales staff send out customized, personal mailings. For instance, a sales representative for a financing company finds out that one of his customers is looking to buy a large piece of equipment. The salesperson can send a letter, personalized with the rep’s information, that addresses the new purchase and the financing options available from his company.

If your company fits one of these scenarios, then direct marketing on-demand can help you create highly customized, relevant marketing programs that increase response rates and build customer relationships.

Here are some of the advantages of direct marketing on-demand.

Shorter lead times to get in the mail. While traditional direct mail can take a month or more to prepare and drop in the mail, an on-demand direct mail package can be sent out in a matter of days.

More control over brand identity. Your direct mail letters, envelopes, brochures, sell sheets, inserts, and other materials are set up as templates that comply with your company’s brand identity. Only personalized or custom information varies, so you can be sure that mailings and collateral adhere to your branding guidelines and standards.

More flexibility in messaging. Is a mailing not performing as well as expected? With an on-demand system, you can modify offers, messages, and other text to help improve response rates.

Keep materials current. Have you printed a brochure or sell sheet, only to have it become outdated within a few months? With on-demand, you print only the amount you need.

Reduce your inventory. When you do a large print run, you may have materials to store. Or, you may need to store large quantities of envelopes, letterhead, or brochures. With direct marketing on-demand, you print only what you are going to use immediately — drastically reducing your inventory.

Create specific, segmented mailings. You can create hundreds of on-demand direct marketing pieces to suit your company’s needs. You can have introductory mailings, event-triggered mailings (such as a follow-up on a recent purchase), and product-specific mailings. It really depends on how you want to communicate with customers and prospects.

Cost-effectively send small quantities. You or your staff can send one mailing or thousands of mailings at a time. A salesperson can send a single follow-up direct mail package based on a phone conversation with a prospect. Or, marketing managers can send a mailing announcing the launch of a new product and a special offer to hundreds of current customers.

Automation reduces errors. With an on-demand system, the print production and fulfillment processes are completely automated and virtually free of human error.

Help salespeople build relationships. Ongoing direct marketing efforts can help your sales staff build a rapport with clients and prospects. They can send materials that are relevant and timely based on customer interaction, or just stay top-of-mind with prospects at different stages in the buying cycle.

Fulfill complex collateral or sales materials. What if you need to fulfill requests for information for different prospects all across the country? For instance in the insurance industry, product features may vary based on state requirements. You may need to create hundreds of versions. With an on-demand system, you can manage many fulfillment variables and send materials out quickly and efficiently.

If you want to mail more effectively, increase your response rates, and improve your ROI, it may be time to consider a direct marketing on-demand system.