In the consumer product and consumer technology world, companies inevitably want to keep things 'fresh' and 'new'. There is a long history over why this is a good thing and how it helps sales. I am a firm believer that in the consumer space you always need to be willing to try and do fresh and new things, but you don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I experienced this on a personal level recently with the change to the Pepsi logo and packaging. There was a great hubbub about this in the blogosphere a while ago, so I won't rehash it, but Pepsi changed its logo and its coloring. I am a committed Diet Pepsi drinker, but the change to silver confused me and I have to think before making a purchase (Diet Pepsi would sometimes be white, but now white is Caffeine Free).
Giving consumers a chance to pause before making a purchasing decision is rarely a good thing.
To exacerbate the situation, Pepsi has introduced Diet Pepsi Vanilla. Same packaging, but a vertical 'Vanilla' in small red lettering.
Needless to say, I didn't see the small lettering and bought one accidentally recently. I took a sip, expecting regular Diet Pepsi, and was surprised and unhappy with the new flavor. My resolution - avoid the confusion and conscious analysis I would have to make and just buy Sprite (my 2nd favorite drink) in the store in the future. Since Sprite is a Coke product, I am not sure Pepsi will like it.
There are valid reasons for Pepsi making the choice it did, and they can afford to lose my business temporarily. But smaller, entrepreneurial consumer companies need to look at all aspects of change. What will this do to our base? Will it energize them or cause cogitative dissonance. Is the dissonance so great we don't want to move forward? This doesn't apply to just packaging, but to social media campaigns, changes in the Website and all other content creation. Companies invest heavily in building brands. Consumers make the brands their own and come to expect certain things.
Change is great. It's the only way innovation happens. But be sure to always allow time to plan out the different scenarios. It’s the only way to truly identify the best change and the right time for change.
With all the headlines saying negative things about the economy, sometimes we forget that innovation is still happening. Schwartz is sponsoring XSITE 2009, an event planned for late June at Boston University.
I interviewed Bob Buderi, editor and founder of Xconomy.com, an online publication that is organizing XSITE 2009. I have posted excerpts from the interview below, and you can listen to the entire interview by using the embedded audio feed at the end of this post.
Ross Levanto: Bob, you know, a lot of folks who have been in the industry for a while, including myself, we look to some of the local organizations including Xconomy.com as kind of like a bright spot, especially given the economic uncertainty and the economic downturn that we’re all kind of struggling through. What do you see, just explain to me a little bit about, what you see just in terms of the role of this event, is it really to serve as kind of this spot of optimism given the economic uncertainty?
Bob Buderi: Absolutely, I mean a spot of optimism and basically to say, you know, people are already working on issues that will bring us out of this mess we’re in. They’re going to make our health better, our, you know, access to information better, our energy use better, all kinds of aspects of our lives and our businesses are going to be improving based on innovations that we want to bring, so we’ve just lined up an incredible array of speakers and companies who are going to come talk about all these sectors. Some of them hidden, relatively hidden, and unknown here in Massachusetts that are driving growth in the economy or that will drive growth.
Ross Levanto: And also giving a chance for some startups that at this point have been in stealth mode to actually launch themselves.
Bob Buderi: We’re going to have a few stealth companies that unveil themselves, and I think we’re going to have a few other surprises or announcements that are made, companies will take the occasion of the event to make about exciting knew things that they’re doing. And of course, kicking it all off, because this is in partnership with Boston University. BU’s president Bob Brown will be delivering the welcome address too.
Ross Levanto: You know, something interesting that we’re doing with those attendees that are signing up by visiting xsite2009.com, we’re asking them their thoughts about the local economy. There was a study that came out last week from the New England Economic Partnership that talked about the fact that it’s quite possible the recession here in Massachusetts is going to outlast the national recession. It certainly brings up thoughts from a lot of folks. Given your editorial role, Bob, from an Xconomy.com perspective, what are your thoughts in general on the Massachusetts economy and ways that we already are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?
Bob Buderi: I don’t have a good sense of comparing it to the recession across the United States. I would be surprised if we lagged the United States. I would be unsuprised if we came out in advance of it. We all felt the tremendous depth of this recession and swiftness with which it fell upon us. I think the pace of innovation is faster now than ever, and I think the recovery will also be faster. I don’t think we’re going to go to full blown dot-com bubble kind of mode or anything like that.
Ross Levanto: It’s probably of a good thing.
Bob Buderi: Yeah, but I think we’re going to see certainly in the next nine months to a year the real fruits of what’s going on and what’s been going on for the last several years and what’s going on now at an accelerated pace with all these companies, to help us recover.
From the embedded application below, you can listen to the entire interview:
Today, many Americans were anxiously awaiting the California Supreme Court's Decision on Prop 8. With offices in California and Massachusetts this is something I have been following.
As the buildup was happening to the 10:00 a.m. PT ruling on Proposition 8, I was wondering which communications channel people would turn to for the news. Would it be Google News? CNN? Drudge? Twitter? So I asked on Twitter...One person commented that the most effective channel is the one that is open - and that is an important lesson for communicators to remember.
Yes, you want broad reach when disseminating your message. But if you have timely news, you want to reach the channel in which your customers and prospects are engaged. It doesn't matter if one channel reaches two million and the other three million, if the one reaching 300,000 has 250,000 engaged and interested parties - that may be the best.
For the record, I found the news out first on Drudge, then Twitter and then CNN. The site refreshed more quickly than my Twitter stream. But I could gauge reaction to the ruling much more quickly on Twitter than any of the other channels. Which brings up another key point to remember - the best channel for communicating the message is not necessarily the channel that will energize your base. Once the message is out there, it will take on a life of its own. Communicators need to be aware of these nuances and incorporate them into their plans.
Not sure if I am supposed to give props to a competing agency on this space, but the Social Media Press Release (SMPR) invented by Shift Communications a few years back was a novel idea.
Today, the SMPR means different things to different people:
-- Originally, an SMPR meant content organized online so that it is easily digested by the media. Features are presented in bullets; it's easy to click from content to supporting quotes; and graphics and other content are easy to find to support a story.
-- Some services today describe an SMPR as a press release that is formatted and presented so it is easy to share. A newer example is Pitch Engine, where one finds readily available tools for sharing a release on Facebook, posting a release on Twitter, or using other social media platforms.
-- Certain news distribution services, such as PR Newswire or Business Wire, describe a SMPR as a release that is augmented by multimedia content, including videos or pictures, and a release that includes hyperlinks within the body of the release.
-- Some describe an SMPR as any combination of the above.
The reality is that press releases serve a far greater audience than just the press. Anyone who visits the web can end up reading a press release. Furthermore, since press releases are syndicated by distribution services and are often modified slightly and presented on news web sites, they can have significant SEO value.
The topic of the SMPR was front and center this week, mainly because of a webcast produced by Hubspot that noted how old fashioned press releases, without fancy graphics and presented as just plain text-- are more likely to be syndicated than any form of a SMPR. In addition, Hubspot postulated that the old fashioned releases were better for SEO, since links were more likely carried in the syndicated releases.
The report prompted some debate since Hubspot tried to find away to measure an instrument used in PR-- a marketing function that itself is very hard to measure.
Internally here at Schwartz, we have been debating SMPRs, press release distribution services and the role of a press release for some time. Here are a few points related to the conventional wisdom internally and the discussions this week:
-- Adding visuals or videos to a press release makes the press release more attractive to media and any other audience that views it,
-- For companies especially interested in SEO or web traffic, it's a better course to host visuals, video, graphics, etc. on the company's website, and then link back to the website from the press release,
-- Making the release easier to share is important, and the best press rooms today are those that incorporate tools for sharing content right in the press room,
There is no clear-cut guidance on this issue, and we're experimenting with a number of press release distribution options and press release formats here at Schwartz. If you are interested, keep reading this blog or drop me a line (email@example.com).
Newsweek just completed a live interview of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on its Facebook page. In the PR world, we spend a lot of time thinking about the convergence of social and traditional media. This interview marks one of the boldest moves to date by traditional media to bridge these worlds.
This interview also exemplifies the continuing march of consumer technology into the news making process. We’ve all heard about the Twitter reports that were the first wave of “news” from the Mumbai bombings and “Miracle on the Hudson” flight. The iReports from CNN have given virtual media credentials to thousands of citizen journalists and their video phones. Companies post their own news in via YouTube videos and iTunes downloads.
What’s interesting to watch is the way these technologies have moved from the periphery to the epicenter of the news process. It began when new technologies started giving voice to viewers, listeners and readers. Soon a wave of simple consumer friendly applications began turning people into self publishers able to share the news and events that matter to them. Reporters and publications have increasingly adopted such tools to spread the reach of their coverage and to nurture contacts and find ideas for future stories. Newsweek is taking that next step in this process, co-opting a third-party consumer channel for its own news reporting.
Media companies are in innovation mode, trying to come up with new content and attract new audiences while managing costs and headcount. If Newsweek, with its readership of over 2.7 million, can find new readers to engage with via Facebook, then the floodgates will open and consumer technology will move one degree deeper into the inner sanctum of news making.
It was clear at Digital Hollywood’s “Content Rights and Technology Solutions” and “Monetizing Digital Content” sessions that the DRM debate has shifted from how to control usage to how to engage consumers and embed more value in legitimate content. The panel of tech vendors encouraged content providers to listen to consumer demands for universal access to purchased content. Anti-piracy remained a hot topic, but with the belief that satisfied consumers are less likely to stray and may in fact be willing to pay more for high quality, legitimate content.
Mark Isherwood, director and co-founder of Rightscom Ltd, explains how content access and protection is changing in the following clip.
For the past two weeks, after work, I have been participating in Framingham Town Meeting. Over the course of six nights, we have been privileged to receive no fewer than 35 PowerPoint presentations. Since I also serve on Ways & Means, I have seen a dozen more. Unfortunately, the end is not in sight. It makes me feel like I am on an analyst or VC tour, and I have new sympathy for the VCs who sit though more than I ever will.
Many of these presentations are given by experienced professionals in financial servers and other business services companies. Some have been outstanding. Some have driven me to my BlackBerry and to think about what I like and dislike about the presentations in general. Following are three guidelines that even the most experienced presenter can forget:
Simplify – Most presentations try to do too much. The best thing to do is pick a few points and make them. Adding more detail often creates confusion. Yes the presentation may be your one and only chance to share your views, so the temptation is to throw in the kitchen sink. But an empty kitchen sink works better than one clogged with dishes.
Handouts are a beautiful thing – A presentation should help you tell a story or communicate an idea. Nothing can bring that to a screeching halt like three columns with 20 rows in 12 point font on a single slide. Even if someone is presenting business cases or budget proposals – leave behinds and handouts help communicate the key elements and answer likely questions without detracting from the presentation.
If you read your slides, you have lost already – Your back is to the audience, passion is leeched from your voice and you end not connecting. This also means you don’t need complete sentences on every slide.
These three reminders are common sense. But even the most experienced professionals occasionally stray from the path.
If you are using a PowerPoint to supplement your meting with media and analysts you need to ask yourself three additional questions:
Do I really need a PowerPoint?
Is the PowerPoint a crutch or does the PowerPoint add value?
Am I ready to close the presentation and engage in dynamic discussion and debate? (You better be.)
By asking those three questions and following the three guidelines above, people will be more effective, communicate their ideas more clearly and have more productive meetings. If you would like additional information, consider checking out Presentation Zen and The Back of the Napkin among other books.
Over at Journalistics, Jeremy Porter considers a timely and under-appreciated topic: "The Impact of Dying Newspapers on Older Readers." He notes, "While many media companies work to preserve their future with digital strategies aimed at younger audiences, they are simultaneously alienating themselves from their older (and often most loyal) readers." It's worth a look.
A parallel trend that we're seeing is a decline in local TV affiliates' ability to cover healthcare news. ("Local programs" that medical or healthcare PR agencies run are designed to reach target audiences, including patients, through their town's newspapers, radio programs or TV news.) Many affiliates don't have the budget anymore to cover medical news more than a few times a month. One Boston TV station isn't sending camera crews out anymore to gather healthcare stories. A sad statement if you consider how important medical research is to Boston's economy, not to mention the individuals who live here.
I'm sure that some older people are comfortable getting their news online and that more will follow. I do hope, though, that it's not all WebMD and stories created for national audiences. Hopefully it'll still be available in most towns written by local journalists who know the community and medical centers and have the professionalism (guess I haven't seen any hyperlocal sites covering healthcare news) required to work with patients and their families.
While Digital Hollywood attendees were the usual thirty-something mix of suits, anecdotes of mobile addicted tweens and toddlers frequently invited laughter and nodding heads throughout numerous panel discussions. The promise of an insatiable appetite for new applications and content led tech vendors and marketers to describe the desires and habits of the newest generation of consumers.
Move over pacifiers, parents are using mobile devices to distract their children. Katharine Linke, director of multi-platform programming at Disney said the channel was surprised at the popularity of its pre-school programming after parents said that they wouldn’t let toddlers play with their $400 phones. Well, they are! Mickey Mouse ClubHouse was watched as much as Hannah Montana on mobile phones and one panelist confessed to using the SpongeBob Tickler for iPhone application to keep his infant happy in the car.
Mobile has been deemed “the 3rd screen”, but it’s the primary and most-loved screen of adolescents. One panelist said his fifteen year-old daughter sends and receives 1,600-2,000 texts a month. Also, unlike the average mobile viewer who watches 25 minutes a day according to FloTV, pre-teens are watching long form content, like movies, on their phones too.
While adolescents might not think twice about downloading a bootleg song or movie, they are also creating an entire new economy by embracing virtual goods. They see value in buying an icon, like an image of a birthday cake, and are happy to pay $1.99 for applications like putting a friends’ photo in a Jonas Brothers’ music video.
Next-gen consumers are less concerned with “owning” content as much as anytime/anywhere access across their many devices. New business models will focus on usage-based activity with clear implications for cloud computing, access control, usage analytics and targeted marketing opportunities.
We like what the XSITE Event represents. Despite the current economic situation, the entrepreneurial spirit in New England lives on. The Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship will spotlight positive developments in the local economy, with speakers representing green technology, biopharma and Web 2.0 markets, academia and goverment.
The Summit’s intimate setting will provide a backdrop for high-impact presentations and unique, interactive sessions. In true entrepreneurial form, XSITE will unveil several stealth-mode companies.
In the coming days, Schwartz will be supporting a number of initiatives to raise visibility for the event, including activity on Twitter--you can follow event developments at @XconomyXSITE (hash tag #xsite09)--and Q&A's with event insiders through this blog.
We agree with the tag line for the event, "The Recovery Starts Here." It is true that the entrepreneurs within the "innovation economy" will play a key role stimulating economic growth and driving it well into the future.
On a more personal note, I am enthused by the venue for the event (Boston University's School of Management). There are many Terriers working at Schwartz Communications.
So it looks like the Boston Globe lives – for now – and probably will continue for some time. After weeks of brinksmanship and a couple of all-nighters, the Guild, the NY Times Company, the pressmen, the guy who drives that coffee truck with the siren that comes by every morning at 9:30…all the parties agreed to a brutal $20 million of cuts to keep the paper going.
I’ll avoid for now the predictable hand-wringing and solemn pronouncements about the death of mainstream media, disaggregation, social media and all the rest. It’s all been said. But on a more personal note, I’m relieved. A great city should have a great newspaper – preferably several. And although the Globe is certainly not the paper it was 15 years ago, it’s still a good-to-very-good daily paper. Even after endless rounds of layoffs and buy-outs, it still has some great reporters and great columnists. The photography has always been excellent and it still is. It’s impossible to imagine Boston with only the Herald as the region’s newspaper.
Many PR people have mixed feelings about the Globe (to put it mildly). Our local and regional clients all want coverage in the area’s premier paper, yet it’s often a tough pitch. The business section has been shrinking for years. The editorial staff has been shrinking. Many PR people feel the Globe has a subtle anti-business stance and sometimes takes gratuitous shots at companies.
Still, I’ve been reading the Globe every morning for almost 30 years. I love it, I hate it, sometimes it makes me crazy, but I can’t imagine it disappearing. For now, it seems we’ve avoided that. But after years of reductions and this latest round of truly brutal cuts, let’s hope that in a year we’ll see a paper we’ll still care to read.
Creating compelling content for smart consumers was top of mind as Digital Hollywood kicked off with packed sessions, prestigious speakers and conversations that often returned to how to best engage online consumer audiences who are spread out across many, many sites. Everyone agreed that the entertainment industry maxim "content is king" is critical to reaching today’s empowered consumers who pick and choose what they read and watch and for the most part bypass advertisements.
As the role of marketing and public relations increasingly becomes that of content creator, buzz builders can learn from the playbooks of Hollywood marketers. Monday’s session "Strategizing the Campaign; Selling Movies, TV and Video on the Web" revealed tips from top brass at Comcast /Fandango, Microsoft, Fox, Paramount who have kept box office ticket thriving this spring through their creativity, tenacity and innovation
Know your target audience so that you can personalize the online experience to their individual tastes. Survey your customers to determine their interests. You may find some surprising results that can become a part of your online brand experience.
Be experimental, but integrate too. Online allows marketers to try something new and get immediate feedback. Develop your digital marketing strategy in tandem with traditional marketing to create a single multi-faceted campaign.
Budget time and money for "clever" content. Don’t let content be an after thought. Consumers expect free, unique compelling content that intelligently starts a conversation that they can participate in.
Provide depth for online audiences to dig deeper into content, get involved and be "in the know." Make your biggest fans feel special with exclusive content (like WATCHMENS’ multiple trailers and WOLVERINE’s contest for the red carpet premiere) or prizes (swag, anyone?)
iPhone apps are hot - but then you knew that. Fandango had a WAP platform for years, but had little traction until it launched an iPhone app 6 weeks ago with basic functionality to buy tickets on-the-go. Half a million downloads later, consumers are now watching mobile trailers too.
Listen to consumers, and respond - Fast! The beauty of instant online feedback is also a responsibility. Consumer’s told Fandago they wanted to be able to log into their accounts on their iPhones rather than enter credit card info to buy tickets. Fandango listened and built in the functionality within 2 weeks.
Enlist Viral Armies - Every marketing campaign should include an "Alpha Fan Strategy" to engage a Digital Street Team to be your online ambassadors. First you need to get to know your #1 fanboys -- the 10-15% of your audience that wants more than to consume or share content. Give them the tools to create a mash-up, design a T-shirt, build an add-on widget to extend your brand experience.
Don’t Stop the Feed - Keep evaluating engagement measurements to determine what’s working, what’s not and what to do next. Most importantly, keep giving fans more of what they loved, but with innovations. You’ve got their attention - now you need to keep it by getting even more creative.
While in San Francisco last week for the RSA conference, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced he was running for Governor. He made his announcement on Twitter.
At the same time, the Mayor of Boston, Tom Menino, announced he was running for re-election. He also first "officially" made his decision on Twitter. [Since I work for a Boston PR firm, I had to get the hometown plug in here.]
I remember that when Hillary Clinton announced she was running for President, she did so on YouTube. It was clever then. Now it seems a political candidate must use a new media method to announce their intentions, or risk being clumped in the "old school" category.
While the new media tools are changing the way communication is done, they are not replacing reporting from reporters. And they are not replacing the content created by reporters.
The same morning Mayor Menino made his announcement on Twitter, The Boston Globe ran a front-page story discussing his planned announcement. The Mayor's campaign website launched the same morning, as did a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. These new-media vehicles were pre-populated with content.
At Schwartz, we incorporate new media into our healthcare PR and technology PR programs. We constantly coordinate the creation of content for press releases, contributed articles, or blog posts. We dovetail published content with our outreach efforts to reporters.
At the same time, we must be cautious. Since new media is a buzz word, new media tactics often overshadow tactics to reach reporters and others who then publish content read by strategic audiences. For all the popularity of new media tools, the results of Schwartz's clients still show that the best way to drive interest is by generating media coverage.
New media cannot be overlooked. Coordination is critical. And the combination of publicity and using new media to attract an audience is vital for marketing success.
Today is the day the Red Flags Rule goes into effect for financial services companies and other organizations. What is this rule? According to the FTC, "The Red Flags Rule requires many businesses and organizations to implement a written Identity Theft Prevention Program designed to detect the warning signs – or "red flags" – of identity theft in their day-to-day operations."
While there was some talk about this late last year, the overall volume of the discussion has been very light. A quick Google search turns up just 57 articles on the topic over the past week as the deadline approached. The blogosphere has been more active, but this is a relatively quiet topic.
This is not a Rule with little impact. The Federal Trade Commission projects it will affect more than 11 million creditors and 3,500 financial institutions. It impacts any business that extends credit to customers, uses credit reports to make credit decisions or extends, renews or continues credit. According to the release this includes many service companies such as: "finance companies; automobile dealers that provide or arrange financing; mortgage brokers; utility companies; telecommunications companies; non-profit and government entities that defer payment for goods or services; and businesses that provide services and bill later, including many lawyers, doctors, and other professionals (emphasis mine)."
Of course, as of yesterday, today really isn't the day, as the FTC announced another delay in enforcement of the new rules - this time until August 1. More information on the Red Flags Rule is available from the FTC here.
This is more than just a compliance requirement. It provides services companies an opportunity to communicate with their customers and reassure them of their security commitment and plans. Keeping customers informed of your compliance with these rules can help build a deeper bond and allay any fears they may have. This is a key issue that is often overlooked - compliance reporting can be leveraged to help businesses. In this era of transparency Red Flags Rules should be discussed more and should be a key part of organizational communications around fighting identity theft.