Friday, March 12, 2010

A contrarian approach to marketing

A great deal of marketing success depends on standing out from the crowd. Sometimes to do that requires a contrarian approach. When everyone is going this way, brands can stand out by going a different way.

Emerging digital media like Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz are the rage among marketers these days and are quickly on their way to becoming prerequisites for any good campaign. Meanwhile, “real world” engagement – in-store promotions, POS displays, product sampling, etc. – seems to be out-of-fashion. It’s unclear whether it’s due to lack of consumer response or the perceived costs of establishing a physical presence and the relatively smaller audience that can be reached when compared to what the Web might allow.

But there is an opportunity for brands who go their own way. With thousands of brands trying to make their case through social media, a well-constructed and engaging face-to-face interaction with a brand can cut through the noise. In fact, if that physical presence is unique enough and it can actually reach a broader audience by compelling those you meet in person to reach out to their networks through social media.

Two small recent examples of this strategy. Emerald City Improv recently organized a goofy promotion by organizing a human choo choo train through downtown Seattle. The effort was covered by the Seattle P-I and caused a number of folks to tweet about their effort.

Second is my own personal experience. After attending a recent panel session on leveraging digital media, not only did I swap business cards and Twitter handles with those that I met but I also mailed each of them a note highlighting what I remembered about our conversation. I got replies from all of them including a few invites to follow-up meetings. In the past, I’ve performed the perfunctory “follow/follow back” dance on Twitter after these events and those engagements have never led to anything more.

Only by going against the grain did my “brand” stand out.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

10 ways you can measure PR's impact on the business

One of the major hurdles in adopting new forms of PR measurement is isolating the impact of PR activity on business metrics. Many PR professionals feel paralyzed when facing this issue, not having the resources or the know-how to tackle such a complex project. As a result, PR continues to get left out of the conversation of marketing’s impact on the business, a dangerous position when budget time comes. Last year’s market decline created a game changing shift. Accountability to business metrics is no longer optional.

Fortunately, this hurdle is easily overcome simply by shifting the premise of the conversation. The underlying assumption is that PR has to show its value independent of the other marketing functions. But this assumption really emanates from the internal structure of the business which assigns teams, budgets, etc. to distinct areas like PR, advertising, etc. Customers, however, don’t react to a company’s communications in this fashion. They may see an ad (placed by the ad team) that prompts them to search the web for more info (SEO team) and find an article in a trade publication (PR team) which convinces them to visit the company’s website (web team) where they download a case study (marketing team) and then pop over to a retailer or website where point of sale communications (channel team) seal the deal.

Since the ultimate marketing goal is to get the desired business result, it doesn’t make sense to start measuring by trying to isolate the impact of one function. PR simply needs to start integrating with other disciplines to better illustrate how our activity aligns with the broader goal. While we may not have direct insight into customer attitudes and behavior, these other disciplines do.

Search metrics, web site visits, post-purchase surveys, market research, even social media all provide clues to customer behavior. By creating ways to correlate PR activity to data captured by other groups, we start getting a more complete picture of how outbound communications are impacting customer behavior. We may not be able to isolate the specific contributions of PR vs. advertising, POS, etc. but we can point to the fact that PR activity aligns with the desired business outcome and even show how it is playing a role in moving the customer through the funnel from awareness to purchase.

Once PR results are integrated into the broader marketing mix, larger organizations may want to take the additional step of optimizing the marketing spend by determining which disciplines had the greatest impact on the result but that typically is an expensive and long term project. Companies need to have very large marketing expenditures to expect any benefit from this effort.

Below are ten ways to start correlating PR’s impact on customer and target audience behavior. Some can be executed solely by the PR team but most would benefit from tight alignment with the other outward-facing functions within the company. Consider these starting points for a larger conversation with other dataholders about how you can work together to mutual benefit.

10 ways you can measure business outcomes
- Use Google Insights to correlate the impact of launches and announcements on audience search activity
- Use PR-unique URLs to gauge traffic driven to a website from PR efforts
- Use a PR-unique variation on a promotion code to track online sales related to PR efforts
- Track downloads of white papers and case studies promoted through PR activity
- Conduct message recall and retention survey and correlate with message pick-up in the media
- Capture/measure favorability of blog comments, discussion groups and tweets as a proxy for consumer perception
- Use Crimson Hexagon to measure topics of conversation in online forums (Twitter, blogs, forums, etc.) as a proxy for consumer perception; correlate with message pick-up in the media
- Work with the sales team to identify marketing influences on the customer; correlate customer mentions of PR to PR activity
- Conduct a post-purchase survey to identify sources of information utilized by customers during consideration of product
- Work with your web team to track customer’s online activity after they visit your company blog (do they visit product/service information pages on your site? do they visit an e-commerce site?)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Can PR measurement save companies?

I had an interesting conversation with a client this week about the role of PR measurement within his corporation. While it started as a dialogue about how we demonstrate ROI and justify our program dollars, we quickly moved on to a much more interesting chat about how we could leverage our measurement program in a much more meaningful way.

His concern was less about measurement as an evaluative tool but more appropriately centered around using PR measurement as a means to surface real challenges to the brand and its ability to connect with customers and prospects. The idea is to move from a reactive position relative to the program to truly using PR measurement to look "around the corner" and anticipate issues that not only impact the communications function but, potentially the whole organization.

As PR professionals, we frequently are the first responders to emerging trends in our organizations thanks to the breadth of conversations we have with editors, reporters, stakeholders, etc. about all facets of our market. For example, Walmart PR first encountered the environmental movement long before the company began adopting green business practices.

A confidential 2004 report, prepared by McKinsey & Company for Wal-Mart, found that 2 percent to 8 percent of Wal-Mart consumers surveyed had ceased shopping at the chain because of “negative press they have heard.” Wal-Mart executives and Wall Street analysts began referring to the problem as “headline risk.”

I can count numerous occasions throughout my career when I or my colleagues were forecasting major business shifts prior to their realization. When we were representing Rio MP3 players in 2000, Apple suddenly entered the market with a hardware, software and services offering called iPod and iTunes. At the time, Rio had successfully fought off challenges from larger competitors like Sony, Samsung and others to keep a majority of the market share but it was immediately clear that Apple's entry was a game changer because of how it solved many of the pain points for consumers, pain points that the media surfaced long before the iPod hit the market.

Could PR measurement have saved Rio by highlighting these issues before Apple's market entry? Probably not, but the point is we're often the first to spot game changing competitive threats, emerging issues like the growing environmental consciousness of consumers, or changes in behavior that may lead to new opportunities. How often have we taken that info beyond our communications fiefdom to the broader organization?

The difference between then and now is that PR didn't have the seat at the executive table or the near real time tools to measure these shifts and use them to move the core business. With the relative influence of our brethren in advertising on the wane thanks to the current economic decline and the opportunity to surface real consumer insights (or at least a reasonable proxy that could point to areas for further examination) through social media channels, now is the time for PR to elevate itself as a true vehicle for change within the larger organizations.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

3 Tips for Public Speaking

Last week, in the space of 24 hours, I had three unrelated experiences and each one reminded me of key elements of powerful public speaking and verbal communication.

I attended a panel session with several reporters discussing the current crisis in the newspaper business. All were very articulate and made great points about the state of the industry and the direction it was headed. One week later, I remember three things, all of them quotes by one of the panelists.

"Blogging is just beat reporting."
"Investigative journalism is prize driven."
"The press pass is overrated."

The panelist went on to expand on all of those points but the brevity of those statements gave me a mental hook that I could remember (and have been quoting since).

Providing these brief, colorful declarative statements is critical if you hope to have your audience remember the content of your speech days, weeks and months after the fact.

Story telling
My wife Amy has been taking classes to improve her public speaking and she asked me to act as her audience the other night. She is smart and articulate and had a well structured presentation but she kept freezing up when she had to deliver. After a bit of trial and error, we discovered the problem was in her transitions. She was struggling with how to move the conversation from one point to the next. She ended up writing the first four or five words of each transition statement on her card which helped her smoothly move from one thought to the next in her presentation.

What she was really struggling with was story telling - how do I keep this presentation moving in a compelling way instead of reciting a string of unconnected information? Good story telling is critical to keeping an audience engaged, especially in an age where mobile devices can easily distract.

I am working with the endowment committee of my parish grade school to create a compelling video to share with the school community explaining the importance of a gift to the endowment. While we could explain the technical details, we were struggling to find a compelling way to reach people on an emotional level. We were trying to link endowment gifts with their historical antecedent - the work of religious orders who literally subsidized the school with their labor. The decline in religious orders (in part) has led to the rise of endowments.

One of the committee members shared with the group the Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila (which she had heard at a grade school prayer meeting the day before) which says "Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours."
We instantly knew this was the connective tissue that we'd been searching for. Another member suggested having the video start with images of children reciting the prayer. From there, the video built itself.

Compelling imagery can activate the heart and passion of audiences to take a presentation beyond a cerebral level. Much of the compelling oratory in history has been centered on strong imagery.

What else do you have to add? Comment below.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nation of Hypocrites? Shrinking the National "Service Gap"

A week ago, President Barack Obama called for a new era of personal responsibility and national service to overcome the current challenges facing America. Today, Porter Novelli released some interesting research that shows how far we have to go.

Porter Novelli's study shows a significant "service gap," the difference between the number of people who claim specific causes are important to them and those who actually have donated time to the cause.

For high profile categories like health research and environmental causes, the gap is over 60 percentage points. The smallest gap was volunteer care giving at 34 percentage points, but that was largely due to less interest in the cause, not more participation. When we do get involved, it's often on behalf of our children. Improving schools and mentoring youth had the highest engagement at 17 percent.

The good news is that the data comes from a survey conducted in June 2008 and we've seen signs that Americans are making a renewed commitment to service.

If this positive trend is to continue, organizations are going to have to prepare themselves for different levels of engagement. With increasing unemployment, there certainly will be a number of committed volunteers on which to build programs. But there also needs to be a move to tap those who have less available time and fewer resources in unique and interesting ways.

The way to do that seems to be bringing these problems "home" for Americans. The categories that have the highest level of participation are those that personally impact us through our loved ones - caring for our children, parents and disabled relatives. Helping connect us on a personal level with systemic social problems like homelessness, poverty, starvation, literacy and health research will be a key challenge for closing the "Service Gap."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Strategic PR or PR spam?

I read a nice post by Veronica Belmont on how journalists treat press release spam.

From the agency side, I can testify to this being a problem that all agencies face as we counsel our clients. It's a symptom of a larger problem: a lack of strategic direction and understanding of the true business challenge that the communication program is trying to solve and how that plan unfolds over time. Sometimes this problem is on the agency side, sometimes on the company side (especially when PR Managers don't have a seat at the executive table).

Press release spammers are so focused on "getting coverage" (a short-term goal) that they've forgotten (or don't understand) the audience they are trying to reach. Reporters know who their audience is and they write for the people reading their publications.

But "spammers" don't seem to recognize that BusinessWeek's audience might not be the group they need to reach to drive a business forward, especially in an iterative way. Sure, every business would eventually like to be on the cover of BusinessWeek but they probably don't need to be to meet the current business goal.

Typically spammers are focused on generating any coverage they can to "get results" for their clients or internal stakeholders to justify their jobs. Often times it is a result of having a media list that is hundreds of names long that no one has taken the time to map back to actual target audiences for the company.

I would argue that if you have so many names on your media list that you can't personalize each mail, you haven't done enough strategic planning or you are trying to accomplish too much too fast. Proper strategic planning creates long-term communications efforts focused on gradual change in a target audience before migrating to other challenges. Being too narrowly-focused on a desire to get "quick hits" without any real understanding of what long-term change you are trying to affect leads to misguided efforts like Veronica describes.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Social Media: Liberator of PR

Kara Swisher over at AllThingsDigital posted an interesting piece on whether social media is killing PR?.

In some ways the answer is yes but I think the reason is a self-delusion that marketing and PR professionals have held for many years that social media is laying bare.

Essentially, PR folk have felt like they "controlled" the public perception of the brand because they could look at coverage of the brand and evaluate how it was being represented in the media.

What social media has revealed is the conversation that has always been held informally and privately - the word of mouth that more closely reflects how consumers, customers, etc. truly feel about a brand. This conversation was hard to measure prior to the emergence of social media. Consumer/customer surveys never did a very good job capturing the nuance inherent in people's opinions.

So, in that sense, social media has killed the perception of control that PR folks had. But, for those who can adapt to a new conversational model, social media opens a whole new opportunity, as Kara rightly points out.

And, in fact, with all the social tools PR folks now have, it is easier than ever for them and companies to go right around the gatekeepers of the media directly to customers.

I'd also add that PR is best positioned to do this among the marketing disciplines because of the longstanding dialogue we've had with the media. Unlike most other marketing disciplines that excel at creating one-way message delivery platforms, PR knows how to have a conversation about an industry, brand, etc.

If Jason Calacanis, Robert Scoble and Michael Arrington are fed up with PR people, wait until they hear from folks who only know how to force feed messages to the public.