Is influencer marketing the solution?

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the value of influencer marketing with a CEO seeking to expand brand visibility globally. This topic has come up quite a bit over the past year in my conversations with leaders – finding that one influencer who can move the visibility needle for their brand.

Influencer marketing can get you targeted exposure to your desired customer/stakeholder, but is it really the one perfect solution to instantly increase your visibility?

Here are several tips to consider before implementing an influencer marketing strategy:

See the world from the eyes of your target audience – not your eyes. Do the research or hire a firm to help you understand the online behaviors of the audience you are targeting. View the world from their perspective – who do they follow, trust, admire? What voices do they listen to?

Uphold your brand uniqueness. Don’t chase an influencer because they are the latest, hottest person that all brands in your industry are pursuing or that they are “tried and true” – having been used by other brands in the past. Know your brand’s traits and seek out influencers that embody those traits.

Know your goals. Map out what you hope to achieve with influencer marketing and ensure your influencer and your influencer’s agent understand expectations. Are you seeking more conversions, greater share of voice, more brand awareness? Define what your measurement of success will be.

One spoke in a larger wheel. Remember that an influencer marketing campaign is part of a large marketing strategy that works together towards increasing your visibility, overall market share or donor giving. It should never be your one main approach.

Have an exit strategy. Make sure your influencer contract provides for unforeseen circumstances in case your influencer suddenly develops a bad reputation due to actions on their part, providing you with an exit and mitigation. Include start and end dates to your engagement, scope of work along with expectation and metrics to be measured.

It’s exciting and fun to work with an influencer but don’t let that excitement create a haze around your real goal for engaging them with your brand.

Building Global Visibility for Your Brand

Reprinted from PR News, February 26, 2017

PR and communications teams increasingly are pressured to own their brand’s earned media space beyond their borders to keep up with – and stand uniquely apart from – competitors. This is becoming true for non-profits competing for donor dollars and has been a constant for the private sector.

Here are steps for building and increasing global earned media visibility for your brand:

Understand the why: What is prompting this need for more global visibility? Based on the answer, work with leadership to determine what a successful outcome looks like. In addition, decide the long-term level of financial and resource investment the company or organization is willing to make. Will you be able to expand the team by hiring staff? Can you afford to hire a global agency or will your budget support a regional firm? Be pragmatic in determining what combination of tools, agencies and staff you will require to be successful.

Establish metrics: Collaborate with leadership to establish the goal(s), audiences and priority markets to target and develop a timeline. Reach agreement on what metrics will be most effective to measure success and how often and in which form those metrics will be produced.

Understand the media landscape in priority markets: What are the prevalent outlets? How do target audiences get their news? What angles/stories appeal most? Will the approach be entirely earned or is there a pay-to-play model? Are there government-owned outlets that need to be considered and managed differently? Do the research or hire an in-market PR agency to help you develop an in-depth understanding of where and how your audiences engage with media in key markets and which media outlets are most trusted.

Plan your earned media strategy: Determine what pitches and storylines are most relevant for each market and what spokespeople will appeal – either internal to the organization or external. External representatives could be brand ambassadors in the form of board members, celebrities or even digital ambassadors – popular digital stars or platforms that appeal to your target markets.

Determine messaging: This is vital. Conduct messaging exercises with senior leadership covering organizational narratives and those for key projects/products. Ensure spokespeople are well versed and messaging is consistent across owned and shared media platforms. Provide on-camera and off-camera media training for all spokespeople – including media veterans – to ensure they stay up-to-date and comfortable with your messaging.

Audit your content strategy: You will need to develop content and expand your approach so that digital content supports earned media campaigns, targeting audiences where they engage. In some countries, the web is still king as it is seen as a source of trust. What appears in the media should be reflected on your digital properties. Your owned and shared content must reflect earned and paid efforts.

Try to remain as flexible as possible. Each market is different and approaches to earned media may be very different from what you are used to. Leverage your country offices or local vendors for their knowledge and hire or contract local PR talent to help build trust with local, national and regional outlets.

Employee Engagement vs. Culture

How engaged with your brand and your products are your employees?

Most CEOs would answer very engaged; however, the reality may be much different from the desired level of engagement and that may be a direct result of your work culture.

I recently led a webinar on global employee engagement. The majority of the questions focused on whether company culture impacts brand perception. And the answer is: absolutely. A positive culture equates to engaged and passionate employees who are respected, trusted and encouraged to share ideas. A negative culture is the polar opposite – a culture of fear, suspicion and degradation of ideas.

Here are several tips for changing your work culture to help inspire your employees to be engaged with your brand and to become ambassadors for it.

  • Recognize employees for their accomplishments, publicly and individually in person.
  • Align expectations between employees and management. This is very important. Employees must know that the projects they are working on and their objectives align with management’s expectations and goals.
  • Proactively address and develop solutions or incentives for overwork.
  • Eliminate cliques and favoritism by encouraging social interactions with others and ranking inclusiveness in performance reviews.

Next, ensure your company is clear on its purpose, values and behaviors.

  1. Define your company’s purpose. Why do you exist? What do you hope to solve?
  2. Survey your staff and customers on the values they identify with your purpose. You will often see the end result of this defined in a tagline (“Fly the Friendly Skies”, “Think Different”, “We Try Harder”).
  3. Describe the behaviors which reflect those values in action. How can you live the purpose of your brand?
  4. Establish an employee engagement pilot program to help you define purpose, values and behaviors and to embody those characteristics in their daily interactions at work, internal and external.
  5. Hire for culture first, skills second. Ensure your new hires demonstrate and believe in your values through group interviews and problem solving exercises.

 

Starting Your Global Career

It is the one question I am often asked, “how did you start your global career?”

After university, I was lucky to work for a firm that invested in building global leadership skills among its staff. It is a great way to get started and many companies, like Alibaba, are actively training young employees on global leadership skills as part of their overseas expansion strategy.

Here are several skills that I have found invaluable working globally that will help you standout in a competitive global landscape:

Communication skills. An ability to speak clearly, write clearly and to listen intently will be the key to your success. Remember to slow down and be much more clear in your use of your native language than you would normally be to ensure all of your colleagues understand your message. Work to acquire a common second language at working proficiency (French, Spanish, Mandarin).

Critical thinking. An ability to analyze different scenarios, data and research as well as patterns in behaviors or systems is vital. You will constantly be assessing projects, goals and expectations across many countries; an ability to identify trends or outliers will enable you to be more efficient.

Cultural dexterity. This one takes practice and it is what I call “leaving your country behind on the tarmac.” You must be able to step outside of cultural constructs. A great tip for doing so is by telling yourself – constantly if needed – that you may be the only Canadian, Singaporean, South African that your colleagues and/or clients ever work with, so leave them with a positive experience.

Ethics. You may be surprised by the standard code of ethics in the countries you will work in and some of the conduct you encounter may be considered unethical or corrupt in your country of origin. My advice is to stay true to your moral compass and remain calm when faced with such conduct. Acting outraged and indigent will make you look somewhat dramatic and will get you nowhere. Use it as a way to start educating your team on other ways they may consider achieving their goals.

Global mindset. Being open to new ways of working and seeing the world is essential as well as being able to view challenges and opportunities through a global lens. It will also make your day-to-day interactions with your colleagues more pleasant; however, do not expect to be a pro at this from the outset. That comes with practice.

Team adaptability. Having a team mindset and experience leading teams is a must. Your management style may need to adjust depending on the business culture. Mastering an ability to be patient – observe and listen when in meetings and in your daily interactions with your team – will help you decipher expectations, cultural understandings and ways of working.

 

When Apologies Backfire

What do architects and supermodels have in common?

Beyond being generally approved of by the general public, they were the first to experience reputation damage in the wake of a growing, global culture shift.

The day after the US presidential election, The American Institute of Architects released a statement expressing their willingness to work with the Trump Administration. For the AIA, it was business as usual – a statement that is always released after a presidential election.

The groundswell was immediate and vocal, leading to the launch of the #notmyaia digital movement with members voicing long-term concerns that the Institute had been tone deaf. The AIA released an apology two days later but it did little to stem the tide. Four days later, they followed up with a second video apology that fed the media storm further, and finally a third apology to their members that went public.

Several days later, supermodel Gigi Hadid hosted the American Music Awards. In her opening monologue, she mimicked the future First Lady, Melania Trump – the backlash was sudden and even more vocal, forcing herself and her mother to lock down social comments.

In reaction, the supermodel released a hand-written apology letter through her father’s Instagram account. The apology letter received more criticism as it failed to apologize directly to Mrs. Trump.

In both cases, the apologies created more problems than they solved, why? Here are three guidelines when considering whether to/to not apologize after a crisis you caused:

  • Is it warranted? This will take some hard thinking internally to determine whether your actions align with your mission or business philosophy. Is it a market over reaction? Will time be beneficial to you and your brand? Don’t immediately issue an apology until you have assessed the context completely.  Shoot from the hip apologies don’t work.

 

  • Is it sincere? If you are going to apologize, you must really want to and it must really show. This is where acting will fail you. Audiences are smart, people are smart, they will see right through the veneer which will further inflame the situation. Only apologize if you truly mean it and you are comfortable doing so.

 

  • Is it owned? Will your key audiences agree with your apology – the approach and the content? Have you checked in with them? This could be loyal customers, partners, investors, Boards, and employees. If not, they could turn against you under the pressure of a growing call for action.