Ben Saunders

Digital Thought Leaders

Polar explorer, Motivational speaker

August 2008

Ben SaundersBen Saunders is a record-breaking polar explorer and by his own admission an "extreme blogger". From the North Pole he wrote to millions using his blog, a PDA, a matchstick and a satellite phone. While becoming the youngest person in history to walk solo to the North Pole, Ben was able to keep us up to date with the progress.

Blogs are the most diverse of digital publishing platforms. They can be harnessed by anyone, anywhere for almost any publishing reason. Ben's blogs demonstrate their power both to amplify an offline event and to make intimate connections with millions.

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Ben Saunders


Ben Saunders is a record-breaking polar explorer and by his own admission an "extreme blogger". From the North Pole he wrote to millions using his blog, a PDA, a matchstick and a satellite phone. While becoming the youngest person in history to walk solo to the North Pole, Ben was able to keep us up to date with the progress. In this edition of Digital Thought Leaders he tells how he did it.

Blogs are the most diverse of digital publishing platforms. They can be harnessed by anyone, anywhere for almost any publishing reason. Ben's blogs demonstrate their power both to amplify an offline event and to make intimate connections with millions.

We caught up with Ben in London between expeditions after following his adventures online. He runs two types of blogs: ones for the expeditions and a personal one that is rich in the background of planning a polar trip. The logistics are incredibly complex, and blogging is only one part of the high tech story that helped put him into the record books. His team have been harnessing groundbreaking thinking on survival techniques, high energy foods, heat insulating clothing and communications. They even found a way for him to swim across the open water leads that appear in the gaps between ice sheets.

"I never set out to become a polar explorer, but what I found is that with focus and determination it's incredible what people can achieve." This is a theme echoed throughout Ben's expeditions and throughout the blogs.

What do the blogs do for the expedition?


Many websites still lack meaningful connection to the organisations they support. This polar expedition is from a tiny organisation, and yet the website allows a massive amplification in the number of people they touch.

The blogs allow this project to benefit from:

  • Telling the story as it unfolds: They give a window into a world none of us will experience, tracking the highs and lows of the expedition itself, the build-up and countdown before, and the recovery and reflections after

  • Creating intimacy with millions: Creating a connection that builds buzz and discussion around the event

  • Building a personal brand: Creating brand equity for Ben as the focus of the expedition and building depth into the brand

  • Resources for journalists and stakeholders: Making it easy for stakeholders to find reference information about the event and its progress
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    Digital Insight Report
    Ben Saunders, polar explorer

    Ben Saunders is a record-breaking long-distance skier, with three North Pole expeditions under his belt. He is the youngest to ski solo to the North Pole and holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton. Since 2001, Ben has skied more than 2,500km (1,500 miles) in the high Arctic, which he recently worked out equates to two percent of his entire life living in a tent. When he's not pulling a sledge, Ben divides his time between planning and training for his next expedition, and earning a crust as one of the UK's leading motivational speakers. He is an Ambassador for The Prince's Trust, an Honorary Vice-President of the Geographical Association, and supports the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and the Orchid Cancer Appeal.

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    Comments (9)

    Jono:

    My mobile blogging will never be the same again.
    Seriously, how does anyone keep the energy up? Our corporate big cheeses can't manage 100 words a week let alone posts like this.
    (Excuse if I don't name the company!!!)

    Strategist - Danny Meadows-Klue:

    FREQUENCY OF BLOGGING POSTS

    There's no hard and fast rule on how often you should blog because the answer lies in the relevancy and interest to your community. For some organisations a weekly post or even less can be fine for servicing an audience who only want to hear occasional messages; while there are other marketers who will blog several times a day because it's their core channel for connecting with customers, suppliers and even journalists. A good trick is to talk with internal colleagues about what the customer's expectatiosn could be and then look for similar patterns in how thy consumer information and content from elsewhere in the organisation. Keeping the resources need front of mind from the start is a great way of creating a viable model for your blogs.

    Michelle:

    Thanks for sending this to us. My question is how often blogging entries should be and can a consuemr brand get away with weekly? Any more is looking like it's too much for our team. (I work in corporate coms).

    Strategist - Danny Meadows-Klue:

    BUDGETING FOR BLOGGING

    The costs of blogs are not in the technology: it’s the content that takes time to get right and the thinking at the start about objectives and commercial benefit which demands stakeholder involvement.

    Tools like Blogger and Word Press are effectively free. There may be some tiny hosting fees or small payments for the ‘pro’ editions of some platforms, but that shouldn’t be a consideration in your budget. Whether the blogs are written from a desktop or a handheld PDA shouldn’t affect on the wider scope of the project because it’s really all about getting the right content into the publishing tool and increasingly they’re compatible with mobile browsers.

    Focus on the resource you need to ensure a good throughput of content. Ben had an incredible story to tell so the content came naturally; most firms will have to work harder to look for the angles, the passion and the voice to tell the story well.

    But keep it anchored in the solid business strategy about boosting sales, leads or customer satisfaction. And then find the metrics to help you assess what it’s doing for your brand.

    Sarah Jane:

    Thanks - just got emailed this. Impressed, actually knocked out, by what Saunders did. But wondering if you need to spend a fortune to get mobile blogging to work: connections, signals, content tools and all that.

    Christian Roberts:

    Do they use a regular platform like Wordpress or something special. Thing I'm nervous about is whether these free/low cost web based models work. And if it goes wrong who picks up the can?

    Strategist - Danny Meadows-Klue:

    MAKING CORPORATE BLOGS INTERESTING

    The bottom line is that if a firm doesn't have something to say then there's nothing to blog about. Blogs are simply a tool for making more from the firm's voice; and the technology is *not* a substitute for content. Techniques we have found useful include getting firms to pilot a blog internally for a few months before opening up the firewall - this lets the stakeholders learn about what to write and also set up the right type of processes for keeping the content coming. Launching is easy; sustaining is hard - help firms set the right expectations internally by giving them a place to try things out first.

    Nigel:

    Wow. What a champion. -40 and the guy is blogging - serious dedication.

    Thing is that I work in an ad agency where we have real problems persuading clients to keep their blogs going. they don't have the same material to write about as this guy, but how do you get companies on track with interesting corporate blogs. Danger is it becomes drivel from the PR teams.

    Strategist - Danny Meadows-Klue:

    Ben and his team turned to web publishing because it was the most flexible and effective of tools. many marketers talk about the idea of how offline events like a concert or a sports event can be amplified online, but this story is a case study of taking it to extremes. One of the big points Ben raised is the scale of contact that suddenly becomes possible, and with schoolkids mailing him from around the world it's clear that when the content is right and easily discoverable, great things can happen. Powerful lessons for online marketers who can readily put the technology or hype above the substance of communication.

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