Sunday, March 27, 2011

Soul Food: The Art of Storytelling

People want to feel personally connected to a brand and one of the most rewarding ways to build relationships with them is still through the art of storytelling. As much as I love social media, it is still just another vehicle for your message. It's the quality of your content that counts.

It may seem warm and gooey at times but telling the tale of those influencing or influenced by your brand humanizes you immensely. Storytelling is the soul food of public relations efforts when it comes to your target publics, brand and you the practitioner.

Telling these stories is an exceptional win-win-win situation because:

  1. It not only helps to strengthen the connection with your current audience, but it can also help create new, meaningful relationships you didn’t already have with potential audiences.

  2. Sometimes those narratives feature an individual (or more) that makes an incredible impact in the efforts of our brand who now gets to have her/his story immortalized.

  3. Getting to scribe those stories gives you, the author and practitioner, a deeper sense of personal accomplishment that most analytics can't “measure” up to. In fact, you'll see better analytics as a result of strong storytelling.

Every two months my organization publishes a national magazine known as Quill for which I write a membership profile column. With each story I write I have a chance to help our members and other journalists learn more about people like them who have invested themselves in SPJ and have made unique contributions to the profession.

In the latest member profile, I was able to highlight an incredible individual, Hank Klibanoff, whose efforts continue to shed great light on the struggles of the civil rights era. Upon reading the article, Hank wrote to me in an email saying “I caught up with the article you wrote about me for The Quill, and am impressed by it. You did a wonderful job, and you got it right. Thank you.”

As Charles Schulz might would have said, Happiness is a warm thank you letter. By the way, you should keep those letters and printed emails from the people who have told you how much your efforts mean to them. Put them in a scrapbook. On a rainy day, they’re worth so much more than a plaque on your office wall.

Another great way you can build relationships with your publics is by telling the story of how your brand relates to them on a cultural scale like PR colleague Melissa Bennett did. Last December I stumbled upon a guest post Melissa wrote for Peas for Prosperity titled “Peas on Earth - The Origin of the South's Famous Black-eyed Peas.” The post described the deep history behind the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day in Southern U.S culture. Guess what? I grew up in the South and have eaten black-eyed peas for New Year's since before I can remember. This well written back story just gained a new audience member interested in Peas for Prosperity.

To really dive into the craft and learn how to be a better storyteller for your brand, I highly suggest reading Ishmael’s Corner by PR consultant Lou Hoffman. Ishmael’s Corner is a blog devoted to giving great analysis, additional methods and insights into the art of storytelling from a business perspective.

Here are my 10 favorite reads from the Ishmael archives:

  1. Revisiting the All-important Anecdote

  2. Communications Versus Behavior During a Crisis

  3. Visual Storytelling via the InfoGraphic

  4. Top Five Elements That Have Shaped Quest for Creativity

  5. 10 Ways Communicators Must Evolve

  6. The Quickest Way to a Dull Story: Jargon

  7. Blast Magazine’s Media Kit Tells A Story

  8. Every Story Benefits From A Hero (Or Two Or Three): Business Storytelling

  9. Hard to Beat the Classic Immigrant-Makes-Good Story

  10. Storytelling in a News Release: Are You Fit for a Phone?

What amazing stories have your brand told lately?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Early Adopters and the Social Web

Early adopters have held an important stake in cultural acceptance of new innovations throughout history. And with the extensive growth of social media over the course of the past few years, these influencers’ “phenomenal comic powers” have become paramount in the success of a brand’s marketing strategy.

What really made me think about this was the hilarious example this past Friday by comedian news anchor Stephen Colbert with his endorsement of the new iPad II on Twitter. His tweet garnered over 100 re-tweets in less than an hour. It doesn’t get more influencer relevant than that.

Since social scientist Everett Rogers’ 1962 study developed the four acceptance categories that early adopters belong to, they have continued to play a key strategic role in product marketing and brand development. The powerful influence of the early adopters often sways the early majority and combined, the two groups can account for half of a new product’s sales. The success or failure of a brand often relies on their influence.

The Anatomy of Early Adopters

So what does an early adopter look like? According to a 2010 report from Advertising Age called Shiny New Things: What Digital Adopters Want, How to Reach Them, and Why Every Marketer Should Pay Attention, a study by Forrester Research coupled early adopters “technographic” profiles with psychological theories and found that three key drivers compel them:
  1. Risk Taking - A desire for novelty that exceeds caution and reflects a “universal openness to new experiences, including new products. They are willing to take a chance on a product with little to no market history.” There is also a desire to be first.
  2. Information Gathering - “There is an informational burden that needs to be overcome for new products, and early adopters are more likely to seek out the information needed to inform their adoption decisions.” But they also “seek to mitigate risk through information.”
  3. Status Seeking - Early adopters take pride in showing off their purchases. Early adopters choose products that represent them to the world—their preferences as well as their social status.”

In another study by Nielsen and Mindset Media, early adopters of new technology scored high on certain personality traits in regard to purchasing habits:

  1. Leadership - 68% are more likely to have purchased three or more computers in the past two years.
  2. Dynamism - 58% are more likely to have purchased three or more flat-screen TVs in the past two years.
  3. Assertiveness - 62% are more likely to purchase a new cell phone when the latest and greatest model hits the streets.
  4. Modesty - 45% are more likely to upgrade when a new model is available.

Finding Success in Early Adopter Outreach

Influencers are unique individuals who require personal strategies of communication. According to iMediaConnections’ C.C. Chapman, there is no science to finding the right influencers because there are far too many factors in play for it to be that easy.

“I've used many services, companies, and other outlets to assist in compiling influencer lists,” Chapman said in a blog post. “But I have yet to find anything that works better then good, old fashion networking and research.”

As an influencer and early adopter, Chapman recently published a list of four ingredients for successful influencer outreach at iMediaConnections.

On the social web, researching and approaching these influencers isn’t easy. Mere friend/follower counts and profile views fall short of accurately measuring and identifying true influencers. Simon Dumenco with Ad Age Digital set out to further debunk that perception by analyzing the supposed top Twitter influencer rankings on several subjects provided by a marketing firm that specializes in this type of research. The results showed ineffective accounts with limited influence.

That is why it is important to perform intricate research into who a brand or product’s target audiences are and cultivate sincere relationships with them. Social media based influencer relations is critically different from traditional PR methods and requires varied tone, purpose, and understanding. When you apply that philosophy you’re sure to see a higher Return on Investment.

An innovative way to help generate early buzz from adopters and continue to nurture personal relationships is to conduct one-on-one briefings with them via Skype. This insightful idea from Ogilvy’s 360 Digital Influence team gives influencers an exclusive first look at the product even when a brand has a limited number of prototypes available.