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.

The Art of Storytelling

Whether you want to sell a product to a client or sell an idea to your boss, storytelling is the single most powerful way to capture your audience’s attention and to make the not yet tangible real in the eyes of others.

So how do you do it and how do you do it well?

Break it down into simple parts. Remember those story books from your childhood? Why where they so appealing? They were simple. A photograph here, one or two sentences followed. To be effective, you must break your story down into digestible parts. Even if you think it is simple, go even further.

Believe in it yourself. You, the storyteller, need to believe in your story or no one else will. Be passionate about what you are portraying and keep your energy up even if it is the 20th time you are telling your story. Remember that, for your audience, it is the first time they are hearing the story.

The all-important protagonist. Every story has one. Your story needs one too. If it doesn’t have one, you can reference a member of the audience and interlace them into your story so that they become the protagonist.

Set the scene. Create visuals that help you tell the story but do not take away from you telling the story. They should enhance the story you are telling be it a few PowerPoint slides, photos or videos. Sometimes a single photo will do the job.

Know your audience. Do your research and try to put together what the motivators will be for the audience you are telling your story to. This will require that you tweak your story as you go to fit each audience. Don’t be afraid to alter the script.

Watch the body language in the room. As you engage in storytelling be very observant of the body language in the room. Is the audience leaning forward? Has their expression changed? Both are good signs. Leaning away or checking their phones every several seconds; not a good sign. But don’t give up. Adjust your efforts – including inserting them into the story by mentioning their first name – to see if you can engage them.

Practice. Create practice that works for you and makes you comfortable. I tend to mentally run through what I will present in broad themes beforehand. This gives me the flexibility to create as I walk the audience through the story live. If you are not comfortable with practicing and get nervous presenting, contact your local theater. Most offer acting for non-actors and can help you get comfortable as a storyteller.

The Rise of Brand Narcissism

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

Pepsi – and now United – are the latest example of brands exhibiting evidence of spending too much time admiring their reflection in the mirror while the societal and political climate is changing rapidly outside their doors.

‘Tone deaf’ and ‘out-of-touch’ – two terms that are now synonymous with both brands with United quickly becoming a global textbook case.

United and Pepsi are not alone – Uber, Google, YouTube – powerhouse brands that have been forced to take the blinders off and face the new reality of growing business and consumer impatience and purchasing power action.

Most of it directly correlates to company culture – when leaders and employees together perceive their brand from 1.) their vision of the organization, 2.) negate alternative realities to that vision, 3.) ignore public/consumer feedback and 4.) remain out-of-touch with rapidly changing scenarios within markets.

Communications and public relations teams can help put a stop to brand narcissism by taking the lead on bringing the public and alternative views into sharp focus internally.

Benchmark, continually. Benchmark perception on a regular basis, every quarter or twice a year. Hire an independent research firm to conduct the benchmark analysis and to present findings to yourself and your leadership team. Try to avoid a defensive reaction to the feedback and take time to assess the findings before reacting.

Pay attention to digital. Keep an eye on your sentiment analysis data and read what is being shared and said about your brand on a regular basis. Share those reports with your leadership team in your meetings (don’t just email the report, present it and explain it).

Don’t forget media. Deep dive on your brand in the media daily both on social and on the web. Who is covering you on a regular basis? Who is citing you as a source or your data/research as a source? Read article comments over time. Provide staff with weekly updates on media coverage, encourage them to read and interact with the comments.

Educate leadership. Often times, brand narcissism starts from the top and is a reflection of leadership style. Invite specialists to come and speak to your company/team about changes in your industry, changes in customer behavior, innovation in the workplace. HR can be a trusted partner in helping to provide online courses and information on a regular basis to prevent ‘group think’ from taking hold.

Last, but not least, conduct scenario analysis. Stay informed of what is happening in the news, what is trending in society, politics and culture and how overall public sentiment is evolving. “If you see something, say something”, applies here.

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.