Animals: the Peanut Butter to Marketing’s Jelly

Case in point: You saw these cute pets; you clicked on the post. (Credit: Thinkstock)
Case in point: You saw these cute pets; you clicked on the post. (Credit: Thinkstock)

In today’s marketing arena it isn’t unusual to see animals taking on roles as brand ambassadors. Some may even argue that it is more common to see animals acting as humans in commercials than their usual selves. It seems like the goal of many brands today is to capture consumers’ attention by making them say “aww.”

Many brands like Twitter (bird), MGM (lion), Meerkat (um, meerkat) and Disney (mouse) use animals as their logo, while the likes of Geico, Aflac and Bush’s Baked Beans use animals as their “spokesanimals” or brand ambassadors. Why? Because animals have the ability to tap into consumers’ emotions, and it makes them more inclined to pay attention to a brand’s message that might otherwise be unrelated to them.

Aflac’s duck is a great example of this. Even as a child, before I ever thought about or needing any type of personal insurance, I could identify the duck with the brand and what it offers. The same can be said for Geico’s gecko or its “hump day” camels (clearly insurance companies are on the animal bandwagon). These brands have mastered the art of catching people’s attention through association with our four-legged, two-legged, or no-legged friends.

Brands have also started going beyond simply using animals as their logos and voice. Many companies are now creating advertisements and commercials completely unrelated to their products to catch viewers’ attention. Most notable is Budweiser and its use of the Clydesdale horse in its recent Super Bowl commercials. The ads had virtually nothing to do with beer yet almost everyone I know can easily associate them with Budweiser due to the feelings they evoked in them. The emotional attraction people feel toward animals makes them far more likely to take notice of brands that utilize furry friends to sell their product.

Also, marketing videos become more captivating when they are viewed as stories rather than simple ads. Think about how Friskies’ “Dear Kitten” video series has gone viral and been shared all over the Internet. Animal videos have led to their own online video genre, and they have led the way for viral social media campaigns and prominent memes – Grumpy Cat, anyone?

So, next time you’re thinking about a new marketing campaign, don’t rule out the use of animals – clearly us humans can’t get enough of them.

The New Rules of News and Content Values

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

The line between news and content is rapidly blurring. As many BuzzFeed readers will attest, it’s no longer strange to see an article on Hillary Clinton’s approach to campaigning beside a list of 22 (very important) questions Muggles have for wizards.

An increasingly social and searchable web mixed with commercial pressures has seen online news publications with softer, more positive and humorous voices emerge. At the same time, brands now have the ability to complement media relations programs with content published on owned channels, making brand stories and content more discoverable and shareable that ever before.

As media look beyond traditional news values the amount of news articles featuring cat exploits and brands celebrating 4/20 will only increase. However, the craft of storytelling, journalistic inquiry and understanding of traditional news values remains an important core competency for the modern PR practitioner.

News values, as articulated by Galtung and Ruge (G&R), continue to form the backbone by which media judge the newsworthiness of a story, and should continue to be factored in when developing angles, pitches and media materials. This criteria is also great for keeping corporate blogs grounded, engaging and relevant – lest they become the home of shallow self-promotional waffle and puff pieces.

So if you’re producing content for a brand’s blog or developing a pitch for media, here are some of the modern news/content values you might what to consider:

  • Frequency: An event that occurs suddenly and fits neatly within the content schedule (think Haley’s comet) is more likely to be selected than a one that takes place over a long period of time – sorry, evolution. When it comes to your content calendar, don’t linger too long on a topic.
  • Threshold: According to G&R, events have to pass a threshold before they are news/content worthy – the greater the intensity (the bigger the acquisition or the greater Grumpy Cat’s book deal), the greater the impact.
  • Proximity: How close events are to an audience will have an impact. The smaller the intensity of the story, the closer the news has to be to the audience. From a content perspective, remember where your primary audience is located.
  • Unambiguity/Simplicity: The more clearly a story can be understood and interpreted without multiple meanings, the better. When it comes to content, you are always going to be able to say more, but is it really necessary?
  • Meaningfulness/Familiarity: News/content should be culturally familiar – be kind and keep your audience in mind.
  • Consonance/Predictability: Does the story align with media’s experience? If there are predictable elements they’ll be more prepared to cover the story. Similarly, what stories/content is your team in a good position to tell?
  • Unexpectedness/Unusualness: Unexpected, rare or unusual events/stories are more likely to pique media interest. At the same time, these stories make great blog click bait. Just kidding, but seriously.
  • Continuity: A story already in the news has a good chance of remaining in the news (even if its impact has been reduced) because it has become familiar and easier to interpret. A blog post on a hot topic is a great way to get a brand involved in a conversation where they may have expertise.
  • Composition: Editors often look to find balance – they don’t want too many Apple Watch follow-up stories. In the same vein, your brand’s blog should be mixing it up and adding some content diversity. Variety is the spice of life.
  • Reference to elite nations/people/companies: G&R are talking hard news so references to global superpowers will increase the newsworthiness of the story. From a PR perspective, the same could be said in terms of referencing elite companies. Is there a partnership with a large company you can mention to make your brand more interesting? How many blog posts can you name-drop Apple in?
  • Reference to persons: According to G&R, the best stories are presented in terms of individual people rather than abstractions. Bill Rundle agrees with this statement. Quote and profile customers and partners on your blog, and attribute posts to actual people.
  • Conflict/Negativity: Bad events are generally unambiguous and newsworthy, and opposition or viewpoints that conflict are more likely to hold the media’s ear. Similarly, a blog post with a contrarian perspective will often find favor with like-minded people.
  • Exclusivity/Niche-knowledge: Content that helps solve specific problems in an area that doesn’t receive much media coverage can quickly find an audience and drive search traffic to your blog/website. These posts can also build credibility and position a subject matter expert as an essential source of commentary.
  • Humor/Quirkiness: Newer digital publications are increasingly including funny and quirky stories, which often get widely shared on social channels. When it comes to owned channels, even corporations are allowed a sense of humor.
  • Kids/Animals: ‘Never work with kids and animals’ has become ‘Always work with kids and animals.’ The Internet loves this stuff; give it what it wants. What’s your misbehaving Llama strategy?

This list is by no means exhaustive, and every news publication and blog will give each of these a different weighting depending on the audience. We’re curious to hear from other PR pros and journalists – what are some other modern news / content values? Tweet us @BlancandOtus.

8 Ways to Improve Your Google Results

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Thinkstock

Have you ever searched your name on Google? If not, have you searched your favorite celebrity? Chances are you have, and what you may uncover is not always good. For example, my latest search of my favorite actor (Brad Pitt) brought up a whole host of articles about his relationship with Jen. Unless they’re hoping to profit off the old breakup story forever, Pitt’s PR team likely wants the ranking of those articles lowered.

During the past few years, Google has made multiple algorithm updates nicknamed Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and, most recently, Pigeon. While these algorithms change the way paid SEO firms must operate, they do not significantly change the best practices. There are still ways that you can raise positive content or bury the not-so-pleasant articles about your product shortfall, or latest breakup!

Here are some tips to help raise the good content and hide the bad: 

  1. Issue a press release: Increase the number of press releases on the wire. While we don’t always encourage extra press releases, if you are not issuing at least one a month this is a simple solution to increase rankings.
  2. Comment on news articles:  Results coming from a domain like The New York Times are considered very credible by Google. While this doesn’t necessarily have the same impact as coverage in The New York Times, it’s better than negative articles.
  3. Optimize brand videos: YouTube is often considered the second largest search engine, and promoting images and videos can help push negative content down further. Some experts say Google ranks your YouTube content higher than pages from your own website. This article also highlights more reasons for why videos are awesome for search.
  4. Contribute content: Draft content for some of the most credible publications, such as Wired or Fast Company. To optimize reach you can also pay to promote, giving your content an extra boost.
  5. Sponsor content: We’d recommend considering sponsored content or paid ads. There are a whole host of publications, such as VentureBeat, that allow you to publish advertorials while ensuring that it’s contextually relevant, and then of course you could try mastering AdWords.
  6. Update/add online presence to search directories: Make sure directories, such as Crunchbase and BigSight are up to date with your latest messaging, as search engines consider these credible when it comes to your rankings.
  7. Increase owned content: Continue a strong cadence of publishing to your brand’s blog and social media profiles. Also, investigate ways to republish content on other platforms such as SlideShare, Vimeo or Storify.
  8. SEO consultant: If you have tried all of the above and want to try and fight Google’s algorithms, work with an SEO consultant to determine if your SEO is optimized appropriately.

What did you find when you searched your name or brand? Any other tips that have worked well for you? Let us know @BlancandOtus.

The Stories that Matter: 2015 Technology Trends that Most Impact Our Species

Bigstock
Bigstock

It’s January, and that means by now most pundits have shared their predictions around the biggest technology trends that will emerge this year. A few months ago, Gartner shared its list of the most transformative technologies of 2015, along with the ones that should command the most budget among B2B buyers. Prognostications abound around consumer digital trends, and many others have shared what they think 2015 holds for digital marketing.

If we look at some of the biggest tensions, opportunities and dynamics going on where all these technology trends intersect—and if we look at where many of the largest marketing war chests are already being spent—it isn’t all that difficult to see where some of the most compelling narratives are going to emerge around technology in 2015. Here are a few of the overarching technology storylines that will unfold this year—and that will give technology companies of all sizes an opportunity to ride along with these rhetorical trade winds.

The Changing Face of Privacy: Whose Data Is It, Anyway?

The merging of digital and physical worlds, along with the intersection of analytics, mobility, pervasive computing, ubiquitous applications and the proliferation of everything-as-a-service, means our information is everywhere. That means there are no more secrets. Somebody is always watching everything we do, and after events like Target, Sony and last week’s hack of the US Central Command’s Twitter feed, everybody now knows that there’s no such thing as complete security anymore. It’s not a question of if, but when, we’re going to get hacked. And while security analytics companies profit from the shifting game of security—moving from preventing attacks to recovering from them quickly—the new question that will emerge is, what about privacy? Security is a technology. Privacy is a policy. More accurately, privacy is an agreement—who gets my information? Do I have a right to know who’s watching? How much should I care? There is a potent, latent tension between the benefits of all-automated world and the yet undiscovered human impact of a world without secrets—and that’s a storyline that will play out as hackers continue to do what they do, and as social networks and digital marketers continue to do what they do—trade on our information.

Guidance: Focus on the human decisions, policy considerations and attitudinal shifts as much as the security systems and technologies that play out in this story. Engage in viral questions that challenge people to re-examine their attitudes about privacy, and spur discussion that reveals what value remains in personal data and where the responsibilities lie to protect what little privacy yet remains.

Humans vs. Machines: The Race to Learn

Last year, Stephen Hawking, arguably the smartest man on the planet, said AI “could spell the end of the human race.” Machine learning, AI and all of its various manifestations, including the Internet of Things, wearables, and self-driving cars, are outpacing the ability to learn. Machine connectivity, social networks and communication technologies are, in some cases, beginning to degrade rather than enhance authentic human connection. And it’s ironic that we now begin to talk about the glories of “connectivity” when in fact clinically diagnosable addictions to devices, applications and virtual experiences are threatening to stunt the personal and social development of an entire generation. But what’s most at stake is the ability to learn and adapt to constantly shifting environments. This is the new Darwinian race afoot: how quickly can humans learn and thrive in shifting environments on the one hand, and how much faster can machines do the same on the other. It’s progressed far beyond the cost savings and profit-boosting of industrial automation. It’s about who’s on top—people or things?

Guidance: Focus on promoting technologies that are in service of rather than in place of human learning, human collaboration and human development. Position them as the ones to watch in 2015, and raise the stakes beyond financial ROI or consumer experience. This is the context for narratives around human-first technologies such as digitally enhanced education platforms, data visualization, unified communication 2.0 and collaboration platforms, and many others.

The End of Consumerism

Looking at some of the technologies that have dominated our attention at the past few CES shows, it’s easy to shift in our attitudes about technology. It’s no longer about merely consuming things like content via amazing screens or music via amazing audio equipment. It’s about our ability to produce things and create our own experiences. 3D Printing, self-publishing online, citizen journalism, virtual world-building, application development by the masses, and even digital enhancements to everyday tools all give us the ability to build things, make the most of existing resources, and share them with each other. Even the rise of what many last year called the “sharing economy” is a function of this shift away from thinking of ourselves as consumers toward thinking of ourselves as producers.

Guidance: As technology storytellers, focus more on what your audience can create and do with your product or service. Focus on what they need to invent and build. And if necessity is the mother of invention, begin your story with their necessities, and offer them a new way of looking at their challenge—one in which they become the hero of their own story. And position yourselves as the ally who equips the hero to meet their own need. Most importantly, challenge the myth of scarcity in your storytelling. We have enough fear and greed in the world. The time has come for marketers everywhere to shift from using the stick to using the carrot to motivate behavioral change. It’s time for our desire to create to trump our fear of not having enough to consume.

Marketing + Breaking Through the White Noise

If 2014 was the year marketers everywhere realized that the race was on to become content marketing experts, 2015 is the year we figure how the heck to execute against a vision we’re just beginning to understand. Most brands seem to have figured out that everybody’s a publisher. But if that’s the case, then who does that leave to be the readers? People are now more inundated than ever with content, thought leadership, infographics, and yes, even viral stories. And with most storylines coalescing around a pyramid of analytics, mobility, social technologies, security and IoT, there’s more white noise than ever in the world of tech PR. So the question in 2014 was, what’s my story and what model can I use to create an awesome one that goes viral. But the question has now expanded in 2015 to how to get that awesome storyline to get noticed and rise about the din of similar-sounding stories. (Even story models themselves have proliferated to the point that every agency seems to have their secret sauce. Truth be told, all of us—B&O included—owes all the credit to Joseph Campbell for making the Hero’s Journey accessible to all of us.)

Guidance: Whatever storytelling model you wind up choosing (and naturally, we highly recommend our own Viral Storytelling model as a starting point), make sure you reverse-engineer your story creation process to break through the noise. Start with an analysis of the story arcs, influencers and media cycles that already exist. Sometimes it makes sense to ride a wave. Sometimes it makes sense to invest in creating a new wave. And sometimes the best strategy is simply to question the myths, misperceptions and overabundance of hype generated by your competitors.

These are just a few of the big storylines of 2015. There are several more, and we will continue to explore them together in our XTC column as the year unfolds.

The Post-PR Era: Embracing Content, Intimacy and Collaboration

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Technology has had a profound impact on our profession. While the basic art and science of storytelling has remained relatively unchanged, the channels and content via which those stories are told have been transformed.

As a result of the changes to the different communication channels and the emergence of new forms of digital and social content, brand journalism has emerged as the new standard. In fact, an organization’s owned and earned channels are now becoming increasingly important outlets for news, content and ideas.

Rethink Content

With increased focus on corporate publishing, modern PR teams need to be able to move beyond traditional programs that revolve around press releases and instead understand ever-evolving news values, have an eye for a story and always be exploring new ways to engage audiences.

While PR practitioners tout the benefits of brand journalism, marketers have been singing from a similar hymn sheet and content marketing has become a key element in lead-nurturing campaigns that go beyond transaction to establish an ongoing digital dialogue with their audiences.

In tandem, consumers are increasingly looking for relevant, timely content that offers insights into trends, as well as more granular content that provides answers to their specific questions.

PR has traditionally had high-level trends and thought leadership covered, but effective content strategies today go beyond traditional media angles to provide useful content that anticipates questions and pain points of customers.

For example, one of our clients (Oracle Marketing Cloud) recently shared an example of a customer that began posting answers to frequently asked questions from customer service emails on the blog. The company now ranks in the top 3 search results for 360 keywords, and now 70 percent of its revenue can be tied back to its online content.

Embrace Intimacy

Digital channels and the social Web have enhanced an organization’s ability to communicate directly with its audiences. At the same time, cross-channel marketing technology, social media management platforms and data services are enhancing customer understanding, and giving organizations the ability to engage their audiences with a whole new level of intimacy.

Contributed articles, blog posts, and a full range of digital and social content generated by PR and marketing teams can now be targeted at very specific audiences using a combination of internal and external data sources, and used to nurture prospects and mobilize brand advocates.

But the intimate communication that digital channels allow also demands a different style of communication. The modern consumer of media is a connoisseur of content, doesn’t respond well to the hard-sell or broadcast-style communication, and is looking for more of a dialogue with organizations.

The less-controlled, relationship-based communication of traditional PR placed the industry in a strong position to deliver on the promise of customer dialogue with the emergence of social media. As organizations build on this intimacy with new digital marketing tools, the PR department is again well-positioned to contribute content that drives discussion and fosters two-way communication between an organization and its audience.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

With both marketing and PR pushing for more content, the ability for both groups to repurpose, reuse and recycle, makes collaboration and interdepartmental integration essential.

The content-savvy consumer expects message consistency at every touch point. In fact, according to a recent study by Accenture, 58 percent of consumers are frustrated with marketing inconsistency between channels.

While the trend toward content-driven marketing and PR cannot be ignored, the essence of PR hasn’t changed. Our goal is still to develop and share compelling stories, and to quote the PRSA, build “mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” However, digital communication platforms and changes to the media landscape are transforming the way we deliver on this goal.

To be effective in this modern era, PR programs can no longer rely on only traditional media channels. Instead, today’s successful communicators must work collaboratively to create a consistent voice across different channels and develop content tailored to specific audiences.