I was working on my MBA in the late 90s when I picked up the Wall Street Journal to read about how Coca Cola was getting into the bottled water space. "Dumb, dumb, dumb," I told my college roommate.
"Why would they get into a space that already has a bunch of major players?"
"How can you differentiate bottled water from other bottled water?"
"Why, at 21 years old, am I so much smarter than Coke executives?"
In those days, my experience was all with small businesses and I didn't understand how massive amounts of money and market power can lead to corporate strategies that small businesses could never consider. I also didn't understand the power of distribution channels.
At the time, Coca-Cola had (and may still have, I don't know) distribution channels that reached wider and deeper and farther than any other company on the planet. I saw a movie once about how cases of Coke were flown to remote locales in helicopters. You can really get this stuff anywhere. Now, you know what that means for Dasani.
Well, in case you are working on your MBA and have had your mind temporarily corrupted by vague and meaningless business-speak, let me explain. It's very simple. If you possess a distribution channel for one product, it is relatively easy to distribute a similar product along that same channel. In other words, Dasani water could quickly make it to places that no other bottled water could, and could easily get prominent shelf space at places where other bottled waters were sold.
Sure enough, a few years later I realized how stupid I was, and that Dasani was a logical business move by Coca-Cola.
So what does that mean for blogging? It means that there is more to blogging than cranking out quality posts. You have to get distribution. It can be slow. If you have ever built a distribution channel in the real world, you know that sometimes it is tough to land that first deal. No one wants to be first. But later, when you have everybody and their brother carriers your product, it's easy. No one wants to be first, but no one wants to be left out either.
The difference for blogging is that:
a)Your product is not bottled water. Bottled Water doesn't change. You have to write new posts regularly.
b)The web has, for all practical purposes, an infinite amount of other web pages that someone may choose instead.
It's very logical to think "hey, I'm a good writer, I'll start a blog, and people will come read it because my writing is so good." Not true. I read lots of great blogs that don't have very many readers. You need distribution if you want a lot of readers. How does that happen?
1. Time – Not everyone that reads your blog is going to stay around, but if you can attract a large mass of people on occasion, a few of them will stick around.
2. Uniqueness – Do interesting things, and people will pick up your feed just to see what other interesting things you do. Some bloggers avoid doing interesting things because they are afraid of failure, but the bark is much worse than the bite. Stick your neck out there a bit. Look at all the stuff I've failed at. Long time readers will remember BusinessBlogCasting, The Business Experiment, Jotzel, Commercebucket, my real-time Q&A idea, plus I participated in Morespace, the 100Bloggers book, and some other things that for whatever reason didn't take off like they should have. And if you know me in real-life, you can add some non-web stuff to that list. Maybe some of those things would have been successful if I had stuck it out or done something differently. Maybe not. It doesn't really matter. They were learning experiences, and my projects keep getting better and better as a result. Experimenting is fun, and sooner or later you stumble onto something good.
3. Contacts – If you want to be part of a community you have to participate. You can't move into a new house then sit inside and watch tv all day and complain about not knowing your neighbors. Send email to bloggers. Give them link love and many will link back (particularly new bloggers without a lot of links). Some people won't respond, some won't be a good match for you. But who cares? Some will.
4. Distribute but Don't Spam – Notify people when you have posted something that took a lot of time and thought. Post your good stuff on aggregators, but by all means, don't post everything. If you post all your stuff because you think it's all great, you become like the boy who cried wolf, and when you really have something good, no one cares enough to check it out.
What you are ultimately doing is building different distribution channels on the web. A channel of personal friends who read the stuff you send them, a channel of regular readers who check in daily, a channel of incoming links that send varying amounts of traffic, a channel of timeless posts that get highly ranked in Google, a channel of feed readers who may only really read 1 out of every 50 posts, in short, there are many many ways to get your message distributed on the web, and that's the key – distribution. Don't rush it. Don't worry about "going viral." Slow and steady wins the race.
Todd told me the other day about some people who think "going viral" means you post your videos on YouTube. The more likely scenario is that your content will simply be lost in a mass of garbage. The best way to do viral marketing is to participate honestly and openly in a community, and just keep building your distribution, then let the occasional viral post or video happen on its own.
If you blog, it's probably because you have something to say or something you want to promote. But take a lesson from Dasani's launch – the distribution matters as much as (and possibly more) than the product itself. Quality is necessary, but not sufficient for success.