customer relations

Are your legal services viewed as a commodity or a brand? Law firms are struggling with price pressures from customers and prospects, yet few law firms actively and comprehensively market their services in a branded way. As an agency that works not only with law firms but also with branded companies like Hormel, General Mills and 3M, we’re used to designing marketing campaigns that build on branded products and services and make the case for the price premium customers expect to pay.

Branded product marketing communicates higher quality, greater overall satisfaction and the higher likelihood that the product will meet the customer’s specific needs. In the case of branded services, the customer service dimension, including a satisfaction guarantee, is highlighted along with the promised end result. Branded product and service marketing tout the key differentiators that make that product or service unique.

Law firms that seek to build market share and pricing power should develop a branded marketing strategy and communicate their brand promise in a consistent, comprehensive way.

– Joshua Schneck

With the launch of its new service called Vine, Twitter is hoping to do for video what it has already done for text –shrink it into bite-sized bits that are quickly and easily shared.

Available as a free app for iOS devices (with other platforms coming soon), users can splice together six seconds of looping video for quick viewing. The animation can be one continuous shot, or as many quick cuts as one can fit into six seconds. Vine videos can be embedded into Twitter streams, or shared on personal websites or other social media sites like Tumblr.

It’s easy to imagine what some creative public relations managers might do with this new tool. And many proactive brands are already testing the waters. GE, Ritz Crackers, Dove and Urban Outfitters are some of the major brands to have already posted their own Vine videos. Are any of them ground-breaking achievements likely to lead to a boost in sales? Probably not, but that sort of misses the point.

A Personal Touch

Savvy brand managers learned a long time ago that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are more about interactive dialogue rather than one-way promotions. Social media creates opportunities for more direct interaction, and Vine videos will allow for that interaction to be more personal than ever.

These brief micro-videos can be used to provide a quick, no-budget, no-frills look past the sparkling veneer of finished ads and into the human side of a company. For example, companies might post Vine videos featuring:

  • A quick product demo
  • Visual menus, or daily restaurant specials
  • The view from the trade show floor
  • The face of a customer service rep responding to a question or complaint
  • A special thank-you to certain customers, clients, or partners
  • Holiday greetings
  • A teaser trailer for a longer presentation on another channel, such as YouTube

Time will tell whether this new app will succeed. But it certainly creates some intriguing opportunities for marketers who are willing to give it a try.

Avoid the Branding Echo Chamber

by | December 17, 2012

Groupthink, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.”

Such conformity to group opinion can be a real danger when company leaders, believing that they and those around them have an accurate sense of their brand’s reputation, fail to generate external feedback prior to making branding decisions. Brand evaluation and reorganization can be a very positive and healthy thing. Every business must evolve to survive. Messages need to be updated. Websites refreshed. Ads evaluated. But when tackling these challenges, it is important to remember that public perception is what really matters, and that perception can sometimes vary widely from what’s assumed by the top brass.

For example, members of your sales team might not feel comfortable  speaking up about their distaste for the current logo when sitting across from the company’s top executives, who likely approved that very design.

Your company’s clients, however, will probably have no qualms about being more direct.

So, what options are available for gathering meaningful data on corporate brand? Here are a few that can be much more valuable than an internal discussion in the conference room:

  • One-on-one meetings with customers
  • Focus groups
  • Ad Readership Studies (if appropriate)
  • Online survey tools like those offered by Constant Contact or SurveyMonkey.

In other words, don’t just make sure you are asking the right questions; make sure you are you asking the right people. Internal discussions are necessary, but the most coveted opinions should be reserved for customers and potential customers.

Simply put, a strategic communications plan is a description of a company’s marketing and communications goals and activities. And it should be treated as an essential document for any company, especially a start-up. While every plan should include a few key sections (outlined below), there is no single, one-size-fits-all approach that works for every business. A communications plan for a restaurant will be much different than one for a hospital, for example. But here is a snapshot of the crucial elements that every plan should include.

An Overview

This opening section describes the nature of the business and how it plans to grow through strategic communications and marketing.

Background Research

Arguably, the single most important feature of any communications plan is the background research and analysis. After all, how can you be expected to tell your company’s story if you don’t know much about the industry in which you operate? Generally this background research will identify the current market size, segmentation, target customers, growth opportunities, risks and competitors. In addition a SWOT analysis for the company itself would be helpful here.

Establish Your Mission, and Your Messages

Now is the time to define your brand, your products, your company and your value proposition to the market.

State Your Goals

Goals should be simply what you want your communications to achieve. These are specific, measurable outcomes: a percentage of market share, annual sales, growth into certain markets, etc.

Define Your Strategy

Strategies are the initiatives that will allow you to realize your goals. These should answer the question of “how” the company plans to communicate to its customers. For example, a restaurant might devise a strategy for becoming a go-to family gathering place on Monday nights, in the hopes of meeting its overall revenue goals. Or, a backup software company might create a strategy for focusing on a certain customer niche, like publishing companies or law firms, in order to support its own expectations.

Define Your Tactics

These are the tools of the trade. Identify the channels of your communications strategy here, such as social media, blogging, digital advertising, direct response marketing, or media relations. Be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to simply list a bunch of marketing channels – describe how they will be used. Consider the strategies you’ve identified above. Do your tactics support them?

Build a Schedule and a Budget

Now that you have a set of tasks to complete, put them on a schedule. Identify who “owns” each task, and list anticipated completion dates. Keep your team accountable and abreast of approaching deadlines. Also, is your marketing and communications budget in line with the strategies you plan to implement? Talk with vendors, publishers, printers and anyone else that can give you the necessary cost information to make sure what you’re planning falls within your budget.

Keep it Alive

You’ll put a lot of work into this plan. The last thing you want is to see it relegated to a dusty corner in someone’s office. Marketing and communications strategies evolve. You might have to prioritize certain goals over others. Test and measure what’s working and update your plan accordingly.

The press release, that tried and true tactic used by companies and PR practitioners for eons, has gone through quite an evolution over the past decade or so. Before the age of the Internet, the press release was generally only seen by, you know, the press. Companies and their PR agencies would distribute the announcement and hope that it was compelling enough to warrant a story.

Today, the release plays a more dynamic role. Social media and company websites allow for direct communication and interaction with customers. Releases are generally drafted with multiple audiences in mind – including journalists, customers and industry analysts.

But there is one additional “audience” that should not be forgotten – search engine spiders, or web crawlers. These automated bots constantly scour the Web for content, and their findings are used to determine which websites are shown when an individual conducts a search using various keywords. If you anticipate that your press release will be posted anywhere online – your website, through a newswire, or any media outlet with an online presence, then it’s important to consider the language used from a search engine’s perspective.

For example, if your business provides computer data cloud storage solutions, and you’re announcing upgraded security protections for customers, give the release a heavy dose of the technical upgrades you’re offering and how your customers will benefit. Generic, over-used language – groundbreaking, world-class, revolutionary – not only gets on readers’ nerves, it also does nothing for search engine optimization. The classic Gobbledygook Manifesto [PDF] shows just how frequently these terms are used – and the more often a term is used, the more competition there is for the attention of the search engine crawlers. Detailed, descriptive keywords are more effective in generating meaningful website traffic.

Press releases are a mainstay for public relations campaigns. By keeping search engine crawlers in mind when crafting the language within them, releases can continue to provide benefits for a long time.

One of the most consistent complaints we come across when meeting prospective clients, and the reason why many seek new PR help, is that their previous agency didn’t listen. How much business is lost over this seemingly obvious action…or lack thereof? I can’t think of one industry that is immune and yet the challenge continues. How do we solve this? More importantly, can it be solved or is it simply in our nature to believe we are so smart that we can provide the answer to a question that we have not even heard? Or that we can recommend a solution without fully understanding the other person’s challenges and issues?

I will admit I have very little patience when it comes to lack of listening. It’s kind of a “thing” with me. Like everyone else, though, I see this problem across every facet of my life and on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, I love to wax poetically about my favorite things as much as the next person, but when it comes to investing time and money into something of importance, I see very little return on my investment if I know I am not being heard.

Not to sound cheesy (or as if I just watched Oprah), but we are constantly being reminded to live in the moment, for it is the most important time we have. If we aren’t thinking about tomorrow, or reliving yesterday, perhaps we can better focus on the present, the here and now. If we try to make this effort a bigger priority, maybe we will find it easier to open our ears and our minds to really envelop what the person sitting across from us is trying to communicate. How hard can it be?

Today is picture day at my daughter’s daycare. In my unbiased opinion, she will be the most photogenic and adorable child present, partly due to genetics, but also partly due to the outfit my wife picked out for her last weekend at Ridgedale Mall.

I was along for the ride during this mission, and when I wasn’t checking my phone for fantasy football updates, I was giving nods of approval for the various outfits my wife considered. We were in some sort of chic designer clothing store catered to parents of infants and toddlers, so pretty much every outfit looked to be picture-day ready. We aren’t normally the type of parents to shop in such stores, but again: picture day. Out-of-state grandparents demand satisfaction.

When the decision was made, I had a conversation with the cashier that made me think about direct marketing, and how the quest for personal data seems to have become a never-ending struggle between retailers and consumers.

Cashier: Is that all for you today?

Me: Yes, thank you.

Cashier: OK, what is your email address?

Me: No, thank you.

Cashier: No problem. What is your phone number?

Me: No, thank you.

Cashier: OK. Are you a member of our rewards program?

Me: No, thank you.

And so on. Eventually I was able to hand over a credit card, take my item and leave the store. But the whole experience just left me slightly irritated. It’s not that I haven’t been through that song and dance before – indeed, nearly every retailer these days requests the same personal data if you so much as pop in for a pack of gum.

Now, I work in marketing and public relations. I get it. Customer loyalty programs are great for generating repeat business and showing appreciation for reliable patrons. Phone numbers lead to addresses which lead to direct mail offers. These campaigns can be successful, else they wouldn’t be so prevalent (more so all the time, it seems). But we don’t even have a land line. Our cell numbers won’t provide an address, and we certainly don’t want to receive offers via text message. Is there a risk that eventually there will be pushback from consumers? A polite “no, thank you” isn’t a big deal, but three or four for a single transaction, times many transactions over time add up and, if you’re like me, it sours the experience. Customers want to get in, out and on with their busy lives. The personal nature of the requests can be off-putting. Customer lists are sometimes sold to third parties leading to a greater supply of junk mail.

Retailers generally have to market to survive, and I’m not advocating they stop doing so. What I would suggest is smarter, more personal marketing that avoids holding up, or even badgering, every customer at the point-of-purchase. Also, a little employee communications coaching can go a long way. Instead of “What is your email address”, opt for a softer approach. “Would you like to provide an email so we can send you exclusive offers?” It’s more courteous, it’s transparent, and it becomes a two-way opt-in process.

Point-of-purchase data mining isn’t likely to go away any time soon. A few tweaks to the way retailers go about handling the process though could result in a better response rates, higher levels of trust, and in my case, less annoyed customers.

Regardless, I still can’t wait to see how the pictures turn out.