CFM PR

Branding and Logos Tell Consumers Who and What You Are

There isn’t absolute agreement on the difference between branding and logos. But there is no doubt a successful brand needs both to cut through clutter, reveal brand identity and give clues on brand value.

There isn’t absolute agreement on the difference between branding and logos. But there is no doubt a successful brand needs both to cut through clutter, reveal brand identity and give clues on brand value.

Branding and logos are sometimes conflated into the same thing. They aren’t the same, but they are a married couple. Branding expresses brand identity. A logo is the face of that brand identity.

A great logo without branding is a lost opportunity. Savvy branding with a tired or clunky logo is a serious marketing mistake. 

Marketers have varying views about the exact roles of branding, logos and taglines. Call it creative license. The important thing is that branding, logos and taglines succeed in showing who a brand is and what it does.

The first impression of a brand can be intentional or accidental. Branding needs to take that into account. A consumer may seek out a brand online or in a store. A friend or family member may recommend a product. Or a consumer may see an ad on TV or social media. In this context, branding means ensuring a product looks good, serves a useful purpose and delivers on what it promises. None of that absolutely depends on a logo or marketing campaign, but an appealing logo and engaging branding definitely help.

Surveys indicate consumers gravitate to familiar brands. This is where logos play an important role. They are a brand’s familiar face. It’s like when you walk into a crowded room and look for a face that’s familiar.

Logos, especially when combined with taglines, can be more than a familiar face. They can be a snapshot of a brand’s products, a reflection of a brand’s reputation and a billboard for a brand’s promise. 

In previous posts, we have discussed the value of logos that visually convey a brand story and of taglines that use words to underscore your brand’s unique qualities. We’ve admonished brand managers not to let logos and taglines become afterthoughts. And we’ve encouraged people to start logo designs with doodles that capture the spirit you want to infuse into your brand – and ultimately your branding.

Returning to the marriage of branding and logos, it is helpful to see the challenge as blending both into one brand strategy. The challenge can be vastly different for startups and established companies or for brands that are expanding versus brands that are seeking a reset. But the essential challenge is the same – how to express who you are and what you do and to use it with relentless repetition. 

Just as people pick flattering colors and fits for their clothes, branding and logos need to work together to put a brand’s best foot forward. Typefaces, imagery and color combinations should be in sync with target audience preferences, marketing content and outreach channels. For example, if you are marketing to young adults, you will want a fresh, contemporary, colorful look and push material on Instagram and streaming channels. If you are marketing to older adults, you will want a reassuring, upbeat look with ads in traditional media and on TV channels that broadcast classic movies. This is overly generalized, but you get the point. 

Regardless who you are trying to reach, you need to make it easy for people to see you. Being in the right place with the right story to tell (branding) is essential. But you also have to be that face in the crowd (logo) that sticks out.

Startups have the advantage of making a truly first impression. They also are lucky that the rules of branding and logo design have broadened considerably. 

Companies seeking a reset have to overcome the baggage attached to their previous branding and logo. As Facebook demonstrated, more thought and inspiration is required that going from Facebook to FACEBOOK. A reset strategy should start by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of current branding and logo, then making changes to address weaknesses without surrendering strengths.

The best advice is to think through this puzzle with visuals, not words. Branding is an identity and logos are brand faces, both of which are seen. Perceptions of what you see, as opposed to what you read, travel faster to the heart and the gut.

When branding and a logo perform in harmony to give shape to your brand, you can move on confidently to establish your brand voice, design your website, print business cards and create your marketing content. But before you print those business cards, make sure your brand shines through how and where you present it.

 

65 Ideas to Bust Through Blogger’s Block

When you are stumped for great blog ideas, try a disciplined approach of walking through different kinds of blogs – 65 of them, to be exact – until an engaging topic pops into your mind. Problem solved. Now all you have to is to write the blog.

When you are stumped for great blog ideas, try a disciplined approach of walking through different kinds of blogs – 65 of them, to be exact – until an engaging topic pops into your mind. Problem solved. Now all you have to is to write the blog.

Blogs and vlogs are great ways to sustain engagement, remain top-of-mind and share expertise that reinforces your brand identity. Producing a continuing stream of engaging content can be exhausting. One of the victims of exhaustion is creativity. You simply run out of good ideas.

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Don’t despair. There are ways to rekindle your creativity. Digital Marketer has dialed up an infographic that provides a disciplined, but not draining approach to identifying stimulating topics for your blog. Here is the checklist of categories to consider:

  • Useful

  • Human

  • Generous

  • Promotional

  • Controversial

  • Entertaining

  • Timely

  • Engaging

Useful blog posts provide something of value to viewers. Topics can range from a how-to explanation to research findings to solutions to thorny problems. Useful blog posts may derive from a case study, consumer suggestion or data analysis. The more tangible the value, the more useful the blog post. This type of blog reinforces you as a go-to resource that is bookmarked and returned to frequently.

Human blog posts convey emotive content and personalize a brand. They can be inspirational or bloopers, success stories or behind-the-scenes peeks, team pictures or a rant about something that drives you crazy. The common denominator is human touch and authenticity.

Generous blog posts spread around credit, by quoting others, aggregating third-party content and crowdsourcing ideas and information. Promoting others will lead to them promoting you, which expands your networking orbit.

Promotional blog posts put your brand forward through a new product release, a client success story or a particularly powerful presentation made by your team. Promotional blogs can be overdone, but an occasional toot on your horn can be informative and engaging.

Controversial blog posts are intended to raise the temperature of your consumer relationships. You might take a position on controversial issue and invite consumer feedback. You can comment on a high-profile event. You can make bold predictions. Your goal is to stir the pot to generate reaction and engagement.

Entertaining blog posts may involve humorous stories, inexplicable trends or photo galleries. They also could involve sharing surprising survey results or colorful drawings. As any entertainer will confess, making an audience smile, laugh or cry is hard work. But when you pull it off, you will have created a memorable blog with lasting engagement value.

Timely blog posts are just that – timely. They capitalize on a trending event, an annual recognition or breaking news. They convey must-read urgency. They reflect on-the-ball marketing. They insert a brand into the conversation.

Engaging blog posts are ones that directly engage consumers by posing a question, showcasing consumer comments or staging a contest. This is a technique to turn the tables on your audience by asking for response instead of feeding information. It can be a good way to find out how engaged your audience really is with your brand.

Digital Marketer includes 65 blog ideas on its densely packed infographic. It can add to creative exhaustion just looking at the infographic. However, the genius of the idea is to stretch your mind and challenge your imagination. It suggests eight buckets to search for specific blog ideas. One or two of the buckets may apply more strongly to your brand than others, which cuts down the chore. Sometimes, the winning idea may be found by combining qualities from more than a single bucket.

When you are stumped for a topic and facing a pressing deadline, consult the Digital Marketer checklist. Chances are good that at least one of its 65 suggested types of blogs will spark an idea for you to pursue. 

That’s what we did with this blog – find something useful and generously share it with attribution, plus a little entertainment value thrown in for good measure.

 

 

The Marketing Power of Familiarity

GEICO relentlessly uses its gecko character to cultivate familiarity with its auto insurance brand. It is a prime example of a disciplined, image-driven strategy to take advantage of the Mere Exposure effect.

GEICO relentlessly uses its gecko character to cultivate familiarity with its auto insurance brand. It is a prime example of a disciplined, image-driven strategy to take advantage of the Mere Exposure effect.

Familiarity may breed contempt in relationships, but not so much in mass marketing. The more exposure a brand receives, the higher the likelihood people will feel a connection and choose it over other options.

The “Mere Exposure” effect, identified by social psychologist Robert Zajonc in the 1960s, suggests frequency of messaging is as important as the message. Achieving top-of-mind status in target consumers is the Holy Grail.

Jen Clinehens, head of experience at The Marketing Store in London, says you don’t need a super-sized budget (though that helps) to take advantage of the Mere Exposure effect. The keys are creative content that is “single-minded and image-driven” and a marketing campaign that is consistent across all platforms.

Clinehens cites the Geico Gecko as an example of leveraging the Mere Exposure effect by the relentless use of its nearly eponymous character in a wide range of creative settings. Through discipline and consistency, the gecko has become synonymous with “saving 15 percent on your car insurance.” 

She offers four specific suggestions for smaller-budget outreach campaigns:

  • Deploy suggestion engines to keep feeding brand imagery to customers who have shown an interest.

  • Design digital content to seem familiar, which runs contrary to creative instincts to produce something new and fresh.

  • Employ drip campaigns with consistent imagery and messaging to build familiarity.

  • Align marketing calendars so content imagery and messaging is consistent across all channels. 

“In the end,” Clinehens says, “customers trust what they already know.” The goal is to use compelling imagery and consistent messaging over and over to cultivate familiarity – and even a subliminal desire to buy your product.

For doubters of this marketing strategy, Clinehens offers a sobering observation in a quote from Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner noted for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making and its application to behavioral economics:

“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”

Here are some  other ideas  for capitalizing on the Mere Exposure effect:       •  Copy the look and layout of effective websites for your website.       •  Feature your unique selling proposition prominently on your website and keep talking about it.       •  Target your niche market so you turn familiarity into conversions.       •  Observe the impact of Mere Exposure on actual customers to cross-check the validity of insights          gleaned from big data.       •  Sustain a disciplined and ubiquitous presence across all channels.  “More exposure leads to familiarity, which leads to comfortability, which leads to remarkable improvements in conversion optimization as a whole,” according to columnist Jeremy Smith who offered these mere exposure effect suggestions.

Here are some other ideas for capitalizing on the Mere Exposure effect:

• Copy the look and layout of effective websites for your website.

• Feature your unique selling proposition prominently on your website and keep talking about it.

• Target your niche market so you turn familiarity into conversions.

• Observe the impact of Mere Exposure on actual customers to cross-check the validity of insights
gleaned from big data.

• Sustain a disciplined and ubiquitous presence across all channels.

“More exposure leads to familiarity, which leads to comfortability, which leads to remarkable improvements in conversion optimization as a whole,” according to columnist Jeremy Smith who offered these mere exposure effect suggestions.

 

Shark Tank Case Studies of Good (and Bad) Brand Stories

Shark Tank  is a great place to check out good (and bad) brand stories that show how a product works, what problem is solves and why it was created.

Shark Tank is a great place to check out good (and bad) brand stories that show how a product works, what problem is solves and why it was created.

Shark Tank affords entrepreneurs a high-profile opportunity to seek a business-building investment. The popular TV show also serves as a case study for telling a compelling brand story.

(Reposted from July 15, 2019)

(Reposted from July 15, 2019)

Entrepreneurs typically enter the “shark tank” by showing how their product works and describing the problem it solves. In conversation with the investor-sharks, entrepreneurs share their back story, relevant financial information and the channel where their product is sold. In other words, they tell their brand story.

Sometimes, the brand stories click. Other times, they flop. The best brand stories hang together – from brand promise to value proposition. The worst brand stories break down because they aren’t convincing or fall apart under questioning.

Too often the concept of brand story is conflated with slippery marketing goo. Brand stories focus on why a product is wonderful and neglect explaining why it’s useful. Brand stories should avoid turning products into heroes and concentrate instead on demonstrating how a product can make users heroes.

Like any engaging story, a brand story needs to strike a chord with its intended audience. On an episode of Shark Tank, three Clemson University entrepreneurs told how as beer drinkers they grew tired of lugging heavy ice chests to events, so they invented a sleek, lightweight container that fits perfectly around a six-pack. For extra appeal, they add an exterior with logos from universities or sports teams. Their brand story featured an affordable, reusable and customized cooler you carry with a shoulder strap. [Mark Cuban invested in the company.] 

On the same episode, two entrepreneurs displayed their patented door block, designed to thwart a forced entry. They demonstrated how it worked by repeatedly kicking and ramming a door without it flying open. Even though the demonstration was impressive, the entrepreneurs went away empty-handed because the sharks viewed the price-point as too high to attract a mass audience. This was a case study of a brand story that didn’t prove its value proposition.

Interestingly, the door-block entrepreneurs mentioned off-handedly a recent purchase order from a school district looking for an affordable way of securing vulnerable classrooms from intruders. This throwaway mention would have enriched their brand story much more than the exhaustive demonstration of how the door block works by showing an unanticipated, scalable use.

Back stories can be critical to brand stories by humanizing products and their inventors. Back stories can illuminate how an entrepreneur came up with his or her idea or what expertise they bring to their nascent business. We live in a time when consumers, especially young consumers, want to associate with a brand. Back stories are gateways to such associations.

Brand stories are important because they convey values, not just value propositions. The sharks frequently decide whether to invest in a new product based on the values of the entrepreneur. Consumers make a similar judgment.

Nike’s embrace of Colin Kaepernick and Patagonia’s longstanding commitment to public lands protection are examples of value-forward brand storytelling.

Authenticity is critical for a brand story to resonate. You cannot assume consumers are gullible. Treat consumers as an invited audience into your brand living room to share real information. In sharing, steer clear of hype, hyperbole and self-aggrandizement. Save that, if you must, for the 30-second TV ad. Best advice, leave your ego back at your garage or wherever your startup started.

Emotive content fits better in brand storytelling than almost any other marketing tool. Who hasn’t bought a pair of TOMS shoes because the for-profit company posing as a charity donates a pair to children in poor countries. TOMS has taken pains to flesh out its brand promise with 360-degree videos of its shoes being delivered to delighted children in Central America. It wouldn’t be surprising if some asylum-seeking families at the US border have children with well-worn TOMS shoes.

The best brand stories – like the ones that capture investments on Shark Tank – are fulsome. They don’t stop with the “what” of a product; they continue with the “why” and the “how.” Entrepreneurs need to be prepared to go deep. Websites allow layered storytelling that can accommodate more complex and complete stories. So can videos.

It goes without saying that brand storytelling on Shark Tank is visual. There aren’t any fact sheets, backgrounders or instruction manuals. It is an entrepreneur facing a skeptical audience waiting to be impressed. What the product does is important. How the entrepreneur explains what it does is more important. Did I mention videos?

Shark Tank, for better or worse, is ubiquitous on television, so tune in and check out visual brand storytelling at its best – and often at its worst. The winners are the ones with a clear demonstration of worth and an equally clear picture of value.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Clues to How and Why Chatter Can Matter

People get and give advice by word-of-mouth, but how this kind of networking actually works is still a bit of a mystery. Jay Baer brings his marketing touch to the subject, offering clues to why chatter matters and how to trigger effective word-of-mouth marketing.

People get and give advice by word-of-mouth, but how this kind of networking actually works is still a bit of a mystery. Jay Baer brings his marketing touch to the subject, offering clues to why chatter matters and how to trigger effective word-of-mouth marketing.

It’s no secret we seek advice from friends, family and people we trust before purchasing products, making decisions and casting votes. Yet, how word-of-mouth actually works still remains a mystery to most marketers, decision-makers and political operatives.

(Reposted from June 26, 2019)

(Reposted from June 26, 2019)

Jay Baer has a new book that seeks to roll back the curtains on how people rely on word-of-mouth and how marketers can create consumers through “chatter that matters.”

Baer endeared himself to marketers with his earlier work called Youtility – the concept that marketing should focus on help, not hype. Baer contended providing useful information is the best route to attracting consumers.

In his new book, Talk Triggers, Baer and co-author Daniel Lemin attempt to provide the same level of illumination when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing. In a companion piece, Chatter Matters, Baer and Lemin analyze research data gathered by Audience Audit to assess word-of-mouth trends and preferences by different age groups and categories of purchasers. They also studied whether online or offline word-of-mouth has the most impact and the effectiveness of celebrity endorsers.

Word-of-mouth is, of course, the oldest form of recommendation and customer acquisition, and it may be more important than ever,” Baer and Lemin say. “When receiving a verbal recommendation from a friend or family member, 83% of Americans are more interested in purchasing the discussed product or service.” 

While word-of-mouth is a preferred form of advice for nearly everyone, men and women, as well as people of different ages, rely on it at varying degrees. Data in Chatter Matters indicates women rely on offline word-of-mouth from friends and family 22% more often than men. White Americans are more inclined to try a product recommended by a friend or family members than non-white Americans.

The report indicates we may give as much advice as we receive, noting “55% of Americans make product or service recommendations to other once per month.” More than 80% say they have offered recommendations.

Younger Americans are more inclined to share “overheard word-of-mouth,” according to the report. Gen Z are the most likely to share (48%) compared to Baby Boomers (38%).

Chatter Matters touches on the trust level of celebrity endorsements. Research found 25 percent of respondents don’t trust any celebrity endorsement. Of the celebrities mentioned in the survey, the highest-ranking person was Oprah Winfrey at 4%. Donald Trump weighed in at 2.8% and Warren Buffet at 2%. No one else broke the 2% threshold.

Personal recommendations appear to matter more than ones on social media. “Americans value word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family 41% more than social media recommendations.” However, a failed relationship can sour the “trust quotient” – “66% of Americans trust an anonymous, online review more than a recommendation from an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.”

Friends with personal experience count for more than advertising when it comes to major purchases. For example, the report says, “When planning a wedding, word-of-mouth from friends is 331% more likely to be relied on than advertising.”

Choosing a restaurant is different. Overall, 50% of Americans rely on recommendations from friends and family when choosing a restaurant. However, Gen Z and Millennials are 99% more likely to rely on social and online reviews than are their Gen X and Boomer counterparts.

Word-of-mouth is much more dominant force than advertising in influencing how people vote, especially for Millennials. Baby Boomers pay more attention to news coverage to inform their voting.

Chatter Matters is what you might call the appetizer to the full meal in Talk Triggers, which offers advice and examples of how to use word-of-mouth marketing effectively.

 

The Cost-Effective Benefits of Brand Ambassadors and Influencers

If you don’t have millions to spend on paid advertising, recruiting brand ambassadors and influencers may be the most cost-effective way to build your brand in an organic, authentic and durable way. Brand ambassadors and influencers have overlapping goals and qualities, but are actually quite different.

If you don’t have millions to spend on paid advertising, recruiting brand ambassadors and influencers may be the most cost-effective way to build your brand in an organic, authentic and durable way. Brand ambassadors and influencers have overlapping goals and qualities, but are actually quite different.

Brand ambassadors and influencers can be important parts of marketing strategies. While both seek to build trust, their roles can be confused, their motivations misunderstood and their value overlooked. 

(Reposted from May 16, 2019)

(Reposted from May 16, 2019)

A brand ambassador is a consumer who falls in love with your product or service. An influencer is someone with a large following who recommends your product or service, sometimes for a fee. 

Both are legitimate and effective strategies. Each tends to work best at a different point in brand evolution.

Influencers can jumpstart a new brand or a new brand offering by testing a product and giving it a thumbs up. Brand ambassadors can reassure fellow consumers that the brand is retaining or recommitting to its commitment to quality and responsiveness.

Recommendations from brand ambassadors tend to spread by word-of-mouth. Recommendations by influencers are typically promoted on social media.

Celebrities fall into the influencer camp. Experts can be an integral part of a brand ambassador program, such as a dentist recommending a specific brand of electronic toothbrush or a personal trainer wearing a particular brand of workout apparel. In this sense, celebrities and experts fulfill a similar role vouching for a brand. They both may receive some form of compensation in the form of payments or discounts. Brand ambassadors may be given product discounts.

Marketers directly contact influencers to explore product tests, with the understanding the influencer will produce a review. Influencers are chosen based on whether their following matches the target demographic of a brand. Some influencers accept free samples to test; others don’t. Some influencers are paid directly; others make their money on advertising on their platforms. The review by influencers is not guaranteed to be positive. Of course, a hired celebrity with a script is a sure thing.

Brand ambassadors are cultivated, sometimes by turning angry critics into brand zealots. They tend to be recruited to tell their own story about a brand. You might call them indirect spokespersons. Influencers also can tell a story about your brand that is more of a direct recommendation on why and how to use it.

Influencers come in all sizes. They can be well-known celebrities, macro-influencers with thousands of followers or micro-influencers that are connected to a network of bloggers and social media sites. A circle of friends can be an influencer starter set. In fact, many entrepreneurs have launched successful products by getting their friends jazzed up and spreading the word. This is where influencer and brand ambassador programs overlap.

They share other characteristics, too. Both can command respect from consumers and are capable of building trust in a brand. Both share content about a brand. Both exercise a level of autonomy in what they choose to tout, which gives both a sense of authenticity. Both speak with their own voice. Their recommendations don’t reek as marketing. Sometimes, a compensated influencer evolves into an unpaid brand ambassador. 

There are significant differences. Influencers are chosen because of their expertise that has attracted a following that matches a target market. Brand ambassadors are like invited guests into your house. Influencers test your product and are paid to rave about it; brand ambassadors love your product and are eager to talk about it.

Employees are the most obvious source of brand ambassadors. Nike and Columbia Sportswear make sure their employees have access to their respective company stores so they wear what they design and market.

Influencers and brand ambassadors can show consumers how your brand performs. An influencer on YouTube can demonstrate how to prepare a Sunday dinner. A brand ambassador might offer to cook a Sunday dinner in your home.

For brands unable to sustain or even start a paid advertising presence, influencers and brand ambassadors represent a cost-effective marketing alternative. Because both rely on relationships and seek to build trust, they pair well with the zeal of contemporary consumers to engage with the brands they buy. Both are organic and conversational. They aren’t intended to reach masses overnight. They are aimed at creating a solid base of consumer loyalty on which to build a thriving business.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling. 

 

The Evolution of PR in the Digital Era

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Before the internet, public relations was all about outshining the other guy. In the digital world, corporations, nonprofits and public agencies must communicate in ways that build trust. You still want your organization to stand out from competitors. But how you do it and where you do it have changed markedly in the digital era.

Traditional media no longer owns the turf. People get news from a mix of disparate sources, many of which have a point of view or even an agenda. There isn’t a national fireplace around which a majority of Americans gather to hear the news from a handful of trusted broadcasters. A lot of people open up their morning newspaper, if they still subscribe to one, on their smartphones.

(Reposted from April 30, 2019)

(Reposted from April 30, 2019)

Once upon a time, consumers had confidence in what brand leaders said. Now, people want a more personalized relationship with the brands they buy. They want to make sure brands walk their talk.

Skepticism about claims runs deeper, causing consumers to give more credence to reviews than advertising. Events and contests, long a PR staple, stimulate consumer engagement, but don’t automatically build trust. 

The reality: A digital presence is mandatory to connect with consumers, clients and contributors. Websites, blogs/vlogs and social media platforms are gateways into a brand, a cause or an agency because they can tell a more extended and authentic story than a press release.

Organizations are smart to recognize that a sharp online presence can pay dividends in terms of increased transactions, richer interactions and bolstered loyalty. Websites can be layered tiers of useful and relevant information that invite exploration. Blogs or their video siblings can raise awareness through demonstrated thought leadership. Social media can provide a comfortable conduit for purposeful engagement. 

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Stimulating digital media doesn’t just happen by accident. It requires skill, patience and a deep understanding of your consumers, clients or constituents. You need to anticipate what they want to know or would appreciate knowing, then provide it in an appealing, even entertaining way. In the digital world, you have a larger palette of communication colors and a virtually unlimited lens to project your information and messaging.

A critical difference between your grandfather’s PR and digital PR today is linkability. A press release, event or contest could build interest, but didn’t have much shelf life – in part because there was no internet to archive them and make it easy to retrieve them later. Digital content shines because it can be linked to other digital sites, especially a website, the mother earth of an online presence. And it never disappears, even if it falls to page three of a Google search.

A press release or press statement organically has limited reach. When first utilized, they went to legacy media that dominated the public’s attention. That’s less true today. Breaking news, other than car accidents and fires, is more likely now to burst into public view on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Savvy organizations need to use these channels to dispense their big news – or respond to news about them – in real time, a luxury digital media affords.

Press releases have limited emotional appeal. Video and photographic content, which flourishes on digital media, isn’t limited. It can touch hearts, create associations and lead to loyalty. Visual and audio content can strike familiar chords and become sticky in people’s brains.

Digital media’s greatest appeal is its interactive character. Viewers can respond instantly, thoughtfully and impactfully. You may not always like what they say, but the interaction gives you a chance to build a relationship, to seize an opportunity to turn a critic into an ambassador. That’s something the venerable press release never could do.

Of course, the press release has evolved into a digital tool. They can contain rich content and useful links. The internet and social media such as Twitter make it easier to distribute your news and messaging to key digital media targets. 

The digital world doesn’t spell the end of traditional PR principles. Story pitches still need a sharp hook. Pitches work best when tailored and aimed at the most appropriate news outlets. Customizing a story for a particular outlet remains a smart strategy. Fresh content, a unique angle and a human touch still get the attention of news people.

You don’t have to toss all you know about PR out the window. Just open the window and scan all the possibilities the digital world affords to tell your story and spread your message.

 

Content Curation Follows in Footsteps of Reliable Influentials

Online influencers and celebrity endorsers are long-time marketing staples. Now content curation is entering the picture as an authentic, reliable source of advice on products, services and information.

Online influencers and celebrity endorsers are long-time marketing staples. Now content curation is entering the picture as an authentic, reliable source of advice on products, services and information.

Online influencers and celebrity endorsers may face competition from curators, who collect, organize and share content from multiple sources.

Like online influencers and celebrity endorsers, content curators target specific audiences, but their approach is different – and often more authentic. Curators aren’t typically paid for the content they collect, organize and share.

Influencers who specialize in product niches and celebrities who have fans and followers pitch products for cash. Scrupulous influencers review products with enough independence to point out the good and the bad. Celebrities like to guard their reputations and avoid endorsements that conflict with their stage personas or may offend their fans.

Curators are more like thought leaders or trusted advisers. They build audiences and monetize their curation based on the value of information they find, organize and share. Instead of getting paid by advertisers, they have subscribers or followers.

[CFM’s Rules of Engagement blog is an example of content curation in the form of thought leadership. We canvass a spectrum of information about marketing trends, select the most useful articles to our followers and share our perspective on them. We don’t accept payment for blog topics or charge for subscriptions.]

Influencers and celebrities gravitate to platforms such as Instagram. Curators thrive in a wider array of mediums from social media to blogs to podcasts. Influencers and celebrities try to generate buzz. Curators are more about water-cooler conversations.

Influencers offer value by trying out new products so busy consumers can skip expensive, time-consuming trial-and-error. Celebrity endorsements traffic in a product’s cool factor. Curators are more like your friend who is well-read, thoughtful and eager to share what he or she has learned.

Influencers and celebrities can be critical pieces of marketing and advertising campaigns. For consumer-facing startups, a favorable review by an influencer can be marketing gold at a fraction of the price. A celebrity endorsement can put a popular face on an organization (Tom Selleck/NRA) or lend style to a product (Jennifer Garner/Neutrogena).

Curators serve a broader purpose. They include news article aggregators to services such as Angie’s List that provide qualified lists of products and services. Their popularity is based on the value they deliver to individuals who don’t have time to read 10 daily newspapers or want an easy, reliable place to look for a plumber.

Content curation, at its best, replicates the hallmarks of Influentials who do their homework and share what they have learned for the rest of us who are too busy to do the homework ourselves.

Content curation, at its best, replicates the hallmarks of Influentials who do their homework and share what they have learned for the rest of us who are too busy to do the homework ourselves.

For years, market researchers took advantage of “influentials,” the roughly one in 10 people who are well-read and willing to share what they know. Influentials often form an early majority in a market. They may not be trend-setters, but they reflect emerging trends. 

Influencers and curators both seek to fill the role of Influentials in a faster-moving, more fragmented society to provide relevant, reliable views on what camera to buy or the significance of a surging political movement.

Influentials deserve credit for expediting public acceptance of 401(k) retirement accounts, personal computers and cell phones. They also have led mass skepticism of marketing claims, which accounts for why the reputation of the public relations and advertising industry ranks so low. 

You could extrapolate that the best content curators today are trying to follow the long-time example of Influentials as authentic, trusted advisers. In an era of fake news, skewed information sources and partisan bubbles, content curation can play an invaluable role in sorting, organizing and fact-checking product claims and news stories in service of restoring public confidence in what they read.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

Telling Your Unique Brand Story Through a Tagline

A tagline attached to your logo is a great place to tell your brand story, with words customers would use in describing your business or nonprofit. Taglines work for any kind of business or nonprofit, including the real estate industry.

A tagline attached to your logo is a great place to tell your brand story, with words customers would use in describing your business or nonprofit. Taglines work for any kind of business or nonprofit, including the real estate industry.

Telling your story through a tagline is a smart branding strategy. And it isn’t a strategy limited to high-end consumer brands or heartwarming nonprofits. Real estate agents prove the point. 

Real estate is not a business sector renowned for buzzy branding. However, increased competition and flashy technology has spurred fresh thinking on how to stand apart and above the home-selling crowd. Taglines are a key component of fresh approaches.

blog posted by FollowUpBoss, which produces CRM software for the real estate industry, provides the rationale for and examples of excellent storytelling taglines, as well as offering useful tips to create your own tantalizing tagline.

“Most brands underestimate the power of a stellar tagline and end up with the kind of goofy, thoughtless or cheesy slogans that trigger an instant eye-roll,” writes Brittany Ryan.

Sometimes people are too busy or too afraid to take on the task of telling their story in a handful of words. However, the gold in a tagline, according to Ryan, is a phrase or image that “clearly defines the unique value of your service.”

A good example, Ryan says, is EXIT Realty with its trademarked tagline “A Smart Move!” Through its tagline, EXIT touts its international network of “highly trained and knowledgeable agents” and a host of technology tools to pinpoint properties to buy and market properties to sell. “Their tagline is simple, yet it subtly aligns their brand with the customer's desire to make an educated, rational real estate decision,” Ryan says.

Noble Black, which deals in luxury properties in Manhattan, uses this tagline: “Exceptional Reach. Exceptional Results”. “Word choice is 90 percent of any great slogan or tagline and by using the word 'exceptional', the team at Noble and Black is speaking directly to uber-wealthy prospects looking for a service capable of connecting global buyers and sellers who are comfortable with multi-million-dollar transactions.”

New Story is a nonprofit with a mission to end homelessness. Its tagline tells its story: “We pioneer solutions to end global homelessness.” “New Story's tagline perfectly defines its identity, goals and vision for the future. It’s no surprise it’s backed by big players like BHGRE, Sotheby’s International and DocuSign.”

Ryan’s advice for creating a tagline applies regardless of business sector or type of nonprofit. In addition to clearly defining your organization’s unique value, “tell your audience exactly what you do and use active verbs,” she recommends.

Taglines should be customer-centric. “Tell your customer what’s in it for them,” Ryan says. “Answer your customer’s real fears and desires. Keep it emotional, but not scary.” When possible, choose words your customers use when describing your business.

Coming up with the right tagline can be a harrowing experience, so don’t go solo. Ask questions of customers, engage your employees and test your options with stakeholders. You may land on the perfect tagline in your first brainstorm, but more likely it will take greater effort and longer reflection.

“Step away for at least a day before coming back to it with fresh eyes,” Ryan advises. “Try to look at it from the perspective of your ideal customer. After all, a great tagline is more about them than you.”

Engage Social Media Audiences with Regular, Not Random Content

The Property Brothers TV show about house renovation is highly popular. And so are their social media platforms, which highlight their televised remodeling successes with interesting twists. On the  Property Brothers Facebook page , one post features an interview with the first couple who got the “renovation of their dreams” – and doubled as a casting call for new couples who want to realize their dreams.

The Property Brothers TV show about house renovation is highly popular. And so are their social media platforms, which highlight their televised remodeling successes with interesting twists. On the Property Brothers Facebook page, one post features an interview with the first couple who got the “renovation of their dreams” – and doubled as a casting call for new couples who want to realize their dreams.

Social media marketing suffers from “random acts of content,” which makes it hard to win a reliable audience with a consistent appeal. 

Jay Baer of Convince and Convert recommends following the lead of television networks that air shows with a “defined audience and narrative arc” in mind. No randomness about their approach.

“For each social platform, think about what social media content initiatives you can execute on a regular basis, keeping in mind your audience and objectives for that platform,” Baer advises. “Then create and distribute these ‘shows’ consistently. This gives your audiences something to recognize, engage with and (hopefully) look forward to on a regular basis.”

“Repeatability” is the key to attracting and keeping an audience on social media, Baer says. In a blog posted on Medium, he gave as an example a major homebuilder that launched an Instagram presence centered on images of interiors in its homes. Baer said the photos average 5,000 likes apiece and fetch comments, including from professional interior designers, that offer suggestions for new design touches and Instagram topics.

“It’s a highly targeted, nearly free focus group,” Baer says.

A one-size-fits-all social media strategy doesn’t cut it as each major platform has sharpened its differentiation, attracting a different mix of viewers and offering them a different vibe. That means, Baer explains, a separate content strategy for Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

“Posting the same social media content, in multiple channels, at the same time and hoping to achieve spectacular results hasn’t worked in years,” Baer insists. “From a marketing perspective, there is no such thing as ‘social media.’ It’s nearly pointless to think of social media as one thing, because the audiences, use cases, technology, algorithms, optimal cadences and other characteristics of each social platform continue to diverge.”

Once you have locked in a strategy and understand what viewers expect from individual channels, the task is to identify useful and informative kinds of content that can approximate “regularly scheduled programming,” to use Baer’s words.

You still can offer a mix of content, Baer says, but the bread-and-butter of the strategy need to be “shows” that viewers can count on, look forward to and tune in almost automatically. 

While specialized and repeatable content designed to fit the contours of each social media platform you employ may sound daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Yes, it requires thought and discipline, but not a full Hollywood production team.

Baer’s example provides a solid hint. His homebuilder client established his brand on attractive interiors. Ergo, why not share his best interiors in images on platforms that reward photography such as Instagram and Pinterest, the latter of which has a compatible demographic. The effort involves regularly scooping up good imagery and presenting it in a consistent fashion that is viewer-friendly and invites engagement. 

Hard, but perhaps fun, too. One more chore on a to-do list, but a chore that earns feedback and kudos.

As usual, Baer drills down to practical ideas to achieve marketing success. The concept of repeatability is at once obvious and brilliant. Even better, it already has a track record of success. Just watch your favorite TV shows to see the proof.

 

Using Simplicity and Subtlety to Make a Brand Stand Out

This Ring video doorbell advertisement has been simplified to two images – the doorbell and the image you get on your smartphone showing who is on your doorstep. The visitor faces you see are friendly, but the ad subtly underlines the product’s value when more malign intruders come knocking.

This Ring video doorbell advertisement has been simplified to two images – the doorbell and the image you get on your smartphone showing who is on your doorstep. The visitor faces you see are friendly, but the ad subtly underlines the product’s value when more malign intruders come knocking.

Standing out in the crowd is essential in today’s overloaded brand world. Sometimes it just takes a little imagination and an awareness of the moment.

Highlighter pen maker Stabilo Boss launched a series of print ads in 2018 based on historical black-and-white photos of remarkable women, including Katherine Johnson. She was the NASA “computer” featured in the award-winning movie Hidden Figures who made the complex mathematical calculations for safely returning the Apollo 11 astronauts from the moon to earth.

The simply designed ad pictured the NASA control room full of white men wearing white shirts, except for Johnson, who is African-American. She was singled out in the photograph with a yellow highlight connected to a Stabilo Boss pen. The ad carried the headline, “Highlight the remarkable.” 

The campaign, which also featured similar ads “highlighting” Nobel Prize winner Lise Meitner and First Lady Edith Wilson, was a social media smash and distinguished Stabilo Boss from what we think of as generic highlighter pens.

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What makes this ad series so impressive is how deceptively simple it was to create and execute them. The key was linking “highlighting” and “highlighters,” then imagining what would be impressive to highlight. The ad creators identified remarkable women as a topical, positive and appealing subject. And voilà. 

What makes the Johnson-centered ad so appealing is its simplicity and subtlety. It also should be a light-bulb moment that creating great marketing material can be manageable, affordable and even pleasurable. 

The initial inspiration was to connect the distinctive quality of the product with a concept that embodies or signifies that quality – highlighter/highlight. The purpose of highlighter pens is to make something stand out, so the next decision is what deserves to be highlighted for standing out? All it took was an awareness of trending topics. Recognizing women for signal achievements fit the moment as the #MeToo movement continued to claim public attention and social media traction.

Marketers, brand managers and entrepreneurs can trace a similar logic train to discover a wildly simple, yet evocative way to shine a light on their products. The result of the thought process might be only a sketch or an inspiration image. A graphic designer can take it from there.

Before going all in, test reaction to your ad. Ask your test group if the ad shows off what makes your brand distinctive, catches the eye and is in step with current trends. See if your ad has the sparkle it takes to be shared and talked about.

Developing effective marketing content can be a dreary task. Creating a homegrown winner using the Stabilo Boss formula can be fun and rewarding. It might even be a career highlighter.

 

Shark Tank Case Studies of Good (and Bad) Brand Stories

Shark Tank  is a great place to check out good (and bad) brand stories that show how a product works, what problem is solves and why it was created.

Shark Tank is a great place to check out good (and bad) brand stories that show how a product works, what problem is solves and why it was created.

Shark Tank affords entrepreneurs a high-profile opportunity to seek a business-building investment. The popular TV show also serves as a case study for telling a compelling brand story.

Entrepreneurs typically enter the “shark tank” by showing how their product works and describing the problem it solves. In conversation with the investor-sharks, entrepreneurs share their back story, relevant financial information and the channel where their product is sold. In other words, they tell their brand story.

Sometimes, the brand stories click. Other times, they flop. The best brand stories hang together – from brand promise to value proposition. The worst brand stories break down because they aren’t convincing or fall apart under questioning.

Too often the concept of brand story is conflated with slippery marketing goo. Brand stories focus on why a product is wonderful and neglect explaining why it’s useful. Brand stories should avoid turning products into heroes and concentrate instead on demonstrating how a product can make users heroes.

Like any engaging story, a brand story needs to strike a chord with its intended audience. On an episode of Shark Tank, three Clemson University entrepreneurs told how as beer drinkers they grew tired of lugging heavy ice chests to events, so they invented a sleek, lightweight container that fits perfectly around a six-pack. For extra appeal, they add an exterior with logos from universities or sports teams. Their brand story featured an affordable, reusable and customized cooler you carry with a shoulder strap. [Mark Cuban invested in the company.] 

On the same episode, two entrepreneurs displayed their patented door block, designed to thwart a forced entry. They demonstrated how it worked by repeatedly kicking and ramming a door without it flying open. Even though the demonstration was impressive, the entrepreneurs went away empty-handed because the sharks viewed the price-point as too high to attract a mass audience. This was a case study of a brand story that didn’t prove its value proposition.

Interestingly, the door-block entrepreneurs mentioned off-handedly a recent purchase order from a school district looking for an affordable way of securing vulnerable classrooms from intruders. This throwaway mention would have enriched their brand story much more than the exhaustive demonstration of how the door block works by showing an unanticipated, scalable use.

Back stories can be critical to brand stories by humanizing products and their inventors. Back stories can illuminate how an entrepreneur came up with his or her idea or what expertise they bring to their nascent business. We live in a time when consumers, especially young consumers, want to associate with a brand. Back stories are gateways to such associations.

Brand stories are important because they convey values, not just value propositions. The sharks frequently decide whether to invest in a new product based on the values of the entrepreneur. Consumers make a similar judgment.

Nike’s embrace of Colin Kaepernick and Patagonia’s longstanding commitment to public lands protection are examples of value-forward brand storytelling.

Authenticity is critical for a brand story to resonate. You cannot assume consumers are gullible. Treat consumers as an invited audience into your brand living room to share real information. In sharing, steer clear of hype, hyperbole and self-aggrandizement. Save that, if you must, for the 30-second TV ad. Best advice, leave your ego back at your garage or wherever your startup started.

Emotive content fits better in brand storytelling than almost any other marketing tool. Who hasn’t bought a pair of TOMS shoes because the for-profit company posing as a charity donates a pair to children in poor countries. TOMS has taken pains to flesh out its brand promise with 360-degree videos of its shoes being delivered to delighted children in Central America. It wouldn’t be surprising if some asylum-seeking families at the US border have children with well-worn TOMS shoes.

The best brand stories – like the ones that capture investments on Shark Tank – are fulsome. They don’t stop with the “what” of a product; they continue with the “why” and the “how.” Entrepreneurs need to be prepared to go deep. Websites allow layered storytelling that can accommodate more complex and complete stories. So can videos.

It goes without saying that brand storytelling on Shark Tank is visual. There aren’t any fact sheets, backgrounders or instruction manuals. It is an entrepreneur facing a skeptical audience waiting to be impressed. What the product does is important. How the entrepreneur explains what it does is more important. Did I mention videos?

Shark Tank, for better or worse, is ubiquitous on television, so tune in and check out visual brand storytelling at its best – and often at its worst. The winners are the ones with a clear demonstration of worth and an equally clear picture of value.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Clues to How and Why Chatter Can Matter

People get and give advice by word-of-mouth, but how this kind of networking actually works is still a bit of a mystery. Jay Baer brings his marketing touch to the subject, offering clues to why chatter matters and how to trigger effective word-of-mouth marketing.

People get and give advice by word-of-mouth, but how this kind of networking actually works is still a bit of a mystery. Jay Baer brings his marketing touch to the subject, offering clues to why chatter matters and how to trigger effective word-of-mouth marketing.

It’s no secret we seek advice from friends, family and people we trust before purchasing products, making decisions and casting votes. Yet, how word-of-mouth actually works still remains a mystery to most marketers, decision-makers and political operatives.

Jay Baer has a new book that seeks to roll back the curtains on how people rely on word-of-mouth and how marketers can create consumers through “chatter that matters.”

Baer endeared himself to marketers with his earlier work called Youtility – the concept that marketing should focus on help, not hype. Baer contended providing useful information is the best route to attracting consumers.

In his new book, Talk Triggers, Baer and co-author Daniel Lemin attempt to provide the same level of illumination when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing. In a companion piece, Chatter Matters, Baer and Lemin analyze research data gathered by Audience Audit to assess word-of-mouth trends and preferences by different age groups and categories of purchasers. They also studied whether online or offline word-of-mouth has the most impact and the effectiveness of celebrity endorsers.

Word-of-mouth is, of course, the oldest form of recommendation and customer acquisition, and it may be more important than ever,” Baer and Lemin say. “When receiving a verbal recommendation from a friend or family member, 83% of Americans are more interested in purchasing the discussed product or service.” 

While word-of-mouth is a preferred form of advice for nearly everyone, men and women, as well as people of different ages, rely on it at varying degrees. Data in Chatter Matters indicates women rely on offline word-of-mouth from friends and family 22% more often than men. White Americans are more inclined to try a product recommended by a friend or family members than non-white Americans.

The report indicates we may give as much advice as we receive, noting “55% of Americans make product or service recommendations to other once per month.” More than 80% say they have offered recommendations.

Younger Americans are more inclined to share “overheard word-of-mouth,” according to the report. Gen Z are the most likely to share (48%) compared to Baby Boomers (38%).

Chatter Matters touches on the trust level of celebrity endorsements. Research found 25 percent of respondents don’t trust any celebrity endorsement. Of the celebrities mentioned in the survey, the highest-ranking person was Oprah Winfrey at 4%. Donald Trump weighed in at 2.8% and Warren Buffet at 2%. No one else broke the 2% threshold.

Personal recommendations appear to matter more than ones on social media. “Americans value word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family 41% more than social media recommendations.” However, a failed relationship can sour the “trust quotient” – “66% of Americans trust an anonymous, online review more than a recommendation from an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.”

Friends with personal experience count for more than advertising when it comes to major purchases. For example, the report says, “When planning a wedding, word-of-mouth from friends is 331% more likely to be relied on than advertising.”

Choosing a restaurant is different. Overall, 50% of Americans rely on recommendations from friends and family when choosing a restaurant. However, Gen Z and Millennials are 99% more likely to rely on social and online reviews than are their Gen X and Boomer counterparts.

Word-of-mouth is much more dominant force than advertising in influencing how people vote, especially for Millennials. Baby Boomers pay more attention to news coverage to inform their voting.

Chatter Matters is what you might call the appetizer to the full meal in Talk Triggers, which offers advice and examples of how to use word-of-mouth marketing effectively.

 

Video Story Pitches = the Steak in the Sizzle for Startups

The best asset for a startup business is the entrepreneur who risked everything to start it. Their face in a video story pitch can more than compensate for the money, skill and established rapport of larger businesses.

The best asset for a startup business is the entrepreneur who risked everything to start it. Their face in a video story pitch can more than compensate for the money, skill and established rapport of larger businesses.

Startups usually don’t set aside pots of money for marketing. To get noticed, they need low-cost options with a decent chance of success.

Writing for EntrepreneurJennifer Spencer offers some suggestions, starting with video story pitches.

Established firms with a PR agency or in-house staff have existing relationships with local reporters and key trade press publications. The best asset for most startups is the founder. There is no better way to pitch a story than in the voice of the founder.

A video literally puts a face to the pitch, Spencer says, showcasing the brains behind the new business. That can spark interest and stand out in a crowded queue of pitches written by public relations professionals.

Written press releases can include quotes from the CEO, while a video pitch conveys context in a conversational tone. It’s as if he or she is personally sharing their views or telling an interesting story, because he or she is personally sharing a view or a telling the story.

Standard story pitches have embraced multi-media. Video story pitches also can be accompanied by infographics, charts, images and B-roll video.

Video story pitches still need to be news worthy. No fluff or self-serving CEO quotes. And production values matter.

Video story pitches still need to be news worthy. No fluff or self-serving CEO quotes. And production values matter.

Well-conceived and engaging videos used for story pitches can be repurposed as social media content, which isn’t true of typical text-based press releases. Video content attracts more clicks and has wider generational appeal.

Creativity is useful in developing story-pitch videos. There aren’t really too many restraints. For example, a video might include short clips of endorsers for a new product or a visual explanation for how to use a product.

Another creative use of a video story pitch is to newsjack, the art of piggybacking on a trending story to gain attention for your brand. A lot of newsjacking occurs on Twitter, so a video story pitch can be an attention-grabbing variation that can make its way onto traditional media websites and social media platforms.

Think of video story pitches as teasers. Produce longer versions or a series of clips that can be shared in response to media inquiries or as extenders if the media picks up your story.

Video story pitches still need to be newsworthy. You need a captivating news hook. Fluff won’t cut it. Self-serving quotes don’t come across any better on video than in print. Poor production can undermine the effort.

As things stack up, lacking financial resources could even be an advantage. It will force you to be inventive, authentic and engaging – more or less, the steak in the sizzle of any good story pitch.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Feedback Serves a Purpose; FeedForward Can Serve a Higher Purpose

Feedback can provide useful insight into how to make something or someone better. Feedforward offers a more dynamic perspective by looking beyond feedback to imagine other options that can be differentiating, disruptive and transformative.

Feedback can provide useful insight into how to make something or someone better. Feedforward offers a more dynamic perspective by looking beyond feedback to imagine other options that can be differentiating, disruptive and transformative.

We have been conditioned to seek feedback. Why not pursue feedforward?

Feedback, by its nature and name, focuses on the past. Feedforward, on the other hand, peers into the future with a sense of moving forward. Both can be valuable. Looking forward may offer the most upside.

It is a military truism that generals prepare to fight the last war, not the next one. The same holds true in public relations. You don’t conquer the next generation of communications challenges by fighting past battles.  

While feedback informs you of what went right and what went wrong, feedforward can inform about how to tackle anticipated future issues. Feedforward incorporates feedback, but projects it forward. Feedforward skips past guilt and resentment for failure dredged up in the feedback process.

The advantage of a feedforward perspective is widening the horizon of options. Feedback is limited to reactions of what actually happened. Feedforward allows you to imagine potential scenarios. Feedback has the quality of history. Feedforward is more like science fiction. Feedforward taps into an energy pool of what could be.

“Quality communications – between and among people at all levels and every department and division – is the glue that holds organizations together,” writes Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. “By using feedforward – and by encouraging others to use it – leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring that the right message is conveyed and those who receive it are receptive to its content.”

“The result,” he concludes, “is a much more dynamic, much more open organization – one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past.”

Of course, Goldsmith’s view undersells the benefits of seeking candid feedback. Feedback isn’t always negative and recipients of feedback aren’t always put on the defensive. Reliable analysis of strategies, initiatives, output and products is part of a constructive feedback loop with a goal of continuous improvement.

Feedback loops are just that – loops. They are intended to improve what is, not explore other options. Honest feedback can surface other options, which is where feedforward comes in as a means to evaluate other ways of doing or making something.

The difference and interplay between feedback and feedforward is analogous to the management dilemma of correcting an employee’s weaknesses or leveraging their strengths. It is never exclusively one or the other. However, too often, correcting an employee’s shortcomings dominates interactions, with little attention paid to how an employee strength could be nurtured and maximized. 

Feedback serves a useful purpose. Feedforward may serve a higher purpose. Acknowledging that and learning how to incorporate both in strategy development and decision-making may turn into an unexpected organizational strength, creating a clear differentiation and disrupting the status quo.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

The Cost-Effective Benefits of Brand Ambassadors and Influencers

If you don’t have millions to spend on paid advertising, recruiting brand ambassadors and influencers may be the most cost-effective way to build your brand in an organic, authentic and durable way. Brand ambassadors and influencers have overlapping goals and qualities, but are actually quite different.

If you don’t have millions to spend on paid advertising, recruiting brand ambassadors and influencers may be the most cost-effective way to build your brand in an organic, authentic and durable way. Brand ambassadors and influencers have overlapping goals and qualities, but are actually quite different.

Brand ambassadors and influencers can be important parts of marketing strategies. While both seek to build trust, their roles can be confused, their motivations misunderstood and their value overlooked. 

A brand ambassador is a consumer who falls in love with your product or service. An influencer is someone with a large following who recommends your product or service, sometimes for a fee. 

Both are legitimate and effective strategies. Each tends to work best at a different point in brand evolution.

Influencers can jumpstart a new brand or a new brand offering by testing a product and giving it a thumbs up. Brand ambassadors can reassure fellow consumers that the brand is retaining or recommitting to its commitment to quality and responsiveness.

Recommendations from brand ambassadors tend to spread by word-of-mouth. Recommendations by influencers are typically promoted on social media.

Celebrities fall into the influencer camp. Experts can be an integral part of a brand ambassador program, such as a dentist recommending a specific brand of electronic toothbrush or a personal trainer wearing a particular brand of workout apparel. In this sense, celebrities and experts fulfill a similar role vouching for a brand. They both may receive some form of compensation in the form of payments or discounts. Brand ambassadors may be given product discounts.

Marketers directly contact influencers to explore product tests, with the understanding the influencer will produce a review. Influencers are chosen based on whether their following matches the target demographic of a brand. Some influencers accept free samples to test; others don’t. Some influencers are paid directly; others make their money on advertising on their platforms. The review by influencers is not guaranteed to be positive. Of course, a hired celebrity with a script is a sure thing.

Brand ambassadors are cultivated, sometimes by turning angry critics into brand zealots. They tend to be recruited to tell their own story about a brand. You might call them indirect spokespersons. Influencers also can tell a story about your brand that is more of a direct recommendation on why and how to use it.

Influencers come in all sizes. They can be well-known celebrities, macro-influencers with thousands of followers or micro-influencers that are connected to a network of bloggers and social media sites. A circle of friends can be an influencer starter set. In fact, many entrepreneurs have launched successful products by getting their friends jazzed up and spreading the word. This is where influencer and brand ambassador programs overlap.

They share other characteristics, too. Both can command respect from consumers and are capable of building trust in a brand. Both share content about a brand. Both exercise a level of autonomy in what they choose to tout, which gives both a sense of authenticity. Both speak with their own voice. Their recommendations don’t reek as marketing. Sometimes, a compensated influencer evolves into an unpaid brand ambassador. 

There are significant differences. Influencers are chosen because of their expertise that has attracted a following that matches a target market. Brand ambassadors are like invited guests into your house. Influencers test your product and are paid to rave about it; brand ambassadors love your product and are eager to talk about it.

Employees are the most obvious source of brand ambassadors. Nike and Columbia Sportswear make sure their employees have access to their respective company stores so they wear what they design and market.

Influencers and brand ambassadors can show consumers how your brand performs. An influencer on YouTube can demonstrate how to prepare a Sunday dinner. A brand ambassador might offer to cook a Sunday dinner in your home.

For brands unable to sustain or even start a paid advertising presence, influencers and brand ambassadors represent a cost-effective marketing alternative. Because both rely on relationships and seek to build trust, they pair well with the zeal of contemporary consumers to engage with the brands they buy. Both are organic and conversational. They aren’t intended to reach masses overnight. They are aimed at creating a solid base of consumer loyalty on which to build a thriving business.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling. 

 

The Evolution of PR in the Digital Era

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Before the internet, public relations was all about outshining the other guy. In the digital world, corporations, nonprofits and public agencies must communicate in ways that build trust. You still want your organization to stand out from competitors. But how you do it and where you do it have changed markedly in the digital era.

Traditional media no longer owns the turf. People get news from a mix of disparate sources, many of which have a point of view or even an agenda. There isn’t a national fireplace around which a majority of Americans gather to hear the news from a handful of trusted broadcasters. A lot of people open up their morning newspaper, if they still subscribe to one, on their smartphones.

Once upon a time, consumers had confidence in what brand leaders said. Now, people want a more personalized relationship with the brands they buy. They want to make sure brands walk their talk.

Skepticism about claims runs deeper, causing consumers to give more credence to reviews than advertising. Events and contests, long a PR staple, stimulate consumer engagement, but don’t automatically build trust. 

The reality: A digital presence is mandatory to connect with consumers, clients and contributors. Websites, blogs/vlogs and social media platforms are gateways into a brand, a cause or an agency because they can tell a more extended and authentic story than a press release.

Organizations are smart to recognize that a sharp online presence can pay dividends in terms of increased transactions, richer interactions and bolstered loyalty. Websites can be layered tiers of useful and relevant information that invite exploration. Blogs or their video siblings can raise awareness through demonstrated thought leadership. Social media can provide a comfortable conduit for purposeful engagement. 

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Stimulating digital media doesn’t just happen by accident. It requires skill, patience and a deep understanding of your consumers, clients or constituents. You need to anticipate what they want to know or would appreciate knowing, then provide it in an appealing, even entertaining way. In the digital world, you have a larger palette of communication colors and a virtually unlimited lens to project your information and messaging.

A critical difference between your grandfather’s PR and digital PR today is linkability. A press release, event or contest could build interest, but didn’t have much shelf life – in part because there was no internet to archive them and make it easy to retrieve them later. Digital content shines because it can be linked to other digital sites, especially a website, the mother earth of an online presence. And it never disappears, even if it falls to page three of a Google search.

A press release or press statement organically has limited reach. When first utilized, they went to legacy media that dominated the public’s attention. That’s less true today. Breaking news, other than car accidents and fires, is more likely now to burst into public view on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Savvy organizations need to use these channels to dispense their big news – or respond to news about them – in real time, a luxury digital media affords.

Press releases have limited emotional appeal. Video and photographic content, which flourishes on digital media, isn’t limited. It can touch hearts, create associations and lead to loyalty. Visual and audio content can strike familiar chords and become sticky in people’s brains.

Digital media’s greatest appeal is its interactive character. Viewers can respond instantly, thoughtfully and impactfully. You may not always like what they say, but the interaction gives you a chance to build a relationship, to seize an opportunity to turn a critic into an ambassador. That’s something the venerable press release never could do.

Of course, the press release has evolved into a digital tool. They can contain rich content and useful links. The internet and social media such as Twitter make it easier to distribute your news and messaging to key digital media targets. 

The digital world doesn’t spell the end of traditional PR principles. Story pitches still need a sharp hook. Pitches work best when tailored and aimed at the most appropriate news outlets. Customizing a story for a particular outlet remains a smart strategy. Fresh content, a unique angle and a human touch still get the attention of news people.

You don’t have to toss all you know about PR out the window. Just open the window and scan all the possibilities the digital world affords to tell your story and spread your message.

 

Infographics are Eye-Grabbing Pictures of Information

‘Infographics’ is a seemingly new word to describe pictures of information, but the concept dates back to the days of cave-dwellers and is as common as a subway map. Infographics capture eyeballs and can be easier-than-you-think to create.

‘Infographics’ is a seemingly new word to describe pictures of information, but the concept dates back to the days of cave-dwellers and is as common as a subway map. Infographics capture eyeballs and can be easier-than-you-think to create.

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Marketers and PR professionals frequently refer to “infographics.” You may not recognize the word, but you most likely have seen more than one of them.

In the simplest explanation, infographics are pictures of information. They can include charts, illustrations, photographs and text designed to convey information in a more visual way than a series of dense paragraphs.

Infographics is a new coinage for an ancient idea. Cave drawings may have been the first infographics by showing through pictures significant events or achievements. Mapmakers have produced infographics for centuries that show continents, oceans, mountain ranges, rivers, trails and, more recently, highways. Public transit maps showing routes and stops are a perfect example of an infographic.

The surge in interest in infographics is tied to social media viewing habits. Infographics attract more clicks and are far more likely to be read than messages consisting of only text. Busy (or distracted) people want to acquire information as easily as possible without digging through dense prose. Infographics appeal because they package information so skimmers can pick out key facts and easily follow a short visual narrative. Viewers like infographics because they are easy to share.

Communicators should like infographics because they demand a disciplined approach to what you are trying to say – and forcing you to say it in more than words that you tap out on your laptop.

Like any other communication tool, the secret sauce of infographics is saying something worthwhile, then figuring out how to visualize what you are saying. That starts with your storyline. Yes, infographics are just another storytelling technique. Begin with an eye-catching piece of data to grab attention. Make sure your narrative is logical for your audience to follow.

Once you have a story to tell, think about how to illustrate your key points to keep the story moving. Use stick figures or scribbles to develop your basic design. If you need inspiration, Google infographics, look at some examples and select the styles that work best for your story. 

Some communicators shun infographics, despite their proven effectiveness, because they don’t know how to create them. That’s understandable, but very curable. There are plenty of tools that can walk you through their creation. If you have a teenager or young adult, they could whip one out with ease. You may have someone on your staff who can take your rough draft and turn it into a splendid infographic. There are plenty of graphic designers who will do it for you at a reasonable price. 

Have a point of view on how you want your infographic to work and look. At the same time, be open to other ideas about how to show your story. There is no formula for the perfect infographic. New ideas are being explored everyday – from squares instead of scrolls to 3D illustrations.

The constants in infographics include using color that is consonant with your branding, readable typefaces, social media sharing buttons, mobile optimization and a clear call to action. The design you put into your infographic should be repeated in other communications, so you have a consistent visual identity. 

To achieve its objective, your infographic needs to be promoted and shared. LinkedIn is an excellent platform, along with Facebook and Twitter. Instagram can be the right choice if your target is younger eyeballs. Don’t forget to post the infographic on your website or write about it in your blog.

Still not convinced? Read this infographic developed by Spiralytics about how infographics can benefit your business.