PRSA ICON 2018: It’s All About Relevant and Data-Driven Content

Last week, the Ketner Group team attended the PRSA 2018 International Conference, better known to the public relations community as PRSA ICON, in our own backyard here in Austin, Texas. If you are not familiar with the conference, it’s designed specifically to help the communications community enhance our personal and professional network through career development and connecting with other PR practitioners.

Needless to say, the KG team definitely networked, and we DEFINITELY returned to the office with new ideas and methods for bettering our professional craft. We heard inspiring keynotes from Do Something’s CEO Aria Finger and digital marketing pioneer Ann Handley. The PRSA ICON breakout sessions we attended were all about perfecting your messages in clear yet relevant ways, and also explored new sectors of the communications industry. Here are just a few tidbits of the best practices we learned at PRSA ICON this year:

Lesson One: Communicating should ALWAYS be about your audience

Although as communication professionals we may think we are clearly delivering our messages, that may not always be the case. As we learned at the conference, we currently live in the age where content is king, but that can lead to a vicious cycle of “churning and burning” an immense amount of content, losing sight of one key component: your target audience. For example, think of a scenario where someone is just talking at you, instead of trying to understand what experiences or topics may be relevant to you based on your experiences and former knowledge – chances are, mid-lecture your mind will start drifting away to more relevant thoughts.

Therefore, your audience should always be at the forefront of the message. Key questions like ‘what is my audience’s point of reference?’ and ‘why would this be relevant to them?’ and ‘what does my audience need?’ should always lead your messaging strategy. After all, if you lose your audience, who is going to read your content?

Lesson Two: We are all, or should strive to be, data analysts

We live in a digital age where every search and click is tracked. And while we in the PR world are notorious for disliking math and preferring words over figures, it’s time to join the data revolution. At PRSA ICON, we discussed the need for PR professionals to dive into the world of data to create an even bigger need and sense of interest for each and every story, while continuing to make our pitches and strategies not only timely but also informed and relevant. As IBM’s Brandi Boatner explained during her workshop, while the world of data is intimidating, the key here is to start one step at a time. She recommended starting with Google Trends and then identifying data sets that are relevant to your communications strategy. As Boatner explained, when you dive into the world of data, you should not try to analyze a large amount of data all at once, as both you and your audience will be overwhelmed: “A good storyteller masters things that are unseen and with AI and data analytics, you can create a communications strategy that quickly identifies and gets ahead of trends.”

Lesson Three: Social media influencers are now a staple in public relations

As industry conversations continue to heat up on the effectiveness of social media influencers, the fact is, social influencers are now and will continue to be a staple in the world of communications. (Ketner Group recently profiled one such influencer in a recent blog!) What’s more, social media influencers can help companies effectively grow organic audiences and customers they would not have had before. As we learned at PRSA ICON, leveraging social media influencers for your communication efforts is a matter of conducting diligent research to identify the right influencers that will create a new level of authentic communication between you and your target audience.

As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” And in public relations and communications as a whole, there is something new to learn every day! We look forward to implementing the lessons learned at this year’s conference into our communications craft as we continue to be life-long learners in this industry.

7 Steps to Successful LinkedIn Marketing

In recent weeks, we’ve explored how to develop a content strategy, how to set up a social media program from scratch, and how to use thought leadership bylines to earn media coverage. All of these content approaches complement each other and help reinforce a brand’s identity. But the power of the written, or recorded, word can only get as far as the audience you’ve built to consume it. Luckily, there’s a way to amplify the reach and impact of this owned and earned content that we find quite valuable and our clients are consistently curious about: LinkedIn Sponsored Content.

 Adding a paid element to your PR program helps bridge the gap between traditional PR and traditional marketing, which shouldn’t operate in silos anyway. We like to take a strategic view of LinkedIn promotion, using a step-by-step practice to develop and continually optimize a highly-targeted LinkedIn ads campaign that complements existing content development and organic social media initiatives. The approach outlined below helps identify hyper-relevant prospects, target them with the right content, understand what content to create in the future and serve your company’s ultimate marketing goals.

 Step 1: Identify Ideal Audience

As with any marketing process, you can’t succeed if you don’t know who you’re talking to or trying to reach. But if you know who the decision makers, influencers or buyers are that you want to influence with your content, you can target them at a granular level on LinkedIn. By combing criteria, you can hit a hyper-targeted user set and ensure you’re not spending money promoting content to users who will never make a difference for your bottom line.  You can target audiences in three ways:

  • Demographics – Job function, seniority, company name, geographic region, industry, etc.
  • Interest-based targeting – Group membership, skills, fields of study
  • Company audience data – Target account lists your sales team is using (Note, you’ll need a lot of names for this to be effective, but it guarantees a precise audience.)

Step 2: Define Campaign Goal and Associated Content Formats

Once you know who you want to read your content and ultimately to engage with your brand as a potential customer, you’ll need to define the goal of your campaign. This will determine the kind of content you promote. For content you don’t already have, you’ll need to focus on developing it as part of a comprehensive owned, earned and paid media program. For the following goals, you’ll want to emphasize the associated content:

 Brand awareness

  • Company blog posts on LinkedIn
  • Press releases
  • Long-form posts
  • Visuals/videos
  • Product announcements
  • Promotion of tradeshow attendance

Thought leadership

  • eBook, whitepaper, video, research
  • Industry commentary
  • Long-form posts
  • Guest blogs on other blogs
  • Industry trends or data

 Lead generation

  • eBooks­
  • Webinars
  • How-to guides
  • Blog posts with calls-to-action (CTA)
  • “Freemium” downloads/gated content
  • Industry-related reports

Step 3: Develop an Editorial Calendar

Once you know which content to share, set up an editorial calendar – this will help you to visualize the rhythm of content being published and ensure that you’re addressing different aspects of your brand’s value proposition. Having everything written out will also help make sure you share different forms of content to keep things fresh and engaging for all members of your target audience, depending on their interest, challenge, or stage in the buying process:

  • Awareness: Have realized and expressed symptoms of potential problems or an opportunity.
  • Consideration: Have clearly defined and given a name to their problem or opportunity, actively looking for ways to address the issue.
  • Decision: Have defined their solution strategy, method or approach and ready to take the next step.

Step 4: Identify Assets and Messaging to Promote Content

Identify and/or develop compelling ad copy (150 words or less) and visual content that make readers want to click on or download the content you’re promoting. If you can’t sell your content, no one will read it no matter how informative or well-written it is.

Hint: Include calls to action, statistics, quotes, actionable text.

Step 5: Determine Ad Method

Sponsored Content

Sponsored content campaigns are promoted through paid channels based on posts you have also made directly on your Company Page. They are best used to attract new followers to the company website or landing page and drive engagement with company-specific content.

Company Page posts (status updates) can be promoted in the newsfeeds of both followers and non-followers whose demographics have been specifically targeted. This is a good option for posting blog content, articles about your company or to showcase commentary, award wins, customer or product announcements, and more.

Direct Sponsored Content

The direct sponsored content option allows you to post content directly in the LinkedIn feed without the content originating on your LinkedIn Company Page. This is useful if you don’t want the post to clutter your company’s LinkedIn profile page, but otherwise operates the same as sponsored content.

Website Ads

LinkedIn also offers more traditional website ads, which lead readers to the company website and often start at $2.00 per click and up. These are best leveraged for sending interested parties to your website to download gated content – whitepapers, e-books, case studies, webinars – for lead generation, or to product pages for direct sales promotion. If you choose this option, you should set up goal tracking in Google Analytics to count how many contact form submissions are received as a result of a given ad. Then judge what your cost per lead is and determine if it is delivering appropriate ROI.

Step 6: Set a Budget

Finally, you’ll need to decide what your total monthly budget for LinkedIn ads will be, and how you’ll allocate your spend – either emphasizing CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) if your goal is brand visibility, or CPC (cost per click) if your goal is lead generation or website traffic conversion.

LinkedIn Ads work on a bidding process, so depending on the audience you compete for, the price will change to show an ad. Bids are only processed at $.01 more than second-highest bid, so you can set your bids at the top limit of what you consider a fair value for the click or impression.

Step 7: Reporting/Continuous Improvement

It’s essential to monitor and analyze the key metrics of your campaigns on an ongoing basis. This review process is critical for finding opportunities for improvement to your campaigns, whether it’s improving reach, accuracy of targeting, CPC or CPM, website conversions, engagement and much more.

You should use the LinkedIn campaign manager to review all the metrics available on the platform itself, but also refer to your Google Analytics reports to see how successful you’ve been at driving increased traffic to your website as a whole or to specific landing pages on the site. There are also tools like LinkedIn Insight Tag to your website that will help you evaluate deeper insights about your campaign and users to continue improve your LinkedIn, content marketing, and overall marketing goals.

To learn more about how LinkedIn can help drive brand awareness and lead generation as part of your PR or marketing program, feel free to reach out to me directly – [email protected] – and don’t forget to follow Ketner Group Communications on LinkedIn and Twitter for more valuable tips like these.

 

Tips for Developing a Content Strategy

Blogs! Social media! Whitepapers! Webinars and email newsletters! These are only some of the content marketing tactics that hold a tremendous amount of potential for getting your business the attention it needs to grow as fast as it deserves.

It can be truly dizzying for marketing teams to crank out the amount of content needed to make an impact. And unless your marketing team requires a fleet of Uber XLs to get to an office happy hour, it’s just not possible to do it all. Yes, PR firms can be terrific allies in developing and executing on your content strategy, but how should you set one up in the first place?

Brand awareness vs. lead generation

An effective content strategy serves two equally valuable and competing (yet complementary) purposes – brand awareness and lead generation – neither of which your marketing can succeed without. It’s finding out how to balance these that takes work. So, take a step back and work from the top down. Define your organization’s unique needs and goals. Ask questions like:

  • Do our customers know who we are?
  • Is our pipeline flooded or flowing at a trickle?
  • Does our sales team close every sale they work on or are we struggling to convert leads?
  • Do we have a competitor or competitors regularly winning deals over us?

Once you know where you stand, where you’re already succeeding and what gaps you need to address, you can determine the type of information your intended audience would most benefit from. Then, leverage the three overarching channels available to you – owned, earned and paid media – to get it to them.

Owned Media

Think about the advice we’d all give to a friend feeling overwhelmed by a situation, something along the lines of, “you can only control what you can control.” Although sometimes frustrating to take that advice at face value, it’s essential to get the basics right before branching out to more nuanced arenas. Unsurprisingly then, owned media should always be the first and most fundamental element of any content strategy.

Website

To that end, your focus should be on ensuring your website is the rock your content strategy can build off of. It allows you to tell visitors who you are as a company, what you stand for, what you sell and why it’s worth the investment. It has unrivaled power to tell your story how you want it told – everything you want someone to know about your company should live here. You should also have simple components like a ‘Contact Us’ page for lead generation, and any gated whitepapers, case studies, e-books, or webinars can live in perpetuity on your website to generate traffic and leads, long after you publish them.  Managing a regularly updated blog is also a key part of becoming a well-rounded brand; it will serve as an outlet for the promotional and thought leadership messaging you want your customers to associate with your business.

Social Media

It’s not exactly a cutting-edge revelation, but social media channels allow you to disseminate any info you want to the people that follow you. All the content you post to your website should be shared on the social channels you run, as this drives traffic to specific landing pages and your site as a whole, further driving lead generation. Just don’t forget to share and engage with the broader community on your social media platforms, as no one likes a “me, me, me” account!

However, it’s also important to note that not every platform is perfect for every brand or audience. We’ll share another post on social media content marketing in a few weeks (and will link to it once it’s live), but we tend to be major fans of LinkedIn for our B2B retail clients, using Twitter and Facebook as complementary outlets. Based on your audience and goals, pick and choose your platforms so you don’t waste time and resources building a community that won’t drive online engagement.

Email

Often left out of the ‘thought leadership’ bucket, but rarely forgotten by traditional marketers, email can play a key role in reaching an audience of customers, prospects, partners and others who care about your company message and sign up to receive information from you. Don’t just use email to sell; use it to inform, engage and entertain whenever possible to maximize its potential and keep your readers from going for an instant ‘delete.’

Earned Media

Along with content strategy and development as a whole, earned media is the bread and butter of our PR firm, and one of the most compelling reasons to work with an agency with a long history in a given market. Earned media provides a major boost to your brand’s visibility, recognition and authority. But using content to earn media attention doesn’t end with press release pitching.

My colleague Adrienne Newcomb wrote a great blog on using bylined articles to secure thought leadership coverage in key trade publications, and we’ve found that case studies, proprietary research reports, and pitching executive commentary on developing trends (great for sharing on social too) can have a big impact on a brand’s ability to get media coverage.

Whatever content you create for your owned channels, think about how you might be able to convince someone else to use it on their own platform. Without reinventing the wheel, you’ve greatly increased the value of a given piece of content.

Paid Media

Paid media can be a terrific option to supplement your owned and earned content strategies but should rarely, if ever, be relied upon to have a strong impact before the brand has developed those initial content foundations. We recommend thinking of paid media as the final exclamation point on a well-executed organic program that helps take successes to new heights. This doesn’t mean you need to have a killer email marketing program in order to promote high-performing blog posts on LinkedIn, but it does mean you shouldn’t be investing heavily in LinkedIn posts that direct back to a useless website. Determine the gap in your growth plan, create enjoyable content people want to engage with, build an audience that cares what you have to say, and use paid to take you over the top. If your foundation is strong, the potential ROI can be huge!

We’re here to help

Want to learn more about developing a content marketing strategy from scratch or optimizing a program already in motion? Reach out to us. We love talking about content and it’d be our pleasure to help you use your own media effectively and efficiently.

Breakfast Tacos and PR: Make Plans to Attend the 2018 PRSA International Conference in Austin!

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend last year’s PRSA International Conference in Boston, and as soon as I got back home, I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved in this year’s event taking place in Ketner Group’s very own backyard of Austin, Texas!

The annual conference is a wonderful event that “spotlights the intersection of technology and media, and leads the competition by providing unparalleled information strategies and tools for the new trends impacting the industry.” As I wrote in my blog last October, it’s a great event for professional development, inspiration, networking and even mentoring with some of the students from PRSSA.

This year, I’m THRILLED to say that Ketner Group will be a part of the planning as part of the PRSA Austin Chapter, the official hosts of the 2018 event. Stacy Lan and I have joined the opening reception committee, and we are excited! We are joined by our friends and peers from the Austin PR community to “get the party started” and show our colleagues from around the world just how awesome and wonderfully weird our city is.

I suspect there will be plenty of breakfast tacos for everyone!

A few key note speakers have already been announced:

  • Robert B. Reich: Economic Adviser, Best-Selling Author. Reich is currently serving as the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Reich’s most recent book is “The Common Good.”
  • Jonathan Mildenhall, Former Airbnb CMO. Mildenhall is a globally recognized thought leader in the worlds of business strategy and creative excellence. A proponent of purposeful branding, he is passionate about connecting consumers with brands in a meaningful, authentic way and building community-driven brands that promote positive societal change.

As well, PRSA is currently accepting proposals for speaking at the event. The call for proposals deadline is March 26. Click here for more information!

I encourage all of my PR peeps to consider attending this great event – I promise you will come away inspired and ready to execute on all the ideas you will hear about. Registration is open now, so y’all come on down to Texas and we’ll talk PR in October!

Dr. John Murphy’s Universal Principles of Effective Communication

Last November, I had the pleasure of hearing one of my former professors at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. John Murphy, present his “Universal Principles of Effective Communication” at the Texas Exes Lunchtime Lecture series. While I’d heard a version of this lecture before, I was pumped to hear him speak again and be back in the “classroom.”

As I recounted my experience to the KG team, I was disappointed that my younger colleagues did not have the pleasure of taking ADV 318J with Dr. Murphy. In light of this, and the biggest advertising event of the year, the Super Bowl, having just passed, I’d like to share Dr. Murphy’s “Universal Principles of Effective Communication” and pass along some of his wisdom and a few classic examples he shared*.

Think Different

“Think Different” is Dr. Murphy’s first principle of effective communication. Here, the main objective is to do something different – either different from your norm or different from your competitors. A couple of examples that Dr. Murphy provided were the 1997 Apple campaign that coined the term “Think Different.” and this Chevy commercial in the spirit of “Lassie,” that doesn’t focus on the truck’s features, but instead, tells a familiar and captivating story.

Simplicity

We know this as KISS or “Keep it simple, stupid,” a principle that applies across the business world. It’s exactly what it sounds like; don’t complicate things.

Specificity

Specifics sell. When communicating, whether through an ad campaign or a business email, it’s important to be as specific as possible. By providing unambiguous details, the consumer knows exactly what to expect, making it more likely for them to engage with your call to action. For this principle, Dr. Murphy shared an ad that appeared in a Houston newspaper listing a non-profit’s detailed, and specific, list of needed donation items.

Believability

Believability isn’t simply telling the truth, it’s doing it in a way that people understand. Therefore, the key is using familiar language and speaking in the way that your audience would. This may mean setting aside some grammatical and syntax principals to relate to the audience.

Relevance

Furthermore, make sure you’re communicating to the right audience and don’t be afraid to call them out. Are you trying to reach millennials? Fathers? Milk drinkers? No matter who it is, by calling them out, you can be sure to grab their attention.

Likability

Now, we all know, especially in the age of social media, it’s impossible to get EVERYONE to like you. However, being likable is the first step in getting someone to buy something from you. Most of the time, consumers, and certainly businesses, aren’t going to purchase a product or service from someone they don’t like. A classic example is a car salesman in Michigan who sent every single one of his customers a card every month; on the back of every card it said, “I like you.” Clearly, this worked; he sold over 13,000 cars throughout the course of his career.

Consistency

It’s okay to say the same thing over and over. Some of the biggest brand names have achieved great advertising success by sticking to a consistent strategy. For example, Nike continues to tell audiences, “Just Do It,” Motel 6 promises, “We’ll leave the light on for you,” and, the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales, who barely made the cut this year, have been a constant.

While Dr. Murphy’s presentation focused on advertising campaigns, the same principles can be applied to PR and any form of strategic communications. Furthermore, these principles can be used beyond the world of strategic communications and used in your everyday business or personal correspondence.

*All ideas and examples in this blog are credited to Dr. John Murphy.

KG’s Top 10 Favorite Newsletters

The retail industry is rapidly changing every day, and sometimes, it can be hard to keep up. That’s why our team stays up-to-date by subscribing to newsletters that will alert us on breaking Amazon news, inform us of a good responsive pitch opportunity, or give us insight on an interesting new study. Here are our top 10 favorite newsletters to help us stay in-the-know with all things retail and technology:

Industry Dive
“Broken out by vertical – Retail and Supply Chain Dive are my top picks – Industry Dive newsletters offer a combination of breaking news and industry insight I find incredibly useful to my day-to-day work and my overall understanding of the industry. Even the format of the articles, which each include a few summary bullets at the top, makes scanning the news for relevant content simple and convenient.” –Aidan Griffin

L2 Research’s “Winners and Losers” Series
“L2 Research’s weekly ‘Winners and Losers’ video, featuring the hilarious and brilliant Scott Galloway, is a fantastic recap of the brands that are thriving (or not) in the digital age. It really is the best of both worlds for me! I get a data-driven, sometimes provocative, overview of the best and worst performing brands, AND, Professor Galloway always makes me giggle with his crazy, end of video antics. It’s a must-see!” – Catherine Seeds

RetailWire
“RetailWire’s daily newsletter includes three discussion topics that offer great insights into what industry thought leaders consider to be hot topics and it’s a great opportunity for our clients to participate in those ongoing trend discussions. RetailWire’s round up of top headlines is also provides quick reference guide for the biggest industry news of the day.” – Adrienne Newcomb

RIS News
“I’ve turned to this for a long time as another good weekly summary of top news items. It often includes some information gleaned from earnings calls, and it has interesting info on retail technology deployments.” – Jeff Ketner

eMarketer Retail
“This is a newsletter I only just signed up for recently, but have already found to be a valuable resource for data-driven trends. No matter what sort of story or content piece I’m working on for a client, it seems like eMarketer Retail always delivers a relevant data point, consumer study, or industry survey that I can reference.” – Aidan Griffin

IHL Group
“IHL publishes an “Eye on Retail Top 10 News Items” every Saturday, and it’s a succinct summary of the week’s top retail news stories from numerous sources. What I like about it: It comes out on Saturday morning, when I don’t get many emails and my inbox isn’t overflowing – and it nearly always has something useful to me.” – Jeff Ketner

RSR’s Retail Paradox Weekly
“As the tagline says, it’s ‘The Candid Voice in Retail Technology.’ The analysts’ insights into industry trends and happenings are both frank and entertaining – I recently found myself laughing out loud at Paula’s ‘Fake News’ article and her attempt to edit a Wikipedia page.” – Adrienne Newcomb

Sourcing Journal
“Sourcing Journal provides a lot of information you can’t find anywhere else, with a good focus on sourcing and manufacturing. They always have up-to-date information on the industry’s challenges and opportunities and is a great resource for anything related to compliance, sustainability, global trade and more.” – Stacy Lan

Retail TouchPoints
“Retail TouchPoints has a great weekly newsletter that explores the biggest trends throughout retail. I especially enjoy their research studies and features that dive into how retailers are using technology to excel and improve their standing in the industry. Editor-in-Chief Debbie Hauss does a great job curating this content in a way that has me looking forward to it every Tuesday.” – Greg Earl

Fortune Data Sheet
“Fortune Data Sheet provides the latest breaking news across the tech industry, highlighting the top trends taking our world by storm. Combine this with the fact that it lands in my inbox at exactly 8 am. each day and you’ve got the perfect tool to stay up to date.” – Mariana Fischbach

As a PR and marketing agency, our team needs to be on top of news and trends to craft story ideas and pitching opportunities that work best for our clients. These newsletters, and much more, help us leverage the timeliest conversations happening in in this exciting and transforming landscape. Check them out yourself to stay informed on what’s trending in retail technology!

Retailers are fighting back this year on Prime Day


This blog was written by our intern, Madeleine Hatley.

Amazon launched their third annual Prime Day starting Monday, July 10. Prime Day 2017 was the biggest sales day in history for Amazon, surpassing both Black Friday and Cyber Monday according to the Amazon press release highlighting the outcome of Prime Day this year. Despite popular opinion, this ‘micro’ holiday is not about boosting sales. It is simply a marketing tactic to advertise their “Prime” membership that guarantees customers fast shipping for an annual fee. And, boy, does it work.

Prime Day sales grew by more than 60 percent from last year, with a “record number” of Prime members shopping across 13 countries, Amazon said. It added that “tens of millions of Prime members” made purchases during Prime Day, up more than 50 percent from Prime Day in 2016.

According to a recent Consumer Intelligence Research Partners report, from June of 2016 to June of 2017, Amazon gained around 44 million subscribers. Although Amazon refuses to disclose an exact number, estimates show that Prime currently has around 85 million subscribers.

With 30 hours to shop, Prime members flocked especially to Amazon devices like the Echo, Fire tablets and Kindle devices, with the most popular device sold being the Amazon Echo Dot. Other top sellers include DNA tests for health and ancestry, gaming consoles such as the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation Plus memberships. The sales event also slashed prices on a number of fashion items and beauty products, including marked down fashion brands such as Calvin Klein, Gant and Tommy Hilfiger, with prices going down by as much as 40%, according to The Telegraph.

An Opportunity for Retailers
Although Amazon has seen major success from its annual holiday, it doesn’t mean that competing retailers need to fret. Research suggests that Prime Day could, in fact, be helpful to other online retailers. According to an analysis from Criteo, Prime Day creates a “halo effect” for other retailers, with online traffic increasing for major ecommerce sites around 15% on Prime Day 2016 and the day after, compared with weeks earlier.

 This means that Amazon Prime Day is the perfect opportunity for retailers to cash in on the consumption culture that the online giant created, a similar effect from Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Shoppers are on the hunt for well-timed promotions within this time frame, and it’s up to retailers to lure them in beyond Amazon’s borders. For example, Claus Commerce-powered Freeshipping.com boosted profits last year when they saw an uptick in their number of orders and the average order value, when they offered a 20% discount last Prime Day according to Bezinga, indicating that positive outcomes can come out of Prime Day, even for competitors.

Time to Get Creative
Retailers are trying harder this year to grab customers’ attention and drive sales around Amazon Prime Day. Kohl’s offered 30% discounts on summer clothes and accessories for 30 hours.  Other stores like Toys R Us and Best Buy were also ahead of the game and featuring sales lasting six hours longer than Prime Day, featuring sales on Google Home.

Retailers should learn that in order to compete with Amazon, they have to be creative in the way they advertise around this holiday fueled by capitalism. They will have to market products consumers want at a reasonable price, advance technology on mobile platforms and get innovative to grab customers’ attention.

Retailers that stepped up to the plate on Prime Day in terms of competition were Wal-Mart and its digital company, Jet.com, as well as Macy’s. Wal-Mart matched many of Amazon’s discounts on various items. Market Track compared prices and determined Wal-Mart’s efforts to compete stood out the most among many companies. Similarly, Macy’s hosted their annual “Black Friday in July” sale that offered 25% off site-wide and offered free shipping exclusively on Prime Day.

With sales expected to top $1 billion this year, Amazon has seen major success in its Prime Day efforts. Now, it’s up to competing retailers to strategize their game for next year so that e-commerce customers can focus their attention on deals outside of Prime Day.

NRF 2017: Don’t Throw Away Your Shot in the Greatest City in the World!

For those of you who are theater nerds like me, perhaps you caught the mashed-up reference to two songs from the critically acclaimed, Tony award-winning Broadway musical, Hamilton. (For those of you who didn’t catch the reference, I’ll forgive you only if you can score me 5 tickets to the show next Tuesday!)

Image provided by Kathleen See
Image provided by Kathleen See

But, back to the matter at hand. Those of us working in the retail industry know there are exactly nine days until NRF begins. As of right now, the race is on to be in the room where it happens -“it” meaning where the best and brightest in retail come together to showcase the technologies that will change the way consumers shop in 2017 and beyond. (I’d also like to say I threw in another Hamilton song reference in this paragraph. I’ll let you figure that out on your own.)

The Ketner Group team has attended and supported our clients at NRF for nearly 15 years, and we’ve learned a few things along the way – one big one is to wear comfortable shoes and stay hydrated in between your Starbucks trips! Here are a few additional PR tips to keep in mind as we enter these last few days before the BIG show:

Don’t save all your announcements until January. Most vendors spend months planning their NRF announcements. But why cram all your news into a three-day period? We counsel our clients not to save everything until NRF, but rather to adopt a release strategy for before, during and after the Big Show.

Announcing significant customer wins and new technology in the months leading up to NRF is a great way to build momentum going into the show and to trumpet your successes to prospects. During the show, your news faces stiff competition from hundreds of other press releases, but one or two newsworthy announcements can help drive booth traffic and create a buzz during NRF. After the show is a good time for announcements, too; editors’ inboxes will be a lot less crowded, many of your competitors will emptied their arsenal of news at NRF, and your news will have room to breathe.

Don’t expect to brief everyone at NRF. While NRF presents a terrific opportunity for face-to-face meetings with key editors and analysts, you won’t be able to meet with everyone on your list. The top editors and analysts are in high demand during NRF and have tightly packed schedules; many of them will have their entire days booked in 30-minute slots starting at 6:30 a.m., and paying clients and prospects will have top priority. It is important to respect the fact that they may not be able to meet with you; briefings before or after NRF can often be more relaxed and unhurried.

In keeping with this, we advise our clients to connect with key influencers in the months leading up to NRF. Schedules are more open, and it’s an excellent time to bring analysts and editors up to speed on your company’s latest products, customers and other developments. During these briefings, you can also lay the groundwork for a possible meeting or product demo at NRF.

Leave the PowerPoints at home. The editors and analysts you meet at NRF will likely be cramming 30+ vendor meetings into their day – which can mean an equal number of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations. We advise our clients to scrap the PowerPoints during NRF. After all, if you’ve done your briefings in the fall, then an NRF meeting can be a chance to build a one-on-one relationship. Offer editors and analysts a comfortable place to sit (their feet will be aching!), bottled water and treat them the same way you’d treat your most valued customers. Find out in advance what they’d like to focus on during the meeting: demo, product roadmap or customer announcements. If an editor is accompanied by a sales rep, be sure to give him or her equal time, too.  After all, editors and analysts have to make a living, too, and many of the lead generation programs offered by the top retail and analyst firms can produce solid results.

 If companies prepare properly, NRF can get the new year off to a running start. Don’t forget, history will have its eyes on New York during those four days this January – what will you do to earn your shot in the greatest city in the world?

Not Every Trick is a Treat: Branding in a Competitive Environment

im-a-mouse-duh-mean-girlsBeing the talk of the town on Halloween requires going beyond the cliché and finding an outside-the-box costume that people will also be able to understand and enjoy. Whether scrambling last minute and slapping a mask or a witch hat on or becoming a Goodwill regular hunting for the perfect accessory, Halloween revelers take advantage of Halloween to borrow a persona that extends far beyond their everyday personality. Done right, a Halloween costume can earn you some serious kudos.

This isn’t dissimilar to retail marketers developing campaigns this holiday season. As the nights get longer and mornings get colder, they are looking for ways to cozy up to shoppers in unique ways. The ‘go viral’ mentality has led to a lot of good and bad ideas, but brands and retailers know they can’t just discount themselves into oblivion anymore. They need to find innovative marketing campaigns and brand messaging that puts a new spin on traditional tactics. Like knowing what it takes to win the office Halloween costume contest, there are a few foundational elements Halloween shares with holiday marketing.

Creativity

In the age of data-driven marketing, it can be hard to remember that people can’t give feedback – positive or negative – on something they haven’t seen yet. Numbers can tell you anything you want to know about your customers, and on a macro-level, you can determine what sort of marketing those people respond to best. That is undoubtedly important when creating your brand, full stop. But when looking to stand out in an extra busy time, those numbers can be so restricting that you never find the best answer.

Riddle me this: which costume do you prefer – the store-bought ‘princess’ costume or the one that took someone a week to make after visiting four stores, busting out the sewing machine and coming up with an original costume you hadn’t seen before? Ask Google what’s more popular and you’ll see that lots of people were princesses, so you know that’s a safe way to go, but I promise you’d be more excited to have trick-or-treaters come to your door as the latter.

Numbers and data and research can lie, even if it’s by accident. They’ll tell you what isn’t the wrong move, but they can’t prove what is the right move – not in this instance and not when trying to develop a viral or even just plain compelling marketing campaign.

Relatability

stranger-things-costume
That’s me. I’m ‘dead Barb’ from Stranger Things. People liked my sign.

Creativity is great, but if people are left scratching their heads and whispering to their friends that they have no idea what’s going on, it’s useless. Some of my favorite costumes are when people dress up as characters from kids’ movies I haven’t thought about in years. These costumes establish a sense of belonging and an inside-joke mentality to the holiday. These costumes aren’t cliché, but they rely on a shared connection that most people have, and takes advantage of that feeling to create a positive reaction. Many of the movies I haven’t seen or barely remember are well-established, so I don’t have to know exactly what the character did in the movie or what their most quotable lines are in order to appreciate it.

Retailers can leverage their knowledge of their customers here to find unique connections they have with each other. No matter what you sell, your customers have other interests. Find the connections that fly under the radar and exploit them without alienating those who aren’t in on the joke, and you have a pretty good recipe for success. 

Funny

One thing that is sure to get people to like your costume even when they don’t know you is to have a funny costume. Costumes that take a second to figure out because they’re based on wordplay or costumes that shake the stuffiness and self-consciousness of daily life are always a big hit. They’re creative; people understand that it’s a joke and not who you really are, and they can easily join in the fun with you. The barriers to friendship, conversation or just a moment of laughter with each other when you get the joke is what it’s all about. Don’t take yourself too seriously, whether in costume or in business at the holidays, and you’ll be on the track to a successful holiday.

Halloween marks the holiday season’s earnest launch. The competition for best costume, just like the competition for holiday consumers, is tough to win. But, if retail marketers think about their holiday strategies the same way they think about putting together a good costume, they’ll be swapping out the fun size treats for king size in no time.