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The Swag Wars: Why Bloggers Are Key to the Consumer

They post about running or outfit choices or what’s for dinner tonight. Few topics are off limits for bloggers who chronicle their daily lives — and marketers want in.

Blogher
Source: Blogher.com
Blogher

Companies see potential gold mines in bloggers who post, Tweet, Facebook and Instagram their product likes and dislikes for readers to dissect.

To reach them, companies traveled to the eighth annual BlogHer conference in New York City last weekend. They came armed with deep pockets and free samples of everything from vitamins to vibrators. Many bloggers even brought along extra suitcases to haul all of their expo swag home.

“They have such a network online of consumers who are like minded,” said Jody Cook, director of communications at Pfizer. “That’s a very successful way for our brands to become top-of-mind for not only the blogger but also their communities.”

Women are an especially important group to reach because they account for the majority of household expenditures and drive most of the traffic on social-media sites with the exception of LinkedIn and Google'sYouTube, said Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder of BlogHer.

“It’s that dual role that women play in that they are their customers directly — they control (the majority) of household spending — but these particular women are driving social engagement around the brands and therefore influencing their audience,” Page said.

Interest in these women bloggers is on the rise.

When the conference first began in 2005, there were only half a dozen sponsors. Since then the number of companies happy to pony up sponsor fees that can reach into the six figures has exponentially increased. This year saw a 30-percent spike to a total of 130 sponsors.

“When we first started, our sponsors were mostly Google and Yahoo and some tech companies,” Page said. “Because it was a blogger conference, people still thought it was kind of techie.”

Now, sponsors run the gamut from food to health care to banking to electronics.

Companies come to establish a one-on-one connection with bloggers that they can build upon throughout the year.

Free Products Year-Round

Meghann Anderson, who pensMealsandMiles.com, was one of about 5,200 attendees during the three-day event, her first BlogHer conference.

“When you get in, first you want to grab everything, and then you reach the point that you don’t want the things that aren’t in your niche,” she said about the expo hall.

She receives frequent product sample offers from companies hoping to cash in on the success of her blog, which averages about a million page views per month.

“It gets to a point where you can’t accept every box of cereal that comes your way,” Anderson said.

She recently blogged that Keurig came across her “frustrated coffee-related tweets” and offered to send her a coffee maker and samples as part of an ambassador program.

“I just about kissed the computer screen with that email,” she wrote.

The catch? She must blog about her experiences with her new $150 machine.

A separate ambassadorship with Berkshire Hathaway-owned Brooks Sports provides Anderson with running shoes to sample and compensation along with a recent expenses-paid trip to New York City to discuss its product line.

Blogher
Source: Blogher.com
Blogher

Anderson emphasized the opportunity to build relationships with the brands at the event — a chance that companies like Wells Fargohope to capitalize on.

The bank’s representatives were on hand to advertise the company’s Beyond Today blog, a women-centered retirement site.

“We’ve been really focused on women and helping them with retirement because we know they live longer,” said Renee Brown, Wells Fargo’s director of social media.

Bloggers were invited to write posts about their relationship with money and opine about a post on the Beyond Today blog that resonated with them. Top billing in the contest would fetch $2,500.

Establishing this connection with women is critical because widows often move their retirement nest eggs once their husbands die if their financial advisors have not established strong relationships, Brown said.

The More Interactive, The Better

Many companies said the line between journalist and blogger has begun to blur as the influence of the latter grows. Because of this, bloggers are among the first to hear about new pitches and receive sample products.

David Samberg, a national public relations manager at Verizon, sees a definite shift toward bloggers. Verizon often lends bloggers phones and tablets to try out.

“They’re great ambassadors,” Samberg said. “If they’re using something, and they like it, there’s no better advertisement for our product.”

This year, in its second appearance at the conference, Verizon gave away 12 tablets with a retail value of about $550 each to bloggers, who were selected via check-ins on Foursquare.

To differentiate themselves and draw the attention of bloggers, most companies sought to create interactive experiences for their customers.

Pfizer beckoned women with a chance to workout with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall or get a head massage or lip scrub.

“You know a lot of these women are spending quite a bit of money to come here,” Page said. “They want to come and do things that they can’t do anywhere else.”

“Quite a bit of money” is no exaggeration. The self-sponsored blogger rate is north of $600, which does not include the price of a hotel. Company representatives spend even more. Brands have to shell out more than $800 for each rep to attend.

Trying New Products

Companies see expos like this as an opportunity to get customers to try new items during the opportune back-to-schooltime period when many women are shaking up their daily schedules.

“Our prime customer is going through a change of routine,” said Ashley LaCroix, senior manager of communications with Hillshire Brands .

And for some companies, forgetting about mom’s carpooling responsibilities sparked enthusiasm that even surprised employees manning the booths.

Trojan and Eden Fantasys sex-toy giveaways flew from tables, perhaps driven by the popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” representatives said.

“I kind of like that they’re here,” Anderson said. “It’s not something that I normally would have thought of.”

The displays even inspired her to take a risk of her own — music to marketers’ ears.

“I can’t wait to write about it on my blog,” she said.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Katie Little on Twitter @katie_little_.

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