Has your marketing got engaged?

Last night I did something unusual.  I sat an watched TV.  For a whole hour!  It wasn’t live TV of course.  It was something recorded but still it was TV.  It was great.  I just got to sit there and be entertained and because it was off the DVR I could skip all those pesky ads.  My teenage daughter joined me for a while but she spent equal amounts of time engaged with the show and with her friends online.  Nothing unusual there.  But the experience really brought home to me the problem many companies are facing with their marketing.  For decades marketing departments looked at forms of media that were non-interactive.  Consumers simply looked and listened.  We read stories around which adverts were draped, or we watched shows interspersed with ads that we sometimes watched.  It seems many companies are approaching the challenge the online world has created by producing marketing that assumes we are passive consumers of marketing, rather than people to get engaged with.  This is strange because what I’ve just said is nothing that new.  People have been saying for a while that the online world is all about getting engaged with consumers, yet for some reason it seems the vast majority of marketing dollars are still spent on forms of marketing that are passive.  Why?  I think the answer has two parts:

1.  Brands are struggling with ROI – the new marketing model requires new tools to measure its effectiveness.  There are no shortage of tools but there is a shortage of any agreed standard when it comes to measurement. Furthermore the goal of linking campaigns to sales still eludes most marketers.  It’s definitely possible.  We’ve run some highly measurable and thankfully successful campaigns for clients but it’s sad to say that too many campaigns are still run that go unmeasured and therefore hard to justify.

2.  Failure to innovate – many brands view innovation in online marketing as some clever pop up ad that you can’t avoid.  We all know that’s not innovation.  Innovation is where brands start with a clean sheet.  Instead of taking their old world tactics and applying them to the online world, they start with an online mindset.  They create and/or find content that engages with their audience.  We recently created a campaign for AMD that involved a virtual scavenger hunt.  It is designed to engage with developers so it hooks in to that community in a way that appeals to their inner geekiness.  In other words we gave developers a reason to interact with AMD and thankfully it seems they’ve jumped at that chance.

Now as a consumer I should point out that I don’t want to spend my day interacting with brands but I do expect that when I am looking for, or at something online that brands will try and engage.  Brands that sit and wait for my attention will struggle to get it.  So ask yourself a simple question:  how engaged is my marketing?  As far as I know there is no agreed percentage that is the new standard but if the answer to that question is: less than my competitors, it should be cause for concern.  Another way of answering it would be to brainstorm how engaged your brand could be and then analyse the gap between where you are now and where you could be.  For many brands engagement will be a journey but one they have to get on board with fast.  Otherwise they will become as irrelevant as the TV ads I skipped past while I watched TV last night.


Real Time/Social Media is making us spoiled – time for the ‘long idea’

In the old world, the one before the Internet and social media, we got our content when they gave it to us.  It was akin to three square meals a day if you were lucky.  Newspapers flopped onto driveways, radio stations paused at the hour to bring us news and the family (well the parents) sat down to watch the evening news.  These content outlets created funnels through which we got our news, views and perspective.  All that changed when the Internet arrived.  We could now get what we wanted when we wanted.  Well sort of.  Google and Yahoo! served up huge amounts of previously inaccessible content in ways that changed the world forever.  We quickly got used to being able to get news headlines and perspective at our time and place of choosing.  But with this change in behavior came a change in expectations.  Because we can now get news on a subject 24/7, we now want news on that subject 24/7.  If there is no news to report then we are disappointed.  We are, it seems, the spoilt kids when it comes to content. This creates a challenge for brands because you never want to disappoint your customers.

A quick study of top consumer brands show they re all struggling with this challenge.  Whether they are conscious of the challenge is debatable but many are trying to engage more frequently with their customers and partners online to avoid going dark for a few hours.  Think about that.  A decade ago a brand could go dark for days, even weeks and nobody had a problem.  Today we expect our brands to be talking to us, introducing us to their friends, entertaining us and of course keeping us informed every hour of the day.  Big brands, it seems, are being pushed to behave more and more like media outlets.  But constantly creating compelling content is only part of the solution.  Brands need to learn more about how and when their customers want to engage.  They need to plan the engagement cycle rather than the news cycle.  For many this requires a wholesale rethink of how they structure communications and marketing so that they focus less on how to get the news out and more on how to drive engagement on a consistent basis.  That word ‘consistent’ is critical.  Brands that engage around a new campaign and then go dark are the ones that create the largest expectation gap with their customers.  Avoiding going dark requires a rethink of the ‘big idea’ approach to marketing and instead a focus on what the guys at our Bourne agency have termed the ‘long idea’. After all, today’s world needs ideas that drive lasting engagement by creating a series of conversations, not just one.

I challenge you to look at the frequency with which your brand or your clients are creating a reason to engage and then compare that with the competition.  While pace of engagement isn’t everything it is rapidly becoming a key measure of a brand and its value.  So if you are trying to drive brand value, take a long hard look at how frequently you are engaging with customers, stakeholders and partners.  In today’s world, it’s not the only way to drive brand value but it sure is a crucial one.  Oh and while your are at it please make sure to feed my insatiable appetite for updates, insight etc.  In todays’s world can you engage too much?  Let’s leave that topic for another post.

Later.

 


Should PR agencies hire experience or raw talent?

The race is on for agencies to build their digital assets.  Get it right and PR firms will grow faster than they have in decades.  Get it wrong and they’ll have a struggle on their hands.  So as agency heads look at their talent base and their potential new hires, they have a tough question to answer.  Do they hire experienced marketing professionals who have some digital skills or the typically younger, more digitally literate who have only limited experience?  Sadly for the more experienced group, the answer appears to be that agencies are trending towards hiring younger digerati, rather than grey hairs.  This in turn is reshaping agency structures, product offerings, and pricing.  To twist an old saying, we are who we hire.  With agencies moving from a classic pyramid model towards something that looks more like a coat hanger, the opportunities for today’s experienced professionals are becoming fewer by the day.  Is this fair?  Probably not but this drive to hire younger, cheaper talent is in part the result of another force, not just digital.  Client procurement departments have acted like sand paper on PR budgets for years and have increasingly made it more desirable to hire doers over strategists.

Most agencies are racing to build a ‘new’agency on top of their existing one.  While they do need some experience to prevent the thing from collapsing in heap, what they need most is staff that can get on and ‘do’ at a price point that makes the investments the agencies are making viable.  This effectively forces agencies to hire lower cost staff.  These of course tend to be kids from college who have no real experience but can tell you anything you want to know about Facebook and Twitter.  For this generation, SEO is a form of grammer and html was a choice alongside Spanish and French at school.  Given a brand is now defined by the size and strength of its social network, it’s hardly surprising that many agencies will value these skills over someone who has known the editors at a business publication for a decade.

So is it all doom and gloom for us oldies?  Far from it.  We can start and build these new agencies, they do after all need some adult supervision.  We can also explore the boundaries of owned, earned and paid media.  These are the places where real value lies and where experience can really come to the fore.  But we cannot assume that because we have decades of experience that our futures are secure.  We have to bring something of value to the transition to digital.  Identifying what this is is crucial and could yet save the careers of many.  We are in an era of marketing where the value of experience is trending downward.  In years to come that will of course change as digital becomes the norm but for now the digital natives are set to become the new leaders.  That may not be what people want to hear but our industry is, like many, Darwinian.  In our case the fittest are the digerati.


Is Digital PR different for B2B than B2C?

The short answer is: yes and no.  Very helpful I know.  Before I explain, let me first say I am an unashamed fan of digital.  I think the way that it has transformed all forms of marketing is exciting.  After all, it offers brands a whole new way to create markets and sell products.  But I fear that little attention has been paid to differentiating the use of digital for reaching consumers versus business decision makers (BDMs).  Indeed it’s as if digital makes everyone a consumer and therefore regardless of whether you marketing shampoo or web servers, you should offer customers the same broad strategies and the same types of tactics.  I take issue with this.  Consumers have different reasons for buying your products and or services than BDMs.  When you market to consumers you are trying to get them to buy your products and feel good about your brand.  When you market to BDMs you are, more often than not, trying to convince them that your products will help them sell more products.  Perhaps the best way to help people think about this divide is to imagine a consumer campaign and then a B2B campaign.  If you were doing digital comms for a consumer brand such as a car you might:

1.  Monitor the conversations taking place around that type of car and decide if you wanted to join these conversations or start your own.

2.  You would create content (blogs, podcasts, videos etc) that created an emotional and or intellectual connection between your brand and consumers

3.  You would build car enthusiast communities that connected your consumers to each other and to your brand (you would also join existing communities).  This is where Facebook and Twitter etc come in.

4.  You would optimize all the content you’d already produced and were producing so that it was easy for consumers to find and so that it helped you drive people towards a place where they can purchase the car that was after all at the center of the campaign.

In a B2B world all of the above apply.  However, if you now imagine that the product you were trying market was headlights that go into that car, then you create very different content, join radically different conversations, build different communities and so on.  This is partly because the communities you are dealing with are a lot smaller but also because, quite clearly, the people you are trying to reach are interested in very different things.  Of course good B2B campaigns also try and reach the end consumer to create some pull for their products through the channel.  This is called ingredient branding and is an approach Intel has used for years, with its Intel inside campaign.  Companies that run these kids of campaigns can easily utilize digital as a channel and people like Intel do just that.  I guess the difference that digital makes is that it’s actually possible for people to run ingredient branding campaigns using digital at far lower costs than they would have in the old world.  Intel has spent many millions (many, many in fact) on this campaign over the years.  This helped them lock out competitors and build market share.  But they were/are a rich company with a lot of cash to throw at this challenge.  Small companies can’t afford Intel-like ad budgets but they can afford to create their own podcasts, content for the web, YouTube video and host a Facebook community aimed at the end-consumers.  Put another way, they are less budget constrained and more ‘make it interesting’ constrained.  After all, if you are  a maker of car headlights, you may need to get pretty creative to make consumers love your brand or your products.  But if creativity is the only challenge, I know plenty of PR agencies who’d say:  “bring it on.”


Back to school

Across America it’s back to school time.  Families are getting used to packing lunches, the joys of nightly homework and arranging after school activities.  It’s also a time when work calendars fill up as people return from vacations, supposedly refreshed.  Of course in America they don’t take the long vacations that are common in countries such as France and Sweden.  Instead they stretch to ten days, or two weeks if they are feeling particularly brave.  Either way, Americans are now ready to do battle with the economy while their kids do battle with mathematics and English.  In the world of communications and marketing in general, the summer is a quiet period where only a real crisis will garner much attention.  The Fall on the other hand is a period where news floods out as businesses launch products and make acquisitions.  The flood of news does of course make it harder to get people’s attention.  You are, after all, competing with others for your fifteen seconds of fame (the Internet equivalent of Warhol’s prediction).  So does this make sense?  I appreciate it is difficult to get things done over the summer when so many people are away and the argument goes that: what’s the point of announcing things when nobody is around to read about it?  I’d argue that in the age of social and online media, the summer is no longer a dead time for getting attention.  It is merely a dead time for people seeking it.  While I was away I checked on the news, industry and otherwise, everyday on my iPhone and I’m not that unusual.  With today’s technology people hear about the news whether they are at work on a south pacific island.  So it makes me wonder whether companies should rethink summer media madness and use the fact that attention is easier to get to their advantage.  Perhaps, therefore, it’s time for us communications folk to go back to school…


Should PR agencies play client politics?

PR agencies often get caught up in the politics of their clients.  It could be departments that are at war; marketing heads that refuse to let anyone but them talk to the CEO; PR plans that are designed to keep CEOs happy rather than do what the client’s business objectives need.  Agency staff often scratch their heads when such things happen but in the end they tend to go with the flow for fear of losing the business.  This isn’t consultancy though.  Instead this is being an a … well you know the word.

So how can agencies be real consultants in a world where so many clients behave irrationally?  It’s not easy and it isn’t simply a case of being principled.  If you fired every client because they refused to act as they should, you’d have no clients.  Indeed the politics that cause clients to behave strangely are more deep rooted than just the PR department, they are often company-wide issues.  In most cases if the CEO really knew what was going on he, or she, would scream the house down.  But of course in some cases the CEO is the cause of the politics.  CEOs that run their businesses by fear, often create dysfunctional but often quite successful businesses.  And this is where as a consultant we should step back and make the important calls.

My advice is very simple.  If a client is behaving irrationally look at whether that behavior is stopping the company from being successful.  A good example here would be Apple, which is notorious for being irrational.  But you can’t argue with the success of the company or the level of its PR for that matter.  If the client is succeeding despite the issues you can see, then you should find sensible ways to deal with the challenges the client is creating.  This may mean gently pushing a better agenda and approach.  In other words be a consultant BUT recognize the limitations of your assignment.  The exception is of course where the client’s behavior is damaging your business by destroying your staff’s morale etc. In that instant you need to step forward and protect your business.

Where a client is failing as a business AND is behaving irrationally then you need to step up and be a consultant.  If the client refuses to listen to your sage advice and threatens to fire you if you don’t step in line, then I suggest you politely resign the account.

In all cases agencies should not assume they know everything and that the client is stupid.  Agencies often have a great view of a business but it is not always a perfect view.  There is often a lot going on that we can’t see and we need to recognize that.  So in short playing politics should never stop us from being consultants but it may prevent us from being the consultants we’d like to be.


What digital services do PR agencies need to offer?

PR agencies are jumping on the digital bandwagon and rightly so.  But what constitutes digital?  A lot of agencies describe digital as social media relations, or online PR.  In that regard they embrace social networks (they monitor them and find ways to create communities for their clients).  They also embrace bloggers and of course all the online publications and wikis.  Much of this shift to digital is simply replacing traditional media with online content sources.  I’d argue that such an approach is not true digital but a much narrower form of digital communications.  True digital is far more complex and difficult.  My description of digital embraces:

  1. Analytical tools and services that enable companies to fully understand the extent to which they and their rivals are participating in the conversations and communities in the digital world.  And some insight into what to do next!
  2. Search skills and the ability to influence the terms people use when searching for clients and their rivals.  SEO skills are not a part of most PROs toolkits.  They will be though.
  3. The ability to design and build web properties.  Right now agencies are outsourcing the task of designing and building micro-sites etc.  But the structure and content of web properties is increasingly becoming a more central service and not a skill that should sit outside the firm.
  4. Connection to CRM technology and the customer support side of the business.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to find the join between customer relations and public relations, thanks in large part to the online relationships that now exist around brands.  This creates both a technology and skill challenge for agencies.
  5. Creative direction.  The concept of having a creative director is not a common one for many PR agencies.  Indeed, we often assume that all our people are creative.  With the convergence of digital advertising and digital communications, many clients actually expect to see a creative director.  Furthermore, B2B PR actually needs another level of creativity.  In B2B PR we are so used to focusing on key messages that we can forget the value of simply making people enjoy their connection with the brand.  Consumer PR people understand this challenge well, which is why creative teams and creative directors are more common in that world.  Put another way, we engage with brands intellectually AND emotionally.  B2B PR tends to focus on the former.  In a digital world it has the chance to put equal focus on the latter.  Bring on the creative director.
  6. Community building skills.  PR firms are used to leveraging influence through existing communities.  For example we use the editorial or blogger community to get our messages out there.  We are embracing Facebook and Twitter but we need to do a LOT more.  We need people who can really build communities.  This thinking goes well beyond Facebook and even Ning and Grouply.  It needs to embrace online and offline community management skills.

There are actually other areas, such as video content that a true digital agency should embrace but hopefully this shows that digital done right is a lot more than just basic social media relations.  This transition is going to be fascinating. I’m dying to see who the new kings and queens of communications will be.


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