Being anti-social is no longer an option for businesses

social media smartphone

We’ve lost track of the number of times we’ve heard people say, “we’ve tried social media and it didn’t work for us.” And then you find, they’ve posted half a dozen very promotional posts, been disappointed that thousands of people have not descended on their website or their shop as a result and given it up as a bad job.

The fact is that social media cannot be a bolt-on to your PR or marketing communications activity, it needs to be an integrated part of it. It’s also time to understand that to use social channels effectively, it’s simply not good enough to just post content, especially purely promotional content, but to understand that this is the channel by which you must engage and create relationships with clients and customers online that you can then take offline. And that means the exchange has to be as much, if not more, about the customer than it is about you. That’s as true if you are a b2b company as it is if you are consumer facing.

An interesting new report from CapGemini entitled “Crafting A Compelling Customer Experience” makes some interesting observations. Social platforms are fast becoming the medium of choice for customers who want help on a product or service. Indeed, 66% expect a same day response to their enquiry; 43% expect a response within an hour. It is also becoming the medium for complaints and as any PR practitioner worth their salt will tell you, it’s not the complaint that causes the problem, it’s how you respond to it. Absenting yourself from social platforms isn’t the answer either. People will still complain about your company but you will have no mechanism by which to confront and address those complaints.

Our suggestion is always to focus on a small number of social platforms but do them well, rather than try and adopt a social strategy that is a mile wide but only an inch deep. Be interested and interesting; create conversations rather than try to overtly sell. Understand how those platforms work and what you need to do to target followers who are pertinent to your proposition – don’t just chase numbers. Use the conversations to understand what your followers are looking for and make suggestions rather than give a hard sell. Pre-agree what your key messages are going to be but don’t be afraid to engage in conversations that are broader than just your brand. And link your social activity with your PR activity to create a closed loop to your marketing that has the effect of directing everyone back to a central point, your web site, for example where they can choose if they want more from you or not.

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Not only God Knows how to bring your marketing alive

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Not everybody’s marketing budget can stretch to the likes of One Direction, Pharell Williams, Sir Elton John and Paloma Faith, but the BBC’s latest star-studded video cover of the Beach Boys’ classic, God Only Knows, shows at least one thing: you can create stand out marketing initiatives without sinking huge swathes of budget into expensive, paid advertising.

Not that we are anti-advertising. We’re not and, of course, that galaxy of stars wouldn’t come cheap. But we do get frustrated when we hear from so many companies that they place advertising as a matter of course, without being able to measure its effectiveness or without considering whether and how that element of budget could be more effectively spent.

The BBC’s latest video shows on the grand scale how adopting an integrated rather than a siloed approach to marketing can have the greatest impact. Not only does the video act as a piece of marketing collateral in its own right, it reinforces positive perceptions about the creative and musical output of the corporation and, most importantly, it makes you smile. It invites you to share it with friends and transcends the clunky approach of simply shoehorning in key messages, features or benefits into a dull, dry press release.

Of course, the BBC has the benefit of being able to broadcast the video across its various channels but they have created content that will continue to have a lifespan across mainstream social platforms. They also have created a campaign which offers an opportunity to utilise multiple marketing channels to reach their target audience: social media, digital marketing, media relations and, yes, advertising if they weren’t the BBC. If they wanted to, they could add in experiential, face to face and other marketing channels too to extend the reach of this one, initial piece of activity.

PR as a discipline has long suffered an inferiority complex, having had a chip on its shoulder that is somehow a second-class alternative to advertising. But adopting a marketing-led approach to PR that embraces and integrates other disciplines into one cohesive marketing campaign puts that idea to the sword. Using PR alongside digital, data and social platforms can deliver highly targeted, creative and contemporary campaigns that focus on enhancing bottom line performance irrespective of whether your budget would buy you One Direction or not.

‘The story is everything’ – why we should all embrace the Kevin Spacey guide to marketing

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Kevin Spacey, artistic director of The Old Vic Theatre, star of ‘House of Cards’ and too many Hollywood movies to list here, had his most recent role as the keynote speaker at the annual Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

Spacey was talking about the importance for marketers of building stories.

“Give them what they want,” he told the audience, “they will talk about it, carry it around with them, share it ”

What he went on to say should resonate with any marketer or business owner looking to build or reinforce the value of their brand. Good stories, Spacey said, require authenticity. In a world increasingly made up of spin, it is essential for brands to remember what is it that makes something feel absolutely genuine to its target audiences. It’s when something doesn’t feel authentic, that our customers and our prospects start to turn off.

Spacey cited Volkswagen’s 1960 launch of the Beetle in the United States as a case in point. He said Americans were then driving big, American-made cars — not cars from German factories built by the Nazis. But by focusing on its size, economy and convenience, they created a highly successful market for it. The lesson to learn was that if you stay true to your brand voice, the audience will respond.

In this increasingly connected world, the quality of your content and your messages is essential. The platform is less important as your audience will want to consume your content on their terms, where and when they want to. But be creative and engaging in your content. After all, what could be more simple – and yet more engaging – than inviting people to pour a bucket of iced water over themselves and film it.

Today’s audiences want stories – they don’t want bland, simplistic marketing messages. They want authentic stories. As Spacey’s character in “House of Cards” says: “There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth.” And if you give them that, they will talk about it and share it with others. And that’s the Holy Grail for which every business is searching.

Get on your bikes – real-time marketing is key to social engagement

The riders in the Tour de France passed along the top of the road where I live today and, although the action itself lasted less than two minutes, the area was in lockdown from seven in the morning. Thousands – literally thousands – thronged to our little part of North East London to line the streets, cheer and wave their flags.

And then the rain started to fall. It didn’t dampen the spirits but it did show how seizing every marketing opportunity can really pay off. The staff of an estate agent lining the route were despatched to hand branded umbrellas to the waiting crowd and then take photos to be shared on social platforms and, no doubt (or at least I hope) sent to the local newspaper as part of their coverage.

Okay so it’s not every day that you get a major sporting event like the Tour de France passing through but that doesn’t mean to say that managing your marketing ‘in the moment’ shouldn’t be a priority.

“Newsjacking” an event or a news story as a hook for your PR or marketing message can help you gain valuable PR exposure and engagement on social platforms. Brands and agencies that resort to pre-scheduling every post fail to understand how real-time marketing can help make their business or their clients’ business part of the social conversations that satisfies people’s hunger for discussion around news and events.
The message is you need to identify the opportunity and then be quick – quick to organise, quick to broadcast and quick to engage.

Top marks went to biscuit brand Oreo last year year when they responded to a blackout at the stadium staging the US Super Bowl with a Tweet showing a picture of an Oreo with the caption “you can still dunk in the dark”. This was retweeted 15 thousand times and earned twenty thousand likes on Facebook during the black-out. This was a brand that spotted an opportunity at a moment’s notice and captured it.

Whether you’re an Oreo or an SME, you can no longer afford not to be alive to the power of real-time marketing.

Is it really important to make your customers feel happy?

ImageWe were interested to read a new study a week or two back that revealed the UK’s happiest brands and explained how they instilled an emotional connection with consumers.

For the record, Cadbury’s was selected as the ‘happiest’ brand in the UK, according to research by advertising agency Isobel in association with Cog Research. Who’d have thought research would show that our leading chocolate brand is also the one that makes us feel happiest?

The study ranked Andrex second, followed by Google, Fairy, Nivea, YouTube, Amazon, Mars, Walkers and Heinz, indicating that brands, which display ‘happy characteristics’ connect better with consumers. Apparently a happy brand is a successful brand: it is better recalled, better liked and chosen more often, according to the report.

The research says that happy brands are determined by five core characteristics: whether they are playful, happy, trustworthy, generous or optimistic.

However, we’re not sure the extent to which this rings true across all sectors. There are some brands which we may trust but which we don’t want to be either playful or happy. We want them to be serious and professional and, in fact, if by nature of their business they suddenly became frivolous and fun, we would become less likely to trust them, not more.

So what are the implications of all this? Our belief that we have become more savvy during the recession and are more discerning in the choice of brands and businesses with which we choose to engage. We want our relationship with those brands to be genuinely two-way and based on value and remain uncertain the extent to which this is compatible with a happiness index.

Our view is that your business needs to find ways of engaging with and developing a relationship with its potential customer base in a manner that rings true to the service you deliver and the role you fulfil for them. Don’t try to be your customers’ best friends or expect them to be yours; expect their loyalty only as long as you are fulfilling the need they want from you and ensure your marketing activity – whether it is above the line or below the line, offline or online – reflects genuinely what their experience and expectations of you are. They want reliability, value, professionalism and great service – they don’t want you to toy with their affections.

So don’t commit energy trying to fill the happiness gap in their lives – leave that to their friends and family. But if you can be the ones that can fill the satisfaction gap through what you offer and the way you offer it, then you will be as close to gaining their loyalty as it is possible to be.

Implications to the left of me, implications to the right of me

There’s a dichotomy in the way many clients view PR and their relationship with their PR agencies.

At a superficial level, there are those who view their agencies as coverage production factories, pumping out content to try and get as many column inches as they possibly can. These are the ones who don’t get the best value for money or have the lesser appreciation for the role of PR in terms of reputation management. 

Others do see PR in the wider context of their business, the reputation of their brand, how the service they offer or the products they sell are perceived in the wider market.

The majority don’t see this side of PR until they are stuck in a crisis. In these instances, it may be that they turn to the agency to place a sticking plaster over a gaping wound, because they haven’t involved them early enough to prevent the injury from initially being so bad.

Take this week’s news, for example.

James Swinstead, 85, died ‘almost instantly’ last week after water rushed on board the British cruise ship Marco Polo as it was battered by waves during severe storms. Now, his widow, Helen says she has been offered a 25 per cent discount off of her next holiday as compensation.

Any PR practitioner worth their salt would have stepped back from this situation and seen how offering a widow a discount on sailing again on the ship on which her husband died would be seen, at best, as insensitive and at worst quite offensive. In a state of high emotion it is hardly surprising the company has now become the focus of their despair.

The circumstances of Mr Swinstead’s death, not withstanding comments subsequently made about the maintenance of the vessel, were extreme and tragic. Appearing to fail to respond in a measured and compassionate manner gives the appearance of compounding the tragedy and, instead of leaving the cruise ship company appearing concerned, in tune and going the extra mile, they risk more damage to their reputation than the accident itself would have caused in the first place.Image

And so to the message – recognise that there are potential PR implications in almost every aspect of your business and every strategic decision you take.  Apply that thinking as part and parcel of your operation, bring your PR advisers into the fold early, have a process for managing crises like this and you won’t go too far wrong. Remember it is better to get it right first time than to jump too quickly and get it wrong.  

2014 – the year when less will be more

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The architect Frank Lloyd Wright once famously wrote that “less is more only when more is too much.” The question for businesses and marketers as we enter 2014 is how to know when more is too much.

The digital explosion offers as many challenges as it does opportunities for businesses of all sizes, but especially for SMEs. Each day, there seems to be another social platform to plug your business into and how to manage your profile on Google+, Circle, Instagram, Storify and Pinterest, let alone YouTube, Twitter and Facebook can leave even the most tech-savvy marketer a little baffled. The temptation over the past couple of years has been to generate as much content as possible and spread it liberally across your various social platforms, whilst also using it to engage with media, online and offline, as well. And that’s before you’ve factored in a blog.

The focus in 2014 is not only going to be on quality of content over quantity, but also in refining your marketing communications activity and honing it into one or two campaigns that can reach across your online and offline marketing channels.

The temptation on the first day back in January is to jump in with both feet and hit the market with activity whilst it’s still digesting the last of the Christmas pudding and New Year champagne. It’s worth, though, spending some time early in January, either as a team or with an external moderator (waves!!) to explore what it is you are actually trying to achieve.

  • Revisit how you describe your business and its proposition, focusing not on the key words that you think are important but those that you think will be important to your customers. They’re often not the same!  
  • Take some time to discuss what you offer that your competitors do not and what they offer that you do not. Ask yourselves who your customers are and what they really want from you.
  • Look for the words that you would use to describe both the values and personality of your business – and then write down what the proof or justification is for the claim you are making. It’s all very well saying you offer great customer service – where’s the proof?
  • And finally….ask yourself what success for your business would look like. Where will you be at the end of 2014 compared to now – be as specific as possible and then ask yourself which products or services, which markets and which customers are going to help you achieve that.

Then – and only then – are you really ready to build your marketing communications programme and to look at the campaigns that will encapsulate those objectives and target markets in a way that also enables you to reach across online and offline media and platforms in an integrated, consistent and targeted manner. That’s where the creativity comes in but without the planning first it will be little more than creativity for the sake of it.