The power of storytelling

THE POWER (3)

Over the last few years brands have noticeably changed their selling strategies; they are now marketing products through a narrative – a story that takes an audience on a journey – rather than through presenting the more simplistic ‘BUY ME’ language.

This ‘storytelling’ style of marketing is multifaceted and focusses on telling the brand’s story, and using a variety of methods across multiple platforms. Think social media, print media and outdoor advertising to name just a few. Brands adopt this style of marketing in order to push out an authentic, and consistent, message which, in turn, builds a coherent and trustworthy image of its company. Generally, successful storytelling brands:

  • put the consumer at the centre of the story;
  • adopt a unique personality;
  • have a sense of purpose.

 

GoPro is leading the way with successful storytelling, as its ‘story’ is pieced together using social media engagement by people using its products – genius! The brand loves to share video content, stories and anecdotes from its customers, which builds a sense of community among its users; take GoPro’s Baby Ava YouTube video for example, the consumer is at the heart of the story.

Say it with pictures

Telling stories visually is the quickest medium of telling a story; on average a person’s attention span is between three and eight seconds. Statistics have proven that content marketing is vastly more effective through infographics and visuals. Images can help your business tell its story quicker and, more importantly, with impact and emotion. Our brains decode visual information 60,000 times faster than text. If you’re a small business, we would recommend using free tools such as Piktochart and Canva; online design apps that take little effort to produce high quality graphics. Each tool even offers design templates to cater to those who may not feel creatively inspired.

Start thinking like your customers and focus on their wants and needs. Tell them stories that they can emotionally connect with, create content that informs, entertains and provides value to your audience. In doing so, the content you create will build relationships with your audience based on trust that will ultimately drive real sales and business value.

The team at Conscious Communications can work with you to create unique, engaging and high quality content for all of your digital and print platforms. If you would like to find out more, please contact info@consciouscomms.com.

Conscious Communications’ public relations and marketing trend predictions of 2016

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The New Year is now well underway and Conscious Communications is on hand to ensure your business is ahead of the game with our public relations and marketing trend predictions for 2016. Here’s a summary of some of the things we think will happen this year:

Quality content across all mediums

We all know successful content marketing can be a powerful tool for any business, but this year will bring it into ever greater focus and importance.

Content marketing now needs to extend beyond just quality and connect with an audience across multiple mediums. Using social media, email marketing, infographics, whitepapers, articles, newsletters and even email signatures to attract the right people to view your content will be an essential marketing tactic this year.  In short, quality content needs to be combined with a cohesive strategy to target and amplify it, in order to reach the greatest percentage of your potential audience as possible.

Focus on ethics

As a value close to the Conscious Communications team’s heart, we’re pleased to predict that a greater focus on ethics will emerge in 2016.

A business that possesses an ethical focus is a more attractive prospect to new business partners and suppliers, and to potential staff – people want to work with and for organisations that are principled and decent. 2016 will bring about a focus on social enterprise, driven by growing demand for businesses that are seen to be positively impacting on human and environmental wellbeing. This year public relations and marketing strategies should focus on helping brands and organisations achieve a reputation as a force for good.

Millennials? What millennials?

Millennials will be consigned to the scrap heap in 2016, with marketing set to become ‘age agnostic’.

The fact that people can now download a browser extension which turns every use of the word millennial into ‘snake people’ underlines the point that the term ‘millennials’ is not as relevant as it used to be. Instead, the public relations and marketing industry is beginning to place more emphasis on reaching audiences based on their passions rather than their age. Audiences will be targeted based on specific attitudes and certain beliefs with increasingly refined content which targets different groups within an age range – rather than just an age group as a whole. However, age grouping  will still be an important factor, especially in an increasingly technological age where generational gaps are highlighted by technology. This year marketing will focus on what actually motivates an audience; their interests, hobbies and individual lives, as well as taking their age into account.

Social media

No trend prediction would be complete without a focus on social media – here’s are a few salient points for the year ahead:

  • Virtual reality (VR) – 2016 will be the year that VR becomes a major player, not just for the gaming industry, but also for marketers. Facebook has recently launched its 360 videos (click here for an example) which allow users to experience scenes from different angles, across both web and mobile devices. This technology could offer marketing professionals the opportunity to create some truly interactive content.
  • Immediate, intimate content – platforms like Periscope, Meerkat and Facebook Live provide a new level of immediacy to social media. Marketing now needs to target moments, as consumers expect to see events as they unfold. 2016 will see the rise of live-streaming, providing the immediacy and intimacy that audiences want.
  • Long form social content – social media will no longer favour short messages over longer messages. LinkedIn, Facebook and blogging platform Medium are all looking at incorporating long form publishing on their sites. Not to mention the recent news that Twitter will be increasing their character limit from 140 to 10,000.

#Hashtag

Social media platforms continued to be some of the most influential marketing tools of
2015, with an ever growing amount of content posted every minute and, there is
no doubt that this will continue into 2016. To ensure your social media posts
achieve the greatest reach and engagement on each social media platform, use
hashtags, but be selective with the words you choose. Hashtags are no longer
just used on Twitter, they have spread to Facebook, Google+, Instagram,
Pinterest and Google Search – even LinkedIn
tested them out, so it is important for a business to know how to use them on
each channel.

Hashtags on Twitter

Did you know that a tweet with one or more hashtags is 55 percent more likely to be retweeted? Every business is looking to leverage and increase online engagement of its social media posts and, hashtags have been statistically proven to do
this. Twitter completed its own study of hashtags which concluded that brands can see a 50 percent increase in
engagement, including clicks, retweets, likes, and replies, by using the #
symbol.

Tweeting with hashtags, as shown, is a sure fire way to enhance your online presence. However,
brands need to stay aware of how many hashtags they use per post as research
also indicates that tweets that include one or two hashtags receive a 21
percent higher engagement rate than tweets with three or more.

Hashtags on Instagram

Instagram has been the fastest growing social platform for the last two years and now has
over 150 million users with an average of 16 billion photos shared, and one
billion likes each day. Unlike Twitter, generally the more hashtags used per
post the better, with interactions
the highest on posts with 11 or more
. Remember to keep your
hashtags relevant to the post!

For businesses, big or small, hashtags noticeably increase the reach of your posts,
which in turn leads to more followers. Hashtags also help you find people on
Instagram with similar interests and can aid market research on competitors.

Hashtags on Facebook

Facebook introduced hashtags in July 2013 and the evidence showing the positive and
negative impact of including a hashtag into a post is inconclusive. Research
states that posts without hashtags do better than posts with, however, Facebook
uses them to categorise conversations between people so if you are looking to
feature in specific searches, it makes sense to use them. Similarly to Twitter,
the number of hashtags used in a post influences engagement with one or two
hashtags averaging 593 interactions compared to a post with three to five hashtags
receiving on average 416 interactions.

It is important to use the correct number of hashtags on each social media
platform, but also to use the right hashtags to ensure you feature in the
relevant feeds. Websites like ritetag.com can
help to identify trending hashtags and can tell you exactly when and how they
will reach your audience.

So, what were the popular hashtags of 2015? See below some of the most used
hashtags of the year:

  • #AskRachel
  • #PrayForParis
  • #BlueandBlack vs. #WhiteandGold
  • #LoveWins
  • #IStandWithAhmed

At Conscious Communications, we use market knowledge and audience insight to
define the most effective mix of social media platforms and posts for your
business and can work with you to create a bespoke social media strategy. If
you are looking to improve your business’ online presence in 2016 get in touch
at info@consciouscomms.com.

Spelling is important!

People’s views on the importance of spelling differ widely.
For instance, one of our team members mentioned they had debated the correct
(UK) spelling of ‘focused’ while drafting an email to a group of contributors
for a blog she was writing – she Googled ‘focused vs. focussed’ and ‘focused or
focussed for UK’, and frustratingly found conflicting results. The consensus of
the Conscious Communications team was that ‘focussed’ was the correct answer –
so eventually the email was sent. Are you, like our colleague, likely to give
far less credibility to the sender of an email that includes a spelling
mistake?

 

At the other end of the spectrum are those who revel in
cutting as many characters out of texts or tweets as possible (or beyond what
should be permitted, past the point of communicating any intelligible meaning
from sender to reader…). We recently heard a young person ask, about a school
examination, “does spelling matter?” and we were, of course, horrified that
anyone would feel the need to ask whether spelling matters – about any written
work, let alone a school examination! Phrases like ‘it’s a slippery slope’
spring to mind, and concerns about ever lowering standards of spelling, grammar,
and the adoption of new words such as ‘binge-watching’ by dictionaries.

Stephen Linstead, chair of the English Spelling Society,
writes: “the
spelling of roughly 35 per cent of the commonest English words is, to a degree,
irregular or ambiguous; … a need to memorise irregularity has traditionally
been regarded as a minor and inevitable inconvenience… But there is growing
evidence that this is not just an inconvenience – it costs children precious
learning time, and us – as a nation – money
.”

More conservative relaxing of standards for spelling can be
seen in global businesses’ communications with customers. Have you recently
noticed that Santander’s website mentions ‘pajamas’ (the American preference,
which isn’t even recognised by Word), and Natwest uses ‘nope’ on its website? It’s
safe to say that neither of these are mistakes; rather, they are evidence of
big brands taking a ‘modern’ stance on the language used to communicate with
customers.

These ‘progressive’ examples show support for the views of Simon
Horbin, English professor at Magdalen College, who explained: “People
like to artificially constrain language change. For some reason we think
spelling should be entirely fixed and never changed. I am not saying we should
just spell freely, but sometimes we have to accept spellings change.

Have standards in English changed remarkably in recent
decades, or is this debate only the concern of those sticklers who run to
defend the language as they believe it should be preserved? The government has
re-introduced spelling tests, believing there has been a lowering of standards
– but maybe Stephen Linstead is right to question, in terms of time and budget,
whether spelling warrants being so high on the school agenda? What’s more, many
people who are committed to using correct spelling now do so with the aid of
technology. Spell-checker and predictive text, for example, enable people to
spell correctly without having memorised the spelling of every word in the
language; should the focus in schools and the work-place be on equipping people
to notice and find correct spellings and in encouraging people to check their
work?

As marketers and PR professionals it is unsurprising that
our team falls in to the ‘of course spelling matters!’ side of the debate, and
we do notice typos and errors and ‘lax’ spelling whenever we come across it.
For people working in other sectors, though, perhaps it really is the case that
spelling doesn’t matter. As long as you can communicate your meaning
efficiently, clearly, does it matter whether you write focused, focussed,
focursed or something else? Probably not… at the time. But, then, the more
different forms of words which are used to say the same thing, the more scope
there is for misunderstanding.

Is spelling impotent? Absolutely not! Is spelling important?
Absolutely! Perhaps the language is evolving naturally, as it always has done, and
to keep pace with the world in which it is used we should keep quiet and let
linguistic evolution continue. Even so, we think that the agreed and approved
spellings should be used by students, workers, businesses and the media, until
such a time as the spelling is updated, by consensus, at which point the
‘sticklers’ should accept the decision of the masses.

How marketing can leverage Augmented Reality

At this year’s Social Media Week event in London, Blippar’s President of Global Marketing, Omaid Hiwaizi, discussed how Augmented Reality (AR) can be introduced into a brand’s marketing objectives, commenting: “AR allows brands to deepen interactions and continue conversations with the content attached to their products”. Witnessing the heightened frequency of AR usage in the past year has filled the team at Conscious Communications with excitement about the potential it presents for the world of digital marketing.

Campaigns that wouldn’t have been feasible before are now possible because of AR. AR gives you the opportunity to deliver a more enriching experience for your audiences because of the interactive element the technology could bring to your campaign, resulting in a deeper connection and an opportunity to engage with a wider audience across more meaningful touch points. Last year, Maybelline launched an AR campaign where over 5,700 people shared images of themselves on social media, virtually trying on new nail varnishes. One clear benefit was that it brought an ample amount of media coverage, but it also allowed the brand to create a list of Twitter users – ‘engaged customers’ who can be targeted again through tailored audience ads on the social network.

Hiwaizi continued: “We are naturally curious creatures; we constantly want to know more about the world around us. AR offers consumers an exciting opportunity to turn everyday objects into a learning experience. Scanning an apple can bring up recipes, the history, calorific value or other content that might be of interest.”

One of our favourite brands using AR to date is Disney and its Color and Play product, an AR colouring book app that lets you colour and watch the characters on the page come to life. Better yet, you don’t have to replace a crayon with a stylus as the app uses a digital overlay, enhancing engagement. This isn’t the first time companies have used AR to enhance traditional colouring books – there’s Quiver, Crayola Color Alive and Paint My Cat.

AR can also be utilised to leverage traditional offline marketing too – if you have an offline presence at a conference or event for example, AR can be used to bring your brand and proposition to life.  Your exhibition banner could have video pop outs which demonstrate or explain your services/products or could take the visitor to a direct landing page. Better yet, why not bring your humble business cards to life? AR will add a personal touch to networking, and you’re guaranteed to be remembered.

This year, AR has moved beyond the cool factor, and provides real value to its users. We can’t wait to see what brands and campaigns bring to the AR table.

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’.

Five tips to protect your online reputation

Earlier this month Debrett’s, the go-to resource for all
things ‘proper’, announced a new course for 13 to 16 year olds called Coming of
Age, the main aim of which is to help young people to manage their online
reputations, highlighting the importance of online profiles for both employers
and employees.  

Frankly, we’re surprised it has taken this long! For those
people now nearing their mid-twenties, who were among the first to be impacted
by constant connectivity from their teenage years, this may come as too little
too late.  

It is increasingly common to look up job candidates,
potential first dates, and persons of interest from news reports or reality TV
on social media, search engines, and any other portal which can be used to gain
information on individuals and those of us who lived our teenage years without
every statement or action being publicly documented, share an enormous sense of
relief.

The story of Paris Brown, who in 2013 was appointed as the UK’s
first youth police and crime commissioner aged just 17, highlights the
pitfalls of constant connectivity. Her
achievement was short lived due to the ramifications of living of her teenage
years ‘online’.  Paris felt pressured to
resign from the post after tweets, which she had sent between the ages of 14
and 16 and since deleted from her profile, were discovered and deemed inappropriate.
Bearing in mind that the role this teenager was hired to do was to improve
relationships between the police force and the young people in Kent, you would have
thought that Paris’ ‘misdemeanour’ might have been overlooked, or put down as a
consequence of youth. If someone who was hired specifically to build bridges
with young people was made an example of based on her online history, the rest
of us should be quite certain that we will be subject to similar repercussions
should our online history prove inappropriate in the eyes of our employers.

So, while Debrett’s digital etiquette guide is aimed at
teens (who we hope will heed the advice and protect themselves against being
the next public example of how online history can come back to haunt you), we
think anyone not yet familiar with the most essential do’s and don’ts of online
behaviour, should pay heed to the following tips. After all, people already in
the world of work are not beyond making statements they might regret, or
behaving in a way they wish hadn’t been captured on a phone camera!  

What’s more, many individuals set up social media accounts
for use in a professional capacity, from small business owners to employees of
global businesses. It can become unclear whether an individual’s post is
‘authorised’ by the brand, or is an individual’s personal opinion. If you’re a
business leader, ensuring your team’s personal accounts aren’t negatively impacting
your business is essential, as is encouraging your team to create a positive
social media presence which can give your business an enormous boost.

Top five tips to
protect your reputation online:

1.      
Don’t overshare; stop yourself from venting
about the traffic, your day at work (including your colleagues or cleaner), or
airing any type of dirty laundry!

2.      
Consider privacy settings on your personal social
media accounts –remember that once you have shared, it may never be possible to
completely erase a status or uploaded photo or video, as people can download
your media, and even screenshot your posts, comments and responses (and do tend
to if you have said something you’re likely to regret)

3.      
Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t be
happy to say in person. Stay positive and respectful, and try to offer
something that is fun, informative, or inspirational for your audience

4.      
Think about the image of yourself or the business
you are representing; try to show the best of yourself, but also try to avoid
showing off

5.      
Take care to write using correct spelling and
grammar. It may feel unnecessary, but avoiding ‘text-speak’, overly abbreviated
phrases or acronyms, poor punctuation and spelling mistakes will give a better
first impression to new audiences.

The big debate

The big debate in education at the moment is whether GCSE examinations should be continued, replaced by other exams or should be scrapped altogether. We arranged for two of our clients to be involved in the discussion, St Mary’s School, Cambridge and International Baccalaureate were featured in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday 22 August highlighting their views.  Educational establishments, organisations and politicians have all been involved in discussing whether exams in UK schools are fit for purpose for a number of years, yet the debate continues.

In recent weeks the national newspapers have been packed with conflicting stories on the success of state schools versus private schools, disputing The Telegraph’s headline: “state pupils put private schools in the shade”. This headline was purportedly based on an analysis of A Level results showing that private school students were being outclassed by top performing state schools.  The Guardian begs to differ – according to the chairman of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) The Telegraph has compared the top 500 state Sixth Forms with almost every private school in the country that offers A Levels (amounting to almost 500), not a fair comparison after all.

Fuelling what is already a raging fire is a think tank’s claims that schools should be “fined” if their pupils fail to get at least a C grade in English and Mathematics at GCSE.  Policy Exchange, the think tank responsible for the report, believes that the money gained from fining schools should go towards teaching the thousands of pupils who will have to sit those exams again under new government legislation.

So, not only do schools have the pressure of competing in the league tables and being compared against their state or independent ‘equivalents’ but they now have monetary fines to contend with too.

While we welcome this lively debate we can’t help but wonder when discussion will finally translate into action.

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