Initial November sales results were better than many feared, and digital commerce led the way, outpacing sales growth in stores by almost 8x in recent weeks. The digital tide is forcing retailers to make difficult strategic choices. Some are opting for business as usual, while others are betting big on digital innovations. Bain believes that successful retailers will pursue an omnichannel model, combining the best of digital technologies and physical stores to create entirely new ways of making customers happy. In this issue we review recent holiday sales and highlight innovations from Amazon and other digital pure plays. We also explore two ways winning retailers are creating the best of both digital and physical worlds: flexible fulfillment and the store as an omnichannel stage.
Originally appeared on PR Soup
I have to start this post off by coming clean: I sit on the Board of Directors for Lights. Camera. Help. So, naturally I am a little biased towards the great work this organization does! That being said, Christine and I were so impressed by the advice that Nancy Schwartz of Getting Attention! shared with her readers in her blog post today that we felt we just had to share with you. Keep in mind that the tips she shares can apply to more than just email asks; think also in terms of media pitches, fundraising asks, etc. Enjoy the post and thank you again to Nancy for this vital information!
Your supporters and partners are one of the most productive marketing channels you have, and one of the least expensive. But I see so few orgs that ask supporters to spread the word on vital asks, and even fewer who make it easy (and far more likely) for them to do so.
This “spreading the word” strategy has been top of mind lately for, as it’s core to the program launch we’re marketing for a huge and complex New England human services org. I was surprised to learn that these folks had NEVER asked supporters to serve as marketing messengers. A huge opportunity missed but one to be harnessed a.s.a.p., and we’re doing just that.
So the pump was primed when I received an email from Aaron Bramley, CEO and Co-Founder of Lights.Camera.Help.
A. Rekindles our connection in a flash, by referencing a digital storytelling contest we’re both judging. If you don’t have an established connection, make one!
B. Reminds me about the subject at hand—the submission deadline for the Lights. Camera. Help. Film Festival which I’ve previously spread the word on—and current goal (to boost submissions by COB today).
C. Asks—clearly and directly—for my help in spreading the word to generate more submissions.
D. Makes it easy for me to spread the word by providing cut-and-paste content for tweets, facebook and LinkedIn posts and a full press release.
E. Thanks me!
So go ahead and ask your donors, volunteers, friends, colleague organizations, even staff and freelancers/firms. People like to help, especially when it’s easy. And when you ask right, you’ll exponentially expand your reach AND your supporters and partners will feel great about helping you do so. Win-win!
Take a close look at Aaron’s email to me, and use it as a model for your ask to spread the word. Please let me know how it goes.
What works best for you in asking your network to spread the word, and what doesn’t? Please share your experiences and guidance here. Thanks!
Deep storewide discounts on Black Friday and Cyber Monday may be a popular myth propagated by big U.S. retailers, according to detailed pricing data from specialist price tracker 360pi.
The Ottawa company, which makes software to monitor retail pricing, watched more than 8,000 Amazon products in eight popular categories, like video games, televisions and tablets, tracking prices over the recent holiday season.
360pi found that the world’s biggest retailer Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) actually raised its average prices across these categories by about 5 percent on Black Friday, and increased prices steadily in the days leading up to the anticipated shopping event.
In the marketing world, SEO has been a key investment for brands and companies hoping to boost visibility online. In the early days, marketers only had to use one or two of their main keywords 32 times in any piece of content online, Google worked its magic, and boom: first page of a search for that key term. Even though that’s an extremely simplistic view of the beginnings of SEO, it used to be the general idea. After years of roll outs, updates and government conflicts, Google SEO as we know it has become a thing of the past. A recent panel with the Austin SEO MeetUp group helped an SEO newbie, such as myself, understand how things were, how they are, and how they will be in the world of search engine optimization.
The Problem, Perception, and Progression
In October 2011, Google announced its most recent search encryption, an attempt to keep control of privacy in light of federal government requests for information. Google gave the impression that, once the encryption rolled out, the changes would be very minor, affecting just a single digit of keyword traffic for only logged-on Google users. No biggie, right? One month after this announcement, however, 17% of keywords had been encrypted. From April 2012 to August 2013, term (not provided) steadily increased up to 48%, encrypted search terms in non-signed-in users reached 60-80%, and today we sit at an overwhelming 81% encryption, anticipating 100% search term not provided by the end of the year. So much for those single digits…
Implications: What does it all mean?
If you’ve dabbled in SEO in the last year, you’ve probably noticed that the majority of your keywords are encrypted on any analytics platform – so what did we actually lose, and did we gain anything in return?
- We lost the simple ROI pitch. Initially, marketers could view keywords that directed searchers on to their sites. It was an easy way to talk about investing in search marketing, especially SEO. When marketers look at site analytics now, they can no longer see which key terms are sending people to their site, compounding the complexity of SEO and adding to the already low investment environment of search marketing.
- We lost the brand vs. non-brand distinction. Generally, there are more people that do not know your brand than people that do. Key terms that people search on that don’t contain a brand’s name hold a huge potential for customers, allowing marketers to look at visits coming into a website on branded terms (Oreos) versus non-branded terms (cookie sandwiches) – extremely valuable information. Post-encryption, marketers can see people are searching for their brand (cool), or just something (that’d be nice to know…) and ending up on their site.
- We lost the ability to read Google’s mind. Marketers used to be able to just look at your content and where certain terms were located and get a good sense of where Google might rank that page. With the new encryption, it’s become more complicated to track and make inferences on how exactly Google will perceive your content, keywords or not.
- We gained a better planet online. The number one factor that affects page rank is its perceived value to users, closely followed by authorship metrics, influence of Google+, social shares, and content readability. Google’s trying to rank content’s real value, can we blame them?
SEO (life) as we knew it is over. Not all is lost, but what now?
- Google webmaster tools and adwords. This is a fantastic source of data where you can still learn about keywords that drive traffic to your site. Its accuracy is debatable, but it’s a step closer in the right direction on the desperate journey to finding what key terms are bringing visitors to your page. On the downside, these tools limit results to the top 2000 queries, and for many companies that’s just not enough as they may be getting a million visits a day, creating an issue of visibility. Additionally, webmaster only tracks three months of historical data at a time. While there is talk of expansion, it restricts data comparisons and progress reports to three month periods, when most people like to view year over year stats.
- New metrics. As Google evolves, so should we. In the past, marketers have focused heavily on keyword level metrics, traffic and ranking. Google is emphasizing keywords less and taking into account phrases, combinations of words, and their meaning and sentiment. These improvements to the ranking algorithm are attempts to understand the content, not just pick out how many times the word “shoes” shows up in a blog post. Page level analytics and experiences are also of utmost importance now. Conversion rates, bounce rates, page behavior are components worth measuring for an accurate account of site visitor stats.
- New approach: map your keywords. Build a page that helps you recognize the lifecycle of a customer in terms of keywords on your site. Marketers will have a much better chance of mapping where Google is going in the future of SEO, basing predictions on intent rather than words. See what pages are receiving the most traffic: Product pages? Services? Home page? Categories? Interpreting the data in front of you can lead to valuable information for longer term SEO investment validity. Bing has yet to encrypt any data, and YouTube, the second biggest search engine, has a keyword volume tool – take advantage where you can!
Change happens. We like to be dramatize major changes, but we saw this coming and now we just need to adapt to the new SEO environment. In the long run, Google is only making us better content creators, so let’s ease up the apocalypse-talk and start strategizing the new generation of search marketing. Have you come across any interesting SEO changes lately? We’d love to hear how you’re tackling the new Google algorithm!
More than ever, Black Friday shopping could be a cat and mouse game between retailers and consumers. “Retail theater,” The Wall Street Journal calls it.
The Journal notes that retailers often put higher regular prices on goods with the intention of marking them down to show a savings.
Those who use their smartphones to find the deepest discounts may not always get the lowest possible price. Retailers are fighting back against showrooming — when shoppers check out goods at a brick and mortar store and then buy them online.
Over the past several months, my Netflix account and I have been BFF’s. After listening to my colleagues go on and on about all of the great television series I’ve missed out on over the past, oh, eight years, I decided it was my mission to become more cultured in my television viewing, and ditch shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. I started with AMC’s Mad Men, then made my way through NBC’s Friday Night Lights – television at its best in my opinion.
Most recently, I’ve started watching ABC’s Scandal and AMC’s The Walking Dead and realize that both shows have a common central theme – crisis management on steroids! Both shows deal with crises in very different ways – obviously taking down zombies is much different than taking down a dirty politician in Washington D.C. But, the chosen profession for the main characters in each show very clearly includes “crisis management” in their job description. Olivia Pope on Scandal is a political “fixer” which means she is a lawyer/PR specialist who handles the problems of the rich and powerful in Washington D.C. Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead is a local sheriff in small town Georgia, leading a rag tag group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world and constantly tries to figure out how not to get overrun by herds of hungry zombies.
But, in the real world, crisis management involves more than a highly paid TV writing team and good actors. You need to have a plan. If you don’t have a crisis management plan solidified for your organization, there are plenty of resources available online for professionals in all industries. For PR executives, I suggest taking a look at the blog “10 Steps to Managing a PR Crisis” written by Marc Cowlin of Meltwater News.
Marc’s blog includes his playbook of crisis communication best practices that he’s learned over time. His tips for a seamless PR crisis include:
Take a deep breath. When a PR crisis comes about the first thing you need to do is: nothing. Stop, close your eyes and take five slow deep breaths. We make better decisions when we are calm and in control than we do when we are panicked.
Circle the wagons. Take a few minutes to get in touch with all customer facing employees (other PR team members, the social media team, customer service, etc.) Brief them on what happened, the steps you will follow to react to the issue, initial instructions on how/if they should communicate externally, expected timeline for reaction and how they can help.
Investigate what happened. Now that you’re calm and everyone’s informed, you need to get the full story. Use your connections in the organization to determine exactly what happened. You need to know the entire story from an internal perspective, and how your customers perceive the incident externally.
Understand business impact. Is this PR crisis having an immediate impact on business? Will it have a future impact on the business? Before you react, it’s important to know how your decisions will impact the business, revenue and your brand reputation.
LISTEN UP! Use your PR and social media monitoring tools to take the pulse on the reaction of the media and your community. This step will tell you if the crisis has made it to the attention of your customers or media yet. From there your goal is to gauge the significance of the PR crisis: just how big is this issue?
Decide on corporate position and messaging. Armed with the full story, an understanding of the business impact, and a complete picture of the reaction so far, you will have a clear idea of the position your company should take. From there you can write up a quick messaging platform and get buy in from your executive team.
Make decisions on channels of distribution. Based on your corporate positioning and overall messaging, you need to determine the channel/s that best deliver them to your audience. These days there are many channels to consider: you can post on your corporate blog, through social media, in a press release, directly to the media, or a combination. When making this decision, keep in mind the basic differences in each channel. Every situation will be different, and you’ll need to use the info you’ve gathered so far to decide on the best distribution.
Get the word out. You’ve done your homework, gotten the buy-in on messaging, and have decided on distribution channels. It’s now time to get your message out to the channels you’ve chosen.
Monitor reaction and react as needed. With your message out in the world, you need to circle back with your public facing teams. Is your PR crisis still a crisis? What happens next will ultimately depend on the reaction of the media, your community and in social media. There are no hard and fast rules and you’ll need to make the call in real time.
Learn from the process. Everything you learn will help your company understand how to avoid future crisis and will help you to efficiently managing your next crisis. Take what you’ve learned and apply it to the next time you have a fire to extinguish.
As PR professionals, it is our job to be prepared to help guide our clients and teams through a crisis quickly. According to Brian Ellis, owner and executive vice president at PadillaCRT, the first 48 hours of any crisis are crunch time. “If you are not ahead of the crisis by that timeframe, it’s likely it will run you over,” says Ellis.
On the flip side, with any given crisis, there is always opportunity. John F. Kennedy once said, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
Here’s hoping that the “danger” part of your crisis doesn’t include zombies!
Let’s say you’re training to be the next Sanya Richards-Ross and you’ve got a track meet next spring that you’re planning to dominate. You bought the high-tech water bottle, the chicest of running outfits and have really committed to your weekly training schedule. You’re doing everything right! Except for one thing… you’re training in some worn-out Converse shoes you’ve had since high school. Your track meet rolls around, and you’re the fittest of them all, but before the first lap is over you’ve fallen behind your competitors.
In a similar way, Facebook and Twitter are still widely used and well-loved, just like that nifty pair of Converse shoes you’ve been hanging on to, but if you haven’t upgraded to some Nike trainers and aren’t including Google+ in your marketing efforts, you’ll be last place in the race for SEO success and B2B glory.
Google+ has taken off in the last several years as the search engine giant’s attempt at a new social platform. It initially landed on the social scene with a flop, but the good people at Google stood by their new product and have boosted Google+ into popularity contention with Facebook while surpassing Twitter and LinkedIn in active users. Over the course of its lifetime, it’s now become a widely used tool for businesses in virtually all verticals. So what can Google+ bring to the B2B marketing table?
- When visiting their company pages, you first notice that they’ve put some actual thought into the look and feel of their profile. A visually appealing and interesting cover photo immediately catches the eye and can actually keep people on your page for a longer amount of time.
- Outside of optical impressions, you can see that each company posts regularly on not only company updates, but industry news and current events. A consistent and relevant presence on any platform is a good rule of thumb, especially if thought leadership and industry expertise are important factors in your B2B campaigns for growing your customer base.
- Hashtags, photos, infographics and videos are all great ways to beef up company posts that give profile visitors a more engaging experience overall. The more you can connect what you have to say to significant trends and hot topics in society, the more visibility you’ll harness for your brand. Making those connections noteworthy for your prospects can lead to a phenomenal B2B marketing program that could result in new customers.
Facebook and Twitter are obvious tycoons in the social sphere, but in terms of the best platform for business to business efforts, Google+ overpowers the other two outlets used mainly to talk to consumers directly. Its integrated features for SEO and video boost online visibility and its customizable categories in the form of circles is one of the best segmentation tools on the social web. Here are three main points to keep in mind when considering how your company can build its Google+ presence and why.
Highly Targeted Segmentation
Utilizing the circles feature in Google+ can make a world of difference in your efforts to reach specific groups, customers or prospects. By segmenting the companies and users followed by a company page, businesses can push out extremely specific information that can directly relate to any particular vertical your business has grouped into a circle. This kind of targeting is invaluable for B2B companies that need subdividing tools to effectively reach potential customers in various lines of business.
The entity that controls almost all search criteria and results for the entire internet of everything has created a social platform – you should be on it. Google+ places a great emphasis on search engine optimization throughout its whole platform, a huge differentiator from Facebook and Twitter. Because Facebook and Twitter restrict certain data from Google’s search indexes, time spent marketing on Google+ leads to more tangible SEO results as it is directly correlated to PageRank. This article on Social Media Today does a great job of outlining the real SEO benefits of using Google+ in your marketing and PR mix.
Hangouts: More than Just Video Chatting
Businesses these days are looking for ways to integrate and optimize more and more, so while we have all come to love Skype, it may be time to streamline communication and use Google+’s Hangouts for all your video needs. It acts as a video chat application, eliminating extraneous platforms like Skype, but Hangouts leverage the power of Google and its partners to boost your online visibility. Hangouts can be recorded as videos and shared directly to YouTube, letting you share product demos with prospects, stream live presentations for interested parties that can’t attend the trade show your company is keynoting, or simply post general company updates from the executive team to your audience using a highly engaging channel. Internal uses include client meetings, staff meetings, training sessions and more that will help you and your company maintain a strong and effective hold on brand image.
Every dollar counts in PR and marketing budgets, so breathe easy when making the call to jumpstart your company’s Google+ presence – when done properly, you’ll get some major bang for your B2B marketing buck! Is your company on Google+? Post your comments and experiences here – we’d love to see how you’re using it!
Fall is finally here. After 40 days of 100°-plus weather in Austin this summer, the temperature is dipping into the 60s in the mornings. Sure, we’re already back to the mid-90s this week, but the mornings are crisp, folks are breaking out the fall clothes, and there’s football galore. The Longhorns even won again this weekend, so everything’s right with the world.
Fall is the season of new beginnings—and one of the busiest times of year for Ketner Group and our clients. There are key conferences and trade shows (next week, Catherine and Caitlin will be at Shop.org with a number of our clients, for example). KG clients are making exciting new product and customer announcements in the coming months, and we’re busily working with them on fresh ideas and opportunities for PR and marketing campaigns.
As we mention on our Be Spectacled page, it’s no time to let your PR program “fall” back. After all, the next few months are a critical time in the technology sales cycle. Companies will select vendors for their remaining technology projects before the end of the year, and they’re also setting their 2014 budgets and deciding which projects to fund. It’s essential for technology vendors to keep up a high profile with PR and marketing campaigns.
What can companies do in the remaining months of 2013? Here are four simple suggestions:
Pick up the pace with press releases. Press releases are an essential way of gaining earned media coverage and creating buzz for your company. We love to see our clients generate one to two newsworthy announcements each month, as it’s a way to let key editors, analysts, influencers and prospects know your company is on the move.
Pitch, pitch, pitch. In today’s always-on news cycle, the media are hungry for content, and fall is ripe with opportunities. Holiday shopping will be one of the top business stories this fall and winter, for example, and many of our clients have story angles that feed directly into potential coverage in the coming months.
The key is to be relevant and creative. Do you or your customers have particular expertise that might be valuable to media? Then pitch your ideas; after all, the media is continually looking for interesting stories.
Focus on analysts. Industry analysts play a critical role in the technology ecosystem. How long has it been since you’ve briefed the key analysts covering your space? If it’s been 6-12 months or longer, it’s time for an update, regardless of whether or not your company is a client. After all, analysts need to understand your products, strategy and customer base in order to do their job; and since they often advise end-user companies on vendor selections, it’s essential that the analysts are up to date on your company.
Refresh your content. It’s no secret that content is king. Now is the time to refresh your website with fresh content, short videos, case studies, infographics, e-books, case studies and vehicles for telling your company’s story. Most of our clients’ software solutions have hefty price tags and solve critical business problems, so prospects will be on your site often to look for relevant, up to date content.
There’s much more, of course, but these are just a few ideas to get you started. What other suggestions do you have to give your PR and marketing campaigns a fall makeover? We’d love to hear from you.
Last week I had the pleasure of listening to Judy Smith speak. You might be familiar with Smith if you watch the ABC hit show Scandal where she is portrayed by Kerry Washington as “Olivia Pope.” After binging on the show this past summer, I was extremely excited to put a real person behind a character that inspires not only women, but anyone who has ever overcome adversity.
Judy Smith is a crisis management expert and CEO/president of her crisis management firm, Smith & Company. Smith served as Special Assistant and Deputy Press Secretary to President George H. W. Bush and her firm has advised such notable people as Monica Lewinsky, actor Wesley Snipes and NFL quarterback Michael Vick. Pretty impressive, huh?
Judy Smith spoke at The University of Texas at Austin as part of a regular series hosted by the African American Culture Committee. She talked on the subject, “Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities into Your Biggest Assets.”
She explained that she would give us three key pieces of advice to help us on our journey to success. But first, she wanted to clear a few things up: she’s never had sex with the president, or any president for that matter, and if you wanted to think of her as a godfather-like figure who orders her associates to beat people up for information – think again. Smith is as ethical as a person can get. Standing there tongue and cheek, she earned her self a roar of laughter and a round of applause from the audience.
So what did the master of communication have to tell us? Some great advice and awesome quotes:
1. Power in being yourself: “Know who you are and know that’s more than enough”
While working at the District Attorneys office, the president’s press secretary was wowed by a press conference Smith was leading and immediately wanted her to interview for a position at the White House. Smith explained that when interviewing for the position, she never hid who she was—she was upfront about her politics and even shared that she disagreed with many of the president’s views. Being true to herself earned her a job at the White House and a compliment from the president, who let her know that honesty is invaluable.
2. Need to be prepared
How did Smith get the job at the White House? You guessed it, because she was prepared.
Full of humor, Smith went on to tell us that five days before leaving to New York for a job, her life took a detour. She was at lunch with a friend—in tennis shoes she wanted to point out—and met with four attorneys that worked with her friend. These attorneys weren’t just anyone, they helped manage crisis during the Reagan Administration. Tennis shoes and all, Smith made quite an impression, which made the attorneys offer her a job on the spot. The attorneys went as far as calling her new boss and convinced him to let her go, even after she spent her signing bonus.
I’m not sure if it’s preparation or luck with Smith, but through the joking and story telling, Smith made a great point, “If I wasn’t ready for the job, then I wouldn’t have gotten the job.” Good enough for me!
3. Character and ethics matter: “You have to believe what you want is possible”
“Character and ethics matter. Don’t listen to people when they say it doesn’t,” Smith said. In a time where people and businesses walk a fine line between what’s ethical and not, it’s important to set solid boundaries and ethics for yourself. In Scandal, the metaphor “wearing the white hat” is talked about frequently and isn’t far away from how Smith deals with uncomfortable situations. If it’s something she isn’t okay with doing, then she won’t do it, like representing clients such as Casey Anthony and Lacy Peterson. This mantra is consistently represented by Smith’s character Olivia Pope who constantly talks about “that gut” that helps you know when a situation “smells bad.”
To close her speech, Smith ended with one more powerful statement: “You can try anything you want, but I also believe that there are things you are meant to do and this was mine.” Following this statement she was asked if she’s accomplished everything she wanted to in, which she replied, “I feel like I’m just getting started.”
Judy Smith left a lot of things for me to think about in my own path for success. What key pieces of advice keep you on track? Comment here!
FYI – Why does Olivia Pope wear so much white? Because it’s Judy’s favorite color of course!
Let’s face it, gang, PR ethics is – at the very root – knowing what is right and what is wrong. It is a motto that we all must live by, whether you are in public relations or not. Every day when I drop my daughter off at school, without fail, I tell her these three things:
- I love you.
- Be a good friend today.
- Do the right thing.
Doing the right thing can be tough, though. Just ask Johnny Manziel and the communications team at Texas A&M. It’s rather obvious that we (the public) do not know the whole story, nor will we probably ever know for sure if Johnny Football took that money for signing autographs. But it’s highly likely that (he did) and that the athletic department insiders at Texas A&M know the truth. But because of pressure from the University and the looming kick-off to the 2013 football season set with high expectations for the SEC Aggies and their Heisman trophy-winning quarterback – things were, let’s just say…”taken care of” and Johnny Manziel was benched for only half of a football game. All of this justified because, well, that’s just the way college football works. Who cares if it was slightly unethical and against the rules?
When the pressure is high to succeed, sometimes PR ethics can be chucked out the window. But that doesn’t make it right. As PR professionals, our ethics are what build our reputations – with clients, media and analysts. At Ketner Group, we pride ourselves on being honest and transparent to our clients as well as to the media and industry analysts that we work with on a daily basis. As Michael Herman, APR Fellow with the PRSA said at the recent Southeast Region Conference, “Tell the truth, always. That way you don’t have to worry about what you said. How you treat people matters.”
September is Ethics Month at PRSA and is a time for members and non-members alike to think about what ethics means to them, both on a personal level as well as within their own organizations and the clients they represent. Check out the line-up of activities that PRSA has planned to help inform and educate us about PR issues in our industry.
For those of you in Austin, make sure to register for the September luncheon where you’ll be treated to a terrific line-up of speakers who will lead a discussion on PR ethics in the digital age with plenty of “tips and tricks” on how to use social media responsibly.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” I love this quote for many reasons, but it does have a relatable message for those of us in PR. If you feel like what you are doing is wrong, then it probably is wrong. If your gut tells you that the “communications decision” you are about to make is wrong, listen to your gut – it’ll never steer you wrong.
If you are still not sure what the right decision is, download the PRSA Ethics mobile app to set you straight. It’s like a mini PR ethics book in your back pocket or purse.
And if you are still not sure what to do, well, I would encourage you to listen to the words from the song “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide” from the classic Disney movie, Pinocchio. Those songwriters MUST have known someone in PR!