Revolutionary Measures

Can marketing help the new NHS app to Cross the Chasm?

We’re currently in an unprecedented time when it comes to innovation. The rise of digital is unleashing new ways of working, communicating and shopping, while underpinning new business models that are transforming whole industries. Clearly, not all of this change is positive for everyone – trends such as e-commerce and AI have led to job losses and closures across the high street. Reflecting this, research shows that a majority of older people feel that life in England was better in the past, a position that correlates strongly with supporting Brexit.

black and white blackboard business chalkboard

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What does this mean for innovation? For a start, a large number of your potential consumers are going to be suspicious of your shiny new product. Even allowing for the different phases of adoption set out by Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm, this leaves those of us marketing innovation with a dilemma. Essentially, how do you get people to change their behaviour, and do something differently – especially if it is something they’ve always done that way. This isn’t about persuading people to change the beer they drink or the shampoo they use, but much more deep-seated, such as how they communicate, or switching from fossil fuel to electric-powered vehicles.

The news that the NHS is going to get a new app brought this issue to the front of my mind. Confusingly described by health secretary Jeremy Hunt as “a birthday present from the NHS to the British people” – does he give other people presents on his birthday? – it promises to allow users to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view medical information held by their GPs.

But will it be adopted and therefore deliver the savings and convenience that it promises? Unlike other tech products it is aimed fully at the mainstream – and given that many of the largest users of the NHS are not likely to be early adopters – it will require a lot of effort to drive change.

Unfreeze, Move, Freeze
Essentially, according to business psychologist Kurt Lewin major change only happens when conditions are seen as sub-optimal. This generates a desire for change, which unfreezes attitudes and leads to moving to new solutions. Once this is the status quo it then freezes back into place, until the process begins again.

Looking at the NHS app, there are four areas where marketing can help drive the unfreezing and hence change:

1.Demonstrate it is easier
We’ve all been in situations where we know that changing how we do something will deliver longer term benefits – but we don’t have the time (or inclination) to invest the additional effort required to learn the new way of doing something. It could be as simple as continuing to access a website on your computer rather than your phone as you can’t remember your password and can’t be bothered to set it all up again. So the experience the new app offers has to be incredibly clear and straightforward. I’d even employ trainers to go around to GP surgeries, install it on people’s phones and get them up and running.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
As with any mass market product, you need to ensure that everyone is aware of the new app, and how to benefit from it. I’m sure there will be complaints of wasting money in the Tory press if the NHS runs a huge advertising campaign around the app, but it is vital to get it out there across TV, print, online and billboards. And the ads have to be memorable – even if that’s because of the sheer annoyance they cause. Meerkats anyone?

3. Brand it!
At the moment the NHS app is called, um, the NHS app. Hardly memorable or likely to help people find it – and a quick search on the Apple Store brings up lots of apps with “NHS” in the title. It needs a strong, personal and appealing brand – whether than means naming it after a famous doctor or Aneurin Bevan, architect of the NHS or going down the route of creating a cartoon character around it, it needs to stand out.

4. Make the message simple
Too many adverts overcomplicate the message – therefore the marketing for the app has to deliver a clear call to action in a short number of stages. For example:

  • One: Download the app
  • Two: Enter a unique NHS code
  • Three: Start accessing your health records/booking appointments etc

People won’t respond to anything more complicated initially – once they’ve got the app you can effectively extend their use by giving advice on other ways that they can benefit.

When it comes to changing behaviour, marketing (and understanding psychology) has a key role to play. Let’s hope the NHS bears this in mind when it fully launches its app in December.

Advertisements

July 4, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brand safety in the age of Trump

Marketers are all aware of the impact of social media on brand reputation. Issues can quickly go viral as consumers share complaints on Facebook and Twitter – and with the press continually monitoring for social stories, before you know it you are on the BBC News or the front page of a newspaper website.

man couple people woman

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

However, what has changed in the last twelve months or so has been the impact of celebrities, including Donald Trump, on brand safety. A tweet from the US President complaining about a company can damage reputation, and even survival. Take the case of Chinese telecoms equipment maker ZTE. Convicted of breaching US sanctions on Iran and North Korea, the company first looked doomed to go out of business when it was banned from buying US components, and was then resurrected through a supportive tweet from Trump.

All a bit Thameslink
It isn’t just Trump – a tweet from author Eric Van Lustbader about food poisoning at a branch of US restaurant chain Chipotle (already reeling from an e.coli outbreak), caused its stock to fall. And in the UK, rail company Thameslink was threatened with legal action from Poundland for comparing its poor service to ‘Poundland cooking chocolate’. The retailer added that it if it ever fell short on customer service, they’d describe themselves as ‘a bit Thameslink’.

What the Poundland experience shows is that brands are now fighting back against what they see as unfair attacks. Nowhere was this more visible than in the Roseanne Barr case, where the TV star blamed sleeping pill Ambien for her racist tweets. Cue its maker Sanofi to respond (brilliantly) “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Whereas in the past they may have ignored social media mentions or only responded weeks later, brands are now wising up to the protecting their online reputation. However, I think they need to balance speed with the following three factors:

1.Be polite and engaging
It would have been very easy for multibillion dollar drug company Sanofi to respond to Roseanne with a dry legal statement or to launch an attack of its own. Instead, it balanced politeness with cutting wit, simultaneously undermining her point and demonstrating its good corporate citizenship.

2.Don’t get personal
When a celebrity, particularly one with millions of followers, tweets about you it is easy for things to descend into a personal slanging match that actually further damages your brand. Try and take the moral high ground, state the facts and think before you tweet. After all, there are likely to be brand advocates who will defend you aggressively, letting you focus on your key messages.

3.Take a joke
Brand safety isn’t about jumping on every negative, throwaway mention of your company and overreacting/threatening legal action. Decide what is important, what can be handled by a simple denial, and where it makes more sense for your brand to play along and show that you have a sense of humour.

The past few weeks have shown that marketers are now taking positive steps to protect brand reputation online – they clearly have the monitoring systems in place to intervene early, but they need to make sure they don’t become too corporate if they are to actually enhance their reputations rather than adding to online damage through ill-thought out responses.

June 6, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

World Cup marketing – is it worth it?

 

With the domestic football season nearly finished (though, as an Ipswich Town fan, it has felt over for a long time), attention is turning to the World Cup. While the hosts Russia don’t kick off the first match against Saudi Arabia until 14th June, brands are already launching their campaigns and trying to grab a piece of the action.

the-ball-stadion-football-the-pitch-47730.jpeg

Yet, they face some significant marketing challenges:

1. Location
Relations between Russia and the west are at a post-Cold War low, and there will be no high profile attendees from the UK government or royal family following the Salisbury poisoning. And, given the reputation of Russian hooligans (as seen at the last European Championships) and the vast distances involved in attending matches, only the most dedicated fans are likely to spend their cash to follow England.

2. Local colour
As several marketing gurus have pointed out, what makes a major sporting event like a World Cup is the local colour. This meant sponsors spent a great deal of time and effort linking themselves to Brazil for the Olympics/World Cup, adopting local imagery and using that to market their brands. Think shots of brands in front of palm trees, beaches or the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Given Russia’s reputation this is going to be more difficult – photos of your brand outside the Kremlin don’t have the same positive connotations. Therefore, most brands are going to focus on the football itself, which leaves them open to the vagaries of how teams actually play.

3. Competition
There are bewildering number of ways to become a sponsor involved in the World Cup. At the top end there are official FIFA partners (the likes of Visa, Hyundai, Coca-Cola and Gazprom), then World Cup sponsors and Regional partners. Each team has its own sponsors, and individual players have their own endorsements. Add in those brands that then try and sneak on board with ambush marketing, and the field looks very crowded indeed.

4. Picking the right horse
Given the costs involved it might therefore seem cost-effective to base your marketing around a particular player. But you have to be prepared if things go wrong – what happens if he fails to hit form, gets injured and doesn’t even play or is sent off? The perfect example of this was when Ireland captain Roy Keane was sent home from the 2002 World Cup after a bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy, before a ball was even kicked. Pity the Irish sponsors that had based their whole campaigns around Keane………

5. Social media makes everyone an expert
We’re all aware of media fragmentation and that the days of following a World Cup solely on TV and through daily newspapers are long gone. The internet and social media now means that everyone can share their views and comment on not just the matches, but your marketing campaigns. In our hypersensitive age, expect people to pick faults in your approach, or even to complain about any involvement in a tournament held in Putin’s Russia. All it takes is a slip of the mouse or an unfortunate turn of phrase and you’ll be facing a potential boycott – particularly if the on-field action isn’t that exciting.

After all this it would be easy to ask why sponsors bother. But the World Cup is one of the largest global sporting events, attracting millions, if not billions, of viewers. Get it right, and you’ll link yourself to sporting success, meaning you’ll be loved and admired by your audience – but remember that, as pundits frequently say, football is a funny old game………

May 16, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brand safety on the wild internet

The internet has always had contradictory roots. The infrastructure may have begun as a DARPA-funded project to create a network with no single point of failure, but its first major users were counter-culture Californians who launched bulletin boards on the back of it. And the World Wide Web itself was created by Tim Berners-Lee when working at CERN, essentially to allow different researchers, with different IT systems to share information seamlessly.

pexels-photo-266246.jpeg

This contradiction is still present in the titans that currently dominate the online world. The likes of Facebook and Google may try to publicly position themselves as entrepreneurial start-ups with more in common with the California hippies when talking to users, but in fact they are now enormous corporations with correspondingly huge power.

As we’ve seen with the scandals surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, internal systems and data protection haven’t grown as fast as the need for control of user data. And this follows concerns about adverts being run next to unsuitable content on the likes of YouTube, leading to brands such as Under Armour pulling their ads.

The issue is one of brand safety – companies want to protect their reputation as well as reach the right audiences. In an always-on world with ever more complex (and opaque) ad-buying systems and increasing personalisation being sure your messages are reaching the right audiences through the right channels is vital. This isn’t just applicable to the internet – I’ve recently seen lots of adverts for household cleaning products on kids TV channels, although you can argue they are more targeted at parents watching alongside their offspring.

The latest challenge to the big internet companies goes beyond poor ad positioning though – focusing instead on unauthorised use of a brand to essentially front a scam. Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com and consumer finance guru, is suing Facebook for running adverts that use his image to market high risk or fraudulent services, implying that he has endorsed them. Facebook counters that as soon as such adverts are reported, they remove them, only for them to pop up again with slight changes.

Given Lewis’ whole reputation is built on delivering honest consumer advice to save people money, it is no surprise either that he’s been targeted by scammers or that he is going to court to protect his brand image. As he says, he doesn’t do adverts, and that with their image recognition technology Facebook should be able to block anyone trying to use his photo, before it goes live. Lewis isn’t alone in having his details hijacked – we’ve all had emails and calls allegedly from Microsoft, BT or our bank trying to get us to handover control of our PC or account details. But the difference is that no third party is making money out of these activities – unlike in the case of Facebook.

By coming out against Facebook so publicly, and by promising to donate any damages to charity, Lewis is adding to the concerns around Facebook and its business model of publish first, remove later if necessary. It’s a great PR strategy on his part – a classic David vs Goliath move. I’m sure it is also being closely watched by other celebrities and organisations worried about their brand safety online.

All of the current concerns around big tech are part of a wider worry – from consumers to governments and advertisers themselves, people are waking up to the fact that their data is out of their control, and that companies are making large amounts of money from it. I think that 2018 is going to be a watershed year for the online giants – it is time for them to change how they market themselves and become more humble if they want to rebuild and retain our trust. The question is, can they win us back?

April 25, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The end of the Mad Men?

Advertising agencies have always exuded glamour and excitement. From Don Draper in Mad Men to more modern agencies they’ve combined mystery and the power to change how people think, act and buy. Take Ridley Scott’s 1984-themed Apple Mac launch ad, Saatchi’s 1979 “Labour isn’t working” campaign, widely seen as helping the Conservative party to win the election, or going further back, the WW1 “Your Country Needs You” recruitment poster.

pexels-photo-288477.jpeg

All of these iconic campaigns demonstrate what advertising can do, particularly when it is turbocharged by the reach of linear television. This has led to ad agencies rising in importance to essentially command the biggest budgets and greatest influence on how brands market themselves.

However, things are changing – fast. Three interconnected factors are upsetting the status quo and causing industry titans such as WPP to issue profit warnings in the face of slowing revenues.

1          We live in a digital world
We used to spend the majority of our leisure time watching a limited number of terrestrial TV channels and reading newspapers and magazines. All of that has changed with the rise of the internet, which now takes a much higher share of our time, and has introduced new gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook into the mix. The adverts that people run online are different – they can’t be as disruptive as during a scheduled TV ad break, or as big budget. While major ad campaigns still run, they are more seasonal, such as around Christmas – and are seen as marketing events, rather than run of the mill campaigns.

2          Consumers want a personalised approach
The internet has also encouraged and enabled us to demand a more personalised experience. We don’t want to be subjected to irrelevant adverts for things we aren’t interested in – and analysing our browsing habits and demographics should give advertisers the ability to segment their audiences and target them in a more individual way. The cost to our privacy is an ongoing debate – as is how capable platforms are of really delivering a personalised approach. All of these adverts tend to be smaller, more focused and therefore lower budget – in some cases even using AI to analyse response rates and automatically tweak copy so that it best reaches target audiences. So less Mad Men, more Metal Mickey.

3          Content is king
Consumers are more suspicious of advertising, and want greater transparency from the brands that they deal with. This is driving a much greater reliance on content across the buying cycle, helping build relationships, and overcome objections on the way. This requires a different set of skills to big budget TV advertising – in fact it is more akin to the copywriting side of public relations, with more information and less overt selling.

All of these factors are shaking up the marketing hierarchy and putting the role of the traditional ad agency under threat. At the top end, consultants such as Accenture are entering the sector, buying up agencies and focusing on providing strategic business advice as well as execution. Digital-first agencies are jockeying for position, and a greater share of budget, backed up by their ability to offer transparency, value and accountability. Brands are even taking key activities in-house, with many companies now employing digital marketing specialists, or even, as in the case of Pepsi, in-house advertising studios.

So does this mean the end of the ad agency, and in particular large international networks? Not necessarily – in a fragmented world clients value talking to one trusted advisor, rather than having to juggle a series of relationships with overlapping agencies. However, to prevent that trusted advisor being a strategy consultancy or digital upstart, agencies need to reinvent themselves quickly, learn new skills and become more of a high-level partner. One way is to move up the value chain. Back in the advertising heyday of the 1980s, Saatchi and Saatchi bought analyst house Gartner. The plan backfired, with the company sold less than two years later at a loss. But the idea clearly had strategic promise. Perhaps now is the time for ad agencies to think big again if they want to retain their power for the long term?

April 11, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Going direct – and the impact on marketing

The rise of the internet was meant to usher in a new, more direct way of communicating, including the removal of middlemen. We’d buy goods and services directly from their producers, rather than having to go through shops or brokers, cutting costs for consumers and opening up new opportunities for companies. It would be the end of the package holiday, the supermarket and the insurance broker, amongst other business types.

It is fair to say that things haven’t worked like that. While small companies can sell direct on the internet, the majority of goods and services are still bought from middlemen who bring products together, allowing consumers to compare them in a single place and then make their choice. Think of Amazon, ebay or insurance comparison sites, which are essentially old-style brokers with an updated business model.

pexels-photo-419235.jpeg

Why has this happened? Partly because people find it difficult to cope with too much choice – there is always the worry that you’ve made the wrong decision and also because these companies have ensured it is as easy as possible to buy from them. Amazon has one-click ordering, buttons to press that automatically send new stocks of household essentials, and voice ordering via Alexa.

However, this model is changing, at least in part, due to the rise of Direct to Consumer (D2C) brands. Companies like Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s and a plethora of mattress start-ups are all selling via the internet without any middlemen involved. They often use a subscription model – i.e. you get a delivery of shaving products, beer or food kits on a regular basis, backed up by generous introductory discounts and strong guarantees of quality (if you don’t like the mattress we’ll come and collect it and give you a full refund). They may be relatively small in the UK at present, but they tend to target younger, more affluent consumers and are therefore likely to continue to grow and spread.

These brands are also having an impact on marketing, particularly as many are start-ups that need to establish themselves before similar rivals appear.

1.Name recognition is all
It could just be that I’m their target demographic, but I see adverts for D2C shaving brands such as Harry’s everywhere I go online, in the podcasts I listen to and offline in the press. You need to create and sustain strong name recognition if you are to succeed – given the number of challengers in particular markets it is a question of first mover advantage. This impacts traditional brands, whether that is the likes of Gillette, Tesco or Amazon – they need to respond if they are to keep customers loyal.

2. Marketing is constant
Subscriptions do give some security when it consumer retention, particularly as there is an inertia effect when people don’t get round to cancelling them – look at the number of people who failed to cancel their free Amazon Prime trial before it started charging them. However, consumers, particularly of D2C brands, are savvy and are likely to be constantly checking that they are getting a good deal. So customer marketing has to be tailored, personalised and constant if you are to stay front of mind and engage with your existing consumers.

3. You need a story
You can’t create a D2C brand by just moving your product online or to a subscription model. Not only would that be likely to cannibalise existing revenues, but it wouldn’t generate the appeal of an exciting, new, internet-first brand. People want to get more than a product – they want the story behind it. That means highlighting your credentials, why you are different and what sets you apart. This could be that you buy the finest Japanese steel for your razor blades or donate mattresses to charity – whatever it is, it needs to be clear, differentiated and appealing to your target audience.

4. You need to build a tribe
Business guru Seth Godin pointed out the opportunities that the internet provides to build your own tribe – a group of people that follow your brand, understand what makes you different, act as ambassadors and ultimately buy from you. The most successful Kickstarter campaigns are those where someone with an existing following launches a product. Podcasts that spawn books or tours are another example. Essentially your tribe feels a personal connection to you, believes in your ethos and will both sign up for your new offering and spread the word to others. Building a tribe takes time, but creates a lasting customer base for your brand and all of its products.

None of these marketing tactics are new – and importantly none of them are out of the reach of traditional brands. If you want to protect your products against the rise of the D2C brand you need to look at how they are operating, what you can learn from them and how you can improve your marketing and engagement with customers and prospects.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marketing to the disinterested

Marketing gets a lot of stick from consumers. While in the past it might have been complaints about junk mail and sales calls, now it is untargeted online ads and spam email. No wonder that so many people complain that they have had enough of marketing, and say they pay no attention to it.marketing-man-person-communication.jpg

However, as Joe Glover points out in his vlog, what they are actually moaning about, is bad marketing that ignores the fundamental definition of marketing itself. That is that marketing is about meeting the needs of the customer. Therefore, if your marketing campaign is not producing the right effect, then you have failed – not the idea of marketing itself. Essentially this type of bad marketing is now much more visible to us, as we see it in the digital world, including on our smartphones, where it feels much more personal and untargeted, particularly given the amount of data that we end up sharing online.

Good marketing is pretty much invisible – it interests us by either meeting an existing need or by pre-empting a need we didn’t necessarily know we had. While a huge amount of academic and practical work has gone into justifying the art and science of marketing, it simply comes down to consumer needs.

It reminds me of attending a marketing conference, where the founder of the English Whisky Company, a farmer called Andrew Nelstrop, stood up and said he’d built his business without marketing, and that therefore it wasn’t that much use. Of course, his explanation of how he’d met a need, listened to consumers and delivered the right product and experience was a text-book case of a solid, well-executed marketing programme. He just associated marketing with expensive advertising and therefore didn’t think it was for him.

Clearly meeting customer needs is a broad concept, which is why marketers have come up with different stages and models that take a consumer from initial awareness of a product or service all the way through to purchase and beyond. The granddaddy of them all is AIDA, which stands for:

  • Attention/Awareness – i.e. attracting the consumer
  • Interest – piquing their interest by focusing on benefits
  • Desire – making them want what you’ve got
  • Action – getting them to take a positive step such as purchase

The advantages of AIDA are that it is simple and can be applied to other activities rather than just buying something – voting, signing a petition or even joining an organisation. Where it does fall down is that it is a linear process that finishes with the sale – there’s no nurturing of the customer after that, no attempt to keep them loyal or to turn them into a brand advocate. That’s one of the reasons I like the model Joe Glover talks about (even if the acronym isn’t as memorable):

  • Awareness – getting in front of the consumer
  • Consideration – helping them when they want to buy something
  • Purchase – making it easy for them to buy
  • Retention – keeping them loyal
  • Advocacy – encouraging them leave reviews/recommendations

As a marketer the main thing is not the model that you pick – it is understanding that the aim of your company/product/service is to fill a customer need and creating a programme that does this as effectively as possible. Get it right and you’ll be invisible (except in terms of growing sales) – get it wrong and you’ll be stuck in consumers’ minds for all the wrong reasons.

February 7, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

PR and the frontline of the information war

Like a lot of relatively new terms, fake news has a long history. Claiming lies as the truth goes all the way back to ancient times, with propaganda and false claims used to justify activities and to hold onto power. Take the commonly held view we have of the ‘barbarian’ Celtic tribes that the Romans conquered, which ignores their culture and achievements, or the Shakespearian propaganda about the poor governance of Richard III.

480px-Center_for_Information_Warfare_Training_logo

Frequently fake news is too polite a term for downright lies – and in many cases is used to complain about a point of view that while valid, you simply don’t agree with. On a more serious level, deliberate misinformation designed to sway public opinion is on the increase, thanks to the spread of social media and the fact that it cleverly backs up our own beliefs and prejudices.

Whatever the scale of Russian meddling in the US presidential election, it is not the first time the Kremlin has tried to disrupt democracy – but the combination of a receptive, partisan audience and easy access to millions of people makes it the most successful. And it isn’t likely to stop anytime soon – as CIA director Mike Pompeo recently pointed out he expects further interference in this year’s midterm elections.

Combating disinformation and fake news isn’t easy, but to be effective the solution has to involve everyone – from governments to individuals.

1.Governments
Many Western governments have been slow to realise the danger of fake news, and therefore haven’t acted to root it out. The US election has changed that, and governments are increasingly setting up dedicated teams to track and counter propaganda and other fake news. The UK Cabinet Office is creating a new unit to respond rapidly to fake news, whether from Russians or from other sources looking to warp public discourse.

2. Platforms
There’s an ongoing debate about social media and tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter and the responsibility they should take for identifying and removing fake news. They claim they are platforms, not publishers, but are under increasing pressure to police their users’ content more effectively. They need to step up and be prepared to out fake news – otherwise they are likely to face greater regulation and/or advertiser boycotts.

3. The PR industry
Communications professionals need to play their part as well. There is a line between spin and fake news, and it is up to us not to cross it and to make sure we are behaving ethically and advising clients accordingly. The Bell Pottinger case demonstrates that not only are there reputational risks to failing to follow good practice, but there are financial consequences as well. We need to think through the consequences of our actions as members of society, rather than simply pumping out messages to the world, without reflecting on their impact.

4. The public
It often feels that we live in an increasingly polarised world, with social media making it easy to screen out views we don’t agree with. At the same time we’re bombarded with information, and very often don’t take the time to review and check it before retweeting it or sharing on Facebook. As someone who studied history I know how important it is to understand the source of a piece of information and therefore the bias and particular message it contains. Everyone needs to do this – but at the same time they need to open themselves up to having a rational debate. Ignoring or trying to ban other (legal) points of view just reinforces prejudices – as the saying goes “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

With increasing military activity and sabre rattling in areas such as North Korea, fake news can seem relatively low level and harmless. But it is the frontline of an information war – and it is up to all of us to combat it if we are to move forward as a coherent, democratic society.

Image By United States Navy – Naval Education and Training Command website at http://www.netc.navy.mil/netc/Commands/NETCcenters.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56331324

January 31, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Facebook, News and the impact on communications

The last year or so has seen a rude awakening for tech giants, particularly social media platforms. As they’ve risen in importance, politicians, regulators and the public have moved from seeing their benefits to seeing their downsides – from the spreading of fake news to harbouring racist/terrorist content. Ironically, for the predominantly open and left-leaning leaders of Silicon Valley firms, social media has been at the heart of the Brexit vote and the Trump election, the two biggest political upsets of recent times.

And, all the while the profits of Facebook and Google have grown sharply – it is estimated that in 2017 these two tech giants alone claimed around 80% of every new online-ad dollar in America. Calls are being made for such companies to be more tightly regulated, and to take legal responsibility for the content that they host.

512px-Mark_Zuckerberg_-_South_by_Southwest_2008_-_3

Faced with this mounting opposition and a potential drop in usage, Facebook has been making changes to its algorithms, with the aim of focusing time spent on the platform on ‘meaningful social interactions’, according to founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. That means reducing the amount of content that people see in their News Feed from media and businesses, with the balance shifting more towards content from family and friends.

Publishers have grown to increasingly rely on Facebook for traffic to their sites, and many have already seen a drop in referrals from the social network. This has led to job cuts at many newer media outlets that have relied on social traffic (such as Buzzfeed and Mashable), as well as consternation from others worried about the impact of the changes on their revenues. Rupert Murdoch has called for Facebook to pay ‘carriage fees’ for using news from media outlets on the site, while others have demanded subscription models to support their journalism.

The key problem for publishers is that Facebook has increasingly become the place many people get their news, meaning you need to continually interest them with individual stories, rather than expecting them to buy a newspaper or browse from a news website’s home page. Many Facebook users probably couldn’t tell you who published the story they clicked on – and the same is true for other newsfeed services such as that offered on iPhones.

So publishers risk having the rug pulled out from under a major source of traffic – at the same time that Google and Facebook have hoovered up the ad revenues that previously supported their activities. While most people won’t shed that many tears at Rupert Murdoch’s power and profits reducing, there are bigger issues here around media plurality and holding people to account at all levels.

The dramatic drop in local newspapers has meant that councils are under less scrutiny from journalists than ever before, and while concerned citizens have taken over in some cases, they are less likely to be impartial or have the training to analyse and comment on complicated stories. I believe that the rise of the internet in general, and of social media in particular, has also contributed to a polarisation of views – people simply don’t see content that constructively challenges their point of view and makes them think about their beliefs. Being in a bubble makes it easy to reinforce existing beliefs and demonise the opposition, ultimately hurting democratic dialogue.

It is too easy to blame Facebook for all of these issues, but it does need to step up and take more responsibility for the consequences of its actions. That means looking at how it works with publishers, and the type of content it does carry, if it is to avoid heavier regulation and potential fines down the line. The ball is definitely in Zuckerberg’s court.

Image (CC) Brian Solis, http://www.briansolis.com / bub.blicio.us, via Wikimedia Commons

January 24, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Three ways PR can take a big step forward in 2018

For those of us working in marketing, and in particular PR, the advent of digital and social media should be creating a golden age for us. Why? Because of the ability (finally) to measure our work in a more forensic way and to link it more directly to business outcomes, thus showing the value we deliver. Whereas in the print-based past you had no direct way of measuring whether your piece of coverage led to sales, now you should be able to measure click throughs to your website or other actions taken after someone read an article generated by your efforts.Measurement_unit

What is more, the very skills that PRs possess, such as the ability to write persuasive copy targeted at specific audiences, are exactly what businesses are looking for in an era of content marketing.

However, I think three factors are holding back PR as a profession from taking a bigger slice of the marketing pie:

1.Faking it is easy
As the saying goes, “In God we trust, all others bring data.” And digital gives you the ability to measure data like never before. You can see views of an article, visits to a website, clicks on an advert, RTs or a rise in social media followers. However, as high profile cases in the advertising world have shown, it is relatively easy to game the system. In a recent blog, Stephen Waddington showed how simple it was to set up a Twitter account and buy 10,000 followers, for just $25. At a first look, his account (and its success) was plausible – and would have been even more so if he’d aimed to make his fake more believable. As CIPR CEO Alastair McCapra, points out, “It is precisely the things which are most fakeable that are most measurable. The cult of measurement is powering the tidal wave of fake.”

Clearly, this is not a problem that solely affects PRs, and I’m not suggesting that practitioners are deliberately engaging in full scale fraud. But simply measuring metrics such as the number of followers opens us up to accusations that we’re simply transferring the same mindset that measured the size of a cuttings book, to the online world.

2. Measurement needs to be more detailed
This brings me onto the second challenge. PR people need to go beyond measuring outputs to measuring real outcomes. And that means getting really involved in a business and investing time in measuring what matters. What is the overall objective and how can you create a PR metric to support it? It does mean more work, and potentially learning new skills, but at its heart it is about asking questions of your client/organisation – something that PR people should be good at.

3. PR isn’t a silo
In the past ongoing PR was often run separately from the rest of marketing. Obviously, there would be involvement in big events, such as a product launch, but the focus was on communicating with the press. But public relations can (and should) be a lot more – meaning that PR teams need to think in a more integrated way. How are you going to your message out in multiple ways to reach the right audiences? That means going beyond the press release to embrace social media, emails and slides for sales and other marketing tactics. It is up to PR people to proactively drive this and provide a complete portfolio of content if they are to be seen as central to the business, rather than peripheral figures. And if PR doesn’t act, other marketing disciplines such as advertising and SEO will move in and take responsibility and budget.

We’re already half way through January, so it’s a bit late for New Year’s resolutions. However, PR practitioners should take stock and rethink how they operate, making 2018 the year they step up and earn the respect and budgets that their role and successes deserve.

January 17, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , | Leave a comment