PR, Digital Marketing and a bit of history

I call myself a PR consultant working with technology businesses. However the work overlaps with Digital Marketing.

You will probably know that PR stands for Public Relations. That name is quite strange. Most companies who care about PR simply see it as part of their marketing.

The old school Public Relations profession was born after the Second World War. People from the Diplomatic Corps and Secret Services went back to Civvie Street and offered their skills to business.  Their work was wining and dining clients, public speaking and meeting and greeting VIPs.

Today most people think of PR as positive stories in the media. That was in newspapers and magazines, now it’s in online media too. Now there are business and technical media for every market you can think of.

PR and Digital Marketing

Today online media may matter more  than print media.  Readers are more aware of the environment and don’t want to buy paper and throw it away after a short life. It is often easier to read news online, and companies are thinking digitally for much of their marketing.

The relationship between PR and Digital Marketing is interesting. Digital Marketing seemed to sideline PR at first, because it promised quick measurable results. However Digital Marketing changes all the time. Now people want high quality content delivered  to an editorial plan. It is the same as in the world of PR and publishing.  People want articles and blog posts that are of publishable standard and “a good read”.  Online media is as valuable as printed, and PR skills are highly relevant again.

This work helps clients to become visible in their market. It can explain  complex marketing messages.  It can reach beyond a company’s customer list and database. Today there are many marketing and digital channels to consider. PR has moved on a long way from wining and dining clients!

PR and Measuring Results

We used to measure PR coverage by a unit called AVE. AVE meant “advertising value equivalent”. We simply measured the size of the article and looked to see what it would cost to buy an advertisement of the same size. It was very simple.

This was OK up to a point, but it didn’t measure how helpful an article was. If an article is negative, it can be exactly the opposite of helpful!

So there was always debate about the value of PR. Some people felt it could not be measured. It was difficult to know whether an investment in PR had been worthwhile.

Also, all publications were treated the same – there was no comparison of their credibility.

This has completely changed. The latest digital reporting tools for PR are amazing. You can create reports that show exactly what has appeared and where. You can see an influencer score for each publication. You can also see how many readers it has, and the number of people it reached. The number reached will often be higher than the number of subscribers.

You can also see how many links have been added, from the articles to your own website. The links are important for two reasons. First, they can bring traffic to your website, as referrals. Second, they indicate that your website is an important site on the internet. This makes the links valuable in marketing – they help to bring a website to a higher position in search engines.

Reporting on a PR Campaign

I am using a very effective PR reporting tool. From this, I can see that the  campaign I worked on during January and February created very close to 100 articles. They reached around 300,000 people in the specialist electronics design markets. The campaign added 43 new back links to the company’s website. We can see pictures of the articles, showing the individual sites where each item appeared, and we can rank them in terms of their  credibility within their industry.

 

B2B Marketing Post GDPR

With the GDPR research and compliance just about complete for my own business, I have been thinking how B2B marketing will progress in the post GDPR world. GDPR forces us to think more like sales people, who focus closely on the best opportunities, and less like the now old-style digital marketer who worked extensively with large databases, click rates and “opens”. People liked the predictability of working that way – knowing that if you email 10,000 contacts, 1% would respond gave a neat way to justify the cost of a campaign. The trouble with those campaigns was that the other 9,900 people receiving your email message may have viewed it as rubbish, or mildly annoying at best. From next week we should see fewer unwanted messages in our inboxes.

But it poses a question for B2B marketers. Until the 25th of May, email marketing was the number one tool in the digital marketing toolbox for customer acquisition, however from next week an email shot to cold list or a third party database won’t be legal unless the contacts have “opted in” to receive communications – and going forwards the marketing lists available are likely to be quite a lot smaller but not proportionately cheaper.

The remaining digital options for customer acquisition are: pay per click advertising, blogging and online PR / advertising, the social networks, and organic search – where most businesses would need to invest in SEO and a tool to watch who visits your website. Each of these options needs a bit of investment. It will still be possible to offer webinars and white papers, but when the GDPR rules come into force website visitors will be able to be more selective about the messages they agree to receive, so the new contacts or “leads” coming from these methods are likely to be fewer.

The social networks can be effective for business development, and will present a good opportunity for some businesses – in particular, I know people who have used the paid promotional options on Linkedin with good results. However the social networks can only work IF the individuals you want to do business with are active users there, so they don’t work for everyone – and as their algorithms are continually changing, it would be a sensible to keep this kind of activity under constant review.

It seems that the era of the cheap digital marketing is now behind us, and marketing budgets may need to be re-focused.

The traditional ways of finding new customers – trade shows, events, telesales and even direct mail – will continue largely unchanged and may even see a little revival.

How to move forwards?  We should watch what is happening with trade media. They provide good channels for B2B promotions but have suffered in the last few years from the shift away from print and loss of advertising revenue.  Now they could see an increase in interest – probably mostly in the digital area. In particular, I believe this will be the case where the publishers with greater foresight have already established useful publications for lots of specialist market sectors. There has been a gentle movement in this direction for some time. The same goes for exhibitions and conferences where there’s a clear trend towards smaller, more focused events.

Content Marketing for leads

Content marketing is a high priority for many businesses, and the proportion of a marketing budget that is typically allocated to content marketing is growing.

It will not surprise you to learn that for technology companies, customer case studies are extremely popular for content marketing. To be effective for content marketing, a story has to be unique and it should not be available anywhere else on the Internet so case studies are ideal.

However, companies can work with other forms of content as well. “How To” articles and guides to best practice are popular too. A new piece of research, presented as a report, can work particularly well, because the information it contains is genuinely valuable to the reader.

While this sounds easy, many businesses are finding it challenging to create enough “content” that is of sufficient quality to be attractive as a content download and many companies are struggling. It requires an editorial approach and a “content strategy”, plus some investment in research and careful writing to create the kind of genuinely worthwhile documents which the website visitor will want to download and view.

It takes more effort than many people realise, but if you compare content marketing with other ways of making new marketing contacts, such as gaining sales leads at a trade show, or staging a marketing campaign with a publisher, you soon realise that if it is to be effective, it is unlikely to be easy or free.

 

Marketing, AI, Big Data and Emotions?

IBM predicts that by 2020 the digital universe will be four times bigger than it is today. I guess much of this will be a direct outcome of the marketing ‘content’ we are creating today.

Hand in hand with this, IBM also predicts that we could see a trend towards “dark social”. This is a phenomenon where people no longer want to share everything about their lives on social media – the greater proportion of conversation on social media now takes place in private within the messaging applications.

I heard this at a great talk by Jeremy Waite, at the Technology for Marketing Show, where he introduced IBM’s latest work with AI and marketing. Another interesting trend, which we are beginning to see – is for the big IT companies, and I am sure Facebook will be one of the first of these, to look for ways to track emotions as well as clicks. While it may seem strange at first, it would really be extremely simple for a company to track emojis and feed the data back into their marketing information.

With these trends evolving, personalised marketing where you approach each contact with the right message at the right time becomes more complex, as there is more data to read. This is a new challenge for marketers, and Big Data and data analytics are likely to become drivers of marketing – working to understand feelings and emotions – especially in the bigger consumer-facing companies.

Case studies – ten ways to use them

Here’s a quick article to suggest some more ways to use those valuable customer stories. Ideally you would make a case study for every market sector you sell to. First, collect the details of the story and have it written up as a case study, to make a marketing document that can be used as a sales tool. Then..

Case studies for marketing

  1. Number one on my list has to be Content Marketing because it has become so important. There are a few different ways of doing this, but the principle is simply to display a brief version of the story on your website, and collect the email addresses of the visitors downloading the story.
  2. Use the customer story in a PR campaign. Interesting stories about well-known organisations and forays into new technology are very often suitable for editorial news and features.
  3. Email marketing – refer to the customer story in an email marketing message, and  use a link to track “opens”. Many companies are now using a marketing automation system such as Hubspot to streamline this process.
  4. Share the case study with existing customers. A new case study is a great topic for a company newsletter or a presentation to a user group.
  5. A ground-breaking case study is a brilliant topic for a conference presentation.
  6. Do something different and present the story in other ways – for example it’s no trouble to use a smartphone to make a video for posting and sharing.
  7. I have seen detailed technical case studies being used very successfully for training sales people and distributors overseas.
  8. Why not enter a customer success story for an industry award?
  9. Add case studies to tender submissions to build credibility and strengthen a bid for a major contract.
  10. Finally, this is one to make your internal team feel connected with customers, even if they are not in customer-facing roles. Use glossy pictures of customers using your products to brighten up your offices. It’s also good to have them in reception and meeting rooms. Of course, this only works for certain kinds of products and services!

With so many ways to use a customer case study, I believe it is well worth taking the trouble to put a story together and have it written in the right style and format for your business. The first customer in a new market sector could be an ideal candidate for a case study, as their story will help to gain a foothold and build credibility in the new market area.  Ideally your case study library will contain examples from every sector of your customer base. Depending upon how you plan to use your case study, you may need anything from 500 to 1,500 words of text, but the average length for a business case study is usually between 800 and 1,000 words. That’s long enough to convey a lot of detail, but still short enough to be an easy read.