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Take a Trip to the ‘Mall’ and Improve Your Blog [Day 13 – 31DBBB]

Posted By Darren Rowse 18th of April 2009 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

This post is an excerpt from the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook

ShoppingToday’s task in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog project is to go Shopping!

OK – I can hear what you’re probably thinking:

“What? This ProBlogger dude has lost his mind – what does shopping have to do with blogging?”

Stick with me for a second and let me explain….

The reason I want to encourage you to go shopping is twofold:

A. It’ll get you away from your blog for a bit – I was chatting with another blogger yesterday and we both admitted to each other that we’d been in our PJ’s all day blogging (it was 4pm for me) and needed to get out more – sad but true.

B. It’ll give you a chance to do some observation exercises that could help your – this is the main reason for today’s task and is based upon an experience that I had today at a local shopping center (or ‘mall’ as many of you non Aussies would call it).

The Exercise:

1. Step away from the Computer (come on, you can do it)

2. Grab a notebook and pen (do you remember them? They are the things you used to use before your primary form of communication involved typing)

3. Head to your local shopping center/mall/CBD shopping area (easier for some than others I realize – apologies to those in rural areas, this may or may not work in your local general store)

4. Once at the ‘mall’ take 30 minutes or so to go ‘wandering’ with no agenda (don’t do your groceries) except to ‘watch’ and ‘observe’ in some of the following ways:

  • Who is there? Who are they with?
  • What are they doing?
  • What are they buying? What products are particularly in demand at the moment?
  • How do they make their buying decisions?
  • What are the retailers doing to get people’s attention and stand out?
  • What messages are they using in their marketing?
  • What colors/design techniques are in at the moment?
  • What other things are ‘hot’ or in fashion?
  • What sales techniques are sales staff using?
  • What are retail outlets doing well? What are they doing poorly?

5. As you watch, make some notes. Don’t attempt to find any ‘lessons’ or try to tie it back to your blog yet.

6. Once you’ve spent half an hour or so on ‘observation mode’ find a spot to sit down (a food court perhaps) with a coffee and go over the things that you’ve noticed and see if there’s any lessons there that you might be able to apply to your blogging?

This process might seem a little random and pointless – but it’s something that I’ve done on numerous occassions over the last few years and each time that I’ve done it I’ve come away with at least one new idea that I want to apply in my blogging.

Some of the ideas have come directly from things I’ve seen retailers doing in their marketing (for example, today I saw a store using an attention grabbing technique that I want to try to apply to one of my blogs to draw readers eyes) – while others are more lessons about ‘people’ and how they operate and once or twice I’ve even seen illustrations to use for posts or even ideas for new blog post topics. Once I even spotted a trend that gave me an idea for a new blog.

If nothing else it’ll get you out of the house for a bit!

I’d love to hear your experiences of this exercise in comments below!

Update: Here’s what I learned on MY shopping expedition when I first posted this exercise in the last 31 Day Challenge – I hope it gives some ideas on how this might work out.

Update #2: They’re talking about this over at the 31DBBB forum: Day 13 – Visit a ‘Mall’ (really… a Mall) You should join them!

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About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. That’s really what we call “thinking outside the box” Darren!

    It’s worth giving it a try, anyway it’s weekend, so we should indeed step outside of our computers!

  2. A similar advice from me is:

    1) Head to any book/magazine store.
    2) Purchase any popular magazine and try to figure out how the articles have been titled, where are the writers trying to drw the attention of the readers and how they have formatted the articles.
    3) Also do consider what moods/themes are associated with certain type of articles, like humour.

  3. Interesting, I usually just rely on what I already know or have learned for article ideas. I’ll try this sometime soon!

  4. @Chetan

    Sounds like a good idea. I think it will apply better to my blog than the mall one (Sorry Darren, nothing personal… :) )

  5. wow…thats a great idea. When i read the post title I said to myself “Is he crazy”
    Now i know what you want to say. I will visit the nearest mall today!!!

  6. You are right there Darren.

    Since I started blogging fulltime at home, I’ve gain 20 pounds and now having high cholestrol etc.

    Bloggers need to spend more time outside their notebooks… LOL sad but true..

  7. again dareen very good artical.
    It good and helpfull for all.
    We have to observe all the thing around us.
    You can also try this at
    and with your friend also


  8. Oooh – pencil and paper that’s so old-fashioned! Sounds exciting, but I’m not sure if my hand could write anything without getting cramps.

    The sad thing is, if I were in a mall, I honestly think I’d find myself drawn to the PJ section so that I could get some new work clothes :(

    But its great advice! I think it will be very useful for marketers and bloggers. It really is hard to get away from the computer!

  9. I haven’t done what you suggest in quite this way, but I do often find that a couple of hours spent imbibing lattes in a nice coffee shop, armed with a notebook and pencil (or a really good fountain pen) always pays off in terms of ideas.

    In fact, I even bought myself an expensive-ish notebook — an arty-farty one with squares instead of lines — to write my ideas down in. I have enough for at least another 6 months of writing!

    But next I am going to try your suggestions as a variation. Thanks for yet another great tip, Darren!

  10. @Chetan,
    I think that the NewsPaper can also do the same job.

    Good Article Darren,
    Unique idea I have ever seen for the blog!!!

  11. good exercise Darren.

    Just to let you know shopping malls are some of my favorite hang out venues, but not for shopping, for window shopping only. i kind of like it. and never though of writing down what i saw.

    and you are asking me now to observe and write down i see. ok. now i am going to see what is happening there and hopefully bring home some good notes.

  12. Fantastic, we did that 18 months ago as a preparation for that week’s discussion with “The Bucky Call” and the results were nothing short of amazing.

    There is so much to see with your eyes, and Darren gives a few hints of what to look for… and so much more going on, invisibly, that can only be “seen” with your mind’s eye:
    – Observe people’s behaviors; what are people doing?
    – what in the store design makes them “naturally” behave that way?
    – Can you see some of the invisible processes going on? What patterns of behavior can you see? What does it tell you about the habits of the people concerned?
    – What did the mall designers include to produce these behaviors?

    Incidentally, you can also do that on a farm: what is going on? how are animals (sheep, cows…) behaving? What is there that makes them do what they do? etc…

    Hope every one enjoys it.

    (*) a study group on Bucky Fuller’s Critical Path.

  13. I often take my laptop with me to a cofffee shop and work really well when surrounded by anonymous chatter. I actually find shopping centres one of my favourite places to get ideas. Something about the chatter around me I find quite soothing, whereas my studio is VERY easy to procrastinate in.

  14. I can’t believe I just got permission from the great Darren Rowse to go SHOPPING! Hey, if it’s going to make my blog better… well I guess I’ll have to drag myself to the shops. (Window shopping, people watching and coffee only, honest.)

  15. Great post,

    I our house we have a deal. I run the blog and my wife go to the Mall. I don’t think it would work the other way around.

    Otherwise – you are right – one need to get a little perspective on things, and some time away from the site or blog. Just spend almost two weeks away from my blog, and now I have new energy.

    But the real world can be a scary place … “don’t try this at home”

  16. LOL!!!

    I have not been to a mall in 10+ years!

    Maybe I’ll just watch the Home Shopping Network on TV! Ok, I won’t do that either.

    I will just wait for all of you to report what you learned from this excersize and call it good.

  17. Now this could be one of my favourites–step outside and take a breath, and maximize the use of our senses.

    It’s true, everything around us could be inspirational. Not to mention, a Mall! Where we can find traffic, merchandise, advertisement & publicity methods… it’s all there. Blogging is similar as we’re constantly hoping to get noticed. While trying to work on our writings, site layouts/designs, to get visitors coming is another main idea.

    This makes perfect sense, why not? We REALLY should get out of our PJs and observe more. All the best to everyone, and see you at the mall! ^^

    Social Media/Blogging

  18. Going to the mall. That would be great if there wasn’t people there around me! Lolz!

    Then I would have to talk my Mom into taking me and as she said, she has not been to a mall in 10+ years!

    Does watching a live cam at a mall count? I can do that, AND I could make fun of people and they would never hear me! :P

  19. Well… I think I have an excuse to bring my friend to the mall :D.

  20. For people who mostly work from home, I think it is important to go to the mall and see a bit of civilization every once in a while. For myself I’ve scheduled a once a week go-out time so that I don’t have a chance to get sloppy with myself.

  21. Going to a KCBS sanctioned BBQ Competition today. I’ll try and apply this to what I see there.
    The “midway” with all the food and vendors should prove to be good material for signage, what draws people in. Which food vendors are busiest and which are not, etc.
    With 80+ competitors, should be lots to see.

  22. What you said is right bloger should have contact with outer world as well just sitting in front of computer and writing posts .Get out of blogging and connect with real world .

  23. hmm, very nice idea… just wrote about it last night. Only the post is scheduled for over about an hour form now…

    It’s not a stolen idea… but it will make me look bad :)

  24. I find that regularly browsing shops is an essential part of researching for my blog. Which is utterly unsurprising, as many of the things I write about can be found in many shops.

    However, I also find that it’s important to know how shop signs, advertising and promotional literature speaks to customers, especially when getting across a sales message.

    Appealing marketing language quickly penetrates the public’s conciseness and I often find it’s worth at least referencing things, such as, advertising “tag lines” so that readers are re-assured they looking at the right article.

  25. Darren,

    Good advice.. but maybe it goes farther:

    If every blogger on the planet goes into several stores at the mall and buys stuff, it will stimulate the economy at the same time. Maybe bloggers can have a larger impact on the global economy than all the goofy politicians who are trying to create an artificial bounce in the business world.

    Maybe the economic recovery will be traced back to Darren Rowse and his sending the blogosphere shopping

    he he.


  26. I’m always up for an excuse to go shopping – so thanks! I’ll just go explain to my husband that he needs to look after our three kids and see how he takes it!

    If he’s not happy, I’ll just tell him “ProBlogger said I HAD to!” =)


  27. Sound like a good idea but I hate to go shopping :)

  28. I definitely have a tendency of late to live inside the blogging world and ignore the “real” world.

    I’m still in my PJs and it’s almost midnight. There goes another Saturday.

    Very sad!

  29. Yeah I agree, this can help heaps and sometimes I find going camping with some friends or hiking can really help as well to come home inspired to get some more ideas down.

    People always have interesting topics to discuss and they are often good things to post about as well as long as they are related.

  30. I work as a dating coach and so my job is all about being out the house and interacting with people.
    A useful task for some… not for me. :)

  31. i didnt expect today’s task is to visit the mall! but its interesting. certainly shows the other side of Darren.:)

    basically for my niche(on dating and relationship) most of the time i’ll be observing people and their daily activities.

    my favorites are at dating hot spots like the movies,cafes,parks,etc

  32. Sudeep says: 04/18/2009 at 10:17 pm

    An excellant piece of advice Dareen … and thanks Chetan too .. People observation have always paid gr8 writers to write about .. why not we bloggers hahah ..
    Keep on observing and writing folks .

  33. I usually play with my kids during weekends, atleast once in a while.. maybe i’ll try to do it not at home now instead go malling with them? nice idea Darren.

  34. How timely! That’s exactly what I did today. Went to a book store and a supermarket. Very refreshing. Got some new ideas and now….down to blogging again.

  35. It’s only my true respect for this challenge that could get me to the mall. The assignments have been so helpful so far that I may just have to trust you and take myself there.

    Or, then again, maybe I’ll just cheat and go to the local bookstore and look to see what people are buying. That’s sometimes a way to get a finger on the pulse of what’s current in people’s minds.

    Thanks once again, I think.
    (Guess my feelings about the mall are pretty obvious.)

  36. Blogging is not all fun.It is hard work,it would seem,a blogger is hard at work even on a break in a Mall.

  37. This is perfect!! I was already planning to get away and go to the mall today because I *DO* need to get some time away from the computer. Plus the day is so beautiful here, there is no way I’m staying in all day!! Have some fun today fellow challengers. We all deserve a break!

    Hugs to everyone.

  38. Am I also allow to do the business on a terrace in the sun with a beer? :-)

  39. I have to get out from the laptop – else I get cabin fever. My favourite is to hang out at coffee shops and watch people. But now I will do it with a little more focus.
    Yay – I get to out more.

  40. Interesting Take, I thought you had gone kookoo for a while there. Not that my wife would complain about this particular exercise.
    She thanks you by the way

    A few things I have seen:
    Brand names attract – Lesson build up your brand or readership
    Bright, big attractive, Light, not too much information, just enough to get you interested. – Lesson, Don try and cram everything on the home page.

    Oh and lastly, not that it has anything to do with Blogging, people still have lots of money to spend.
    Seasonal – Lesson, use news and happenings in the news and around you to write articles about.
    Position Position Position. The guys in the dark corners weren’t as popular.

  41. Took a quick trip to the newest mall in town a few days ago realized what attracted me were colourful displays on items that I had already had an interest in. and stuff that had universal appeal- FOOD.

  42. the mall makes me break out in hives, but i found myself sitting in the food court evesdropping on some very entertaining conversations a little while ago.

    once i was done with my meal, i asked a group of people if I could photograph them with my cell phone. It was great; we all were happy, I got a blog post out of it and I wasn’t as irritated inside the mall as usual.

    This was the perfect timing for the task since i’ll be hanging out in boston all day, that can count right? ;)

  43. What a wonderful concept! Online marketing and offline marketing naturally share a number of similar properties; we often forget to learn from the world around us.

    If you have the chance (and don’t feel too bad about it), talk to several salespeople about a product, and see how they try to get you to buy it; how they do their face-to-face marketing. This is an area of marketing we don’t exercise often as bloggers, but given a big opportunity (running into an exec or media guru), we need to be prepared to shine.

    Use this chance to learn how!


  44. @Chetan – As a marketer, I often get inspiration from magazine design, articles, and advertising. It ties in with Darren’s concept in that it is always good to stay in tune with “culture” and what design, colours, and typography are “in” at the moment. I even keep “junk-mail” that has inspired me in a file, or clipped ads from magazines to help unblock myself when creativity seems lacking.

  45. Wow – how’s that for irony. I actually did this yesterday but it was at a ballpark. Truth is, I always have to take time away from my blog and I NEVER get to spend the day in my pj’s. As a homeschooling mother of three VERY active boys, I’m lucky if I get to sleep past sunrise!

    Still, I intend to spend more time just enjoying with the family and even without!

  46. It seems obvious but one of the things that struck me was the use of the color red as an attention getter.

    Also the fact that people like to touch the products as they go along — even if it’s not something they have to feel or read — like in the Aveda store, people will finger the shampoo bottles etc. And of course in clothing stores, people put their hands on the products. I wonder if there is a digital equivalent to this behavior?

    Another thing I wonder about a digital equivalent — in the bookstore some books are turned spine out and some are turned face out. Obviously the ones with the full cover showing are more attractive on the shelf, more likely to get noticed. This goes in clothing stores too — the outfits that are hung facing the consumer vs. the ones hung sideways. So, is the lesson that you can fit more onto a shelf by arranging them sideways, but you can actually sell a product by turning it face out?

    No post ideas, but I did take my kids to a farm yesterday also, and came up with a post idea there. Mall, organic vegetable farm, what’s the difference, right? :)

  47. Don’t take this too seriously Darren. (After all, I have mmsed weven day of this excellent series due to what is called Easter, over here in Gremany it’s two weeks off)

    But…my qubble: I traced the illustration to Flikr and I wondered how you got around the “All rights resreved Copyright” on it?

    The pic itself is remarkable and the blown-up version is amazing;
    It is synthetic, which is appropriate for malls – closed worlds, within which some of the goodies you are rightly wanting us to notice, do in fact, survive, despite the difficulty one finds in breathing the recycled air.

    A walk in the bush beats sussing a mall anytime – and for is ideal almost any purpose related to though and creativity. ncp? OH and for getting fresh smells wafting through your musty day-old jammies.

    Steam on mate!


  48. (sorry about the typos; should have written in pencil)

  49. This is a great exercise. My husband is away for a few days so I have been in my PJs working on product and my blog. Heading out this morning to do this assignment.

    I am a big believer in Look! Being able to see what is happening is the first step in doing anything. Whether you are resolving a problem or writing a blog.

    Thanks Sheila

  50. I’m going to have to learn how to write on paper first!

    Actually, watching and observing is an excellent way to sharpen your skills in so many ways. I do some photography teaching and one of the techniques I have always used is watching photography students work, learning primarily where the weak points are in their approach.

    No malls for me this weekend but I do get to take in whitewater kayaking on a real river.

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