The Dawn of Mainstream Awareness

7 09 2008

I have been told by many PR professionals that if it a story makes the New York Times then it has reached critical mass.  With that said, today’s story is that of “The Age of Awareness.”

If you haven’t read it yet, the New York Times has it on their website (free registration required) or the author’s website has posted it as well.  Clive Thompson is a regular contributor to both the New York Times and Wired magazine and is well known within the technology and science sectors.

To summarize the article as briefly as possible: Social Networking makes us more peripherally aware of all our contacts (close or otherwise) without having to exert as much mental effort.  Mr. Thompson calls this “ambient awareness.”

As he notes in the article, when Facebook first came out, it still required users to visit each one of their friend’s pages individually until the Newsfeed came along and aggregated all the changes in their network on one page, thus reducing the effort to stay observationally connected to friends.  Twitter is no different, while each tweet may be meaningless, one person’s stream gives a peak into what is going on with them, what the pattern of their life is.

It is a great piece and I encourage the audience here to read it and if not participating on Facebook or Twitter, thinking about joining.  It’s always intimidating at first, but it gets better (and addictive).  And who knows, it may help you better pitch that writer you’ve been after for your client!


If The Baton Gets Dropped, Who’s Responsible?

6 08 2008

This will be a running/client service post of a different sort. This post is a bit of Wednesday therapy, as I dredge up an unfortunate chapter in my life as a ninth grader at Broad Meadows Junior High School. I ran track for only one year, largely because back in those days I hated running. I only did it for that long because our rather large phys-ed teacher at the time made me do it. This was back in the day when teachers/coaches could cause you bodily harm without any repercussions.

I typically ran the mile, but at the last track meet of the year I was asked to fill-in as the third leg on our undefeated one-mile relay team. (You’ve probably already guessed where this is going.) No problem I thought. Well, to make a long story short, I ran the third leg, starting slightly back in second place. By the time I was ready to pass the baton I had taken the lead. Our anchor leg was the fastest kid in the city. No way could we lose. As I was passing the baton, I felt a brief moment of excitement, until of course the baton hit the ground. Ouch!

After the race, when I was searching for answers as to how it may have happened, the coach told me in no uncertain terms that it was my fault. The rule is that you don’t let go of the baton until you’re certain the receiver has grasped it.

It’s hard to miss the relevance to our business. Like it or not, the responsibility lies with those delivering the message, not those receiving it. We can’t just say, “it was in the newsletter” or “sure, it’s right there in paragraph 8.” We as communication professionals should never let go of the baton until we know that our target audiences have received the message. It’s only at that point that we can relax and let them run with it.

Throwing the Checklist Out

5 08 2008

As I was going through my morning feeds, I started to read a piece shared by my copywriting partner from Alan Wolk’s Toad Stool entitled One Size Does Not Fit All.  What I realized was that too often it seems, marketers are seeking a magic formula: a dash of facebook, a jar of broadcast, the zest of a print campaign, and a dash of public relations, and a company is in the black because sales have increased threefold.  If only it were that simple!

But, marketing communication is all about the context of the company, its product, the environment, and its consumers.  And none of these things are constants.  Because of all these variables, we are required to think about a client’s business problem from multiple angles and come up with a customized solution that contributes to their success.

Yes, this solution can have some of each of those ingredients that I mentioned in the first paragraph (Facebook, TV, print, PR), but I discourage thinking of marketing as picking from a menu.  I realize that this is a challenge of subtlety because of what we do and the channels that we operate in, but it is a valuable lesson nonetheless.

We at relentlesspr are fortunate to work within a integrated agency, an expert in brand planning, PR, social media, or interactive marketing is down the hall, or up a flight of stairs.  But even within a small team, no two individuals come from the exact background, and have the same idea.  I encourage people to talk a problem out and debate.  As any good creative will tell you, 90% of their ideas are thrown out before leaving a brainstorm session.  And the 10% left is something they are very confident will be a successful campaign.

While Alan’s piece was about social media, the message of it certainly had me thinking about much more than one channel of marketing and avoiding the traps we can fall into.

Make Consumer Interaction Easy

3 07 2008

It turns out that police departments across the country are beginning to embrace new methods for obtaining important crime tips, which are aimed at giving younger folks more comfort and anonymity in reporting crimes. Here is a great article on the trend.

It’s a reminder that most businesses need to continually evolve how they interact with their target audiences to achieve their goals. No longer can we expect them to spend time and energy to overcome obstacles to show up at our proverbial doors. We need to join the lines of communication that they’re already comfortable with and using and become active participants in creating dialog where they are.

Chances are good that a number of your consumers text, microblog, read blogs, write blogs, connect with friends, connect with professionals, and on and on and on. Find out where they are and think about ways you can join the conversation with them in meaningful ways. Make it easy for them to share their opinions, knowledge, dreams and frustrations with your brand and a lot of them will take you up on it.

There is wonderful power in the opportunities that are presented when we make it easier for others to communicate with us. Just ask criminals in Boston, Louisville, Tampa, Seattle, and Detroit.

How has your company or client changed the ways they interact with consumers recently?

Three Minutes

16 06 2008

I found out today that I have maybe have three minutes of your attention before you leave.  I just I hope I make it worth your valuable time.

According to a BusinessWeek article, the average knowledge worker switches to a different task in that period of time, tweeting, IMing, checking email, or maybe even doing some work (if their bosses are lucky). This swap in activity costs 28% of their time and cumulatively $650 billion dollars in productivity a year.

With the low switching cost and the sheer amount of information to be consumed how are you supposed to manage your consumption?  Stephen Davies, of prblogger, recommends (with a tone of sarcasm) that we just stop, don’t read the latest blog post and shut down IM.  But in the knowledge economy, that is a risky gamble, you’re missing out on that which makes you valuable, knowledge.

Hope may be on the way, if you don’t have self-discipline, as Google, Intel, and Microsoft, are working towards to building tools to help keep the distractions at bay, like Gmail’s Email Addict which pauses email for 15 minutes.

But, for the clever PR practitioner, there may be interesting ways to break through the Attention Deficit Disorder.  Have you thought about the twitrelease? What can you say in 140 characters for your client?

(cross-posted with freescribbles)

The Brand Experience

11 06 2008

The term “brand experience” has been heard a lot more in the halls of agencies lately. If you haven’t heard of it, it has two definitions, one for marketers: “the strategic organization of all interactions that people have with an organization, person, or product.” And one for the consumer: “the overall satisfaction that an individual has when interacting with an organization, person, or product.”

With the advent of (buzzword alert!) Web 2.0 and the increased power it has allowed consumers through blogs, YouTube videos, and Facebook, marketers have been forced to rethink the way that they communicate their message. Better yet, they now have to participate in a conversation about their brand.

This conversation may have started small, family and friends spreading the word about what they love and hate, but now its huge. A worldwide public forum is available and with a little effort, any individual can see what is behind the advertising on television, a microsite, or a canned press release and let everyone else know.

Our clients are looking for us, be it PR, creative, planning, interactive, or direct professionals, to play a role in helping them reach out to the consumers and understand what the consumers are saying back. The challenge goes beyond keeping up with the sheer magnitude of people writing (112.8 million blogs & 70 million active Facebook members, to start) but achieving the strategic organization of all these interactions, building to loyal customers and a profitable brand.

David Armano, an influential blogger and experience designer, created the visual that displays the two paths that a brand can go down. Holding true to the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” I can’t say it a more succinct or elegant fashion.

Ok, I stretched the truth, I have something more to say about his visual. It also establishes that there are steps and we can’t gain customer loyalty overnight or earn back their trust if we lost it.

As a brand interacts with the consumers, it starts to move, up or down, depending on what the brand is doing. If the product does what the advertising says and the website says they donate 1% of all profits to charity and the PR team gets an article in the NY Times about how that 1% helped so many people, then ALL of that better be true. Humanitarian actions may not be in the scope of marketing, but they should be. You’ve already shown that you are consistent, everything lines up. And you tell the truth and come from a position of authority, everything makes sense. Now you’re credible.

You can see where that was going. On the other hand, if the brand is all over the place with its advertising and you don’t understand what any of this has to do with the product they offer, then things are going down.

The real value of understanding the principle of brand experience comes from understanding that value is achieved through a unified effort pursued by all involved in a brand, from the receptionist who answers the phone to the CEO’s interview on CNN. But remember to temper your enthusiasm with patient thinking and feedback gathering. The consumers will let you know if what you are doing is what they like or not.

It’s a long way to heaven and like anything worthwhile, requires a lot of effort, listening, and maybe a few bruises.

YouTube In A Tube

29 05 2008

Ryan Peal writes a terrific blog at H&K’s Collective Conversation. Yesterday, he posted this consolidated look at YouTube icons from last year. Enjoy!