Emojis and marketing

Guest post by Kirsty T., work experience student from St Mary’s School, Cambridge

Emojis made their debut appearance in to the digital world in Japan in 1999, on some of the very first mobile platforms. The Telegraph went as far as to describe emojis as being “the fastest growing form of language in history”. The concept behind these icons is to be able to convey a message or an emotion through symbols, without having to use words. Emojis are universal, so as long as you have the appropriate device, anyone can understand them. As a result of this rapid change in communication, an opportunity has arisen for marketing experts to consider the use of emojis in marketing. Brands such as McDonalds, Ikea and Chevrolet are some of the first to lead the way by using emojis as a basis for branding their products or within advertising campaigns. Among the apparent triumph of these icons within the world of marketing, there are also many critics who appear to be sceptical about their effectiveness.

The first complication is that the meaning of an advert that uses emojis could be ambiguous if recipients are not using a suitable device that allows the recipient to view the emoji as intended. In some cases, if viewers cannot view the message as intended, the advert might not have the desired effect on a proportion of the target market. This could lead to the brand being seen as being too exclusive, if only smartphone or tablet users can access the content, which can have a negative effect on the product’s image. The digital era is relatively new and, for many who have not grown up with technology as a part of daily life, the use of emojis in marketing campaigns may prove to be too challenging to decipher.

On the contrary, there do seem to be numerous reasons as to why the use of emojis within marketing has been so successful in raising the status of a brand or product. First, emojis have proven themselves as a useful tool in increasing one’s popularity on social media; positive emojis are perceived as fun and upbeat. In a recent study Simo Tchokni of the University of Cambridge said “there is a strong link between emoticon use and social power”. The positive link associated with emojis can be used within a marketing strategy to make products appear upbeat and accessible. The fact that these icons are so universally understood, across linguistic and cultural demographics, means that campaigns will no longer have to be tailored to suit different audiences, widening marketers’ target markets and the potential number of consumers they are able to access through one campaign. It is also worth noting that emojis represent innovative and forward thinking, as they work in tandem with the ever expanding digital era. Therefore, when linked with marketing campaigns, the products also appear to be equally advanced and modern, which in turn develops their reputation.

It is of course reasonable to suggest that there are some contexts in which it might seem inappropriate to use emojis, in particular when discussing topics of an important or sensitive nature that need to be communicated conscientiously. But there are also many circumstances within marketing when it is relevant to use emojis to convey a message. The most important point when using emojis in marketing, as is the case with all marketing activity, is to note who your target audience is and whether the message will be interpreted in a positive way that will deliver success for your client.

 

What to do when crisis strikes

By its very nature, when a crisis hits you will be on the back-foot.  But this is when the preparation you have done in advance, often many years ahead, will kick-in and the plan that was developed especially for this purpose will save your bacon.  If you don’t have a plan, then our advice is to develop one now.

When a crisis strikes, it is important not to respond in a knee-jerk fashion and your plan will allow you to respond efficiently.  It will take you through the steps you need to take to ensure that your response is appropriate and proportionate.

Spokespeople

One of the most important things is to make sure you have a spokesperson who is well trained. Media training is essential for everyone and the skills needs to be practised to keep them fresh and ensure that when they’re needed the spokesperson is able to deliver clear, unflustered messages that are factual and reassuring. In most cases, journalists will want to conduct their own interviews with company spokespeople who will, ideally be someone from within the company rather than an external consultant. There are some simple and very effective techniques that all trained spokespeople should be able to employ in live interview situations.  If you’re the designated spokesperson, preparation is always the best ammunition; anticipate the questions that will be asked, even the ones you hope won’t be, and prepare your answers, sticking to the facts and remembering that you represent the company, brand and reputation.  In all but a very few circumstances, interviews will be edited down to less than a couple of minutes, in most cases just 30 seconds or so.  So, be mindful of this when you’re talking and find ways to repeat your core message so that however the interview is edited, this message will be delivered loud and clear.

In times of crisis it is always important that your spokesperson expresses concern for the potential impact of the situation, whether it will have a direct or indirect effect on individual people, communities, the environment or wildlife. Never underestimate the power of empathy for taking the heat out of a situation.

If your company doesn’t have a spokesperson confident and able to deliver interviews, then the best advice is always to put your comment in writing – a written statement is far better than no statement at all and, if it’s in writing, you have complete control of your messaging.

Don’t try to hide

Bad news will not go away and should not be buried.  Think back to some of the massive media issues we have witnessed in our time and in many cases there was an initial attempt to bury or disguise the bad news – Edwina Curry and the salmonella in eggs crisis is a great example; the egg industry learned, at its great cost, that burying their heads was not the solution and it took them many years and the invention of a new quality lion mark to bring their industry back from the brink.  Those were the days before the Internet even existed and you can just imagine the magnified impact of a crisis like that now with the speed of social media. One ill-advised word from a spokesperson these days can spread across the globe in minutes.

Back-up team

As well as a reliable front-person, you also need a team in the background, who are responsible for the various different aspects of investigating the causes and managing the effects of the crisis, to bring the situation under control.  A simple, fast channel of communication involving these key people is essential and can be written into the crisis plan well before problems arise.

Media front-line

There should always be just one point of contact for the media – if journalists obtain their information from several sources the messages will undoubtedly become confused and it will be more difficult to contain stakeholders’ interest and concern. There will ideally be a team of people behind this first point of contact to handle the volume of enquiries that may arise.

Inform all other staff that they are not to engage with the media and make sure you give them adequate information and/or training in how not to engage – journalists can be extremely persistent and will use many ‘tricks’ to get the inside track if they feel the resulting story may be worth it.

Never, ever say ‘no comment’.  This simply implies guilt.  Much better to give a comment that provides very little information if that information isn’t yet available and will satisfy the media that action is being taken, for example ‘we are aware that xyz and an internal investigation is being conducted’.

Keep in mind that there is no such thing as ‘off the record’.  It is a journalist’s job to find news and they will invest time in building relationships to get their story – remember that no matter how friendly they may seem, they can and will use your words to get their scoop.

Make friends on social

Social media can be your friend and your enemy in times of crisis.  One of the important elements of your crisis plan will be the monitoring of and response to on-line conversations.  Great crisis communicators will use the relationships they’ve built up with customers and suppliers on social media to their advantage when a crisis strikes.  These people, loyal to your business, can provide an independent and objective endorsement of the company, its practices and ethos and, as long as they are treated with respect and honesty, will support the company’s position.  Remember that the vast majority of journalists are active on Twitter and use it as a source for stories, so take advantage of this to spread your reassuring messages in times of crisis.

Video

Video forms an integral part of many communications strategies these days and can be used effectively in a crisis too to deliver a clear, personal message to stakeholders which can be posted easily across many owned platforms, as well as being offered to the media.  A crisis will never happen at a convenient time, so ensure that you have a process in place for fast and efficient filming of statements at all times of day and night.

Internal ambassadors

Finally, don’t forget that your employees can and should be your most valuable ambassadors. While they may have been instructed not to speak to the media, they will be talking with clients, suppliers, colleagues, family and friends, so make sure they are well informed as soon as a crisis happens so that they’re able to clearly communicate the ‘party line’.

Your reputation – why it’s important

There is no
doubt that if your company has a strong reputation, you will attract better
people to work for you, your customers will be more trusting and loyal, and you
will be able to charge more for your products and services.  The bottom line is that reputation equates to
‘value’ in the market and can give your company a tangible edge over the
competition.

We have all
seen in recent years how corporate reputations can be shattered and the
subsequent damage to the underlying business – your company may not be a major
corporation but your reputation is still very precious and you fail to protect
it at your peril.

Your
reputation relies on the perceptions of your customers and other stakeholders,
including suppliers, business partners and employees.  In protecting this reputation it is important
to ensure that the reality of your business continues to match these
perceptions as it grows.  It is also
important to understand that as the world around us changes, the views and
demands of our stakeholders will also evolve, and that what your company offers
needs to change too to meet new demands.
A gap between perceptions and reality will lead to disgruntled
stakeholders and a damaged reputation.  

The best approach to reputation management is,
of course, to ensure there’s nothing negative to say and that no one is saying
it – this can be easier said than done.
A good reputation must be earned and once established needs constant
attention.

What
best to do?  Here are our top tips for
building and managing your reputation
:

1.    
Company
mission and values
:
A strong reputation starts with a clear mission and set of values which the
whole company buys into and lives by.  If
you can demonstrate a set of clearly articulated values and know that your
company’s behaviour mirrors these, then you’re well on the way. The things that
will impact your company’s reputation span right across the organisation, from
the way that you answer your phones to external callers, to your credit control
systems, the look and feel of your office, the way that you treat your suppliers.

2.    
Products and services: Your company’s reputation depends on the
quality and consistency of what you offer your customers.  If this isn’t right, no amount of marketing
spend will make your business grow.

3.    
People: Every single person within your business needs to feel responsible for
protecting its reputation.  To achieve
this, all employees need to understand and feel part of the mission and values,
and of the company’s growth and success. Put a thorough induction plan in place
for new staff and implement a training and internal communications programme to
keep everyone engaged.

4.    
Manage and learn from mistakes: Things can and do go wrong – we are only
human and most of us employ other humans to help us build our businesses.  So it’s important to monitor and predict
where weaknesses may be and have plans in place to deal with them quickly and
effectively.

5.    
Communicate: Building strong relationships with your customers is very
important for lots of reasons, some less obvious than others.  When your reputation is in question, loyal
customers can provide an important ‘balance’ to any negative noise around your
company.  Also, customers who are engaged
with you and your company are more likely to let you know in a ‘helpful way’
when things are not as they would hope; less engaged customers will be more
inclined to shame you using public digital channels.

6.    
Divide personal from professional: Keep personal matters private and well away
from social media to help protect the reputation of your business.  A social media policy will help to guide your
employees and ensure they understand what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour –
it is advisable to include this within your core employment contracts.

7.    
Get social: Your social media strategy should help you to monitor the
views and opinions of your customers, while also instigating and engaging in conversations
with them.  Learn a lesson from the big
brands which are now using social media channels for their front line customer
service – a prompt response to complaints and questions on social media can
turn a potentially damaging situation into a customer service success story.

8.    
Take responsibility: Now more than ever, customers, suppliers and
other stakeholders will expect your business to deliver more than just
profit.  They will be looking for
evidence of how your business is maximising its positive impact on the communities
in which it operates and minimising its negative impact on the
environment.  So, develop a corporate
social responsibility plan and make sure your stakeholders are aware of it.

9.    
Media training: Make sure spokespeople have had relevant
media training and are able to manage media interviews if the company’s
reputation is questioned.  It is vital in
times of crisis that you are not seen to be ‘hiding’ from the issues; you need
to present a concerned, reassuring and professional face for the business.  Stick firmly to the facts and do not try to cover
up truths – your customers deserve your honesty and will respect you for it.

Content marketing – today’s once upon a time

Content marketing is set to be the single biggest area of increased marketing spend this year.   But content marketing is not new, it’s simply the evolution of something communications professionals like us have been doing since time began – writing and telling compelling stories. 

Effective story-telling is the basis for all good public relations, marketing and brand development activity.  Content marketing combines this skill with the concept of traditional media relations, where the value of editorial is far greater than that of paid-for advertising.

The fact that we now work in a world where there’s a frenzy of content generation, everyone can be their own publisher, and there are more free channels for dissemination than ever before, doesn’t diminish the value of traditional media and journalism.  There is still huge inherent value for the marketer in achieving editorial coverage, with its perceived editorial endorsement, through well-conceived, written and pitched news and feature materials. 

More than ever, consumers are looking for reliable sources to inform and validate their decisions and purchases – editorial endorsement is still powerful and can be a valuable education tool. 

In fact, good old-fashioned media relations is still the service that the Conscious Communications team gets requests for most frequently, except that these days we also include social media engagement in the mix of course.

So we find ourselves with three main options for dissemination of our content, each of which has its   own merits and offers varying levels of control:

1) Owned media where we have total control in the form of newsletters, whitepapers, websites, blogs – brands that create 15 blog posts per month average 1,200 new leads per month;

2) social media where we can control our own messages but also invite conversation and engagement with audiences – according to the Content Marketing Institute, the average B2B marketer engages in content promotion on 6 social media platforms;

3) traditional media – print, broadcast and on-line, where editorial control is in someone else’s hands and, therefore, still has greater perceived value for the reader. 

Conscious Communications believes that the best content marketing strategies utilise both traditional and new media channels to disseminate original, repurposed and curated content to achieve optimum engagement.  In this way, a good content marketing strategy can engage with audiences at every stage of the buying cycle through initial awareness generation through engagement and lead generation, to loyalty, effectively supporting other marketing and sales activities.

There is one other option too, which spans all of the above, and that is the ‘peer review’ which, again, is now more easily achieved than ever.  Much like the traditional case study published in a business or trade journal, customer and supplier reviews, guest blogs and endorsements can be effectively utilised within a content marketing programme to promote products and services and reinforce prospective customers’ reasons to engage. 

The really exciting thing about content today is that it doesn’t need to be static and can be delivered easily through moving image, audio, animation, graphics, text and a combination of all of these.    Just imagine, a massive two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017.

Content marketing is also a hugely valuable component of any effective internal communications programme and should be viewed and managed with the same care and attention it commands for external marketing. 

Again, this is nothing new, but internal audiences have become more sophisticated and demanding, and content needs to reflect this by inviting and encouraging contributions, promoting successes and best practice. 

Employees can be a company’s most effective ambassadors and the company that successfully involves its staff in generating and disseminating content on the company’s behalf, has a lot to gain.   However, involving individuals in content generation is a great motivator as long as it doesn’t become a burden.  So make sure to set out clear guidelines and ensure individuals keep to agreed timelines so that content is topical and maintains momentum.

And, if you’re still not sure of the value of content marketing, it is a fact that well-constructed content, that resonates with audiences and achieves recommendations, will gain attention from search engines, pushing you up the search rankings.  Google values in-depth and lengthy (1,500+ words) technical articles, white papers, study reports and so on, so a good smattering of longer pieces to complement your curated news and repurposed views content will help ensure you’re appealing to all potential audiences.

If you’re thinking about developing a content marketing programme and need some creative inspiration, www.businesss2community.com published 57 ideas – some insightful, some obvious, all worth bearing in mind: http://goo.gl/H5Y4VX.

If you need help with constructing your content marketing programme, please give us a call on 01223 393 812 or email alison.taylor@consciouscomms.com.  You can also follow us on Twitter @Conscious_comms or visit our website: www.consciouscomms.com

The value of media relations

Great media relations skills are honed through years of hands-on experience.  They cannot be learned from a text book.  Top media relations practitioners have a raw talent, an instinct for a ‘story’ and eye for an ‘angle’.  Importantly, they know their audience and understand the media which, in the digital age, is no mean feat.

So what makes a good story?  There is no doubt that bad news shouts louder than good news and that bad news spreads faster and stays longer than ever.  But how do we make a compelling story out of good news? There are six main components that make up news:

  • Immediacy – it is about something that’s happening now
  • Impact – it has the ability to affect lives
  • Change – it is about imminent or actual change
  • Interest – it excites; worries; intrigues; motivates
  • Importance – it is of consequence to individuals and/or communities
  • Relevance – it is topical and of significance

The media landscape has changed dramatically in just the past few years and now employs over ½ million people in the UK.  It is now vastly more complex and dynamic than it was with every member of the public now a potential reporter and self-appointed journalist.  With more channels for news than ever before, competition for editorial space is fierce, so why communicate through the media at all?  Why not choose another way to communicate with target audiences and raise the profile of your company, products or services? 

The one overriding compelling reason is that the media offers the potential for mass dissemination of your messages.  With the right angle, making your story newsworthy, you have the potential to reach many millions of people across the world.  Even more appealing is that, with careful planning and media knowledge, you have the ability to engage with niche markets of interested customers and potential customers.  And, now that the media is so joined-up, you have the ability to push audiences to your own media outlets – your website; blog; pages on social platforms.

Of course one of the reasons why great media relations still carries such value is because a story reported by an independent media channel carries the implied endorsement of that channel, the journalist/editor.  Even better, if the story is delivered in the form of a third party review or endorsement, giving personal endorsement of the products/services, it has yet more value.

And while, prior to the new media age, stories in traditional media became chip paper and were lost overnight, with today’s digital channels, your story has an infinite life, potentially resurfacing time and again dished up by search engines, for many years to come.  So, a little media relations expertise can go a long, long way.

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