A blog is a conversation. It’s an opportunity to show your personality and expertise."

- Lisa Bocklage,
Osborn & Barr

Blog, short for web log, is a communication tool that takes strategy, time and creativity. Done right, that time and effort can result in big benefits to your dealership.

“A blog is a conversation. It’s an opportunity to show your personality and expertise,” says Lisa Bocklage, account supervisor with Osborn Barr, an agriculture-focused full-service marketing agency with offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri.

“Blogs are a great way to promote your brand — and manage and control the messages.”

Bocklage says the informal format of blogs encourages customers to engage with a dealership, ultimately building a stronger relationship.

Dealership blogs may not be mainstream, but blogs are firmly planted in the communication world. In a single day, more than 8250,000 blog posts were created in WordPress, just one blogging platform.

John and Doug Howard, co-owners of Howard Brothers
John and Doug Howard, co-owners of Howard Brothers

Howard Brothers True Value, a rural lifestyle dealership with three locations in Georgia, overhauled its web strategy last fall, and, at the same time, started a blog. Co-owners John and Doug Howard turned to a former employee, Andy Darnell, to lead the effort. Darnell had been working for a web development company as director of web development and had assisted with creating web strategy for many organizations.

 “We had long wanted to bring someone in to help define and defend the branding of Howard Brothers. Andy knew our business and understood our vision. The online identity and reputation of our business is a critical component of our business plan,” says John Howard.

Here are some insights from Darnell about how he works with the Howard Brothers team to develop interesting and relevant blog posts — and promote all the dealership has to offer. 

What is the strategy behind the blog?

One of our goals is to ultimately build an e-commerce store on our site. You have to have traffic on your site to make that work. So, if somebody searches for Big Green Egg (outdoor cooker) in Atlanta, they may find a dozen dealers. Search engines love updated content, so the blog helps us rank higher in the search results. Once we have them on our site, then it’s a matter of converting them into a customer.

The web site is the hub of all our marketing communication. The blog is a spoke off of that hub. All communication drives back to our web site.

How did you launch the blog?

Our old web site was more than 10 years old. We basically blew up the old site and replaced with a new site built upon WordPress, so we could have site pages and a blogging platform. Our old site only had eight pages, so replacing that foundation was not difficult. Any business that wants to improve their web presence needs to get into the habit of building content. While it isn’t all about the platform, with the ease of use that comes with WordPress, I’ve been able to add five months worth of content.

How do you work with the Howard Brothers team?

We have weekly meetings of the leadership team. We are a small company so there is a ton of trust involved. That comes from me working here 11 years beforehand and knowing everyone personally. In the meetings, we talk about the company and what we have coming up, like community events, product promotion or sales. We are a True Value hardware store, so we discuss national advertising and marketing from True Value, but we also talk about opportunities for marketing our outdoor power equipment business. It is a huge niche for us. For example we’re the number one Stihl dealer in the United States.

My goal is to gather enough information to post three to five blogs a week. I’ve published more than 70 posts since I started the blog.

The other part of my job is internal communications. We launched an intranet just for our employees. We hope to build a web culture so that our employees can turn to the site for training, regular updates from management and even encouragement.

How do you make the posts interesting?

First, I have a file of ideas based on input from the meetings or ideas from John, Doug or our other team members. I normally have several drafts in various states — I have seven draft posts in the works right now. I think about how my daily posts can be included in the monthly newsletter I write.

I’m always ready to capture moments. I’ll walk around the stores and watch for products we need to highlight. I’ll get ideas from other employees about what seems to be hot and relevant at the moment. I’ll even get ideas from customers based upon the questions that they come in and ask. You never know what you can uncover that could be a goldmine for blog ideas. If possible, we think how we could present the content in video format. Video content is really good for the end user.

When I’m “in the zone,” I can write a blog in about 30 minutes. But, I don’t publish them right way. For the more in-depth posts that have a better chance for higher traffic volume, I set them aside and have my wife review them. She is my best editor.

Most of the posts are simple and not perfect, but in our industry, I believe there is value in looking authentic and not being perfect. I do always want to be consistent, though. I don’t want to build up a reader base and then have the blog go dark for week.

How do you know the blog is working? 

If you have a website and you’re not looking at your analytics on a regular basis, you’re losing a lot of valuable data. We use Google analytics and can see quickly how the site is performing. I can dig into greater details if I see unexpected trends. For example, we recently had a post on Handy Lift Tables that resulted in several inquiries about the product. I was able to dig in and see why it was resulting in a higher conversion rate. Without a doubt, our site is performing better.

We’re also steadily growing in those who follow or “like” us on Twitter and Facebook. Our views from email newsletters articles to the web site are also growing. Anecdotally, our sales people tell me that customers mention the blog to them.

All in all, our hub of communication has greatly changed how we interact with our customers. A website is never “done.” We’ll continue to refine the strategy and add more tools to allow the site visitor to interact with us.

Here’s how Doug Howard describes the blog’s success:

“Small businesses cannot operate as they used to and must change with the times. When it comes to our total marketing and advertising strategy, we know that we are now playing some offense,” says Howard. “We’ll have a true return on investment when we have our e-commerce store and we can create and track purchasing online. In the meantime and into the future, we’re continuing to build engagement and community.