books

Scholastic Hoping to Recapture Imagination with Rebooted Clifford

For more than a decade, Clifford the Big Red Dog has been a delight for young readers and a mainstay in elementary school classrooms and libraries. But, as more choices become available, and smaller screens begin to take up more time for younger and younger children, Clifford and his crew fell off a bit.

Recognizing this trend, Scholastic Entertainment, a branch of the literature company that publishes the Clifford books, has partnered with Amazon and PBS to produce and broadcast a reboot of the classic cartoon show.

In pre-press and other releases for the program, there are several key cultural points that are made clear, in an effort to connect with a very specific target market: parents and media specialists who are generally responsible for introducing kids to Clifford in the first place. The messaging is subtle, but it’s clear in its connection points and target audience. For example, here’s one media quote pulled from news about the reboot: “The new show offers more diversity among the human characters…”

This has become a hallmark of more modern educational cartoon programs. While, in the previous iteration of Clifford, there was some diversity among the canine characters, the human characters tended to be more of a “type” than a representation of a more diverse society. Addressing this directly, and speaking to consumers who are likely to be concerned about this is a smart move, given the intended target market.

From there, the releases get into more of the nuts and bolts of what viewers – and the parents who will serve as gatekeepers for the kids – can expect: “Emily Elizabeth, the 7-year-old owner (of Clifford) will be the POV character… Each episode will include an original song…”

This tells parents and educators a few things. First, the lead character’s gender and age, which helps to focus the ultimate target market. Second, that the show will be about the lives of these children, and that it will include both story and songs. This further delineates the sort of kids who might be most interested in watching this show.

Using this information, parents can explain the show to kids who might not be familiar by saying there will be “adventures, songs, and a friendly big red dog…” Meanwhile, these same parents and educators will also walk away from the PR about this reboot comfortable that the program will focus on “positive life lessons” specifically “character and empathy,” courtesy of Emily, Clifford, and their respective friends, both human and canine.

The PR related to this release wins, because it not only directly addresses the all-important gatekeepers, but also because it gives these people simple, specific, connective messages they can pass on to the actual target market.

Future Competitive Advantage

As digital technology continues to pick up more speed, companies will also have to accelerate their pace to keep up with new and evolving customer demands.  Products may not have changed much, but customer expectations have.

Today’s technology has created an on-demand world.  In the same way in which people are able to view many of their favorite TV shows on demand, customers, too, are judging brands on how they provide enhanced capabilities that offer easy access and value when they want it.

Evolving Customer Demands

Today’s customer expects to interact whenever they wish, wherever they are.  They really want to do new things as different types of information from a variety of apps are delivered in ways that produce more value for them.

Customers also expect to receive personalized information based on past purchases and surveys.  And finally, they want the experience to be easy. In today’s fast-paced society, they don’t have the patience and willingness to wait a day or two for clarity.

What Companies Must Do

Companies wishing to keep pace with these changes will need to outrival their competitors in the following areas.  They will first need to interact with customers in assorted ways by crafting communications based on custom circumstances.

They’ll also have to analyze customer behavior differently in gathering data and assessing information based on where and how customers interact with their brand.  And other key departments within companies will also need to collaborate, as marketing alone will not be able to carry the ball by itself.

Consider a sophisticated version of JibJab, the digital entertainment program into which one can paste his or her photo.  Some online stores currently employ programs that show shoppers how they would look wearing a piece of apparel they’re thinking of purchasing.  Demand for even greater personalization will only increase over time.

The key for companies that wish to gain on-demand customers is in 1. Getting to know them, really know them, 2. Discovering what their expectations are, 3. Uncovering what works for them, and 4. Arriving at a strategy and plan to connect with them with the perfect interaction.

Data gathered through three well-defined lenses is required.  The first is a clear perspective on market trends for a company’s market and brand(s).  Gathering data on what people are seeking, saying, and doing is important. What are they searching for?  What are they discussing on social media? And what are they tracking in-store, mobile and online?

When correctly performed, the second lens delivers information to companies on where online customers frequent and purchase and what the results are.  Companies that are able to gather together every customer contact with their brands will get a clearer picture of the path customers took in reaching their decision to buy.

Finally, trust always has been and will continue to be a major expectation of customers.  Assuring customers of this via improved personalization will help ensure customer loyalty.

Achieving and delivering these heightened expectations will require the teamwork and collaborative efforts of several departments.  Well-defined responsibilities from all affected departments will help ensure a better digital experience and the ability to meet future challenges.

TAKE THE LEAD

How often have we heard that phrase in a speech, movie or song?  In the digital marketing world, we hear it most often used with CRM, particularly when it comes to lead management.  Why is this important?

CRM lead management, along with analytics and content, are vital to a company identifying and attracting new customers and business.  Whether a marketing department has a system in place or is looking to improve its existing system, here are some key things to consider.

FIRST CHALLENGE

For many companies, the first challenge may be a surprise.  It’s internal. Marketing and sales are often not together on this.  Why? Marketing’s mission is to attract new customers while sales is to close the deal.   Sales, however, is sometimes accused of driving new customers away. When the latter occurs, the reason is not so much that didn’t know how to close the deal, but more because sales didn’t quite understand their potential new customer.

Both teams need to better support one another.  How? The simplest way to achieve greater success is to work better together which is what every management book says.  But working together means more than marketing handing over a list of new customers to sales. It means interpreting the data and arming sales with deeper information and a better understanding of its potential customers.

SECOND CHALLENGE

What’s extremely helpful is having a program that removes all or most of the guesswork.  All programs identify leads but one that can also prioritize them via predictive and/or behavioral scoring is invaluable.  Not only will such a program help the sales department land purchases more quickly, but it can also eliminate wasted time on prospects who aren’t as qualified. 

WHAT ABOUT NEW MARKETS?

Predictive scoring can be particularly valuable here.  A good program will compare the known characteristics of present customers against those a company believes their potential customers have.  That data can help direct a company to where and to whom it should target its resources and marketing efforts.

One of the biggest challenges is new markets is not giving in too early.  In spite of good data and help from predictive scoring, gaining a foothold in a new market can still take a while.   Don’t give up too soon.

The other important aspect to any market, but particularly a new one, is tracking and analyzing data frequently.  This allows companies that see trends or shifts I customer behavior to make adjustments in a timelier manner. Sales can also be helpful here by providing valuable feedback on how customers are responding and what they’re saying. 

Share the results of success, small and large, with both the marketing and sales teams.  Also be sure to include valuable lessons learned that might be applied in the future. 

Last, but certainly not least.  As always, be sure to honor and steward customers so they feel valued.  The new ones gained will appreciate this. This helps greatly in building customer loyalty.  Continue asking for and seeking comments. Great reviews and comments have the best credibility among potential consumers, especially new website visitors.

How Charitable Partnerships Can Boost a Brand’s Profile

We’ve talked before about the importance of community impact for businesses both large and small. In any community, there are a wide array of ways to get involved and help improve that community for those living and working in it.

Forming charitable partnerships is another way to get involved and improve the community around a business. Of course, businesses can provide support in ways that individuals cannot to a nonprofit or charity. But these partnerships should always be done with tact and taste — the opposite effect can easily happen if a move is done for seemingly ulterior motives.

Finding the Right Charitable Partnership

When selecting a charitable partnership for a business, there are many things to consider. One of these factors is what charity or nonprofit to partner with. Here are some considerations for this decision:

  •     Core values and mission of the business
  •     Nonprofits that align with these core values naturally
  •     Reputation of nonprofit and of the supporting business
  •     Required budget to support a charitable partnership
  •     End goal of charitable partnership

Core values lie at the heart of a business’ purpose. These values are important. They give consumers a look at the belief and value systems of those in executive positions, and they provide a roadmap of how a business conducts itself in public dealings.

With that in mind, it’s equally important for a business to align itself with a nonprofit that also values the same ideas. The purpose and mission of the nonprofit must also make sense. For example, a leather goods company may not look the best if it were to support PETA, nor would PETA be likely to accept their partnership proposal. This is, of course, an extreme example, but it shows that a partnership should be genuine, not self-serving or just “for looks”.

Forming a Charitable Partnership

Once a business has selected a nonprofit to enter into a partnership with, it’s time to figure out exactly what that partnership is going to look like.

Not every partnership has to look the same. Remember, this has to be a beneficial arrangement for both the business and, more importantly, for the nonprofit. Whether the support is financial, in the form of volunteer help, or other services provided, it’s important to set clear expectations and guidelines for the new partnership. Contracts are helpful in this situation, to protect all parties involved.

Before jumping in, take the time to form a strategy about how a business can best assist a nonprofit. Perhaps a marketing agency can offer its services to a local animal shelter each month. Or maybe an event planning portal can donate a portion of the proceeds to local community programs in an effort to create a safer neighborhood in which to host events. Maybe a local consultant can jump on board to help plan a fundraiser for a nonprofit. The possibilities are endless!

Finding creative ways to help out is important too — it doesn’t always have to just be about writing a big check. In fact, finding other ways to get involved is often even more helpful, especially for under-staffed nonprofits.

Aligning business with a nonprofit is a smart move for many reasons, but the biggest motivator should always be the betterment of community or the helping of others. From this motivation can come a great, fulfilling partnership on both sides.

Using Content to build thought leadership

There are many ways to highlight your brand and what it does, content being one of the main and most effective ways of doing so. Content can also be a very effective way to highlight your expertise and knowledge of the industry. The goal is to get your brand front and centre, both online and offline, when people are searching for solutions that you can provide.

In marketing, thought leadership is a tool that establishes you as an expert and authority in your industry. By establishing your brand as a reliable and go-to source of information and expertise in the industry, it will improve brand awareness as well as market value. Here are a few ways in which content can help build thought leadership:

Build credibility

To establish yourself as an expert and authority, you need to prove that you are a credible and reliable source of information. This can be done by illustrating your knowledge and know-how by providing relevant and accurate answers to your audience’s questions and concerns. Providing people solutions and answers will ensure that your audience gets an insight into the level of expertise of your organization and your employees.

For instance, a local fitness studio can demonstrate their knowledge on fitness and nutrition by having instructors contribute to blog posts providing advice and answering questions about health and wellbeing. You can also monitor local Facebook pages and answer any questions locals have pertaining to your industry or in case of offline efforts, go to relevant local events and community gatherings to provide expertise.

Move beyond your website

While your website is an optimal place to provide information and expertise to your audience and customers, expand your online presence beyond your website. The goal is to drive traffic to your website, so find ways on social media and online forums to do so. For example, ask questions to experts in Facebook ads and provide a link to your website for the answer or create short video ads that get people excited and ultimately direct people to your website to learn more.

Foster partnerships

Build strong connections within the community by focusing on strong partnerships rather than sponsorships. Create mutually beneficial relationships with local organizations with whom you share a common audience. These relationships will enhance your visibility, build your reputation since you have the green light from another business and open doors for new opportunities.

The best kind of partnerships are active partnerships. Don’t just be partners on paper, actively promote and foster your partnership by sharing content with your partner, featuring their experts on your website and participating in each other’s events. Don’t forget to share each other’s content on social media as it will help boost your online presence and visibility.

Create useful branding material

Last but not least, don’t be lazy and just hand out brochures as promotional material. The most likely place the brochure will end up is in the trash. Give your audience something that focuses on your expertise and something they are more likely to hang on to or use. If you’re at loss for what kind of promotional material to provide, then even a refrigerator magnet will do the job better than a brochure!

Winning the PR battle with Twitter

Best Practices Using Twitter for PR

Twitter is close to becoming the de facto conversation medium for news and current events commentary outside of the mainstream broadcast media. It’s a source of stories, an archive of opinions, and a real-time stream of perspectives relative to whatever topic is hot at the moment.

So, it stands to reason that any brand hoping to elevate their profile would want to employ Twitter as part of that effort. After all, just look what it did for Wendy’s. But, is Twitter what journalists are looking for in communication from PR pros? According to the polls, not necessarily.

In fact, recent surveys have shown, time and again, that journalists still prefer email as their go-to method for communicating with public relations professionals. Does this mean Twitter is off the table? No, not at all. In fact, in the very same survey, the majority of those same journalists ranked Twitter as their number two communications preference.

Of course, this does come with a few caveats, a fairly straightforward list of guidelines for how and when to contact journalists using Twitter.

As a general rule, if you plan to connect with a journalist on Twitter, direct message them. Don’t just comment on their thread. Additionally, just before you DM them, send them an email with more information about the topic at hand.

Don’t use a DM to create the initial connection. Preferably, you want to have already connected with that journalist in a recognizable way before you send them a substantive DM with a media pitch. Start by determining which journalists you want to connect with. Then read their tweets, explore their perspectives, and respond to or retweet them. Show them that you see them as a person and not just a means to an end.

When using Twitter to pitch a story include specific data points. Statistics and specific facts can be attractive to journalists, because they can quickly and easily determine if your information is on the level and, thus, establish you as a potentially valuable source of information.

Do your best to keep all Twitter communications related to your pitches private. Don’t share them with the world. Especially, if you are seeking to establish or build trust with the media representative. They are less likely to appreciate your information if anyone following them on Twitter also has the same access to that information.

Be certain that all information you DM pitch to reporters on Twitter is specifically relevant to their standard beat, industry, or niche. And, in most cases, there should be an element of immediacy to the content, something they can read and immediately act on, rather than a story that has a slow build or a long shelf life.

crisis pr

Looking Back at 3 Serious PR Miscues in 2018

As 2018 comes to a close it’s time to reflect on some of the PR lessons we have watched in real time over the past year. There have been a few wins and a few good crisis responses, and there have also been a handful of PR disasters. Some of these scenarios were disasters right out of the chute, and others grew worse based on the response.

Apple Catches Heat for “Throttling”

The year started off with a fizzle for iPhone maker Apple, when it was announced that the company had been “throttling” iPhones – slowing their performance – for older phones. Customers had suspected this for years, but to find out it was actually happening upset a lot of consumers.

Then came Apple’s reasoning: “We’re doing it all for you.” According to Apple, the reason for the slow-down was to “preserve battery life” in order to keep the phones working longer. That message did not sit well with iPhone customers, who felt slighted and manipulated into buying newer models.

In response, Apple apologized and initiated a more cost-effective battery replacement program for customers with older phones. That blunted the trauma somewhat, but in the end, this was an avoidable PR misstep. If the company had been proactive, customers would have known all their options and felt more of a connection with the brand.

Roseanne Crashes and Burns

2018 could have – and should have-been the Year of Roseanne. The noted comedian had returned to form, riding a successful reboot of her family sitcom to huge ratings and a major win for the Roseanne brand. At the time, nearly every news outlet was singing her praises, touting the new show as a great addition to what has been ranked as one of the best American sitcoms in generations. Then came the meltdown.

Roseanne, who is no stranger to stirring up controversy on social media, decided to go on Twitter and torpedo her resurgent career by tweeting out comments many considered to be overtly racist. ABC responded by immediately canceling Roseanne. Then, pouring salt in the wound, the network announced it would be re-making the show without its star and namesake.

If there was a highlight of the whole debacle, it came via Sanofi, maker of the sleep aid, Ambien. Roseanne, in her apology for the tweet, blamed Ambien for her errant posting. Sanofi responded with this: “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Southwest Airlines Makes Bad Worse

Of all the airlines to be in the news in a bad way, most people would not necessarily guess Southwest. So when the company had a major issue this past spring, some people registered surprise. During a flight, one of the engines exploded, killing a passenger. Reports from the scene were graphic and scary, and Southwest was left answering very uncomfortable questions.

That alone may have qualified for a PR crisis, but when reports came out alleging the company was promoting timeliness over customer safety and mechanical operations, that hit the bottom line hard. Bookings dropped immediately, and Southwest was left to do some very public soul searching.

Why Can’t Wells Fargo Get Out of its own Way?

Quick, can you tell me how many years it’s been since Wells Fargo was one of the most trusted and appreciated brands in the financial sector? Don’t worry, most people can’t. In fact, Wells Fargo, as a brand, seems to have given up trying to answer that question. The company’s most recent ad campaigns are going almost all the way back to the beginning, talking about events – whether true or apocryphal – that transpired a century ago or more.

But, even as the ads are taking viewers all the way back, the brand itself seems to keep ending up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. This continued habit of taking bad and making it worse, has a lot of people wondering why Wells Fargo can’t seem to get out of its own way. If the company could stop long enough to focus on a single PR crisis, they may make some headway in brand confidence, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

That lack of ability to get past one crisis before another negative headline drops has some in the PR business blaming not just a few bad apples but a “faulty culture” for the continued woes. Instead of arguing that Wells Fargo was just too big and too desperate to play it straight, some are saying the company simply lost its way, slipping further into a morass that festered for years, creating a series of interwoven issues up and down the leadership chain.

The result? A culture that allowed the company to miss it when thousands of employees created millions of fake credit accounts, many in the names of very real customers. Thousands of employees were fired, and that could have been that. Wells Fargo should have been able to pick itself up, dust itself off, and get moving again.

Unfortunately, those in charge didn’t look at thousands of bad actors and see a cultural issue. They said everything was fine now that those folks were gone. Turns out, almost no one, including elected officials and federal regulators, agreed with that assessment. Soon, the CEO was sent packing. A new leader, Timothy Sloan, was brought in and given the task of giving Wells Fargo a fresh start.

But the optics were terrible. Sloan, after all, was a longtime Wells Fargo guy, and those who saw institutional corruption didn’t see renewal coming from within. Worse than the optics, though, was the messaging. While Wells Fargo promised to do better, their campaigns failed to take responsibility, and the problems were rarely, if ever, addressed.

Then came more horrendous headlines. Charging customers for insurance they didn’t want and never asked for. Hitting mortgage customers with incorrect fees. And the insult to injury, a “computer glitch” that accidentally foreclosed on hundreds of properties. Fines were levied and headlines were merciless. Wells Fargo could not seem to stop driving into the proverbial ditch.

And, speaking of poor optics, in response to the flurry of negative headlines, Wells Fargo CFO John Shrewsbury went after the media, accusing the news of over-emphasizing and over-dramatizing Wells Fargo’s missteps. While he may have a point, it certainly was not one that millions of jaded customers was in any mood to hear.

And that, in a nutshell, may signal why the company can’t seem to get back in the good graces of their customers. Instead of changing in the present they are offering visions of the past and complaints of unfair treatment.