Dear CMO:
The CMO Council’s 2008 Outlook asked its readership what sources they trusted most for marketing insight, information and best practices and found that “peers” were the most influential. Word of mouth usually comes in #1. And blogs? Blogs were dead last.
This is very interesting stuff. Let’s take a deeper look (unless you don’t look for this kind of insight, information or best practices here, in which case I may have lost you already).
Peers – word of mouth – are the most influential source of new marketing insight. This isn’t surprising. We’re bombarded with information at a staggering and increasing pace, even compared to a few years ago. We need to synthesize the information flow and make sense out of it – quickly. We do this with psychological short-cuts, one of which is turning to people like us when faced with subjective decision making. What do my friends do in similar cases? How did they deal with selecting an SEM company, what did they do for picking an online commerce engine, etc. We don’t have time to turn to experts all the time and research our questions personally. Fortunately, we have peers to help shoulder the burden.
Blogs don’t sway marketers, apparently. You know, I’m not sure I turn to too many blogs for marketing information, to be honest, but I do turn to them for insight and perspective. So why are blogs growing at 100% every few months if they aren’t being taken seriously?
When we view blogs against the backdrop of the social psychology of influence, we need to be careful to identify not just if blogs are influential, but why they may be and under which circumstances do they exert their influence.
We Read What We Like:
We read blogs because we “like” them. Blogs and bloggers fall into the general category of “liking”: we read blogs that typically say the things we like and agree with, rather than our reading them for ostensibly educational purposes. We turn to them because we like them – probably the same reason we turn to the televised news source of our own personal preference, whether it is Fox News or MSNBC. “Liking” is a core principle of persuasion that is most effectively applied in relationship building. We learn of new blogs and are drawn to them by “liking,” which forms the first bonds of the relationship.
We Follow Our Own, Similar Herd:
Once we achieve a certain level of awareness in the blogosphere, we hit traffic and comment thresholds that signal to new readers that we are popular with other, similar readers. The decision trigger of “many, similar others” pushes us into the “consensus” bucket: we attract new readers because they see many, similar others reading and commenting.
We Read the “Experts”:
We become “authorities” when we acquire the trappings of authority – usually this means we move from self-publishing to “publishing,” meaning we finally get that book written and out the door. Once this happens, our readership soars, driven by our newly won brand name awareness.
So it’s not surprising to see the CMO Council’s panning of blogs as sources of influence, because blogs are not homogenous: my blog is different from “A-list” blogs by virtue of my comments and traffic, and they are different from the “A+ List” because, let’s face it, they’re just bloggers – not authors. The barriers to entry, not to mention the content itself, often appear too “lite” for serious consideration. Add to this the fact that bloggers still represent a 1%-er population and you can see why the majority of director-level, small company readership (the general profile of the CMO Council’s respondent group) doesn’t see blogs as highly influential. What they didn’t report was what percent of them actually read them, have RSS feeds as homepages on their browsers, and have ever commented on – let alone written – a blog post themselves. Perhaps fear of the uncertainty itself is a motivator.
I generally look at reports like this with a degree of skepticism; knowing that the CMO Council is looking at this issue is a good sign, but learning that the “CMO” Council is mostly comprised of director-level readers leads one to ponder its pedigree. There is a strong whiff of “rational man” sensibility here, too – how many people have we observed behind the one-way mirror saying they are never swayed by advertising? We don’t like to appear to be easily influenced, yet we are.
I believe strongly that we need to understand why we are influenced the way we are. And clearly, we must understand how we can use these same decision triggers to ethically break through the clutter that surrounds our target markets so we can get our messages heard clearly.

That’s what marketers are supposed to do, after all.