Tuesday, January 20, 2015

PR: What Is It, and How Has It Changed?

If you want to adopt the broadest definition, marketing communications can be boiled down to just two varieties: paid (also known as "advertising") and unpaid. Just about all forms of MarCom that don't directly cost a company money can be defined as PR, or public relations. PR can be the absolute most effective form of marketing... and is often the most misunderstood, and most underused (or incorrectly used). Let's take a quick look at what PR is, and how it's changing rapidly in recent years.

"Why Won't the Media Just Print What I Tell Them?"
Imagine you're the editor of a respected print publication (or web site... more on that in a moment) in the golf industry. You walk into the office, sit down at your desk, and open your email. There are three new messages, each one of them from the publicists of golf equipment manufacturers, and all three of them have the same headline: "XYZ GOLF CORPORATION ANNOUNCES BEST LOB WEDGE EVER". If you run all three of these releases in the same issue of the same magazine, what will your readers think? Yeah, they'll think that you and your magazine has zero integrity and is therefore untrustworthy, and they'd be right. As the editor, your job is to do further investigation to try and validate or disprove the claims of the respective PR people, and then put forth your own case as to which one is actually the best. Perhaps you'll get all three lob wedges sent in for a review, or maybe you'll contact a bunch of pro golfers to get their opinions on which wedge they prefer (while keeping in mind that those professionals are also beholden to particular companies via their endorsements). But in any case, at least two of those three companies won't get the results they wanted when they sent in their press release.

The way that information is presented to the media and directly to the public is vitally important. Claims must be provable. The language must be honest while still presenting the company in its best light. The publicist's job isn't only to be a mouthpiece for the company he or she represents; it's more of a conduit who understands both the company's goals as well as the challenges of the media's job to provide accurate information to their readers and viewers.

Types of PR
For the purposes of this article, my references to PR are based on consumer/lifestyle publicity (as opposed to crisis management and other types of PR). Rewinding back to when I was beginning my career in the ancient pre-Internet era, PR was an easily definable task. You wrote press releases, and sent them out to publications that were likely to be read by your customers. Was there more than just that? Of course, if it was being done correctly. You sent photos along with the releases. You followed up with the writers and editors, making sure they received the releases and providing more information as required. And, of course, you made arrangements for reviews of products, ensuring as much as possible that the reviewers would understand and appreciate the aspects of the product that would be of highest concern to the customer.

All of the above is still true today... but it has expanded exponentially. Companies now have the additional task of much greater direct contact with their customers via their web sites, social media, blogs, and more. Let me tell you: one improper post on social media can take away all of the goodwill that a publicist builds up through years of traditional PR work, and yet some companies trust their social media postings to an intern with little or no experience or understanding of the importance of staying on message. Today's public relations involve a much larger scope of contact points, with more vehicles and more ways to succeed (or fail) than ever before.

It's a Two-Way Street
Here's something funny about PR: companies always seem to want the public to get their messages, but only begrudgingly seem to desire communication in the return direction. Here's an example: recently, a customer of one of my clients reached out to the company regarding a product he'd wanted to purchase, and for whatever reason, spoke to someone who, frankly, was curt and rude in their response. It was unacceptable, and the customer got on social media to relate his poor experience with the company. It's an unfortunate all-too-common experience these days. However, since my client had an experienced PR professional handling social media, we were able to not only extend sincere apologies to the customer, but turned the situation around to the point that the customer went out and bought the product, and then went out of his way to made follow-up posts praising the level of service he'd received. Be aware that every time you can contact a customer, directly or through an intermediary like the media, it can immensely sway the perception of your entire brand. Being responsive to customers in the right way is part of the equation.

Internal Is As Important As External
You probably think of your customers as the people who purchase the product or service for their own use, but there are actually many layers of customers, all of whom must be made aware of your PR pitch for each campaign. The media is a customer in this aspect, and in many businesses, the distributors, retail salespeople, and others are also customers who must receive your messaging. But don't forget one of the most important customers: your own employees. If your salespeople, customer service staff, and anyone else who has even a remote possibility of interacting with the public don't know or don't understand your PR messaging, how can you expect your brand to have a consistent story that permeates at all levels? Never blow off internal PR as a crucial first step.

JKC Knows PR
We've been involved in the marketing of some of the most popular products in our industry's history, and a good portion of their success was based on our ability to define the right message and get it out to all of the key channels. Contact us today and let's talk about how you could be getting better results from your public relations efforts.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Ups and Downs and Do's and Don't's of Social Media for Business

For the last ten years or so, social media has seemed like a dream come true for companies trying to build an audience of new customers. Especially for smaller companies who can't afford the costs of traditional print/radio/TV advertising, what could be better? You set up a simple Facebook or Twitter page, and you post news, and the customers come flocking to hang on your every word, and it's all free, right?

Here's the reality. Almost without exception, social media is designed for one thing only: to be profitable for the owners of the social media platform through advertising and data mining. For the moment, disregard all the good things that can come from social media, like allowing democratic interaction between people in totalitarian societies (sometimes). Here's what you need to keep in mind: each time you make a post to your social nets for your business, you potentially benefit your competition as well as yourself. Let's look at the most obvious and blatant example: Facebook.

As you know well if you've ever purchased advertising on Facebook, you are given the ability to hone in on a very specific description of the people to who your ad is served. Let's say there's a company called Bob's Plumbing, and Bob has loyal customers who call him regularly. But guess who just moved into town? Mr. McFee's Plumbing! And Mr. McFee needs to grow his customer base. What Mr. McFee can do, pretty cheaply, is to tell Facebook to serve his ad to people who live within a 25-mile radius of his business, or who state that their toilet overflowed, or (and here's the one that matters) who "like" the page for Bob's Plumbing. In other words, your customers can be directly poached simply via having your Facebook page up, thereby defeating the reason you put it up in the first place.

It Gets Worse
So, you've put up your Facebook page and a bunch of people have "liked" your page, and you're happily going to send your marketing messages to all of them, all the time, right? No, you're not. Facebook limits the amount of people that your message can reach organically. Why? Because they are a business, and part of their business model is selling you advertising. To reach more than a small percentage of your customers, Facebook will require you to pay to promote the post... even if this means reaching the customers who have proactively said they want to hear from you.

So, My Business Shouldn't Use Social Media?
Of course you should. You want customers to connect with you in the places where they "hang out", and we know that over a billion (current 1.23 billion) people use Facebook alone. not to mention millions and millions more on other social nets. Ignoring that potential market would be short-sighted indeed, and there are a few companies out there who've abandoned social media and ended up chopping off their noses to spite their collective faces. All you have to do is be smart about it. Here's how:

DO use a variety of social media vehicles to get your message out there.

DON'T put all your eggs in one basket. Use online tools that you can control, like your own web site, and build a community that you can address without worrying about serving your competition or missing a good portion of your customer base.

DO partner with influencers in your industry who can help share/re-post your messages.

DON'T assume that just because you've posted something, all of you customers have seen it (or care).

DO use social media as a portal to bring customers back to your web site... don't spill everything there and leave no reason for customers to come to you.

DON'T overuse social media to the point that you become an annoyance to your customer who will quickly unlike/unfollow your pages if they feel like they're being spammed too often.

DO create fun, compelling content that people are likely to enjoy and share, but...

DON'T turn to obvious "clickbait" methods just to raise your number of likes and shares (or re-posts, or whatever the case may be). Those tend to not really end up serving your business.

There's More
JKC has been helping our clients maximize their social media effectiveness since social media became a thing. Contact us today and let us know how we can assist your brand in making the most of your social media presence!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Building Great Content and Putting It to Work

Some marketing agencies might make it seem like mystical voodoo, but the reality is that there are four simple (at least on the surface) rules for effective content creation. They are:

1. Choosing the right "voice" to best address your customers.
2. Being extremely consistent in the look and voice in all marketing content.
3. Keeping your content freshly updated, now more often than ever before.
4. Getting your content out to the right audience... i.e., your customers and potential new customers.

Let's talk a fast look at each of these tasks and delve a bit deeper.

Choosing Your Voice
How is it that when you read content on Apple's web site and then read similar content on Microsoft's site, you come away with a different feel for each company? The voice that a company adopts to address their customers is crucial in terms of how you are perceived in the market, and against your competition. When a customer who may be in the market for your product or service sees your web site, or looks at your print ad, or reads your brochure, what kind of vibe do they get from your content? Are you fun? Easy to do business with? Is your product meant to attract a young customer? A wealthy customer? As you refine the definition of your target markets, your company's voice needs to be laser focused in the ways that most appeal to the people who want to buy your product. One really important note: no matter how cool you think your your brand is, there's never any excuse for misspellings, improper use of language/grammar, or cute abbreviations. Even with the most casual and fun brand, you'll lose customers who don't appreciate an inability to communicate correctly.

Consistency Is Key
Look at the marketing of any successful company, and what do you see? An obsessive focus on consistency at all levels of their marketing... the use of colors and fonts, the size and placement of the logo, the length of text and ratio of text versus images, and much more. You want to get to a point that in even the most brief exposure to your marketing message, such as a person flipping a page in a magazine, scrolling down a web site, or driving past a billboard on a freeway, will give you some brand recognition and sparks an association, even a subliminal one, for your customer.

Keep It Fresh
Customers have different expectations today than they did just a decade ago. It's not enough to update your web site once in awhile; if you don't add fresh content every week (or every day in some industries), there's little reason for customers to come back regularly. And your social media? You have to find the magical balance of having a near constant stream of new content without crossing the bounders of seeming too spammy or overbearing to your market. Build an expectation that customers can keep coming back to you for information.

Delivering Your Message
There's no one vehicle you can use to effectively deliver your message to your customers. This has never been more true than now. Putting all of your efforts into Facebook? The majority of your customers might actually have more interactions through Twitter or Instagram, and you're missing out. Ignoring your web site because you already get your news out on social media? Really bad idea; after a customer gets his or her exposure to you through social media, they are likely to visit your site for deeper information. And, perhaps worst of all, if you think you're covered by communicating to your customers only through your own vehicles like your site and social media, you're wrong. There are plenty of people who prefer having the third-party validation of your industry's magazines and external web sites, so building and maintaining a good relationship with the media who will cover your products/services is still crucial.

We Can Help
Your marketing is how people perceive your brand. The last thing you want to do is have a terrific product or service, only to have people develop misunderstandings about what you offer, or (much worse) never hear about you at all. There are many ways to approach the act of getting your message to the right people, thereby building a successful brand. Contact us now and let's talk about what your brand needs for the right kind of communications to your customers.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hi, I'm Your Website. Remember Me?

Hey there, it's your website here. We need to have a talk.

You used to love me, but then things changed. You started thinking that you could more effectively reach your customers on Facebook and Twitter instead of using me for that purpose. You began with the best of intentions of keeping me fresh and updated, but then you got busy and then weeks, if not months, would go by without my receiving any fresh content. And then you seemed to think that I got expensive, because you found yourself paying a writer, a designer, and a programmer each time you wanted to make a change. And then, maybe 5-6 years ago, almost all of your customers started using mobile devices to access the Internet, but you built me back in the days when people only used desktop computers. Now, parts of me don't even show up on people's tablets and phones. Sometimes I don't show up at all. I told you not to base me on Flash!

Why We Lost That Loving Feeling.
Back in the late '90s, we were all pretty amazed at what was possible with our shiny new business web sites. Even if direct e-commerce isn't important to your brand, your site provides a platform for your customers to quickly get information on your products, on where to purchase them, and methods of getting support. But as more of your attention went toward building your social networks, your web site may have become neglected, and that's a shame. Unlike social media platforms, you can really control the entire experience of your customers on your own site, without being advertised to by other entities (and your competition). So why is it that companies seem to be focusing less on their site? It's actually easy to understand.

• Social Media has a built-in audience. Getting people to come to your site requires some compelling reason for them to do so.
• Web sites used to be pretty simple. These days, making sure your site functions in the way you expect across many different browsers, and (more importantly) many devices like tablets and phones, makes site building and maintenance more intensive than it used to be.
• You need to make an effort to regularly update your site with good content that will engage your customers.

Your Website Still Loves You. You Should Love It Back.
The secrets to rekindling your relationship with your business site are simple.

1. Make sure your site works across all platforms and devices. This is not as difficult as it may seem on the surface. Due to this proliferation of multiple ways to access and view a site, there are now standardized technologies like HTML5 (a combination of CSS and Javascript) that allow you to deliver content that works well no matter the receiving device.

2. Use social media in the reverse direction. Use it to make announcements of content on your site, and then make sure that people need to visit your site to get the full story, or to access the content that they can really use.

3. Build your own community. By hosting forums, discussion groups, polls, surveys, and allowing comments on certain kinds of articles, you can eventually develop the most focused base of customers and potential customers you've ever had.

We Can Help
JKC has expertise in developing web sites that allow your business to be successful. We're fine either working completely on our own to redevelop your site, or working along with your in-house team of web and sales/marketing people. Whether it's a complete site from scratch, or assisting in adding new site architecture or content updates, we know how to make it work for you.