Revolutionary Measures

Why sales is the new opportunity for PR and communications

For many B2B industries the sales process used to be relatively straightforward. You made products customers wanted, and provided the price and quality were right, they bought them. Salespeople were involved across the process, giving ample opportunity for them to build relationships, explain benefits and overcome any doubts.

marketing woman office working

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

This has now radically changed, with a much larger proportion of the process carried out by prospects themselves – without speaking to a salesperson. The combination of the internet and social media gives them access to a huge amount of information that they can use to refine their needs, and create a shortlist of potential products and vendors without the companies being involved at all.

Content, content, content
While this means that sales need to learn new skills, it also dramatically boosts the importance of content. If you don’t have the right content available, based on the keywords and topics that your potential customers are searching for, they won’t even find you. With the amount of competition out there, customers simply don’t have the time to check every potential supplier’s website to find out if they offer what they are looking for.

This applies to all sectors. For example, I’ve talked to lawyers who say clients have found them by searching for particular legal specialisms (e.g. “European rail infrastructure law”). So to get onto the shortlist, you need to be visible. And visibility isn’t just through company websites, it is in the media, on Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, emails and marketing collateral.

What does this mean? Essentially you have to build a brand for yourself and/or your product. This has to be built on the right content, in the right places, giving a consistent message to your target markets.

For me, this is a tremendous opportunity for communications/public relations professionals. We have the skills to understand an audience, create a strategy and messages to reach them, and then execute it through relevant, well-written content. We just need to think beyond the old confines of media relations and we can position ourselves at the heart of the sales process that drives modern businesses. This means breaking down the old barriers between earned and paid media by using whichever is best for the job in hand.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece on whether we should switch from calling ourselves public relations professionals and rebrand ourselves as communications professionals. It became part of a wider debate, with some people agreeing and others feeling it lost the strategic element of what we do, pigeonholing us as messengers. Given the business opening that content provides now is the time to seize the opportunity and expand what you do – whatever you call yourself.

 

Advertisements

October 19, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brewdog, PR and smelling a rat

As the Oscar Wilde quote goes, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Plenty of brands and celebrities have adopted this mantra when it comes to communications, reasoning that people will remember their name, even when the story is forgotten. Bookmaker Paddy Power is one that comes to mind, with stunts ranging from sending a Mexican Mariachi band to welcome Donald Trump to Scotland to setting up an amnesty box for medals outside the Russian Embassy in London at the time of the state-sponsored doping revelations.

Brewdog is another brand that aims to cultivate an edgy image to great success. It has positioned the brewer at the front of the craft beer movement and attracted legions of fans. So last week’s PR debacle around its partnership with US brewer Scofflaw should be viewed through the lens of Oscar Wilde’s words.

photo of glass overflowing with beer

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

The basic facts are that Brewdog has a partnership with Scofflaw, contract brewing its beers in the UK. To promote this it was running a series of events in its pubs. So far, so straightforward. Journalists then received an emailed press release from Scofflaw’s PR agency Frank, announcing the events and offering free beer to those that went along. But, it added: “But there is a hook…you have to be a Trump supporter.”

Cue Twitter meltdown and fast action from Brewdog, cancelling the events, promising to send the beer back and launching an alternative free beer promotion. Given its noted anti-Trump stance that wasn’t surprising, but gained it plenty of coverage (more than a free beer event would have done). The plot then thickens – Scofflaw denied signing off the press release, blaming Frank, who in turn apologised and blamed a ‘rogue element’ in its team. A staff member has been suspended, allegedly for sending out an unapproved release.

When I first read the story I’d assumed that the offending communication had gone out on social media, and was just a throw away line by someone that wasn’t thinking, and automatically conflated Scofflaw’s redneck roots with Trump support. But to find out that it was a press release, from a big agency such as Frank which must have clear processes in place to manage approvals makes me suspicious. In my mind that leaves three potential causes of the shenanigans:

  1. Frank doesn’t have any control over what its staff is doing. This seems unlikely given it has been operating since 2000, and has large corporate clients from Investec to Ribena (and, interestingly, Paddy Power).
  2. Scofflaw signed the release off and then retracted when it realised the issue it had created. Again, this seems unlikely as it has a close partnership with Brewdog and must have known the company’s views on Trump. It would also be an issue logistically – given it is in Atlanta the storm broke in the middle of the night US time, ensuring it was out of the loop to immediately respond.
  3. It was a stunt that benefits both Brewdog and Scofflaw. They get to show their liberal credentials and receive significantly more interest and publicity than they would otherwise do. The only company that seems to lose out is Frank (and the unfortunate staff member), as it gets a reputation as unprofessional. Though if that was the case I’m sure it will have had a quiet word with clients to calm any concerns and can chalk up the whole project as a success.

Time will tell whether this was a cock-up or a concocted PR stunt. What it does show for all agencies is the basic importance of having an audit trail around sign-off of materials. We’ve all been in the position where a client tells us over the phone “I’m sure that release/case study/campaign creative is fine, just send it out.” As the Scofflaw case shows, you need to get approval in writing – even if it scrawled on the back of a beer mat.

October 3, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time for PR to change its name?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to explain exactly what public relations is (and what it isn’t) to generally well-informed and otherwise clued-up friends, relatives and people at events. No, it isn’t just Absolutely Fabulous, Max Clifford-style celebrity scoops in the tabloids or undercover lobbying on behalf of big business. Instead it should be a core business function – a way of getting your messages out to the right audiences, through the right channels and at the right time, with the aim of engaging people, managing reputation and achieving business goals.

That’s why the CIPR’s new #PRPays campaign is a welcome step in the right direction. It aims to demonstrate the strategic value of PR to organisations through interviews with senior managers at some of the UK’s biggest companies. The first video, with John Holland-Kaye, the CEO of Heathrow Airport is great. It shows that he sees and understands what PR brings to his business in multiple areas, from communicating change to supporting expansion.

marketing-man-person-communication.jpg

However, there is a big ‘but’ coming. Holland-Kaye keeps talking about communications in its widest form, from talking to passengers and other stakeholders to getting key messages across to employees and politicians. This got me thinking – why are we even talking about PR at all? At best it is a loaded term (see examples in the first paragraph), and at worst it puts a barrier up between the industry and the people we are trying to talk to. Why don’t we simply replace Public Relations with Communications? I can see four good reasons why we should:

1          It is simpler
Everyone communicates – it is one of the key human characteristics. So, people understand what the term means and the skills that it involves. Yes, that could be said to remove mystique (and as the saying goes, where there is mystery, there is margin), but to be honest the barriers to entry in PR are low to non-existent anyway. All you need is a phone, a laptop and an internet connection, and despite the admirable efforts of the CIPR to professionalise PR, that is unlikely to change soon.

2          It is comprehensive
“No, I don’t do that – that’s internal communications/public affairs/social media (delete as applicable).” That’s been the response of many PRs when clients ask for something that it outside their skillset. But rebranding PR as communications gives us the legitimate right to extend what we do into these neighbouring fields, at both a strategic and tactical level. The basic idea of understanding a company’s aims, and then creating and communicating messages that will successfully deliver these objectives is common to many areas of business – as communicators we should be applying our skills to help organisations in all of them.

 3          It is clearer to business
John Holland-Kaye’s interchangeable use of PR and communications shows exactly the issue that the profession has. Even those that champion what we do are a bit vague about exactly what the borders of our work are. Therefore, if we want to be seen as a strategic imperative for businesses, it makes sense to be clear in our own messaging and language. Talk about communications, and business leaders will see the value, helping the profession to be seen as a key part of successful organisations and ultimately boosting status and budgets.

4          It gives us room to grow
The rise of the internet has clearly transformed communications and given rise to wholly new disciplines such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and social media. Agencies mushroomed to take advantage of the budgets that clients were looking to spend in these areas. Lots of PR companies missed out, either because they didn’t see the opportunity or didn’t understand the technology. Communicating is now more important than ever – and at the same time no-one knows what the future will bring. Will brands need to convince the likes of Amazon or Google to feature their stories on voice assistants? How will AI transform how organisations communicate with their publics? No-one really knows, but if PR acts now and widens its scope, it will at least have a fighting chance of being at the forefront of future changes, rather than looking back in 20 years time to find it has been marginalised.

As I said, I applaud the CIPR’s efforts to demonstrate the strategic value that public relations brings. But I think the whole profession needs to go further – we’re communicators, so let’s be upfront and adopt a name that reflects what we do and gives us room to expand in the future. From now on, I’m not a public relations consultant, I’m a communications consultant.

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Taking a stand – and the risks to brand reputation

Brands today face significant challenges when it comes to marketing themselves. Competition is growing, particularly from smaller, nimbler and often cooler players. We also live in an increasingly polarised world, where consumers demand that the brands they engage with stand for something. That’s relatively easy for quirky startups – the trouble for established multinationals is that ‘something’ varies radically between different groups and cuts across their existing customer demographics.

The current debate over Nike’s latest marketing campaign demonstrates this perfectly. It has recruited American footballer Colin Kaepernick to narrate its new ad, which features athletes from a range of backgrounds who have overcome adversity to achieve success. The slogan, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”, sums up Kaepernick’s role as leader of the movement to kneel during the US national anthem to protest against police violence.

action air balance beach

Photo by Rafael on Pexels.com

Burning rubber
Predictably, the campaign has drawn ire from both sides. Photos and videos of people burning their Nike shoes and clothes went viral on social media, and the Nike stock price initially dropped. Donald Trump complained on Twitter. The body responsible for buying uniforms for the Mississippi police force announced that it would now longer purchase Nike products. At the same time, commentators have complained that Nike is simply hijacking a key issue to essentially sell more trainers. And given their previous poor record on issues such as ethical sourcing, child labour and more recently complaints of a culture of sexual harassment, people may well have a point.

Nevertheless, Nike clearly feels that its core buyers are going to respond positively to its position. In a similar vein, the CEO of Levi’s announced a partnership with gun violence prevention groups, causing the National Rifle Association to complain about “corporate virtue-signalling.” On this side of the Atlantic, Lush had to drop a campaign focused on undercover police who infiltrated activist groups to spy on their members.

So how can brands make sure that taking a stand doesn’t alienate the people they want to appeal to? Essentially it comes down to answering four key questions:

1.Does it fit with your brand values?
One of the reasons Lush received so many complaints was that its campaign didn’t fit with its brand values. Yes, it was seen as alternative and studenty, but being seen to attack the police was a step too far. Companies need to live their brand values – but not over-extend them in pursuit of cheap headlines, as it will damage their reputation.

2. Does it fit with your target audience?
For Nike, its core audience is overwhelming young, urban and involved. Therefore, while it might lose some sales (will Donald Trump switch to Yeezys?), they are clearly confident that the positive impact outweighs the negative. In the same way, UK stationery chain Paperchase pulled promotions from the Daily Mail after its customers complained about the difference between the paper’s editorial stance and their own views. So start with demographics and listening to your customers – after all, there’s a world of social media to help you hear their voice.

3. Are you seen as genuine?
For me, this is where Nike falls down, though it isn’t as bad as Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner advert. I simply can’t see them as genuinely believing in the issues raised – and their own record on worker’s rights undermines their case for promoting fairness. Obviously this is an issue for any major corporation as most have skeletons in their closet of some sort. However, in contrast, Levi’s campaign on gun control looks much more genuine as their CEO is an ex-US army captain who has spoken out on the issue before.

4. Is it cohesive?
If you take a stand, it has to run across your business. You can’t complain about police brutality and then treat your own employees poorly, for example. That’s one of the reasons that tech giants such as Facebook and Amazon are currently in trouble. They talk about an innovative future based on technology and openness, and then create labyrinthine corporate structures to minimise the tax they pay and (in the case of Amazon) face accusations of sweatshop conditions for their warehouse staff. In today’s world failing to live your brand will be quickly discovered and publicised.

We’re in a position where more and more brands are being forced to make a choice – Trump or Democrat, Leave or Remain

? To do this successfully is a balancing act – but starting from genuine brand values built on trust with your audience is a key starting point.

 

September 19, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Asbury’s or Sainsda? Will the Sainsburys/Asda merger work?

The proposed merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda promises to shake up the grocery market in multiple ways. It will create a new leader in terms of market share and, the companies hope, give them the scale to tackle the rise of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

pexels-photo-1005638.jpeg

Looking at it through a marketing lens, there are three things that stand out:

1          Slick PR (to start with)
This is a deal that has been discussed for several years apparently, and it shows in the careful messaging behind the announcement. Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe has pledged that there will be no job cuts or store closures and that the combined entity will lower prices by 10%. Clearly this is disingenuous on a number of levels – the Competitions and Markets Authority is likely to force some stores to be sold, naturally reducing staff numbers, while any savings for consumers are likely to come from squeezing the combined supply chain of the new company. This will impact the profitability and potentially staff numbers at suppliers, who employ more people than Sainsbury’s/Asda itself. So there are likely to be job losses – just not at the company itself.

The main fly in the PR ointment has been a classic bit of spokesperson inattention. While waiting for a broadcast interview Mike Coupe was captured on camera singing “We’re in the Money”, from the musical 42nd Street. The overall impression (apart from that he should stick to the day job), was that the whole deal was about enriching management and shareholders, at the expense of customers and suppliers. Cue a hasty apology, but it has highlighted how there’s no such thing as off the record (or camera).

2          A complex brand balancing act
One of the attractions of the deal is that there isn’t that much crossover between the demographics of Sainsbury’s and Asda shoppers. That should mean that you won’t lose any customers, and if you can trim supplier costs you can generate large efficiencies. This is something highlighted by Sainsbury’s, which commissioned research that showed Asda customers value “fair prices” most and Sainsbury’s are attracted by “great fresh food.”

That’s all very well in theory, but achieving sufficient synergies while keeping things separate enough in practice could be more difficult. While other organisations (banking groups, airlines and consumer goods holding companies) manage multiple brands, somehow a supermarket feels different. People have a strong relationship with their supermarket of choice, probably because of the basic importance of food to their lives, so anything that is seen as weakening brand values is likely to upset consumers.

3          The competition won’t stand still
While Sainsbury’s wants the merger to happen quickly, something this large will need regulatory approval and will take time. And while both Sainsbury’s and Asda will no doubt stress that it is business as usual in the meantime, it will take up a lot of management time. Rival grocers will no doubt aim to take advantage of this, particularly as they know about the two marketing pillars (fair prices and fresh food) that the two brands will embrace going forward. Companies such as Lidl, Aldi and Tesco are already aiming to push both messages, now they’ve seen the potential Sainsbury’s strategy they’ll be redoubling their efforts to attract customers away from the merged organisation.

Due to its sheer scale in years to come the Sainsbury’s/Asda merger is likely to make it into marketing and business textbooks. The big question is whether it will be lauded as a well-executed and well-branded master stroke or listed with flops such as Bunnings takeover of Homebase? Initial marketing has been positive and pretty assured, but there’s a long way to go yet.

 

May 2, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Why leaving social media is bad for JD Wetherspoon

Received marketing, and indeed business, wisdom is that the future is digital. And that has lead to brands stampeding onto social media and devoting increasing amounts of time and money to engaging with their audiences there.

So the news that pub chain JD Wetherspoon is quitting Twitter, Facebook and Instagram seems to fly in the face of good marketing practice. Chairman Tim Martin has been vague on the reasons why it is leaving, citing the amount of time it is taking (as well as head office, its 900 pubs all have their own accounts), the addictive nature of social media, misuse of personal data and the trolling of MPs and public figures on social media.

pexels-photo-941864.jpeg

But reading between the lines it is more about a lack of engagement and impact from its strategy. It has 44,000 followers on Twitter, over 100,000 on Facebook and more than 6,000 on Instagram – a relatively low number for such an enormous, UK-wide organisation. It hadn’t been that active – the announcement that it was leaving Twitter was its first message in April for example, and most Facebook content was just reposted from Twitter.

However, not doing something well and not doing it at all are two separate things and I believe that the main reason that Wetherspoon’s is stopping social media is that isn’t really embracing the power of the platforms. It is true that most consumers are unlikely to be avid followers of their local branch of a chain pub – after all you’d not interact that much with your local supermarket, but they’ve not used it to create a buzz about local events or what they are doing. Therefore, it is logical to stop, rather than just going through the motions – and reap the news headlines and profile that the decision creates.

However, done well social media can deliver big results – even for 100% offline businesses like Wetherspoons. Here are three of the biggest:

1. Create a community
Why do people go to pubs? It is all about socialising, meeting people and enjoying yourself. After all, if you just want to drink it is cheaper to do it at home. Successful local pubs are all about creating a community – it doesn’t have to be on the level of Cheers, where ‘everybody knows your name’, but it is about interacting. Social media does the same thing in the online world – so not being present means you are not nurturing your punters when they aren’t in the pub.

2. Keep the influencers informed
Wetherspoon says that news will still be available via its website, but in today’s environment most journalists and influencers get their news through social media. They raise questions and start debates, and Wetherspoon won’t be there to take part in them. No doubt its PR people will be there lurking, but that is not the same – and failing to have an active account doesn’t look good to those journos who live their lives on social media.

3. People don’t want to change channel for customer service
Consumers want to interact with a brand on the channel that is most convenient to them at that time. And that is quite often social media – they don’t want to switch to calling or emailing customer services, as Wetherspoon now recommends they do. So therefore complaints will go unanswered, visible only to other consumers, without Wetherspoon getting involved. This impacts brand reputation, particularly of individual pubs, and further damages engagement.

I don’t know how much time and money Wetherspoon was spending on social media, and it could well be that it isn’t getting the return it is looking for. But shooting the messenger, rather than changing the message isn’t a long term strategy to compete – as Wetherspoon may well find to its cost.

April 18, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

Making an impression in the snow – 4 PR lessons from the Winter Olympics

It is easy to be cynical about the Olympics, particularly given their cost, widespread doping scandals and the attitude of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself, which remains dogged by allegations of corruption and vote-buying when it comes to selecting host cities.PyeongChang_2018_Winter_Olympics.svg

For those of us in the UK, the Winter Olympics also adds in the unfamiliarity of sports we’ve either never come across before, or dimly remember from four years ago – and are generally unlikely to medal in. It should all add up to a switch-off from viewers, meaning that the marketing benefits, in the UK at least, of being associated with the Winter Olympics are negligible.

And yet, Pyeongchang 2018 did provide some striking stories, in terms of competitors overcoming adversity, true underdogs (such as Ghanaian Akwasi Frimpong in the skeleton bob) and the rise of a new generation of young, cool athletes, exemplified by 17 year old men’s snowboard slopestyle champion Red Gerard. It is a long way from Ski Sunday.

So, what are the PR lessons that brands can learn?

1. It’s all about the host
Given that the background to most events is white and indistinguishable, it is difficult to link it to your particular country. You don’t have the opportunities to use the landmarks of your city, as the likes of London and Barcelona did to brand it as ‘your’ games. That makes what you do behind the scenes, and the bookending opening and closing ceremonies, vital if you want to get your message across. The South Koreans focused on innovation and technology – from the drones that formed the Olympic rings in the opening ceremony to cardless technology that let people pay for things through devices such as gloves, stickers and pins. And this message came across loud and clear, helping differentiate brand Korea from competitors such as Japan and China.

2. Quirky is good
There’s a whole range of Winter Olympic sports, from the conventional (throwing yourself down an icy track on a souped-up tea tray or downhill skiing) to the frankly, mad – anything with the word ‘cross’ in the title, which seemed to involve a lot of falling over at high speed. And they all appealed to different demographics – the younger events looked cool and genuinely exciting to the casual viewer, with their stars building cult followings on social media and YouTube. So, unlike the Summer Olympics brands have more of a choice in terms of who they support and link themselves with. This is something to take forward into every marketing campaign – if you want to reach a demographic understand who influences them and ally yourself with them.

3. Success isn’t the only measure
People relate to athletes with strong stories – even if they aren’t going to win. They want to support those that are clearly trying, even if things end up going wrong, as shown by the ‘success’ of Eddie the Eagle Edwards. The lesson is clear – while winning medals is the aim, audiences respond to those that go above and beyond, and are human in failure. Take skater Elise Christie, seen as a medal favourite, but who left empty-handed and injured, for the second games in a row. The lesson for brands is that winning is great, but it isn’t everything – support people that your customers respond to at a human level and it will make your brand more approachable and easier to relate to.

4. You can gatecrash Olympic marketing
During every big sporting event, brands try and piggyback on the marketing opportunities that appear, normally without paying to become an official marketing/advertising partner. In the case of Pyeongchang, the most successful case of this was not a company, but a country – North Korea. In a master propaganda stroke it appeared to step back from conflict and push forward an agenda of peace at the games, headlined by Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and a combined Korean team entering the opening ceremony together. While none of this changed its position at all, from a PR point of view, many will see it as less of a threat – a complete fallacy – but exactly what its PR machine was aiming for.

So, overall the lessons from the Winter Olympics are to be more human, target the right demographics and tell a story – all key lessons for any marketer, whatever industry or size of company they work for.

February 28, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment