In today's soft economy, brands are expecting more out of their tight budgets.
But the future is not grim, despite the 'new norm' we are all witnessing. The phenomenal social media adoption signalled the beginning of a new consumer-centric digital era that traditional push marketing is limited in dealing with alone. It happens in real-time while brands are figuring out how to control the corporate message that cannot be controlled any more.
This is where the big opportunity lies for brands that are agile enough to evolve and meet their clients' needs in an ever-changing digital landscape. We are witnessing true democratisation of content that happens in real-time through yesterday's recipients, who today became credible opinion leaders who influence brand perception and purchasing decisions of their followers.
In cost-conscious times, more consumers are staying at home, socialising on a budget. Digital channels fulfil their basic human need to communicate, while freely sharing opinions. Those trends represent great opportunities for digital PR if the behaviour of those time poor/cash poor social media users is studied carefully.
More agencies and brands are realising the characteristics of the new landscape where things are instant and level of noise is deafening; consumers and busy B2B stakeholders are bombarded with generic messages that are not customised to particular individual needs. When building digital PR strategies, we need to focus on long-term results through integrating subtle methods of PR with traditional mass campaigns to achieve engagement and smart results. For example, users are declaring their interest in offerings through location-based 'check-in' services, sacrificing their privacy in return for high-value local deals from brands.
But it is not just brands that have to adapt their approaches. PR agencies need to re-evaluate their one-to-many approach when engaging with digital-savvy 'friends' who expect exclusive discounts, quality B2B white papers and exceptional customer experience for free. Effective digital PR campaigns should complement paid-media through facilitating many-to-many dialogue and word-of-mouth opportunities to indirectly influence brand perceptions and leverage earned-media power.
There is no more room for conveniently bucketing prospects based on postcodes, gender or age groups. Digital users are already less responsive to generic marketing messages that add noise and interrupt the natural communication flow with others on digital channels.
To exploit the commercial aspects of digital, brands need to dig deeper into the true needs of consumers and business customers instead of trying to outsmart them, through understanding their diverse engagement motives, personality styles and online behaviour to tailor content, make it available on the right digital platform, and in the right tone.
Ultimately, we need to put our consultant's hat on; to steer away from menu-driven PR price lists and work closely with brands to plan co-ordinated long-term campaigns that integrate traditional and digital PR; to add value to marketing and ad programmes that are running in silos.
A shift is needed to exploit the full potential of digital media in the PR mix, possibly through step-changes to ensure effective results. This will also provide the proof needed to reinstate the strategic role that PR can play in the boardroom, and to meet the expectations of the stakeholder set. After all, it is our role to help our clients adapt their digital comms strategies to fully harness social media and thereby monetise their fanbase.
Views in brief
What's the best brand PR campaign you've seen on Facebook?
Sounds of Coca-Cola. It was quirky and memorable as it featured real people demonstrating their own renditions of the distinct sounds of a Coke being opened. Using the Facebook fans to co-create the campaign was brilliant.
How can in-house PROs encourage people from all departments to get involved with a company's digital strategy?
By keeping an eye on the bigger picture and reminding stakeholders that digital PR is an evolving implementation of the same overall communication strategy.