Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What's the Plan, Stan?

As you start your 2012 planning, the first thing most companies do is map out what they want to announce and when.  There are road map considerations, revenue to recognize and industry trade shows to consider as decisions are made and schedules finalized.  These product and feature announcements are the backbone of most company’s announcement strategy for the year.  Add in a few customer announcements and a partner or two and companies think they have a well-rounded, complete plan for the New Year.

But do they really?  Using the model above, the company is setting out to talk about what they make and who they sell to.  That’s clearly important, but is it enough?  That depends on what the company wants to be over the next 12 – 18 months.  If they want to only be a product or technology company, than this is probably an okay strategy to leverage.

If the company wants to be seen as more than just a collection of products and more as a strategic asset to their customers, a viable partner to other vendors and a leader in their industry, then that plan isn’t strong enough to help them achieve these goals.

The issue is that companies are comprised of more than the products they make or the technologies they leverage.  To grow, they need to demonstrate they are good partners and have strong prospects for growth over time.  Companies need to showcase how their products fit into over market trends and provide comment on how their team is the right one to make thing happen.  Companies need to demonstrate the value it presents (as a company and with their products) as part of a wider industry solution and articulate their long-term strategy for market expansion.  Successful companies are a combination of all these things.  As PR people, it’s our job to help them find ways to tell these stories.

The easy answer is to use press releases.  This can be particularly effective when you weave elements of multiple threads into the fabric of the press release story.  Blending these threads into quotes for partners, company executives and analysts is a good way to go as it provides the human context to explain why a company is doing something.

The goal is to move beyond the press release and into the interview itself.  This is where a strong media trainer can help.  It’s one thing to approve a press release quote when reading it but another to practice it.  It’s easy for a spokesperson to fall back into the trap of discussing product features and “speeds and feeds” during an interview and forget to put these product attributes into context.  While your company is proud of what its accomplished, without context the importance of your announcement can be lost or simply relegated to a three paragraph story that simply regurgitates the facts.  The challenge for PR people is to help their spokespeople understand the proper context by announcement, news outlet and reporter.  More about this in the next blog.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2012 – The Year of Relevance

We’ve survived. The world continues to turn, businesses still exist and despite what some folks would like us to believe, the sun will come up tomorrow. So given that we’ll have a tomorrow to look forward to, I thought a look ahead to 2012 would be relevant.

But to look ahead, we have to examine what led us, and our companies to survive and in some instances thrive, is a very difficult market environment. From my perspective, that key ingredient was relevance.  Companies that did well managed to make whatever service or product they developed relevant to their target market. They tapped into the underlying value that their target customer had and made sure these folks understood how the product/service addressed that value.
This isn’t as easy as it seems.  Most companies tend to gaze toward their own navel when trying to express their products/services value and relevance. They try to communicate what they have done and expect the market to understand why these achievements or innovations are relevant. That’s a huge leap to expect the market to make, especially in a market that is highly competitive and you are dealing with a target audience that is attention challenged.

Think about the communications programs you are working on right now. Take a hard look at the way you are talking about the products/services your company is delivering. Is your material full of acronyms or buzz words that highlight how important you think the product/service is?  Does the content you’ve written in your releases and other material focus on the great things your company has products/developed instead of the problem it solves or opportunity it addresses? Finally, look at your material and count the number of times you tie the great things your company has done with a customer need or specific market trend that makes this product/service relevant. 
My personal view is that the benefit/trend to speed/feed ratio to should be at a minimum 2 to 1. If you can do this, think about how much easier it will be for reporters/customers/partners/prospects/investors to understand why your company, not just the product or service, is relevant. The easier you make it for them to understand, the more likely you are to motivate them to action.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog that talked about the finite attention span of target audiences. With this in mind, as we plan for 2012, companies that don’t adopt a culture of relevance in their communications programs will face a dwindling prospect for mind share and attention. The tough lesson learned in the down markets is that if information is not easy to consume and apply the benefit to someone’s personal or professional life, it is ignored. Ignored equals irrelevance and that is not a viable option in 2012.