Industry leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid in Northwest Arkansas for this Mitchell Communications Group-hosted roundtable to highlight how global companies are connecting with local audiences while maintaining their brand identities.
John Forrest Ales, senior director, global brand PR, Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Daryl McCullough, CEO, Citizen Paine
Elise Mitchell, CEO, Mitchell Communications Group
Ed Nicholson, director of social media and community relations, Tyson Foods
John Patterson, senior adviser, Reputation Institute
David Reuter, VP of corporate comms, Nissan Americas
Stephanie Smirnov, CEO, DeVries
David Tovar, VP, corporate comms, Walmart
The many meanings of “local”
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How do you define local?
Elise Mitchell (Mitchell Communications Group): People might say it's their neighborhood, city, or community. They might say it's a region such as Northwest Arkansas or it's a state. To me, local is what is in the mind of the customer that matters and is interesting to them.
It is largely driven by where you live. It's how you perceive a brand and how you think about the needs that you have because when you travel you can see how those things change dramatically from region to region.
Daryl McCullough (Citizen Paine): It's also where they connect and share, so it's different for every brand and organization. When people connect and share could be after hours, those two hours of precious time when they're online in their communities, whether it's Facebook, Twitter, or another online community, but they are connecting with other local people. Local has been globalized.
Ed Nicholson (Tyson Foods): Ultimately, they can be in other communities that aren't limited to physical location, but they're people that are brought together by interests and aspirations.
David Reuter (Nissan): One way we define local is when you impact the customer in a very personal way. Advertising and other communications are things we see in the world on a day-to-day basis, but when you do something with your customer at a very local level, you're impacting them in a very personal way. It may impact what they're doing, how they're interacting with your product, how they're perceiving your brand. To us, that's the heart of what local is all about.
John Forrest Ales (Hilton): Hilton is in 80 countries. In local communities, a lot of data shows that customers actually consider Hilton to be a local brand. Because we're really sharing experiences and milestones in people's lives when they're staying with us, there's a strong emotional connection that makes people, in Australia for example, really have that strong connection with us and think, “Yeah, I stay with Hilton all across Australia. That's my brand. They're here, they're part of me.”
We also look at the source market, which may be unique for us as a travelling brand. If you're looking at Thailand, for example, local may be Russia because a number of Russians are spending their vacation in Thailand. So when we look at the makeup of local being the people in the hotels, what is that market? Where are they coming from? What's that cross-pollination? We talked a little bit about geographic, but I think demographic, for us, is also important.
An emerging trend for us is to get out of the pinpoints on the map and start thinking about the types of people and how they form communities within themselves.
Stephanie Smirnov (DeVries): For global clients, local means the country. For a US client, local could mean a region or a city.
We talk about Velcro. Velcro makes stuff stick to it, right? So we talk a lot about what are the Velcro areas around which virtual communities stick and adhere. That's very often a passion point or a life stage. New moms, pet owners, people who eat Paleo diets. It's challenging. You really need to be thinking on two different levels, geography and passion points.
David Tovar (Walmart): Brands don't define local, customers do. Take produce. Most customers view locally grown as something that's grown within their state, so that's the way we present our local produce to them.
When a tornado came through Joplin, MO, last May and destroyed the store, local, to them, really became about how are we going to get that store opened up as quickly as possible and continue to serve those customers.
For Walmart, it's not about defining local. It's about listening to your customers and being able to serve them.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How do you remain consistent to a global brand proposition while customizing it to a local market?
McCullough (Citizen Paine): The trend now is global toolkitting, which is an approach where you develop the master communications strategy, some templated tactics, and then push it out to the field. The better way to do this is via a bottom-up kind of groundswell approach where you pull from the best things that are working in specific regions, the local nuances, and then have them inform that global strategy.
In some cases, one of the ideas for the global strategy may come from that regional nuance and then push it back out. You will find that the global application of that work is much more resonate and actually gets used.
Reuter (Nissan): You need to be relevant to your customer at the local level for them to understand the brand promise. Nissan had changed its global advertising tagline about 18 months ago to “Innovation that excites.” Innovation, on its base level, is something a lot of companies can claim, so to make it relevant to the customer, you have to give them examples and show them over and over, every single day, why Nissan is a company that innovates.
Tovar (Walmart): Our brand promise is that we save people money so they can live better. Saving money is intuitive to people, but the “live better” part can mean lots of different things for lots of different people.
A quick example: here in Northwest Arkansas, you're in the heart of SEC football country. Now let's look at serving customers in our stores through this prism of good, great, and exceptional. On a Saturday afternoon of an SEC football game, a good store will know there's a game and is going to pull all relevant product forward. A great store will watch the weather and know that it's probably going to rain that day, so it will pull up all the rain gear. An exceptional store will know it shouldn't have all the charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid out because nobody is going to be tailgating and barbequing. What they'll likely need are ready-made sandwiches and easier-to-eat products that they can have in their car as they're going to the game or in the parking lot while it's raining out.
We have to do that across 4,000 US stores every single day. Globally, it's 10,000 stores across the world. That's the way you take a global brand promise and bring it down to the local level.
Smirnov (DeVries): The classic toolkitting approach is still a very valid framework and we use it, but the basic assets that go into the toolkit still need to work globally. You want to have at least some central elements to a campaign that can be used wherever you are in the world and then make it clear that, of course, there's flexibility at the regional level, at the local level, to put additional layers in so you've got that relevance. Defining what flexible looks like, however, is the challenge we run into, especially in smaller or more emerging markets that aren't as adept and are not used to be on the receiving end of these plans.
McCullough (Citizen Paine): A secret to success is being less prescriptive and more inspirational. So, for example, Old Spice is one of our brands. The recent ad campaign was very popular here in North America, however, there wasn't necessarily the guarantee that that same level of humor would play in Turkey, Brazil, or Asia. So we laddered up beyond that kind of very prescriptive idea to “Navigate the seas of manhood,” which is a very inspirational call to action and gives a lot of room for those local countries to help tailor and bring it to life in their market and have some fun with it.
Tovar (Walmart): We do a lot of customer research and what we hear consistently is that how people feel about Walmart is how they feel about their local store. That's how they view our company. They know the local store manager or they know their favorite cashier.
People also like global brands because there's consistency, but they know there will be nuances. Our stores are not all the same size. They don't all have the same layout. They don't all have the same products. In fact, they shouldn't.
I'll share another quick story about a letter that was sent to our CEO recently. A customer was on a driving vacation with her husband and three children. You know what it's like when you're in the car for 17 hours in a day. Kids are screaming, you're lost, and you're trying to figure out where you're going. They saw a Walmart and they needed some things, so they pulled up and the woman got out of the car to go in.
She's walking around the store and can't find anything because it's not her local Walmart. It's the same brand and she knows she'll get the things she needs, but she can't navigate the store in the way she's used to. As she's getting frantic, an associate walks her through the store and gets all the items with her. The associate says, “Well, I'm just doing my job. That's what anyone would do to serve a customer, right?”
Well, in this letter to the CEO, she describes this whole story and at the end says, “Thank you Walmart for giving me a little piece of my soul back.” That, right there, brings home how you can make an emotional, local connection with a customer who's not at their hometown store, but the brand delivers the kind of experience and promise that you need.
Mitchell (Mitchell): These types of stories illustrate the power of relationships. You have these big brands that work so hard to build and create some consistency and value across state lines or even country borders, but it's the power of people at that local level that makes the difference. That's where customers today are looking for an authentic connection. They want to understand that that brand has a go-to person for me, whether it's my store manager or Janice on Lane 5.
John Patterson (Reputation Institute): I'm going to offer a global example about how a global brand platform, a global reputation platform, can be problematic when the country of origin is so baked into that brand proposition. Many Brazilian countries that have acquired companies here have discovered North America and then decided that they wanted to impose global ideas that were really Brazilian ideas. They were tone-deaf to the reality in Canada with its different kinds of unions or the US with different kinds of consumer expectations.
You really have to listen to local stakeholders. Many times your employees or associates in those regions are the best speed bumps to say, “That sounds too Brazilian. We can't simply translate that from Portuguese, it doesn't work.”
Ales (Hilton): It really starts with understanding that there will be challenges and celebrating that instead of saying, “Why did this press release not work in London?” or “Why can't the agency in Dubai just take what we're doing and template it out?” We need to anticipate those challenges, celebrate them, and realize that is part of our DNA.
We work in more countries than the other upscale hotel brands, so that's a business reality we have to deal with. The question then becomes, how do you manage the consistency with the flexibility because the owner puts the Hilton logo on the property for a reason. With the guests, it's booking with a certain expectation and that has to be consistent. With our new spa concept Eforea, for example, we have a core set of treatments, but we allow the owners 10% of that menu to be localized because if you're in Thailand, obviously, you would probably need a Thai massage. Who are we to dictate these are the standard? We give the standards, we put in the core programs, and then allow that flexibility.
We've tried to help our hotels become as sophisticated as they can with PR. We have a great system now for press releases, for example, that automates. We enable all our hotels to feed their press releases through this automated system that we review and we give them these templates that will help make their lives so much easier. We found that's a resource for them, but it also allows them to understand what they're doing in market and how that affects the bigger picture of Hilton. That local, global balance is important for us because we can't be a million different things, but we certainly can be one consistent promise as delivered in different regional nuances around the world.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What challenges do global brands face in understanding the dramatic differences between communities and then successfully engaging with consumers in those communities?
Mitchell (Mitchell): It's about anticipating what comes next. As communicators, we intuitively listen well. We have to continue to remind ourselves to take the time to monitor, to research, to listen to our customers, to begin to pick up from them what they are telling us they're looking for.
Tovar (Walmart): For years, we were all about scale, consistency, and doing it the same way. We now realize the need to customize things in ways, but, at the same time, know that at the end of the day, for our core customer who makes between $30,000 and $60,000 a year, they're looking for quality products at a good value and affordable price. They also want a good customer experience when they're in the stores. If we do that consistently and then tailor our merchandising mix and the store experience for them based on different geographies, that's a winning combination.
Smirnov (DeVries): When a brand fumbles locally now, they fumble globally. Early last year, Kenneth Cole on his Twitter account – and it was the right idea – decided to insert his brand into a huge cultural conversation. The problem, it was the uprisings in Egypt and it was a very tone-deaf tweet about that. So, it's that combination of getting into the conversation with great cultural sensitivity, but also being aware that if you get that wrong, you will have a global situation to clean up, not something isolated.
Patterson (Reputation Institute): BP and Toyota are great case studies when you think about the global impact of what happened in the US to both companies. One ended up having a very British connection because the CEO Tony Hayward almost made it personal with President Obama. Obama didn't have great ratings at the time, but you would choose your president against that guy who “wanted his life back.”
In terms of Toyota, literally having a faceless global company have to come and apologize in a hearing on Capitol Hill, that didn't have near as much impact in Toyota's reputation or sales around the world. BP really did have sort of a global stench that surrounded this Hayward versus Obama “steel cage match.” Toyota was much more resilient in its reputation because it probably handled the crisis side of it across the world in a more formal way than BP.
Smirnov (DeVries): In thinking about the notion of “always on,” you are always one tweet away from brand or reputation disaster, but the good news is you're also one tweet away from potentially your next big sales blockbuster or your next big explosion of positive buzz that builds your brand and takes it in a new direction.
Clearly this redefines global and local distinctions, but it also helps you think about how you are creating local relevance. And not just how you do it, but which channels are important and how often and that goes back to the “always on” idea.
Reuter (Nissan): A lot of what you do at a global level with marketing, communications, and PR drives the top of the purchase funnel. At the end of the day, however, your local communications is really what's getting to the heart of that purchase funnel, to the point of sale where you're actually helping a customer make that decision to commit to that brand.
Tovar (Walmart): We have stores open 24/7, 364 days a year – we're not open on Christmas – so there's a store open somewhere all the time. When we get calls from the local TV station in Albuquerque, NM, about things such as getting ready to roll out our back-to-school promotion, they don't want to hear from the home office in Arkansas about what we're doing. They want to hear from the local store manager or the department manager in our back to school departments about what they're doing, how they're going to serve those customers. That just resonates more locally, so we try to do that as much as we can.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How does social media allow brands to target local audiences in new ways?
Mitchell (Mitchell): In the five key channels – earned, owned, shared, paid, and promoted – PR leads in the first three. We can leverage those channels in places where our customers want to engage with us. That is powerful for brands because they begin to realize they have a chance to have a one-on-one conversation with a customer who can talk to them about how they feel about their brand. The power of local, social, and mobile gives us a chance to really lead in the creative area because we're intuitively very good at understanding how to build relationships and have conversations with our users.
Reuter (Nissan): You can grow your fan base in the social space and have quantity over quality, but that's not what's really important. It's the quality of the engagement that's important and you drive the engagement through the local level, in many cases.
Nissan has been the fastest-growing auto brand on Facebook and in the digital space in the last 12 months, but more importantly, we actually have the highest engagement rate. In many cases, social content within Nissan on Twitter and Facebook has four times the engagement of any other automotive brand in the last 12 months. That's huge. The way we've been doing that is through a lot of local campaigns.
Getting “Better” at Walmart
Stephen Quinn, EVP and CMO of Walmart, spoke to Gideon Fidelzeid about the global retail giant's ability to forge close relationships with consumers, its evolving use of social media, and the key role data plays in informing marketing strategy.
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): You're widely credited with changing Walmart's tagline in 2008 to "Save Money. Live Better." The logo changed at the time as well. How has this major branding initiative worked for the company, particularly in terms of being accepted on a local level?
Stephen Quinn (Walmart): It's worked out very well for us. Walmart, and this really goes back to our founder Sam Walton, seemed to always have a sense of when it was time to change. You can see other retailers that haven't had that instinct and it got them into trouble.
At the time [of the most recent change], we did a lot of work trying to understand what was going on with our customers. We were able to recognize the risk of just becoming a transaction and not establishing an emotional connection to our business.
The real impetus for the tagline change was to add the element of "Live Better." People already understood the "Save Money" concept and that's key to our brand. But the "Live Better" idea is really important because people over time had evolved to where their purchases – including where they made them – were becoming closely tied to their identities. It was important to us that it says something about a consumer when they shopped at a Walmart. "Live Better" became a really important piece of that.
In a company such as Walmart, with a great tradition and culture, we are very fortunate that Sam Walton himself really understood this basic truth. Near the latter part of his life - [Walton passed away in 1992] - he made the comment that if we work together as a team, we'll give the world an opportunity to see what it's like to save and have a better life. Right there, the "save" and "better life" were in Walton's own words.
Essentially, taking the essence of what he knew – and nobody knew this company like Sam Walton did – and putting it into a shorter-form tagline worked out really well for us.
The logo has a little different story to it. We'd had six different ones in our history up to that point. The logo we had seven years ago was all capitals and had a big star in the middle. It was very bold, some might even say it screamed a little, which was appropriate for how Walmart was really taking on a lot of gigantic retailers over the years and trying to make a name for itself.
As we would become the number-one retailer in the world, it became more important to fit in and be a part of people's families. Maybe we didn't have to speak as loudly around the dinner table. So the new logo is toned down.
The tagline and logo has resonated on a local level and that's really important. It's become obvious that we have to resonate on a very local level, down to the household and zip code level. As such, it's critical that something such as a tagline or logo resonate at that local level. And this is a case where it really has.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): You've spoken in the past about how the US has an "hourglass economy." Could you elaborate on that concept?
Quinn (Walmart): In the US, you have an economy that is slowly recovering. There are periods where it feels like we're going backwards. What's really emerged in that there are two kinds of Americans now.
There are people who were very scared by what happened starting in 2008. Everybody kind of clutched and we went into a recession. But as the years went on, people realized, "Well, I still have my job, my 401K has come back, we're going to be OK." Those shoppers – and they are the minority – have gone back to the kind of purchasing they were doing before the recession. Hence you see the upper-end retailers are doing fine – Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Saks.
For the majority of Americans, unfortunately, it's as if this recession has never ended. That's the "hourglass economy." And that customer is obviously very focused on savings.
We were talking to some customers recently in Denver who fell into that latter group. These folks were taking advantage of every single tool they could get their hands on to save money. They were very savvy about savings and very disciplined. It's a part of their identity. It's what they do for their families.
In the end – and this is what is so powerful about local – all that matters is what is happening around your dinner table, with your family, and in your community.
That really makes sense. If you look at the Dakotas, they are experiencing a boom right now. Our business is doing great there and our customers are doing well there. They're employed. Wages are rising. But there are other parts of the country that are struggling and we need to have a different strategy for individual stores. We need to be good enough to understand that if you're north of this highway it's one set of circumstances and if you're south of that highway, it's a different set of circumstances.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): This must be a particular challenge for a company your size.
Quinn (Walmart): It is, but that's what is so exciting. It's also why this discussion on local is so relevant now.
Only recently has the technology and the data – and the ability to process that data – been made available so that you could handle all the information. Technology is allowing us to process data so we can better understand what's happening at a local level. This year, for example, we've calculated that 40% of our marketing is real-time marketing, which means it is tailored right down to the store level in terms of how we think about it.
When I started here seven years ago, and even two years ago, that was unimaginable.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What role does customer feedback play in Walmart's marketing strategies?
Quinn (Walmart): It's integral. Walmart is blessed in that our founder was fanatic about customers. He really coined the term that "the customer is the boss." He almost never said things such as, "Operations is the backbone of the company" or "We're a merchandising-driven company." He always talked about the importance of the customer. "The customer decides our fate." "The customer is paying our salary."
As a marketer, I'm really fortunate to work for a company founded by a man who was really focused on the customer. A lot of organizations struggle to get the customer to be at the center of their company. That's not a struggle at Walmart.
We don't have any major initiatives where we don't focus at the very beginning on the customer need. Just thinking about our tagline, what's great about saving people money so they live better is that it's the purpose of our company. It's not just a brand-equity-building program. And it's inherently about serving customers. In other words, if we're not saving people money, why are we doing this program? That becomes a true test internally.
The customer is at the core of our programs. We talk to our customers every single week in market research. We receive feedback from our customers at a store level every single day. Thousands of pieces of feedback that all gets fed up to provide a performance scorecard that tells each store how its performing on the things that matter most to customers.
We ask customers to do this randomly so we don't get the same people providing their thoughts. We get feedback on whether they felt they had a clean store, whether it had the merchandise they were looking for, whether they were treated in a friendly manner.
Increasingly, we are having local discussions with customers about what matters in their communities, what matters to them, how we can improve our performance, and, of course, we're communicating to them about some of the things going on at Walmart.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): In late 2011, Walmart launched 3,500 new Facebook pages for individual stores. Please talk about the impact that strategy has had.
Quinn (Walmart): We track this very closely and we've learned that our "local" fans are our most engaged customers and, thus, our most valuable customers. Those of us in marketing certainly hope that by moving someone who is aware of us to someone who likes us to somebody who fans us to somebody who fans us locally, that we are somehow moving them through a funnel of engagement.
We've already learned that this local engaged customer is our most valuable customer and it is very profitable for us to have a dialogue with that customer. That's one impact of these Facebook pages.
The other impact – and it's really just begun – is that it's starting to activate our associate base. It's very important to put a local face on a company. This is exciting because it's bringing retail and Walmart back to our roots. If you go back 50 years ago, you would walk into the Bentonville Square, enter Walton's Five and Dime, and Sam Walton himself would be in the store. He'd ask you how you were doing and how was that product you bought last week. There would be a whole bunch of interactions happening at the local level. He'd get a real feel for the community.
The reason Sam Walton succeeded was because he did that better than any other retailer. He was able to understand what that local community needed and wanted.
To have that kind of local knowledge we can now obtain with our scale is going to be an awesome thing.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): In PRWeek's coverage, we often hear about the importance of top-level involvement in communications. It is obvious that Sam Walton exemplified that. In fact, you could say he still does to this day.
Quinn (Walmart): And so does [current CEO] Mike Duke. I go to these focus groups at least every month and talk to customers. Invariably, Mike Duke is there. It's amazing that a man so busy spends that much time with customers. He's gone to their homes and taken them to the stores to shop with them. Mike Duke is a great example of the kind of leadership Walmart has always had.
To add another thing that wouldn't have been possible a few years ago, when it comes to grand openings, we used to have a one-size-fits-all model. Over time, they became less and less effective. So as part of this hyper-local way of thinking, we began to ponder how we could reinvent that model and make it really relevant locally.
What we do now is shoot a TV ad and video where the store associates will actually introduce themselves to the community. That was unimaginable to us just a couple of years ago, but the impact has been so powerful. Our grand openings are now so much more effective with that local connection we can now create.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How does Walmart think about "local" in a holistic way?
Quinn (Walmart): In the end it comes back to the potential of what retail really can be. These associates who are in that store live in your community. They know what's going on in your community. They care about what's going on in that community. They're part of your community. And we want that store to be part of your community as well. So if you're struggling with a certain economic issue or a local disaster, we are aware of it and can react to it in a way where you can see that this company really understands you.
There is also a commitment to the local community. Local produce, for example, has become really important over the last five years. The vast majority of our customers are very aware that local produce is fresher, tastes better, and it's helping the guy right down the road who is in my community. That matters to them.
Knowing what's going on in a community is so important. If there's a particular need, we'll not only be able to do something about it, but also tell people we're doing something about it.
Nicholson (Tyson): One of the most exciting developments has been the evolution of the online community manager. It's something we did on an ad hoc basis for a long time until it became recognized as a function that was really important. We needed that person who engages on behalf of the brand to know the brand's products, be able to speak in the voice of the brand online, understand how to recognize the people who are going to support the brand and, then, build a community and take advantage of those relationships.
Tovar (Walmart): We now have direct access and connection to the consumer. In the past, we always had to go through traditional media and they'd filter whatever your message was back to the end user. Now that direct consumer connection is changing the dynamic between PR people and traditional media outlets.
Nicholson (Tyson): Conversely, that can create some different challenges when you have negative things occurring.
Patterson (Reputation Institute): Brands in the 20th century were limited, through traditional media and gatekeepers, in really being able to tell a lot of the story, but not the whole story. What digital allows is really to be a self-dimension reputation player. Your products, services, and innovation are still part of traditional mixes, you can talk about your governance and there's no filter saying you either are or are not being transparent. And it's more about your local leadership. It's not celebrity CEOs flying around the world getting above-the-fold press. It's really more about what local people are doing to build those local relationships and that happens digitally.
Reuter (Nissan): Digital has allowed us to now take what would have, in the past, been very local stories and tell them globally in a way that's relevant to consumers half way around the world.
About six months ago, we had an 87-year-old man who bought a Nissan Leaf. He went into a dealership, had been driving gasoline products his entire life, and wanted to own a Leaf. Our in-house media center operations did a story on this man. It played globally on our global website and was picked up globally. It's the type of story that would have never gotten out there prior to the digital world. It allowed people to have a better impression of Nissan and a better impression of electric cars, too, just because of this one local gentleman.
McCullough (Citizen Paine): PR understands the unique interactions among the disciplines and how digital plus social plus local plus PR has this multiplier effect. PR is the great amplifier. I looked at a lot of the winning case studies from Cannes recently and the metric that nearly every one of them used to measure success was PR impressions. I just found that fascinating.
Ales (Hilton): PR brings everything together and connects the dots. We will lose a huge opportunity if we can't help the C-suite and others understand that this is a conversation and that we're the best at handling that.
McCullough (Citizen Paine): It's also the idea. It doesn't have to be a celebrity. It doesn't have to be a sale. I think back to Pampers' “One Pack=One Vaccine.” It was just a good idea that resonated with mom, the fact that she could buy a pack of diapers and that a vaccine would be given via Unicef to help prevent neo-natal tetanus. It was such a big idea that it just infused storytelling, it was easy for people to share and it was easy for the customer – mom – to be proud of that purchase. And that's another thing that we do well – tell stories.
Smirnov (DeVries): As PR people, we can make ourselves truly invaluable because we are the master storytellers. We like to talk about, thinking back to digital, transforming the local experience. We have to identify the digital platforms that will enable, enhance, and maybe even transform storytelling. So it goes beyond having people on your team who are social media mavens. You need people with digital savvy.
If you're the brand that's leveraging an interesting app that gives a person in their local market an enhanced experience or helps that brand come to life differently, that's a very interesting opportunity. But do we have the people on our teams who really understand all the potential of these new, emerging apps?
It's about understanding how the software comes together with the storytelling. If PR people can keep building that digital capability, not just social and traditional PR, that's where we'll continue to excel in all five of the channels Elise was talking about earlier.
Mitchell (Mitchell): It's exciting to think about the power of geo-targeting and the ability that software and platforms can give you to customize your message because those are the posts that get the most traffic and the most engagement.
Geo-targeting was a real “A-ha” moment for a lot of us. We see how it significantly changes engagement online, as opposed to just putting up a big brand post on a Facebook page. Geo-targeting allows you to be even more relevant to customers.
Smirnov (DeVries): I don't see enough mobile-centered PR plans out there. When you think about the bottom of that funnel Dave [from Nissan] was talking about, or that first moment of truth, or what's happening at point of sale, why is PR not doing more to leverage mobile technology? We've all checked a price or scanned a QR code standing at the shelf to make a decision, right? I just feel that's an opportunity PR has not yet fully exploited.
It's not a mobile coupon necessarily, but it's using PR assets in a much more innovative way – literally in the moment when someone is making that purchase decision. We have a long way to go to bake that into all of our planning.
Folks on the ground
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How are you working with local, on-site employees – the ones in customer-facing positions – to make them strong brand ambassadors?
Reuter (Nissan): It's all about information. You must share as much information as you can all the way down to the specialist level and your employees. Just recently, for example, we started a daily email communication, Nissan America's Today. The reaction from employees has been terrific and it provides information that gives them the opportunity to be advocates for the brand.
Tovar (Walmart): Communicating with your on-site employees is critical. We have 1.4 million associates across the US. We've got 12,000 people at our headquarters, so the super-large majority is out in the stores. That's where they work and they interact with our consumers every single day.
The large majority of those 1.4 million associates don't have email addresses. They don't work at terminals, don't have computers, and don't have Internet access throughout the day. We created an internal social media site just for associates where they can share, “like,” and have ongoing dialogue. Thus far, more than a million associates are on that program and 85% of them access it three times a week.
Nicholson (Tyson): We're, effectively, a b-to-b company. We don't deal with the consumer directly, but in those hundreds of communities where we have operations around the country, the brand is not something that emanates from Springdale, AR. It's something that comes from the people at that plant sitting on the edge of town. We want to humanize the brand in those communities.
We work very hard at building the business case for being good stewards of the brand, living core values. We do quite a bit of community relations training, especially with the managers who will be directly engaging themselves in the community. We have to make them understand that what happens at the local level can truly effect how the brand is perceived on a much more broader basis.
Ales (Hilton): When we enter a new country, for example, that's a great milestone we need to celebrate with our team members. So we've tiered out the different levels, the leaders on property who are running our hotels and then the back-of-house team members who are the ones making the difference for the guests. So it's been important for us to find ways to make them feel like they're vitally important to what we're doing and to help them understand different PR programs that are underway.
We're also getting much better at helping team members understand Hilton Honors, our loyalty program, and getting them to see that this is critical for their own hotel and, as a part of Hilton, it's their responsibility to deliver on these things.
The next level
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How must brand localization develop going forward?
Ales (Hilton): The greatest trend we see is that people always want that consistency, but they want to feel as if they had an authentic, local experience for their destination. So, just like the spa menu, here are the core treatments that you can get in any of our Eforea locations, but here's the 10% that's a little different. Even the local design goes through an intense review process to make sure that if you are in Chennai, India, you want to feel like you're in India, not at the Boston Airport Hilton.
You have to find that balance. For global travelers, they're just adventurous enough to want to taste something exotic, but they don't necessarily want the full experience all the time, so how do we maintain that balance and help them continue their normal way of life or their normal nuance.
McCullough (Citizen Paine): The new definition of local must also include a different definition of community and that various consumers think about themselves in different types of communities, whether it's LGBT or home origin of my family. Diversity is so important and it's such a strong bond that goes across demographic and geographic regions.
Patterson (Reputation Institute): There's not enough measurement of brand reputation outside of customers – the influencers of those customers, particularly outside of your home market. Bethell, a big engineering construction company, has a global customer study, but they don't talk to policymakers or regulators. They don't talk to the permitters, those people that really can make those five-, 10-, 15-year decisions.
From a b-to-b company standpoint, don't just pick your favorite stakeholder and measure it globally. You need to have your local voices, particularly influencer communities, measured and understood because they are force multipliers that can give you license to operate or they can keep you stuck in the back room in the permitting for years.
Smirnov (DeVries): We all live digital lives. Even if you're not super social-media involved, the way you're likely consuming information, researching products, and even watching TV is probably digitally influenced. I often talk about the need to do PR for a post-digital world where the distinction no longer exists.
We also need to start thinking about what it would mean to be doing PR in a post-global world where global distinctions don't even matter as much.
I walked by my 9-year-old son recently and he was on Skype, playing one of his favorite video games. I heard an English accent coming through the speaker on the computer. I asked him who that was because normally he is Skyping with his buddies from school. He said, “Oh, that's Jessica from London.” And that's normal for him. It's normal that through a friend of a friend, he's now Skyping with a girl his age from London, playing a video game.
So, it's post-global, it's post-digital, and that has practical branding and marketing implications. It also changes the people we hire and how we train them. We're looking for people who are globally minded and digitally immersed. Even if they live in New York and they're never going to move, they still have a global mindset and a global hunger. That's the future of our industry.
Tovar (Walmart): A trend we're seeing is just speed. And not just how something can go from a local to a global issue instantly, but the speed at which brands can respond and react to what customers say and want.
Steak is a good example. We have a big steak campaign going on now. For years, our program wasn't very good and customers were telling us that. We didn't do anything about it. Now we are and we're having really good steak sales.
We're getting a lot of feedback through digital and social media and we're listening. How quickly you respond to those things will be a differentiating factor for brands that really excel in the future versus brands that merely do OK.
Mitchell (Mitchell): Our firm has had this huge surge in content creation and content management. This excites me because, again, I fundamentally believe this is what we do better than any of our peers in the creative industry. We're just so good at understanding what makes content compelling and customers are just starving for that. Moreover, that's where we see those authentic connections happen.
So our industry will see content creation and content management come under our purview and we will be able to help drive those conversations. The best part – it won't be from the top down because we're good at this and understand the power of where stories come from. And these stories take on a life of their own and become the authentic face of the brand. That is so much more powerful than any sort of big ad campaign. Stories are so powerful because people want to hear what other people think about the brand.
Tovar (Walmart): Building on Elise's point, when you're creating these things now, you don't have to use a whole day and fly in a bunch of people for a really expensive photo shoot that produces an ad. We're doing these shoots and we're getting the content we need.
Video is important because people want to watch a video. They just like it better and you can do it for a lot less money than you would previously. The challenge, again, is you have to let go a little and know that it doesn't have to be perfect. In fact, not being perfect and showing a little bit of behind-the-scenes is actually better. It resonates more with the customer because they want to see something that is like them. They don't need glitz and glamour. They want something that's more authentic and about them.