strategic communication

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

Archive for the tag “strategic communication”

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 .

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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.

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Step into a Leader’s Shoes

Building on last week’s topic of the diffusion of innovations, this week’s topic is on interpersonal communication and opinion leaders.There are certain steps each new idea goes through before it reaches a wide audience. These steps involve interactions not only within an organization, but with outside consumers as well. Why do some products trend more than others? How do companies keep their customers interested? Communication is an extremely large factor in elevating public interest, and there is much behind the scenes work in getting the right information out there.

Word of mouth (WOM) communication is a powerful tool for in sales. In fact, Okazaki states in his study using the social influence model that as much as “67% of sales of consumer goods are based on personal information sources.” WOM was increased with the Internet sensation, but has now reached a new level through mobile devices. Consumers can take these mobile devices anywhere, so what better strategy than to have mobile advertisements and information readily available to anyone, anywhere?

Ford embraced mobile WOM by rewarded active social media users with a free Ford Fiesta. It is safe to say that receiving a free car will get a customer to talk about a company’s product. However, it is important for a company to do more than a one social media campaign. A company cannot just have one big social media event and think it will stay relevant in this fast-paced world. Starbucks has succeeded in the art of social media posts that continually impact the in-store experience. They have revamped their pages to invite customers to share their ideas, as well as to announce in-store promotions on each of these sites. The pages are thriving on the idea of a social culture and influence: friends will go to the coffee shop together; an individual will go to see live music or attend a special event knowing people will be there.

Today was my last day as an intern at the Shoe Carnival corporate office. To say the past five months have been a learning experience would be an understatement. Working in the corporate office allowed me to see how everything in each department comes together to ensure success in the stores. Shoe Carnival has mastered the art of interpersonal influence by supporting the community and participating in nationwide charities. The company is also run by opinion leaders, those who aren’t afraid to try out the next big thing, or those who have a strong influence on others.

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk discusses the attributes that make a great leader. Throughout the talk he repeats the idea that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Shoe Carnival’s leaders are more than willing to try something new to improve their stores and give families more opportunities for affordable merchandise. Their stores are expanding to states they have never inhibited before, and their advertisements have recently reached a national level. Their Instagram account is updated weekly along with fresh Facebook posts. They have also adopted better shipping techniques to ensure customers will get their products in a timely matter. The biggest change seen in the stores is the increased amount of higher quality brands over the past year. Many were concerned introducing higher-priced brands would take away from the affordable, family values, but they found a way to bring higher end brands to more affordable prices. The company is truly thinking from the inside out by focusing on the purpose of their shoe sales, and not just the fact that they have products.

An Instagram post showing off a variety of boot choices and inviting users to talk about what they like

An Instagram post showing off a variety of boot choices and inviting users to talk about what they like best. 

Shoe Carnival is known to be a family-friendly store, and the company takes pride in its family values. How do customers know about these values? When you enter a Shoe Carnival store you will see a basketball shooting game for children/teens to play. Each store features a person on a microphone that announces deals and a wheel for customers to spin to receive additional savings. This fun atmosphere is directed towards families and makes their shopping experience more enjoyable. I have friends who have never set foot in a store, and when I told them about the Mic Person and the spinning wheel, they said they had to see it. Even something as small as describing an atmosphere of a place allows interpersonal communication to influence someone’s decision to enter a store.

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The company also engages in a variety of community events. Shoe Carnival supports charities that are centered on families and children. For example, in Evansville, IN, where the corporate office is located, there is an organization called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), which provides guardian ad litems for foster children. Each year Shoe Carnival hosts a Walk the Runway event where they have school aged children modeling the latest fashion trends in shoes. Shoe Carnival employees volunteer to run the show and handle the silent auction and donation tables. Their logo is posted on the volunteers’ t-shirts and on banners throughout the event.

This year an incredible thing happened. Once the show was over, an auctioneer came onto the runway to offer a testimony and ask for donations starting at $1,000 and counting down. A man in the crowd suddenly raised his hand to speak, so the auctioneer handed him the microphone. This man began to talk about how he’s been shopping at Shoe Carnival for years and felt they always had the best prices and deals. His story ended with the following sentence: “Over the years I’ve probably saved up $10,000 by shopping the deals at Shoe Carnival. If Shoe Carnival supports this organization, it must be good, so tonight I would like to donate $10,000 to CASA.”

You can imagine the chills that ran throughout the building and the jaws that dropped! This man felt grateful to Shoe Carnival and passed his gratefulness onto a valued, non-for-profit organization. This also inspired even more people to donate, and CASA is proud to report they shot past their donation goals. CASA took time to post on their Facebook page to thank Shoe Carnival for being the title sponsor. All of this attention and WOM posting has made Shoe Carnival’s reputation stronger. Once again, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

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Shoe Carnival shows leadership in the world of family-friendly retail through the store environment, merchandise, marketing, and by WOM from community events. Businesses that aren’t afraid to try new strategies and participate in the community will consistently attract valuable customers.

The Future Starts Today

Attention all smartphone users: Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a flip phone.

Attention all FaceTime users: Raise your hand if you remember when a phone call was the only option to talk over distance.

Attention all bloggers: Raise your hand if you’ve ever kept a written journal.

Attention all Pandora Radio/iPod users: Raise your hand if you remember your first boom box/portable CD player.

Attention all Facebook users: Raise your hand if you used to log on AIM every day.

Attention everyone: Raise your hand if you are ready for what is next with communicative technology and emerging media.

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There should be a lot of hands raised. The future of technology is limitless and exciting. Think of the technology that seems so normal to you now, and then think of a time when you did not have it. It is so easy to take smartphones or the GPS for granted today because they seem like normal, everyday items to own. However, they are not normal devices. They are advanced- an evolution from an earlier product. Soon the world will be filled with other “normal” devices that will do things we cannot imagine. I can barely wrap my head around products like Google Glass. There are products that are ready to let us dive into virtual realities. There are products that allow us to share our information more than ever, and connect with our friends, family, and loved ones.

We can now say a short phrase to our phone and instantly get turn-by-turn directions to anywhere. Directors can film movies in a single studio that take place all over the world thanks to green screens and CGI. A job seeker can post an online resume and gain access to jobs anywhere around the globe. Everything is instant and convenient. The Internet and the World Wide Web have opened up doors for everyone.

Strategic communicators cannot fall behind on all of the effective tools for human connection. There are so many tools out there that will increase productivity. Check out sites such as Wired, Businesses Insider, CNN Tech, and more. There will always be technology innovations that will improve conversation.

Businesses have so many new options to connect with their customers. They can post on social media, offer e-commerce options, create apps, and anything else to get names and brands out there. Businesses can inform customers of their brand in a variety of ways: participating in live tweeting, creating a company hashtag, and sharing employee experiences through a company blog. The amount of time people are spending on their phones and tablets is only increasing, so there is an advantage to having a strong online presence.

I am finishing my first term in my graduate program and I cannot believe how much I have learned in just nine weeks. I am excited to continue learning throughout the program, and sharing information on this blog. There is so much out there for us to discover now, and so much more to come later. Stay tuned, strategic communicators. If you think it’s crazy to picture a world of holograms and advanced artificial intelligence, take a look at what AT&T predicted in the early 90’s and see what they got right.

Hype up the Crowd

A common theme throughout these blog posts is the power of a crowd. Businesses either thrive or suffer based on strong public opinions. Social media, blogs, and mobile phones allow people to not only have access to breaking stories, but to contribute information to the stories as well. Crowds can actually be used as valuable resources of both information and product promotion.

In its basic definition, crowdsourcing is pulling a wide amount of information from a large group of people. In many instances, this is conducted from the Internet. A Wired article describes an example of crowdsourcing by describing an instance where a project director, Claudia Menashe, was able to go to iStockPhoto and search through thousands of photos uploaded by users. Menashe then chose as many photos as she liked, each one only costing a small fee. Instead of relying on finding a professional photographer, she went to a place where thousands of users willingly posted their work. This process was easy, inexpensive, and productive. With more sites thriving on communities and allowing users to upload original content, there is a good chance anyone can find useful information. Photographers are motivated to keep posting their work because of the idea of being chosen. This enthusiasm means unlimited resources for those searching for the perfect stock photo.

Paul Lewis explains in his TED Talk instances in which crowdsourcing helped The Guardian obtain necessary details on two different stories involving causes of death: Ian Tomlinson and Jimmy Mubenga. Both deaths were the result of something happening in font of witnesses, and in both instances the whole truth was being withheld from the public. Lewis and his team went to Twitter and received first-hand accounts of both causes of death. One bystander actually had video proof of police brutality causing the death of Tomlinson. These situations show that professional journalists have struggled with not having all of the resources for their stories. Their knowledge can be limited to time and space if they do not know how to effectively seek out information. Luckily, the Internet has created global communities and offers sites where people can share information quicker than ever. Lewis and his team were able to find first-hand accounts just from inquiring on social media.

Sometimes it may seem that crowdsourcing is too good to be true. There are instances where crowds are responsible for misinformation, such as the spread of hoax stories. The article “Who the Hell Writes Wikipedia, Anyway?” shows that experts take time to write majority of the content on its pages. Professionals who work for the site simply edit links and conduct minor tweaks, but the bulk of information we read was written by someone from the crowd. Chances are if someone is taking enough time to write an encyclopedia article on the subject, one must have a strong background in the matter. Many may take comfort in the statistics that show most people who take time to post online are highly educated professionals. However, it is up to the person seeking out information to always double check any sources.

One of my friends wanted to see what happens when one attempts to update Wikipedia. He found an article on a public figure and made a change on the whereabouts of this person. Immediately, he received an e-mail regarding his change. The e-mail asked for more information on why he made the change, and if he had any sources or proof. My friend realized that the posts are constantly monitored for accuracy. He chose not to respond to the e-mail, and his edit was removed. While Wikipedia is frequently debated on its basis of a credibility, it is using crowdsourcing to obtain information just like major news sources will do.

Because there is no limit to the possibilities that can come from a large group of people with freedom and a voice, it is important to implement crowdsourcing in an appropriate strategy based on achievable goals. Businesses looking to promote their product and keep up with current trends would be best advised to use an open call strategy inviting everyone to participate in the gathering of information. Using the Internet for an open call would be the best way to attract a large crowd. One study specifically mentions the concept of Co-creation along with open call crowdsourcing. Co-creation not only asks customers for their opinions on products, it actually involves them in the process and makes them feel like they are part of something with a purpose.

American Idol owes its long-run success to crowdsourcing. There was a time when it was the most popular, high-rated show on television. They premised their show on the fact that anyone could audition to be the next big pop star. Those uninterested in the spotlight still had the opportunity to choose the winner by casting their votes each week. The producers behind the show went to the crowd for resources: participants, voters, commentators. So many shows took this idea and created their own reality show with voting such as The Voice and Dancing with the Stars.

Last year, American Idol took the concept of crowdsourcing and co-creation even further. Relying on its own popularity as well as the fan bases of Coca-Cola and singer Carly Rae Jepsen, the ultimate user experience was created with the Perfect Harmony Project. Each week leading up to the American Idol finale, viewers were able to use Facebook to vote on song lyrics for Jepsen’s new single. Not only was this project a goal for increasing viewership, but it also served as a productive way to create something new: a song. Their strategy was also smart in that they relied on the motivation of the crowd, but did not give the crowd complete control. Voting on pre-made lyrics was a much more organized approach than having thousands of users attempt to come up with their own words.

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Notice how the ads enhance crowd enthusiasm by reiterating that they helped create a new song! The countdown for the poll also pushes for voters to participate quickly to ensure their vote is submitted.

Businesses can adapt similar strategies by having their consumers vote on new products. Some can even try holding contests in which customers create their own product to be sold by the brand, similar to Lays chips and TOMS Shoes. Customer excitement is valuable when using crowdsourcing, because the enthusiastic individuals will be willing to do their best to achieve the company’s goal.

It is important to promote organizations in a way that will get crowds excited. Businesses should focus on how their product can be used in everyday life. Does their product work well in social settings? Does it work for the greater good of the world? Does it make people feel better about themselves? One way to find out answers to these questions is to ask the crowd. Once a community is established about a certain product, the organization can then involve that crowd in a variety of promotional activities. If a crowd is passionate, their own motivation will go a long way for the success of an organization.

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