Organizations becoming media outlets

16 08 2011

More and more, organizations and brands are becoming media companies in their own right.

Many organizations have blogs where they publish original, useful content on a regular basis, but these days, it goes far beyond a company blog.

Allstate has a teen-drama web series called “The Lines.” Starbucks hosts My Starbucks Idea, a hub where brand representatives and the coffee-drinking public can interact and collaborate. Text. Video. Audio. Imagery. Social media updates. The list goes on and on.

The goal of these media campaigns is to create good will, influence, and ultimately, sales.

In a piece titled “Why Brands are Becoming Media,” Brian Solis, principal at new media agency FutureWorks, writes at length about content creation and the role it plays in social media strategy.

He writes:

“In media, there are three channels that populate and shape perception — owned media, paid media, and earned media.”

Owned media refers to channels the brand controls: its website, blog, Twitter account, etc.

Paid media comes in the form of display ads, sponsorships, etc.

The third channel — earned media — occurs when customers and the public pick up on a brand’s messages and spread the word, and it’s the most effective. Whether in the form of a blog post, a Retweet, or a link to a video, earned media increases visibility and influences consumer behavior.

According to Solis, earned media is the result of well-executed and well-coordinated owned and paid media. Because it comes from a third party and was not paid for, it carries the most weight with the public and plays a key role in building brand and boosting sales.

Solis writes:

“As media, brands earn prominence and hopefully influence as rewards for contributing meaningful content.

“On Twitter, brands can earn legions of loyal and responsive followers, who in turn become brand advocates and ambassadors, extending the messages, mission and purpose of the brand to their followers as well.

“On Facebook, brands can cultivate vibrant and dedicated communities where interaction inspires increased responses — each reverberating across new social graphs.

“On Ustream and YouTube, we can earn global audiences of viewers who tune in to watch our programming and interact with brand representatives in a live community that spills over other social networks.

“And of course, our blog is more important than we may realize. Through our posts, we can establish a strong alliance of subscribers who hope to learn new things and participate in the discussion of a brand’s future.”

Solis’ point about providing meaningful content is an important one. I talked about this in a recent post about Thought Leadership Marketing, and it’s critical to remember. When an organization creates original content, it must be useful to consumers, or they will tune out. Straight self-promotion won’t keep them coming back for more, and it certainly won’t create earned media.

Solis concludes:

“We have the ability to earn noteworthy, equal, and in some cases, greater influence than those authorities whom we’ve relied on over the years to help us reach greater audiences and communities.

“People align with movements they can believe in, and it is the human, intellectual, and financial investment in genuine content that defines experiences, and hopefully one day earns the significance your brand deserves.”





Cognitive fluency and the bottom line

27 07 2011

“Simplicity works wonders. It’s satisfying, motivating and seductive.”

So says Ken Segall, the advertising whiz who is responsible for many of the campaigns that have played a huge role in transforming Apple into one of the most successful and influential companies on the planet.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a piece on Segall and the power of simplicity in marketing and business in general.

Since then, the term “cognitive fluency” — which goes hand-in-hand with the power of simplicity — has been popping up more and more in the media and business circles.

Cognitive fluency became a hot topic among psychologists in 2009. In its simplest form, cognitive fluency means this: people prefer to think about things that are easy, rather than things that are hard.

Seems like an obvious idea.

But where it gets interesting — for psychologists and for business — is the extent to which cognitive fluency influences people’s behavior.

A recent study compared the stock returns of public companies with easy-to-pronounce names with those of companies with hard-to-pronounce names. Tellingly, the companies with easy names significantly outperformed those with difficult names.

The study’s authors concluded that just the complexity of a company’s name influenced people’s willingness to invest in the organization. Simple names attracted investors. Cryptic names turned investors off. And it’s not even a conscious decision; it’s just the way the human mind works.

Another widely cited example involves 401(k) offerings. Conventional thinking among companies used to be that the more investment options they included in their retirement plans, the more likely it would be that employees would enroll. Not so.

The data shows that when consumers are faced with an overwhelming array of investment options, they’re basically paralyzed by the sheer number of choices, and many end up not enrolling at all. By simplifying their offerings and making their plans easier to digest, companies have seen increased participation in 401(k).

The power of cognitive fluency applies to all facets of business: your products, your services and your communications. When you are trying to influence the behavior of consumers, employees, shareholders, or any of your other publics, substance and simplicity are key.

Your website should be simple, clean-looking, and easy to navigate. Your sales proposals should get right to the point, making clear your value proposition. Your employee communications should be focused and free of complexity.

Human beings crave simplicity, and they recoil from complexity. By applying cognitive fluency to all facets of your business, you’ll do a better job of connecting with your audiences, you’ll avoid sabotaging your ideas, and you’ll reap the benefits in profitability.





Thought leaders getting ahead

20 07 2011

Thought leadership marketing is not a new concept, but the importance of it in the B2B sector continues to grow at a rapid pace.

More and more, suppliers are getting ahead of the sales process by making themselves known in the marketplace and facilitating conversation, which in turn leads to customers contacting them — rather than the other way around.

Effective thought leadership marketing (TLM) provides potential customers with information or advice that is useful to them, which:

— Makes customers aware of who you are, what you do, and how you add value
— Demonstrates (rather than simply states) that your company is an expert and leader in your industry
— Illustrates that your company understands and can address the specific needs of the potential customer

TLM can come in the form of a blog post, a newsletter, a speaking engagement, or a webcast, to name a few. Again, the key is to provide information or advice that’s useful to potential customers and, when possible, breaks new ground in the industry. Straight self-promotion that doesn’t provide the customer any value or insight is not thought leadership marketing.

The ultimate goal is to reach the point where customers view your company as a trusted adviser. The term “trusted adviser” is talked about a lot these days in business circles, but don’t mistake it for simple jargon. The data shows that “trusted adviser” is an enviable position for a business to be in.

A recent study published in the MIT Sloan Management Review reveals that customers that gain insight from an organization through thought leadership content exhibit higher loyalty scores, place greater value on the organization’s complete suite of services, and ultimately value the shared wisdom of the supplier as part of the overall value equation.

Thought leaders and trusted advisors begin to benefit from “pull marketing,” which means they increasingly are sought out by companies who want to do business with them because of their ideas, willingness to share, and transparency. In the RainToday.com publication, How To Become A Thought Leader, several interviewees attest to having seen their recognition in the industry increase, their “push marketing” expenses drop, and their revenue grow as a result of thought leadership.

Even when there is some direct selling to be done, companies that have earned trusted advisor status are at a huge advantage. In his 2006 book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, Brian Carroll discusses a research report that revealed that salespeople who had reached the status of “trusted adviser” were 70 percent more likely to come away with a sale.

Add it all up, and it’s clear that thought leadership marketing is a wise move for just about any B2B supplier.

To borrow a quote from former presidential speechwriter James Humes: “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

Image credit: clevelandleader.com





Let your brand’s best advocates sing

26 05 2011

Don’t silence your best ambassadors.

That’s the message Text 100 — a global PR consultancy that has worked with dozens of leading brands, including Facebook, IBM and Cisco — sent in a recent post on its company blog.

In the post, Text 100’s Lance Concannon explains that many organizations are missing out on a huge opportunity when it comes to social media. Namely, they are not allowing some of their best advocates — creatives, IT professionals, research and development specialists, etc. — to tell the brand’s story.

Traditionally, companies have communicated with their audiences strictly through their PR, marketing or comms departments.

Even as many have “embraced” social media, they still funnel the flow of communication through their words people.

Concannon writes:

“Profiles are set up on channels like Twitter and Facebook for the PR and marketing teams to push out their messaging, and social media guidelines are drawn up to discourage employees from talking about the company online.”

Concannon acknowledges that, of course, social media should be used for PR and marketing purposes, but he says that businesses need to understand that it shouldn’t stop there.

He continues:

“At Text 100, we’re currently working with a global tech brand to identify superstars from all across the business and enabling them to actively talk about their jobs in social media channels. None of these employees are comms professionals, but they are passionate about the work they do and are excellent ambassadors for the brand.”

Rather than insisting that only the comms team talk about the business in social media, the tech company recognizes that the best stories about the brand come from the people who work on the front lines. A company can talk all day about what its brand represents, but real-life, first-person examples carry so much more weight.

To help these ambassadors tell their stories, Text 100 has developed a training program that gives them the skills to engage audiences online and to talk authoritatively on behalf of the company on industry blogs, forums and other social channels.

According to Concannon, the benefit to the company is clear:

“With these advocates taking the organization’s stories out to hundreds of different touchpoints across the Web, the opportunity for potential clients and other stakeholders to witness the brand’s expertise firsthand is far, far higher than if social media was left entirely in the hands of the marketing people.”





The do’s and don’ts of pitching reporters

1 03 2011

I recently sat in on a webinar about how to pitch story ideas to reporters. There were four reporters who shared their views: a staff writer from The Wall Street Journal, one from USA Today, another from AOL News, and a freelancer for Crain’s New York Business.

Because reporters are bombarded with pitches on a daily basis, it’s important to gain every little advantage you can when trying to draw attention to your product, organization or cause.

Here is a summary of what the reporters had to say:

How To Pitch:

All the reporters said they prefer that you pitch via email so they can read what you are proposing when it is convenient for them, they can digest what you’ve written, and they don’t feel like they are being “put on the spot.” Don’t make your initial pitch by phone, and absolutely no faxes.

The reporters agreed that they like short emails that get to the point in the very first sentence. For example: “My name is Alex Mitchell with Acme Health Group, and I’d like to tell you about a new treatment our physicians have devised for pancreatic cancer that we estimate will raise the survival rate from 5 percent to 15 percent.”

You should include a link to your website or a site that gives more details about your proposed topic. You should also use a short, bulleted list to quickly outline your key points. Provide context for what you are publicizing so reporters understand why they ought to pay attention to your news. Is your news part of a broader trend? Does it relate to a “hot” story that people are talking about?

Pitching Via Social Media:

Social media is more useful once you’ve already gotten a reporter or reporters to pick up on your story. All the reporters said that they don’t want to be pitched on Twitter, and all but one (the AOL writer) don’t like to be pitched on Facebook.

Subject Lines:

Reporters receive hundreds of emails a day, so they are more apt to open yours if the subject line of your message is clear about what you are pitching and obviously tailored to them rather than being part of a mass email effort.

Don’t use the phrase “Quick Question” in the subject line. All the reporters said they see that a lot, and it’s an automatic delete.

Follow Up:

The reporters agreed that they don’t mind some initial follow-up after you send them an email. They are very busy, so they realize that it’s possible they missed your initial note.

Top Mistakes:

— Thinking you — your business — is the news. Explain how what you are publicizing relates to something larger. Provide a news peg.

— Not understanding what a reporter covers and who his or her readers are.

— Sending a pitch with spelling errors or not getting a reporter’s name right.

— Exaggerating. Don’t make claims you can’t back up with data. If you make a claim and can’t prove it, you’ll burn your bridge with the reporter.

— Pitching a story that is too similar to one a reporter just wrote or one he/she wrote a few months ago. Get on Google and research what the reporter has written about recently.

A PR pro who pitches the right way becomes a trusted resource for reporters, rather than a nuisance. Once that happens, it’s much easier to get your message “a good ride” in the media.





Communications issues for 2011

8 02 2011

2010 brought plenty of reminders that words are powerful.

Whether it was a question of transparency or terrorism (WikiLeaks) or a serious case of crisis communication (BP oil spill), the value of thoughtful, well-crafted messages was never more apparent.

Looking ahead to 2011, The Communicator — a great blog for communications professionals authored by industry veteran Peter Schram — recently posted its top 11 issues facing the profession this year.

Here are five highlights:

1. Working with new audiences: Communications pros used to focus on a core group of audiences (traditional media, customers, employees, executives), but those days are over. “This year,” Schram writes, “plan to spend significantly more time on new and influential audiences such as environmental groups, transparency watchdogs and local influencers.”

2. Reducing environmental footprint: Schram points out that the communications department is one of the biggest users of paper in most offices. Building on the ideas of environmental responsibility and brand management, companies will create programs “that both protect the environment and stand as an example to peers, customers and suppliers.”

3. Coaching executives: In Schram’s opinion, the events of 2010 showed that most executives need better crisis and communications training. He expects that communicators will focus more on coaching executives on how to stay cool under pressure and stick to key messages.

4. Communicating with mobile audiences: With smart phones now the norm and e-readers continuing to grow in popularity, communications pros must adapt. Schram writes: “As consumers and audiences migrate more of their communications activities onto mobile devices, professional communicators will need to pick up new skills and strategies to make the most of these new channels.”

5. Writing to differentiate: “No matter how fast technology moves or what new devices are offered on the market,” Schram writes, “one thing always remains a constant: the written word.” With all the new channels available to communicators, Schram argues that most will find that their corporate writing style is about the only thing that really differentiates them from their competition.

Is Schram right on with his predictions? Are there other issues that will take communications pros by surprise in 2011? Regardless of the year, one thing’s for sure: Communication works for those who work at it.





The press release is not dead

28 01 2011

In the age of social networking, blogs and video sharing, some might think that the press release has gone the way of the dinosaur.

That’s not the case.

In a post published this week, the folks over at Copyblogger.com not only confirm that the press release is still a viable tool for getting the word out, they also provide six essential steps for writing an effective one. Guest blogger Jiyan Wei — Director of Product Management for PRWeb and a frequent speaker at marketing, PR and SEO events — explains that a press release can “tell a story, report news, or help a cause.”

The idea is to grab the reader’s attention — usually a journalist — and get he/she to share your message with his/her sizable audience. A good press release can catapult visibility of the message and lead to real results.

Here’s how you do it in today’s media landscape:

1. Craft a hook: You need to tell your audience — again, primarily journalists — what your message is and why their viewers/listeners/readers would be interested.

“Reduce the basics of your message down to one sentence that answers the 5 W’s of reporting — who, what, when, where and why,” Wei writes, “and find that story hook that will help them write a story their readers won’t forget.”

2. Add a great headline: As is the case with blog or Twitter headlines, you only have a few seconds to grab a reader’s attention with a press release. The headline should be short and direct. Often, it should address the reader directly or even ask a question. One thing it should not be is boring.

Wei also explains the importance of leading with a concept rather than your brand name:

“Your audience (both readers and reporters) probably don’t care about your brand or company name,” she writes, “but they do care about finding a good story.”

3. Avoid jargon: It’s important to minimize technical or industry jargon. You want as many people as possible to be able to relate to your message, thus increasing the likelihood the content is shared.

As a former newspaper sportswriter, I was taught to “write for your mom.” Though this axiom is unfair to sports-savvy moms everywhere, the point is well-taken. By explaining things in a way that just about anyone can understand, you reach more people.

4. Provide resources: With so many new forms of technology available, it only makes sense to incorporate them into your press releases. Photos, videos, links to source material and any other in-depth resources make it easier for your readers (journalists) to fully report the news you are providing them.

Wei writes: “A complete ‘package’ of supporting resources makes your story that much more appealing to a reporter.”

5. Proofread: This one seems obvious, but it bears mentioning. A spelling or grammar error can ruin your credibility. Make sure you read over your press release more than once. Reading it out load is a good idea. Having another person look it over is even better.

6. Share your news: “A good news release distribution service will syndicate your news on relevant publisher sites,” Wei writes, “and it will also attract readers through search (be sure to be strategic about keywords, as with any other kind of content marketing).”

Also, share your press release with influencers in your space via e-mail or social media outlets.

By keeping your audience in mind and following these six guidelines, you’ll find that the old-fashioned press release isn’t old-fashioned at all; it remains an effective tool for trumpeting your message and inspiring others to act.

Image credit: greekshares.com