NRF 2017, Here We Come

In most industries, the holidays are a time to disengage from the hustle and bustle of work, plan for 2017 and clean out the junk folders to start the New Year feeling refreshed. But as we all know, quite the opposite is true in retail. And once a new calendar gets pinned to the wall, the heat really starts to turn up as we make final preparations for the biggest conference of our year, NRF’s BIG Show.

This year, the Ketner Group team has been as busy as ever, meticulously preparing, pitching, coordinating and managing all sorts of client announcements and on-site briefings. As the newest member of the KG team and a rookie to the realities of NRF life, I have to admit it’s been impressive watching our team stay (mostly) stress-free, while securing some truly terrific opportunities for publicity next week, without losing sight of client needs in the now.

As our entire office goes wheels up this weekend, heading from sunny and warm Austin, Texas to the hopefully not-so-cold and not-so-gray Big Apple, I expect to feel the same excitement and confidence in our client outcomes as our veterans who have been mastering the NRF process for over ten years.

We look forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces, connecting with new clients and having NRF ’17 mark the start of another great year at Ketner Group, for our clients, and for the retail industry in general. Good luck everyone!

Ketner Group clients at NRF, and where to find them:

 

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?

Looking back on SXSW Interactive 2015

Originally posted on PRSA Austin Chapter website. 

SXSW Interactive celebrates  its 21st year in Austin, Texas.
SXSW Interactive celebrates its 21st year in Austin, Texas.

Every year, South by Southwest Interactive brings together the most innovative, entrepreneurial and accomplished individuals to showcase their products and ideas in front of eager audiences. 2015 was certainly no different.

A number of PRSA Austin Chapter board members were in attendance and answered a few questions about their experience. Check out their insight below:

What was your favorite session/panel at SXSW Interactive and why?

  • Sara Lasseter: I immensely enjoyed the panel on the Next Generation of Retail Innovation with the CEOs and founders of StitchFix and Rent the Runway. They had wonderfully insightful commentary on the state of retail and ecommerce operations, as well as where they see their innovative companies going in the future. As a woman in the technology industry, it was inspiring to hear the obstacles they faced in a male dominated startup/venture capital world.
  • Madison LaRoche: My favorite panel of SXSWi was on Reinventing the Cooking Show, in which representatives from PBS Food, ingredient sourcing show Original Fare and online cooking site ChefSteps.com discussed their experiences with digital cooking and food content. Regardless of their goals or plans for how their content would be consumed, all agreed that the digital format allowed for flexibility that was nonexistent in the time of Julia Child. Versus broadcast TV, the digital format allows for greater audience participation, allowing for content to create a feedback loop and a channel for dialog not previously available. At the close of the panel, the message was clear: stay true to the story you want to tell and maintain your authenticity in order to build and maintain brand equity. This lesson rings true well beyond the foodie content culture.
  • Erica Schuckies: My favorite session was called Entertainment and the Edge: Post Millennial Culture. Ian Pierpoint and Jack Horner (who both had very sexy English accents, by the way) provided insight into the minds of ‘Generation Edge,’ which consists of individuals born right after the Millennial generation (after 1995). Pierpoint’s research into this group showed that kids today are more socially aware of the pitfalls in our society and feel a responsibility to make positive changes more than any other generation (at least at their age). Horner described this generation as “rebels with a cause,” acting against the norm to make life better for not only themselves, but also their peers and future generations. Generation Edge is also more thoughtful of what they post on the web and social media; as Horner so eloquently put, “posting less shit.” Let’s hope this is true for all our sakes.
  • Alison Kwong: I really enjoyed the Lyft keynote on Monday afternoon. CEO and co-founder Logan Green is such a smart, articulate spokesperson who was very clear about his company’s story, vision and key differentiators from his competitors. It was apparent in the messaging and what he said about the marketing and plans for growth and future expansion. I also enjoyed Charles Barkley’s panel about staying relevant in the digital age. As a well-respected member of the sports media, I thought his perspective on why he doesn’t participate in social media was interesting as most of his peers and athletes do. The main takeaway was that authenticity and honesty go a long way in the media, especially in the sports industry.
  • Catherine Seeds: My favorite session by far was What Fashion Can Teach Women-Led Companies, which included a panel of the CEO and co-founder of Birchbox, the founder and CEO of Reformation Apparel and the founder and chief editor of Snob Essentials (Great blog on hand bags, by the way, if that is your thing!). This was a wonderful session on how these women have differentiated themselves and their companies by the way they communicate and engage with their customer base and by knowing exactly what their customers (mostly women) want and expect from these fashion and beauty brands. The panel discussed the social media effect on their companies, advice to other women on successfully launching their own companies, and some of the challenges they’ve faced as women-owned companies.

What were the trends that stood out to you while attending the Interactive portion?

  • Alison Kwong: Big data and analytics; the Internet of Things and how it drives innovation; the importance of good content.
  • Catherine Seeds: Retail tech was HUGE this year at SXSW.
  • Sara Lasseter: How to harness big data; mobile tech, of course; the customer experience.
  • Erica Schuckies: Customization of EVERYTHING, from wearables to user experiences to marketing & advertising; short-form video and social platforms catering to this concept (Meerkat, Meerkat, Meerkat); mobile-first mentality.

Did you Meerkat at all during SXSW Interactive? If so, what did you Meerkat?

  • Madison LaRoche: I downloaded Meerkat but was too scared/busy/uninterested to experiment with it at the time.
  • Erica Shuckies: Same as Madison – I downloaded the app with all intentions of Meerkatting my life away. To be completely honest, I kind of forgot about it most of the time, especially in moments that would have been perfect for it.

What was the coolest/most unique thing you saw during the Interactive portion?

  • Madison LaRoche: Unfortunately I didn’t see many amazing brand executions at SXSW this year, but to be honest, I wasn’t looking for them as hard as I have in the past. One of the most interesting panels I attended was the last Interactive Keynote of 2015, in which Dr. Astro Teller, captain of moonshots for Google[x], gave a passionate speech on failing with purpose. At his “moonshot factory” – a sci-fi-esque arm of Google devoted to exploring new technology to solve global problems – Teller encourages his colleagues to fail fast and harness those failures as learning opportunities toward success. He gave case study after case study of huge, time-intensive and expensive projects in which failure was part of the process to figure out what doesn’t work to get to what does. Though these examples were fascinating on their own, the best part of the speech was Teller’s extraordinary tenacity for and promotion of this “fail fast, fail often” approach. During the Q&A portion at the end, an obviously inspired but desperate attendee asked via Twitter how a company without the luxury and budget to fail could harness this approach. An exasperated Teller exclaimed that this poor soul missed the whole point of the talk, which was the simple fact that failing at the START of something (and being able to fix it) is much cheaper than failing at the END (when it’s simply too late to do anything about it).
  • Catherine Seeds: My colleagues and I had the opportunity to sit in on a session with the editor of Lucky Magazine, Eva Chen. She was fantastic and very down to earth. Here is a great write-up on her.

If you weren’t able to attend the Interactive portion of SXSW this year, we did the hard work for you and compiled a list of some great SXSWi recaps. Be warned, there are plenty of Meerkat mentions.

How about we all meet back here around this time next year? Until then, we will be catching up on sleep, nursing our blisters and over-tweeted fingers, and putting our learnings to good use!

Geeking out over SXSW Panel Announcement!

It’s only Tuesday, and the week is turning out to be very special for the Ketner Group team! A few months ago we took on the very daunting and detailed task of submitting a few of our clients to present at SXSWInteractive, in conjunction with the SXSW festival hosted right here in Austin, Texas. Yesterday morning, we were among the thousands of entrants refreshing our Twitter feed and the SXSW webpage. And finally, the magic happened—the list was announced, and we saw one of our client’s panel session was selected! Much excitement ensued, and perhaps a few yee-haws and whoops!

Image courtesy of SXSWInteractive
Image courtesy of SXSWInteractive

In addition to seeing our client OrderDynamics’s panel on the $800 billion “Ghost Economy” of lost sales retailers battle every year, there are several panels and sessions I’m planning on attending next March. Here’s a preview of a few retail and brand sessions I’ll be attending:

  • The $2 Billion Promise of Predictive Intelligence: Predictive intelligence is becoming a major topic for retailers. I’m planning on attending this session to see how Cisco and 6Sense are addressing this through their software platform to turn previous clicks and conversions into future products and purchases.
  • Mobile Tech and the Retail Revolution: Who hasn’t Shazammed a song to win an argument with a friend? In this panel, the CPO of Shazam, CPO of Mood Media and a senior editor of WWD will be discussing how retailers can utilize technology to create one-of-a-kind in-store shopping experiences while employing the wealth of product knowledge on the internet through mobile interaction.
  • Managing a Shit Storm and Restoring Your Brand: Let’s be honest—with a title like that who wouldn’t want to attend this session? I have a personal admiration for professionals and practitioners in the crisis communication field, so anytime I have an opportunity to learn from them, I’m there. This panel will give me some insight on proactively and reactively managing crises. I’m also interested in seeing how big data companies are evaluating social media response to crises.
  • Personalization for the People: Personalization is a HUGE topic in retail for the upcoming year. Retailers are tiptoeing on the fine edge of maintaining consumer privacy and providing personalized experience. I’m looking forward to hearing how this panel will suggest maintaining customer loyalty and amazing shopping experiences while not being seen as the “Big Brother” of retail.

As this year will be my first SXSW to attend and with over 700 sessions, meetups and panels to chose from, I will be making a schedule of my sessions of choice with three back-up options per time slot. Yes, I’m one of those people. If you’re coming to SXSW, be sure to stop by the Ghost Economy panel; it promises to be haunting.

NRF 2014: The REALLY Big Show

If you could sum up the NRF 2014 show in one word, it would have to be “big.” And this time, as attendees know, it was “REALLY big!”

Our Ketner Group team descended upon New York recently along with 30,000+ other NRF attendees, and the show was big in every way: More attendees than ever. More exhibitors on three different levels of the Javits Center. More social buzz (check out the #NRF14 social  infographic from the National Retail Federation). And for Ketner Group, a full schedule of editor and analyst meetings for our retail technology clients. It was an exhilarating, information-packed, exhausting event that underscored why NRF is THE “can’t miss event” for retail.

What were some of the big impressions we walked away with? Here are some thoughts based on the meetings I participated in, as well as a few other nuggets.

Omnichannel and Big Data were key topics. Despite all the buzz about omnichannel, there was widespread discussion about siloed channels, inconsistent pricing, and an inability to forecast and plan across channels. I came away convinced that true omnichannel retailing is still several years away, at least, for many retailers; one analyst said flat-out that “no one” is doing a good job in planning and forecasting omnichannel demand.

And while nearly every vendor claimed to be leveraging Big Data in some way, one analyst says that only 15% of Fortune 1000 companies will be prepared to use Big Data correctly by 2020. For all of us who make our living in retail technology, it’s a sobering reminder that there’s still a big gulf between hype and reality in some cases.

The really hot topic of discussion at NRF was data security; the Target and Neiman-Marcus security breaches were top of mind, and since the show, the news about security has only gotten worse. Clearly PCI compliance isn’t enough, especially when someone with inside knowledge can access information, as appears to be the case with Target. Suddenly, chip and pin is on its way to becoming a household word – and from my perspective, it can’t happen soon enough.

Google+ and B2B: Drink the Kool-Aid

photo by familymwr on Flickr

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?

Brands like Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard and VMWare are taking advantage of the platform’s most beneficial B2B marketing uses. Here are a few things we can learn from these Google+ gurus:

  • 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.

Sensational SEO

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

photo by brianDhawkins on flickr

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!

What Makes Things Popular Online?

“108 High Resolution Dark Denim Social Media Icons” by webtreats, on Flickr

The PR industry is rapidly changing. To stay competitive, PR agencies are learning how to develop digital skills or are maximizing marketing partner resources in order to satisfy the new media landscape. In a media world where anyone can be a journalist, news breaks on Twitter and memes are popping up and disappearing every week, PR professionals have their work cut out for them.

To address this, I recently planned a PRSA Austin Chapter event titled “There’s a Meme for That,” where our panelists discussed how to incorporate new digital media ideas into company strategies to boost chances of getting noticed, and increase social shares and engagement. Our panelists included digital marketing executives from Bazaarvoice, Edelman, Facebook and W2O—and they collectively had an extensive portfolio of examples of brands successfully using digital marketing strategies to reach consumers.

We started with the golden question: What makes things popular online? Why do some memes take off while others fall flat? What makes people share content and why do images and videos go viral? There are several inherent traits that exist in successful digital marketing strategies.

A human element

People need to be able to identify with the things they interact with every day. Dove, for example, has created a successful way to engage with its audience using “real” people in their ads and other communications. Recall the “Dove: Real Beauty” sketch campaign executed back in April. Dove expanded upon its “real beauty, real people” theme with this internet campaign that went viral, featuring sketches of women describing themselves to a sketch artist opposed to sketches of these women as described by someone else. The results were surprising. The message was positive, relatable and had that core human element that made the video such a success.

Socially shareable

If a campaign isn’t easy to share on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and other blogs, it won’t do well, obviously. What makes something socially shareable? Images! Today, images go much further than words have ever taken us. Most social sharing sites are geared towards image-based storytelling, and visuals trump the written word in today’s fast-paced media environment. Before a message can ever go viral, it must be depicted in a visual, succinct medium. Such media include short videos (take a look at these cool Vine videos from brands), meme-like photos like these, infographics or just plain photos.

Timely

Popular online content is usually centered around a timely topic or event. Do “The Royal Baby” or “You can still dunk in the dark” sound familiar to you? Both social media-born topics—one from pop culture and the other from a food brand, Oreo—gained popularity during high profile events. Even though campaigns such as these are short lived, the boost in visibility for the brand has a much longer lasting impact. Companies should be careful how they jump on the trend bandwagon, however, as people can tire quickly of memes. Check out these examples of brands attempting to capitalize on the Royal Baby trend, and then the people’s reaction to it.

Engaging

People love to share their experiences (good or bad) on social media. People share information online because they hope or expect to get something back in return. This is part of the reason why product reviews are so popular. People are open to sharing commentary, because in return, they’ll get feedback from likeminded people or recognition from the brand. This psychology is similar across the social media landscape—and everyone is a movie, food, music, or [insert any category here] critic. The key is to share good, positive messages and never capitalize on negative trends or tragedies (like an Epicurious intern did).

Measurable

Companies absolutely must pay attention to their audiences. What do they want to see? What performs best with them? Once this is understood, companies can shape their media and PR around those understandings. The Facebook panelist let attendees know that there are Page management tools that allow brands and companies to see which posts garner the most engagement. This is a good example of measuring the effectiveness and sociability of campaigns. There are many PR reporting tools and platforms that track and measure social campaigns, as well, such as Hootsuite, Radian6 and Meltwater News.

 

What are some of your favorite memes or digital campaigns? Have you run any that were positive and successful? Feel free to plug here!

Goodbye 2012!

We’d like to take this time to say goodbye to 2012. It was a good year, and–just like any year–we had a few downs, but mostly ups.

2012 saw Ketner Group go to NRF’s BIG Show for the 13th year. We explored our industry at SXSW Interactive, where we learned about visual storytelling, local SEO, social branding and new SoLoMo technology. We did a refresh of our company messaging and engaged with an awesome design firm, Creative Pickle, for a complete overhaul of our website.

We are looking forward to what 2013 may bring, but before we completely turn away from 2012, we wanted to share our Christmas card photo with everyone. That’s right, we know we look good.