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.

 


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…


Can PR firms survive without traditional media?

In the last year news about traditional media has been all bad.  Circulations of newspapers and magazines are dropping like stones and TV networks are struggling to attract viewers. Much of this decline has been blamed on the emergence of the Internet as an alternative way for people to spend their time.  So with traditional media getting ever smaller, competition for space increases (given the number of companies who want to be on the cover of a magazine doesn’t decline), yet the value of that space also declines as it is seen by fewer people.  This all suggests that agencies who rely on traditional media are going to really struggle.  But in truth I don’t know an agency that does rely on traditional media anymore.  When you think about that it’s amazing that our industry has undergone such change in such a shot time.

Given this situation you may come to the conclusion that traditional media no longer matters and that any smart PR business will plan for it being a tiny fraction of its revenue in the coming years.  This is where I take issue.  I think traditional media is like many other businesses that for a long time had no apparent rival and then all of a sudden they wake up and realize that they are in danger of going out of business because of some rival that simply crept up on them.  But like most of those businesses they start to re-invent themselves AND a new natural equilibrium emerges.  I think we are still searching for that equilibrium right now but I’m convinced it will come.  Traditional media isn’t going to disappear it is going to evolve.  Plus there will become a point when a hard core audience will emerge that is much harder to erode.  I think we are still some way form that point but within the next few years I believe we’ll get there.

I predict we’ll get to a place where we have a smaller traditional media but one that is no longer traditional.  The essence of traditional is largely the way the media is delivered.  Newspapers are delivered daily, news shows air at certain times etc.  Thanks to DVRs and the Internet the delivery mechanism has been challenged and largely destroyed.  That leaves the other mainstay of the traditional media world: content.  Traditional media is guided by largely unwritten rules about the way its content is generated.  In the case of news there is an expectation that that news will be accurate.  We don’t always have the same expectations of news that appears on social media sites though.  Equally, traditional news has always been a one way dialog.  Now that’s changing, with many online news sites encouraging feedback and comment.  In other words traditional media is embracing social media tools to stem the tide of readers departing.  But you guys all know this.  So why am I writing this?  Well I guess I want to make the point that we are in a content and distribution war in which the best content with the best distribution will win.  In that world there is no reason why traditional media has to lose, it simply has to adapt AND accept that people have a lot more choice than they did ten years ago.  That means they’ll never have the circulations, viewerships or listeners they once did.  Instead they’ll have to take a share of people’s attention.  But as we all know, one ‘share’ can be a lot more valuable than another.

These are horrible days for traditional media and its likely that it will go through a LOT more pain and change before it hits bottom.  But I’m convinced it will hit bottom and when it does find its role, PR will find it still has a very important partner.  So don’t abandon traditional media just yet!


Can PR turn around a business or a brand?

PR agencies will at some point find themselves faced with the opportunity to work with a company that at one point in its history was a great.  The brand in question was so well known that it was a household name.  Years later that brand has lost its way and some rival has eaten its proverbial lunch.  PR people, being the optimists they are, love the idea of making the once great business great again.  Of course, deep down even they know that their chances of success are tied to what the brand in question actually does.  If the client has finally start making a good product again, and started solving pricing and distribution problems, then PR can really step up and be a major part of the turnaround.

I recall being invited to try and help a once great Canadian business (there’s aren’t many Canadian tech businesses that were huge so you can probably guess who they are).  I met the CEO and we talked about how they could tell their story in a better way. I threw out a tag line that summed up this approach.  Following the meeting I heard that he loved the thinking that I and a colleague had given him.  We were excited to be a part of this future success story.  Then things went quiet and then, rather odly, we heard that our contact at the client had been asked to leave and then we heard that the tag line we’d given them was being used for all their adverts.  We were paid nothing for that tag line btw.  Indeed it seemed they’d used the meeting to get some free advice and were then acting on it.  Of course the free advice didn’t really save the company and it has now filed for bankruptcy.

I truly believed the advice we had given was great advice.  But at the end of the day the advice was about how they managed their communications and not about how they managed their business.  What they needed was a better business model, not a new tag line or better messaging.  When you realize that PR alone can’t really save a business it makes you (as a PRO) feel a little sad.  We’d all like to think that with our help the business can be turned around.  But unless the problems that got the business in to trouble in the first place have been solved, then PR will at best slow the process of decline.  So next time you are faced with an opportunity to turn around the image of a company, be sure to find out that that is all that is needed and that the business itself is taking the steps it needs to to fix its underlying business.  Otherwise you too could witness the death of a brand that has really sharp positioning but little else.


Looking our best isn’t natural


I’ve been giving some thought recently as to why companies have to try to look their best. For some time I’d believed that looking your best was simply a matter of the right training and discipline and then eventually it would simply become second nature. When taking a photo of my eldest daughter I had a revelation. I asked her to smile. She duly obliged and I got my photo. She then went back to her more normal expression. In short she looked great for a few seconds. Of course like most people she wants to look her best most of the time. When I asked her why she didn’t smile like she did for the camera more often, she said “it’s too much like hard work.” Of course few, if any, people look their best all the time (I look awful most of the day and especially so in the mornings). So why do we expect companies to be any different? It’s also no wonder that like many of us who struggle to smile nicely for the camera, some companes that are trying to look their best, look like they are putting on a false face. I guess the real answer to all this is not to train companies to put on their ‘camera’ face but instead, teach them to exhibit their real qualities – and of course encourage the people observing them to use the right lense. Now say ‘cheese’.


Car industry needs PR


Context Analytics recently published a paper showing that for certain brands PR was way more effective than advertising. The brands most affected were those which had ‘high involvement’ products such as computers. High involvement products are ones where consumers typically do quite a bit of research before they make the purchase. I’d put cars firmly into that category and yet unless I’m blind I’d suggest that most car makers have done a pretty poor job on their PR. Instead they seem determined to convince people using TV adverts that they should rush out and buy their new vehicle. I’m of course basing this thesis on little real science. I did do a Google news search on major car brands and if you ignore all the bad articles about how deeply troubled the industry is, you see little that appears to be the result of a PR campaign.

A great example to me of a missed opportunity is Toyota’s launch of the new Prius. The car doesn’t go on sale until ‘late Spring’ but it is already on the Toyota website. Given how popular this car is I’d have expected there to be a lot of PR outside the traditional trade press. As yet I’ve seen nothing and as Prius owner (or Pious as a friend of mine calls them) I tend to notice when images of the less than attractive vehicle appear in the paper.

For the record then I’d strongly advise GM, Ford et al to forget their expensive ads and focus on getting the argument across using the media and social media. Assuming Context’s study is accurate, they’ll spend less and sell more.