strategic communication

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” – Lawrence Clark Powell

Archive for the tag “branding”

Don’t Sell Out, Sell Purpose

Product placements and key messages are how brands survive today. Between movies, television, and the Internet, people can be in front of a screen at all hours of the day. How a brand develops its product placements and key messages is part of a strategic communications plan to connect with customers.

When faced with the idea of “product placement” many people immediately associate it with “selling out.” A scene from Wayne’s World comes to mind when Wayne and Garth claim they are not interested in representing any sponsors on their show, all while modeling labeled clothes and using brand named products.


Product placement is an effective method of advertising, and we see it on nearly every television show or movie. Sometimes it’s subtle: the main character takes a quick drink of a Coke in a scene. Other times it seems to be very in-your-face, ultimately taking away from the drama of the story.

I remember watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars during its first or second season. Those familiar with the show know that the four main characters are constantly plagued by text messages from an anonymous “A” person. “A” sends on average about 4-5 text messages per episode, so it is naturally part of the show. The characters and the audience are used to hearing the sound of a text alert and seeing the girls quickly take out their phones to read the next message.

There was one episode when I found product placement both extremely obvious and irritating. At the time there was a new Microsoft phone out called the Kin. It was a tiny phone with a slide up keyboard that claimed to be the perfect phone for social media. In the episode, one of the main characters, Aria, gets a text message and stops in the hallway saying “it’s my Kin!” followed by an extreme zoom in of her using the Kin. I didn’t remember them ever explicitly saying the brand of their phone before this episode, so this instance really stood out to me. It was the first time I’ve ever seen blatant product placement that was serious instead of a joke. I could not take it seriously and laughed at how obvious it was.


I am not alone in this opinion. Cowley and Barron (2008) state when “people with high levels of program liking see a prominent product placement, they may interpret the placement to be an attempt to influence the viewer, which could interrupt the viewing experience.” Fans of television programs want to be entertained by the world of the program, not by characters making a point about a product they use.

There are ways to advertise products without shoving the advertisement in the faces of audiences. Going back to the example of a character drinking a Coke, or even asking another character “Can I have a Coke?” is a natural way of mentioning a product, because most consumers see drinking Coke as a regular habit for many people. After a subtle mentioning of the brand, the next commercial break could begin with an advertisement for Coke. The brand is being delivered in repeated messages for recall, but it is not so over-the-top in the actual episode. Those who are highly involved with the show won’t feel the storyline has been interrupted strictly to promote a brand.

Another example is undercover word-of-mouth marketing, or “shill/stealth.” The example from this link (starting on page 235) involves 60 actors dispersed around New York and Seattle with a new product from Sony Ericsson. The actors were not given a script, but they were asked to use the product in public. When approached by people, they had to have an honest conversation about the product. It was easy to have an honest conversation since there were no scripts or guidelines. What happened is that people were engaging with one another and sharing information. Those who were interested in buying the product had to go find out where to purchase it themselves. This meant the consumers actually found value in the product and wanted to use it in their own lives.

It may seem sneaky, but how many times has word-of-mouth worked in your life? There is always that friend that jumps on a trend and talks about the benefits until you jump on too. Why not engage in personal conversations with customers about your brand?

When developing key messages, it is important to research your audience. What’s the population of your city and are you in a large metropolis or a small town? How many people drive across town for work? How many have access to cable and Internet? Is there a certain location where your company could engage with the most people at a single time, or is your online presence the strongest point? Answering these questions will aid in your messaging strategy.

One example of a leader seeking out message delivery to customers is Gap’s up-and-coming CEO, Art Peck. Peck is commonly referred to as the “digital guy” and lives up to this name by being enthusiastic about e-commerce sales. In a time where shopping mall attendance is slowly dwindling, online shopping has become more important than ever in terms of store success. Wi-Fi has been set up in 1,100 stores, and he is interested in measuring the number of clicks each site in the Gap family receives. Going back to last week’s post, Peck truly is a “visionary leader” in that he knows his customers, he knows how habits are changing, and he is using forward-thinking ideas to keep the company valuable.

Most recently, he is behind the campaign of “Dress Normal.” The campaign highlights ordinary style as opposed to the busy patterns and unique cut-out clothes. Neutrals, comfort, and hidden labels are the main components of this style, often called “normcore.”


I was not familiar with normcore when I first saw Gap’s slogan. My first thought when I saw “Dress Normal” was that the Gap was scolding people to dress in a way that is universally acceptable as opposed to some of the edgier styles out there. Further criticism includes those who do not want their style to just be “normal,” they want to be trendy and stylish. There are mixed reviews about the message Gap is sending, but Peck wants to stand by it for a couple of seasons to see how it plays out. He has explained his purpose behind the message and feels that if given the chance, it will be successful. On Twitter, the “Dress Normal” message is accompanied by pictures of models in what is considered “normcore” style, which assists in what the message is actually trying to convey. Their Facebook page also features advertisements with more messages about how clothes shouldn’t be what attracts people to you: your actions are more important .


Developing message and product placement strategies is more than just selling your name. What do you really want your audience to gain from your product? Make sure every advertisement option you use has a purpose behind it, and that it is not just selling out empty messages.


Strategic Social Media

Happy Halloween! Are you celebrating offline and online? There are tons of companies taking advantage of posting Halloween themed messages on social media!


Social media has made it easier for companies and organizations to connect with their consumers. One would think a public relations professional would have it easy, too, right? When you look closer at different company Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, you will see that most of the popular pages feature the company responding back to fans even in the latest hours of the day. Successful social media pages are those that are made up of strategic daily posts. Public relations professionals, as well as professional communicators, must constantly have access to all media sites to ensure customer satisfaction.

A story on Walmart costumes went viral this week when online users posted screenshots of Walmart’s official website that listed the category of “Fat Girl Costumes.” Post after post shared the image along with disdain from customers. The category has since been taken down, but the screenshots will live on the Internet forever. When Walmart was off of the cyber world for even a minute, this story spread before they could do anything to stop it. Walmart issued an official apology, and has been busy apologizing to individual users on its Twitter account. This issue was a result of negligence, and it was enough to make a wide audience angry. Someone representing Walmart is constantly updating the Twitter page and responding to each user’s tweets.


Walmart’s Facebook page features select products that customers can comment on or share. I noticed that even a customer simply stating “I love this product!” will get a reply from an official Walmart representative. These representatives are trying to ignite conversations with customers in order to build that relationship between company and consumer. However, on each product picture, there are users who choose to post negative feedback. Sometimes the feedback has nothing to do with the picture posted, but Walmart still tries to respond by giving a link to their feedback site.

An article titled “Corporate Facebook Pages: When “fans” attack” states that “negative complaints, personal insults or incriminating gossip make far bigger impacts on us than do positive comments.” If a company is under fire for a negative post, product, or error, there will always be those who choose to hold on to it. It is important for strategic communicators to develop and sincere apologies, as well as make genuine connections with customers. Customers do not want to feel their complaints go unnoticed, and especially do not want to support a company who claims nothing bad ever happened. Listening comes into play on the Internet, even if it is a conversation through typing. If a customer has a complaint, it is the responsibility of a representative to completely read the complaint, interpret exactly what the issue is, think progressively on how to fix the issue and ensure it does not happen in the future, and then respond fully to the customer.

Companies do best when they have a unique branding strategy on social media. YouTube has become a popular site where videos go viral and are seen by millions of people around the world. These videos go viral because they are interesting, unique, entertaining, or attract the attention of taste-makers that will share it. Strategic communicators should want the best possible image for their organization on such a powerful platform. The possibilities for a viral video are endless. For example, Tom Dickson, the CEO of Blendtec, used YouTube to create a series called “Will it Blend?” where he places a variety of objects (including an iPhone) in his blenders, turns the blenders on, and watches what happens to the objects. There are enough people in this world willing to witness the destruction of valuable objects at their own amusement, and Dickson successfully got his name and his product out to the masses.

Will it blend?

Will it blend?

Strategic communicators must think about their products when posting on social media. What does their product do or what is it used for? Who is using it? Understanding their audience is key on social media because the audience varies. The audience could consist of consumers, clients, employers, and job seekers. It is important to be able to create content that appeals to the masses, and that is concise enough to post quickly and daily. Sometimes an elaborate story gets looked over if someone is seeking out specific information, which is why Twitter’s character limit can be used to an organization’s advantage. There are also third party apps such as Google Alerts that allow businesses to search within social media sites and receive alerts when their content is viewed. Businesses can use this data to figure out what types of posts get the most views, and adjust their communication plan accordingly.

While looking at companies during a job search, I notice that most company Facebook and Twitter pages include group shots of the staff working together. The staff is bunched together at conferences or even community service events. This shows me that the company culture is important to them because they spend time at events together, and look like they are enjoying it. Social media is not only effective for promoting a product, but for promoting the business as a whole. There is so much talent out there, and companies know that the more information about they can share out in the open, the more enticing their company looks to job seekers. Company blogs are excellent tools to show off all accomplishments. Reading a post that a company just received an award or was featured on a “Best Places to Work” list increases my interest in learning more about the company.

I was viewing a twitter account that is dedicated to posting jobs North Carolina and found that the account was live tweeting an awards ceremony. With each announcement of a winner, the twitter handle also included a link to the official website and stated whether or not they were hiring. I was able to access so many different companies in the area because of this event. The twitter account helped get business names out there I never would have heard of otherwise.

There is a lot to keep up with when using social media as a PR tool for an organization, but leaders with a strong online presence will reap the benefits of online connectivity. As long as posts are informative, professional, and sincere, customers will continue their interest and support for a company.

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