It’s easy to accept something for what it is at face value. A tree is something to climb on. A cactus makes a great desk plant. A flower is something to pick that also happens to smell nice. And yet, there is so much more beneath the surface. A flowering plant is more than its petals; there are roots, a stem, leaves.
The same can be said for advertising and public relations agencies. At face value, they design banner ads, make TV commercials and write press releases. Like most things, however, there is much more going on behind the scenes.
As someone who works in the industry, I find it easy to focus solely on analytics. Our clients find it easy to focus on the department that they primarily interact with, most likely the account services team. But, like a flowering plant is more than its parts, an agency is more than just one department. To understand this, it’s important to comprehend the different functions performed by each department within an agency. For the sake of a metaphor, we can define departments and their functions with botany!
We live in a world FULL of advertising. We constantly receive messages from brands on what to buy and why to buy it.
But these days, for consumers to choose one brand over another, the specifics about the product or service matter less. What really matters is what the brand is saying, how it says it and what it does to back that up. People aren’t only buying products or services anymore – they’re buying experiences and they want to buy from companies they trust.
At South by Southwest Interactive in March, many of the marketing sessions I attended followed a trend of encouraging brands to become better listeners and more authentic communicators.
The key to gaining the trust of consumers and getting them talking about your product/service is to take strides in becoming more human and more relatable. The first step is to become a better listener.
Be a Better Listener
Listen up! According to the “Analytics of Social Marketing” session at SXSW, a report by IBM and EConsultancy found that 81% of brands say they know what their customers want while only 37% of customers felt that brands understood them. So how can you build long-term relationships with customers or develop content for your audience if you don’t understand them? If you’re not listening to what your audience is asking or don’t know what they want from you, you’re only hurting your cause.
Here are a few ways to open your ears to your audience:
Socialize: One of the best ways to listen to your audience is by finding out what’re they’re saying on social media. Are there frequently asked questions? Do you know how to answer those questions? What kind of content gets shared the most? And what kind of content creates the most engagement? Your competitors may talk about subjects that interest your audience so make sure you check their social profiles, too. Use your findings to modify your posts to produce content that generates more interest.
Solicit feedback: Include a survey link on your website, receipts, emails or social media accounts to receive feedback from your customers. Use this information to make improvements in your communications and address your customers on a more personal level.
Think outside the box: Interact with customers in your store, pick up the phone or hold a product/service demo. These actions allow you to interact with customers directly, adding a personal touch to your communication. For example, ask customers if they have questions about a product, what changes they would want to see, how they use it, etc.
Walk a mile in their shoes: Check out your own website, test your products and read your blog, social media posts and press releases, and try to see all these from their perspective, not yours. If you find yourself turned off by what you’re saying, make changes immediately. According to TheGood.com, brands shouldn’t make consumers look and listen to content that disrupts them or disinterests them. In fact, the more time you save consumers from irrelevant content, the more they’ll love your brand.
Be transparent and more human. A 2013 survey by Cohn and Wolfe Brands found that consumers around the world are demanding that the brands they use become more honest and more authentic in their communications.
You want to give customers a reason to feel good about doing business with you. Creating an authentic brand takes time, all the more reason to start now:
Establish your brand identity:Levi’s, for example, ties its marketing activities closely to its history and values. The company’s advertising strategy is to highlight its legacy while its social media channels help raise awareness for causes it cares about. Know what your company stands for, know your company’s values and stick to them no matter what.
Make decisions thoughtfully and stand by them firmly: According to the “Smart Ad Campaigns: Not about the product” session at SXSW,authenticity is best measured in actions. If your company chooses to tap into cultural and social issues like Pantene did in 2013, make sure it’s true to your brand DNA. A lot of criticism stems from wondering if a brand is being genuine or if they’re just hopping on the social issue bandwagon. Show your customers you mean what you say by reinforcing points in your campaigns and being consistent.
Be more human: Companies need to speak like humans in order to build authenticity. If you engage your target in a relatable, down-to-earth way, you can get your message across without even showing your products/services. Consider using customer experiences to create authentic stories. You can ask customers to submit stories about how they’ve used your product/service and what it means to them. This will help your brand engage with and be supportive of your customers and their lifestyles without having to sell them something. Check out how Squarespace does this in their Field Stories ad campaign.
Keep content fresh: Don’t repeat yourself. In order to sound more genuine, spice up your content by finding new things to talk about on social media and not solely advertising your brand offerings. At M/C/C, our social media posts follow the “Rule of Thirds.” Our philosophy is that content should be one-third promotional, one-third educational and one-third cultural. This means you should post some content about what you offer, provide links/videos to content that educates users about a topic and share content that engages and interests users.
These days, people don’t want to be marketed to – they want to be engaged with and they want companies to care about them. In order for your brand to succeed in the long term, you must start making strides now to becoming a communicator that meets the needs and wants of your audience.
Remember, you can always measure success by ROI, but sometimes it’s the things you can’t measure (i.e. emotional connections you make between consumers and your brand) that make the most impact.
What brands would you consider to be good listeners and authentic communicators? Comment below.
As I look back on the year 2015, five favorite M/C/C moments come to mind. Here they are.
DFW AMA Marketer of the Year Award We were awarded the 2015 DFW AMA Marketer of the Year honor in the “New Product/Service Launch” category. Our client, ReTrak by Emerge Technologies, created headphones for children branded Animalz. Designed for little ears, the headphones feature volume-limiting technology, fun animal designs and a retractable cord that makes clean up a breeze and tantrums about tangled wires nearly obsolete.
The pressure was on for a new product without brand recognition in a crowded marketplace at the busiest time of the year. Not only did Animalz have little brand recognition, neither did its parent company, so major retailers were concerned about selling the headphones to consumers. In the fall of 2014, the company approached M/C/C about launching its new lovable, retractable headphones. M/C/C’s public relations and creative teams developed a comprehensive integrated blogger outreach and media relations program that would best target the main buyer of the headphones—moms.
M/C/C garnered coverage for Animalz that reached more than 210 million readers/visitors. We secured 79 blog posts, which generated 600,000+ impressions and engaged consumers through almost 7,000 trackable social actions. Media outlets such as The Boston Globe, Newsday and its sister TV station, News 12 Long Island, picked up the Animalz story. M/C/C’s outreach even influenced CNET to include the headphones in a stocking stuffers video segment. Additionally, nearly 30 percent of the blogs and a variety of top tier media sites including CBS News, The Huffington Post and Yahoo featured the product video created by M/C/C.
Overall, Animalz sales increased 1,755 percent with more than half of the sales coming through the three-month blogger and media relations campaign period.
CyrusOne Chooses M/C/C Also in 2015, CyrusOne selected M/C/C for planning and management of the global data center company’s integrated media strategies and implementation. Scott Brueggeman, CMO of CyrusOne, commented that M/C/C was an easy decision because of our track record as well as our experience. He went on to say that M/C/C’s focus on measurable and actionable results gives his organization complete confidence in our ability to help CyrusOne deliver the next successful chapter in the company’s marketing and advertising efforts.
The results have been strong and have continued to grow since our relationship began in July, indicating 2016 should truly be exciting.
While reporters can be great assets to your brand with their non-biased, third-party opinion when you are looking to establish credibility, they can also be like a pack of wolves that tear into your brand and leave you in shreds when an unfortunate incident emerges.
The launch of a new product can have a dramatic impact on a company’s business success. Do it well and it can catapult the company’s revenue and market share. Flub it and the opposite is true. A critical component to a successful launch is the impact that a communications program makes in creating awareness of the new product. It’s the messaging that communicates the new product’s benefits and media visibility that builds credibility in the market.
While every launch has its own idiosyncrasies in the form of objectives and resource allocation, we’ve found over the years that they also have certain commonalities. One of those core common elements, particularly in business-to-business launches, is the importance of the credibility built thorough public and market analyst relations. These sources build trust with audiences and create a certain sense of security and safety – if one of these experts touts the virtues of a product, it brings a validation of it to customers and prospects.
In the communications field, Harris CapRock has a reputation as an innovator and a leader. As the company launched its game-changing Harris CapRock One service, it needed marketing that was up to the task. As part of an integrated communications program, public relations was critical to building third-party credibility and generating customer interest.
Your brand image matters, whether you’re a part of an established business or in the beginning phases of a start-up company. Your image is what attracts employees and can either make or break your future as a company.
A key component to this is how your company is portrayed by the media. As a C-level
executive, it is your job to successfully communicate to your consumers what your company does, what you can offer them and why they should choose your services over your competition.
Interacting with the media without the right type of training, preferably from an agency, can be detrimental to your personal image as well as your brand.
In the U.S., we love to compete and win. We take a great sense of pride in our accomplishments and love to be recognized for them. We love being on a winning team as well as being fans of sports teams or individuals that are winners. It feels good when you are winning, and you earn a new level of respect as well as credibility. An example of this is the most recent winner of the Masters Golf Tournament, Jordan Speith. He is now perceived as one of the top two professional golfers in the world and ranks No. 5 when it comes to endorsement value at the ripe old age of 21.
Awards in the corporate environment are just as important if not more so. They have a
huge impact on a company’s credibility and therefore the perception of its buyers and prospects. In addition, awards create a sense of pride among a company’s employees which has a direct effect on productivity and turnover. Finally, awards also influence the value of a company, its brand and its position in the marketplace.
Lately we’ve been talking a lot about targeting niche audiences through all marketing disciplines. Our Media Director Sherie has written about the effectiveness of targeting audiences within varying geographic niches while VP, Creative Todd drilled down even further to talk about targeting within a niche of people who ride around in a certain type of car. On the relationship marketing side of things, our President has even spoken out in the American Cities Business Journals about using bloggers to reach customers who have specific niche areas of interest. It wasn’t so long ago that marketing was tasked with reaching the most people at the same time through one medium. But the intricacies of the Internet and insights that come with running and measuring thoughtful digital advertising campaigns and social marketing programs have narrowed our focus towards speaking to a handful of the right people in an environment and at a time that is right for them.
At the end of last year, we were given the opportunity to give this philosophy a new and different application – by looking at the members of the media we build relationships with on behalf of our clients as niche audiences we were pursuing in different regions. It all began with a Brit.
“It’s been a running joke in European PR circles for years: U.S. marketers think of ‘Europe’ as a single, homogenous entity. Of course, that’s nonsense. But, if you asked European marketers how PR practice – especially influencer relations – differs between U.S. regions, it would be a short conversation.”
~Richard Fogg, managing director, CCgroup
Screenshot of the CCgroup’s website highlighting the transcreation between U.S. regions.
What Richard’s talking about up there is a little bit of the pot meeting the kettle. Richard is the managing director at CCgroup, a London-based PR firm that decided to find friends across the pond and conduct research to build a resource that would help international marketers understand the idiosyncrasies of running PR campaigns across multiple U.S. regions. M/C/C was honored to represent the West South Central region, joining nine other agencies representing the state of media relations activities in their own respective regions. After collecting input and evaluating their survey results, the CCgroup put together a website that paints an interesting picture of the U.S. media landscape; and we think domestic marketers would benefit from checking out its findings, too. Three areas of interest stood out to the researchers and participants.
Google’s algorithm updates have informed the public that good search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t just about on-page optimization. Public relations now plays a big part in getting ranked higher in search engine results. Quality links from sites that have greater domain authority, such as top tier media outlets, produce higher rankings in search engine results.
Now that we know that PR can affect search, we want to define where and how social media comes into play. Google may place a high value on social media links, or they may not even matter. Can social media really affect search?
Okay – I admit it. I may be a wee bit biased when writing on the subject of the relative advantages and disadvantages of using an in-house ad agency versus outsourcing to a marketing communications agency. You probably already suspected the bias because you’re reading this on a marketing communications’ agency blog. I do believe that outsourcing to an agency provides more advantages than disadvantages based on my own experiences and discussions with companies and clients over the last 20-plus years.
Despite that belief, there are always exceptions and hybrids between in-house and outsourced communications resources. What we’ve seen work best is when a company has strong marketing leadership within the organization combined with a marketing communications agency it trusts. The internal marketing leader should have a strong understanding of the company’s business and marketing objectives, serving as a driving force in developing marketing strategies that align with the company’s goals. This person should communicate these things to the agency frequently, especially as business goals or executive leadership within the organization shifts. The agency and internal marketing staff then work in tandem on the development and execution of programs to reach those goals.
An outside marketing communications agency provides advantages that just can’t be replicated in-house.
An outside perspective and objectivity. One of the most important, if not THE most important, advantages an outside agency has over in-house staff is objectivity. The agency’s view is not overly colored by internal discussions, politics, views, etc. Emotions and personalities play less of a role in agency recommendations. The most effective work comes not from a focus on how the company views its products and services but how the customer views them. A good outside agency should always be focused on the buyer and not be distracted by other motivations that are impossible to escape in an internal role. Because agencies are not employees, they’re not bound by the same limitations as employees. An outside agency helps you avoid getting tunnel vision from focusing only on your company or industry.