PR Practices: WOM Still Wins in the End

These days, there are more ways than ever to publicize a product or service so as to increase its popularity and its sales.

And yet … the type of thing most likely to convince someone to try a new product – or to change a brand – is a reference or endorsement from someone they know and trust.

Omnichannel marketing promotions firm YA conducted research in 2016 with ~1,000 American adults (age 18+) that quantifies what many have long suspected: ~85% of respondents reported that they are more likely to purchase a product or service if it is recommended by someone they know.

A similarly high percentage — 76% — reported that an endorsement from such a person would cause them to choose one brand over another.

Most important of all, ~38% of respondents reported that when researching product or services, a referral from a friend is the source of information they trust the most.  No other source comes close.

This means that online reviews, news reports and advertising – all of which have some impact – aren’t nearly as important as the opinions of friends, colleagues or family members.

… Even if those friends aren’t experts in the topic!

It boils down to this:  The level of trust between people has a greater bearing on purchase decisions because consumers value the opinion of people they know.

Likewise, the survey respondents exhibited a willingness to make referrals of products and services, with more than 90% reporting that they give referrals when they like a product. But a far lower percentage — ~22% — have actually participated in formal refer-a-friend programs.

This seems like it could be an opportunity for brands to create dedicated referral programs, wherein those who participate are rewarded for their involvement.

The key here is harnessing the referrers as “troops” in the campaign, so as to attract a larger share of referral business and where the opportunities are strongest — and tracking the results carefully, of course.

In copywriting, it’s the KISS approach on steroids today.

… and it means “Keep It Short, Stupid” as much as it does “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Regardless of the era, most successful copywriters and ad specialists have always known that short copy is generally better-read than long.

And now, as smaller screens essentially take over the digital world, the days of copious copy flowing across a generous preview pane area are gone.

More fundamentally, people don’t have the screen size – let along the patience – to wade through long copy. These days, the “sweet spot” in copy runs between 50 and 150 words.

Speaking of which … when it comes to e-mail subject lines, the ideal length keeps getting shorter and shorter. Research performed by SendGrid suggests that it’s now down to an average length of about seven words for the subject line.

And the subject lines that get the best engagement levels are a mere three or four words.

So it’s KISS on steroids: keeping it short as well as simple.

Note: The article copy above comes in at under 150 words …!

B-to-B content marketers: Not exactly a confident bunch.

In the world of business-to-business marketing, all that really matters is producing a constant flow of quality sales leads.  According to Clickback CEO Kyle Tkachuk, three-fourths of B-to-B marketers cite their most significant objective as lead generation.  Pretty much everything else pales in significance.

This is why content marketing is such an important aspect of commercial marketing campaigns.  Customers in the commercial world are always on the lookout for information and insights to help them solve the variety of challenges they face on the manufacturing line, in their product development, quality assurance, customer service and any number of other critical functions.

Suppliers and brands that offer a steady diet of valuable and actionable information are often the ones that end up on a customer’s “short-list” of suppliers when the need to make a purchase finally rolls around.

Thus, the role of content marketers continues to grow – along with the pressures on them to deliver high-quality, targeted leads to their sales forces.

The problem is … a large number of content marketers aren’t all that confident about the effectiveness of their campaigns.

It’s a key takeaway finding from a survey conducted for content marketing software provider SnapApp by research firm Demand Gen.  The survey was conducted during the summer and fall of 2016 and published recently in SnapApp’s Campaign Confidence Gap report.

The survey revealed that more than 80% of the content marketers queried reported being just “somewhat” or “not very” confident regarding the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Among the concerns voiced by these content marketers is that the B-to-B audience is becoming less enamored of white papers and other static, lead-gated PDF documents to generate leads.

And yet, those are precisely the vehicles that continue to be used most often used to deliver informational content.

According to the survey respondents, B-to-B customers not only expect to be given content that is relevant, they’re also less tolerant of resources that fail to speak to their specific areas of interest.

For this reason, one-third of the content managers surveyed reported that they are struggling to come up with effective calls-to-action that capture attention, interest and action instead of being just “noise.”

The inevitable conclusion is that traditional B-to-B marketing strategies and similar “seller-centric” tactics have become stale for buyers.

Some content marketers are attempting to move beyond these conventional approaches and embrace more “content-enabled” campaigns that can address interest points based on a customer’s specific need and facilitate engagement accordingly.

Where such tactics have been attempted, content marketers report somewhat improved results, including more open-rate activity and an in increase in clickthrough rates.

However, the degree of improvement doesn’t appear to be all that impressive. Only about half of the survey respondents reported experiencing improved open rates.  Also, two-thirds reported experiencing an increase in clickthrough rates – but only by 5% or less.

Those aren’t exactly eye-popping improvements.

But here’s the thing: Engagement levels with traditional “static” content marketing vehicles are likely to actually decline … so if content-enabled campaigns can arrest the drop-off and even notch improvements in audience engagement, that’s at least something.

Among the tactics content marketers consider for their creating more robust content-enabled campaigns are:

  • Video
  • Surveys
  • Interactive infographics
  • ROI calculators
  • Assessments/audits

The hope is that these and other tools will increase customer engagement, allow customers to “self-quality,” and generate better-quality leads that are a few steps closer to an actual sale.

If all goes well, these content-enabled campaigns will also collect data that helps sales personnel accelerate the entire process.

Thanks to IOT, search is morphing into “just-in-time knowledge.”

aeIn today’s world of marketing, it’s been obvious for some time that the pace of technological change is dramatically shortening the life cycle of marketing techniques.

Consider online search. Twenty-five years ago it was hardly a blip on the radar screen.  Picking up momentum, paid search soon began to rival traditional forms of advertising, as companies took advantage of promo programs offered by Google and others that aligned neatly with consumers when they were on the hunt for products, services and solutions..

Google has attracted billions upon billions of dollars in search advertising revenue, becoming one of the biggest corporations in the world, even as entire industries have grown up around optimizing companies’ website presence and relevance so as to rank highly in search query results.

And now, thanks to continuing technology evolution and the emergence of the Internet of Things, the next generation of search is now upon us – and it’s looking likely to make keyboards and touchscreens increasingly irrelevant within a few short years.

afhSearches without screens are possible thanks to technology like Google Assistant, Amazon Echo/Alexa, and software development kits from providers like Soundhound and Microsoft.

This past October, market forecasting firm Gartner came out with an interesting prediction: Within four years, it forecasts that ~30% of all searches will be carried out without a screen.

It’s happening already, actually. In web search, Amazon Echo answers voice queries, while the Bing knowledge and action graph allows Microsoft to provide answers to queries rather than a set of answer possibilities in the form of links as has been the case up to now.

Gartner envisions voice interactions overtaking typing in search queries because it is so much easier, faster and more intuitive for consumers. By eliminating the need for people to use eyes and hands for search and browsing, voice interactions improve the utility of web sessions even while multitasking takes on ever-increasing degrees of shared activity (walking, driving, socializing, exercising and the like).

Related to this, Gartner also predicts that one in five brands will have abandoned offering mobile apps by 2019. Already, many companies have found disappointing levels of adoption, engagement and ROI pertaining to the mobile apps they’ve introduced, and the prognosis is no better going forward; the online consumer is already moving on.

Gartner’s predictions go even further. It envisions ever-higher levels of what it calls “just-in-time knowledge” – essentially trading out searching for knowledge by simply getting answers to voice queries.

Speaking personally, this prediction concerns me a little. I think that some people may not fully grasp the implications of what Gartner is forecasting.

To me, “just-in-time knowledge” sounds uncomfortably close to being “ill-educated” (as opposed to “uneducated”).  Sometimes, knowing a little bit about something is more dangerous than knowing nothing at all. Bad decisions often come from possessing a bit of knowledge — but with precious little “context” surrounding it.

With “just-in-time knowledge,” think of how many people could now fall into that kind of trap.

2016 says goodbye to some iconic American brands …

tcAs in every year, 2016 has seen the fall of famous brands; some are young upstarts that flamed out quickly, but others are venerable names that have been with us for decades.

Here are ten of the more notable casualties of the year – albeit a few of them still kicking but for all intents and purposes, going lights-out:

ap-logoA&P – This brand name goes back 150 years … but eventually even venerable A&P couldn’t survive in the cutthroat grocery market.  Actually, this brand’s been on life support for a while now, but has always managed to scrape by.  No longer.  Albertstons Companies – itself facing big competition in the grocery segment – has purchased the remaining 600 A&P outlets and will re-brand those it keeps open under its Acme brand name.  Nevertheless, at a century and a half it’s been quite a run – one that only a very few other brands can match.

american-appAmerican Apparel – When a once high-flying apparel company has its equally high-flying chief executive fending off salacious reports of secretly recorded sex videos – yes, they’re on the Internet – coupled with spiraling debt levels and plummeting sales, can Chapter 11 be far behind?  You already know the answer.

office-maxOffice Max – Sales at the big three U.S. office supply chains have struggled for a number of years, but Office Max was the one to fall victim first.  Its merger in 2013 with Office Depot began the brand’s slide, and now the final nail is in the coffin with the merger of Office Depot and Staples.  What’s the rationale for continuing to have three store brands under one company umbrella?  Answer:  No reason at all … which is why the weakest of the three brands is now becoming history.

ogOlympic Garden – In a development that some might characterize as divine retribution, the Las Vegas “adult” establishment colloquially known as “The OG” couldn’t handle its myriad legal battles even as it continued to attract big crowds.

radioshakRadioShack – OK, we still see RadioShack outlets in certain locations around the country – typically in small- to medium-sized markets.  But they’re co-branded locations with Sprint.  The reality is that this nearly 100-year-old brand is fading away; the only question is whether we’ll cease seeing the name in five years or just one or two.

searsSears – Another iconic brand name has been struggling mightily in the past decade or so, despite its merger with Kmart.  The company has lost more than $1 billion in each of the past three years.  Now it appears that the Sears name is the one that will disappear as its store locations continue to dwindle – nearly 250 in 2015 and close to another 100 this year.  At that rate, there’ll be none left before long.

simplyhiredSimplyHired – An international job search engine with upwards of 30 million active users that once sparred with the likes of Monster.com, ultimately this HR resource was unable to successfully compete in the space, shutting down in mid-year.

sportsSports Authority – A cautionary tale of what happens to a big retailer when it fails to keep its operations and product offerings fresh and appealing.  This retailer has been absorbed into Dick’s Sporting Goods, which has been far more nimble – and successful – in the “big box” sporting goods niche.

us-airways-logoUS Airways – We knew this had to be coming eventually; in 2013, this airlines’ merger with American Airlines was finalized.  Now that its operating systems are fully consolidated, one of the brand names was bound to disappear – and it’s US Airways.  Just like we all knew that Southwest Airlines would eventually consign the AirTran brand name to the dustbin, the same thing is happening with US Airways now.

vineVine – In October, Twitter shut down this video-sharing app so it could refocus on its (also struggling) core business.  Vine was definitely a flash-in-the-pan brand – barely a half-decade old.

So, now it’s time say a fond farewell to these brands. For a good many of them, the names may soon disappear, but they won’t be forgotten …

Do you have other 2016 brand casualties you’d add to the list?  Please share your choices with other readers here.

“Dying on the Vine”: Why the video sharing service is now history.

vineRemember back in 2012 when Twitter introduced its Vine video sharing service?

Back then, observers were positively breathless in their accolades for the service, with some positing that Vine represented some sort of tipping point in the world of instant communications.

A little more than four years later … and as of November 1, Vine has just been shuttered. How is it that such a vaunted social media platform went from de rigeur to rigor mortis in such a short time?

There are several key reasons why.

Time and place: The year 2012 was a perfect time to launch Vine, as it coincided with when many companies and brands were shifting their focus towards video communications.  At the time, short-form video was a novelty, making it a kind of dog whistle in the market.  But Instagram, newly acquired by Facebook, swooped in and made a big splash, too, while Snapchat attracted younger audiences.  What was Vine’s response to these competitor moves?  If there was much of any, no one seems to have noticed.

Competing … with yourself: Strange as it may seem, Twitter itself ended up competing with Vine in 2015, launching its own branded video playback capabilities.  When something like that happens, what’s the purpose of the older brand that’s doing the same thing?  Twitter’s simultaneous foray into live-streaming was a further blow to a brand that simply couldn’t compete with these newer video services introduced by Vine’s very own parent company.

Commercial viability? — What commercial viability? In all its time on the scene, Vine never figured out a way to sell advertising on its network.  It had a good germ of an idea in sponsored content, but never seemed to capitalize on the opportunities that presented, either.

Knowing your audience: From the outset, Vine attracted a fairly unique and crowd of users, such as people involved in the hip-hop music scene.  It was vastly different from the typical user base in social media – and yet Vine never did all that much to support these users.  As a result, there was little brand affinity to keep them close when the next “bright, shiny object” came their way.

In the social media space, the rise and fall of platforms can happen with amazing speed. Unlike some other platforms, Vine was a big hit from the get-go … but perhaps that turned out to be a double-edged sword.  Vine never did figure out a way to “mature” with its audiences – which eventually left it behind.

In the end, Vine went out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

The “Millennial Effect” – and how it’s affecting the Boomer Generation.

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In the world of marketing communications, it seems that confluence is in the air. This point was underscored recently by Eric Trow, a MediaPost columnist who is also vice present of strategic services at Pittsburgh, PA-based marketing communications firm Gatesman+Dave.

Trow’s main point is this:  Despite the big differences that marketers have traditionally noted between members of the Boomer Generation and their younger Millennial counterparts, today the two groups are becoming more similar than they are different.

In particular, Boomers are beginning to act more like Millennials.

Trow identifies a set of fundamental trending characteristics that underscore his belief:

  • Boomers increasingly want instant gratification – and related to that, they want convenience as well.
  • Boomers are embracing technology more every day, including being nearly as dependent on mobile devices as their younger counterparts.
  • Boomers connect online – with adults over the age of 65 now driving social media growth more than any other generation at the moment.
  • Boomers want control – and to that end, they do their research as well.
  • Boomers want to live healthier – with levels of interest in natural, healthy and environmentally responsible products rivaling those of younger age groups.
  • Boomers are more questioning of traditional authority – and not just because of the 2016 U.S. presidential election race, either.

Putting it all together, Trow concludes that he and many other Boomers could, in practice, be classified more accurately as “middle-aged Millennials.”

Speaking as someone who falls inside the Boomer generation age range, I concede many of Trow’s points.

But how about you?  Do they ring true to you as well?