By now, almost all the western world — and a good chunk of Asia and Africa — have all heard of Apple’s latest breakthrough product, the iPad.
The sheer number of impressions this launch has generated is in itself impressive. But what is even more impressive is the use of early adopters and key influentials to drive the story, enthusiasm, excitement and buzz for Apple, not the company itself.
Remember that Apple is not a company that is that into social media, yet check out the Twitter hashtag #ipad and end user blogs to get a sense for the mountain of coverage and interest generated for the iPad.
How does it do this? Good old-fashioned smart PR and a communications strategy that relies on the magnification effect of early adopters and influentials to amplify launch noise via traditional PR, Word of Mouth (WoM) buzz and aspirational excitement.
Here’s some of the ground rules:
1. Carefully pick and choose your hero product(s) for the year and put as much wood behind these arrows as you can. The iPad was THE launch of 2010 for Apple. The company maintains ongoing influencer relations, a thorough reviewer’s program, and ongoing engagement for other products, like their laptops, iPods, etc., but the focus was iPad and later this year iPhone OS version 4.0. That’s it. Laser-like focus, picking and backing your product bets, not spreading the wealth across a wide product range that all cry out for PR support, even though they may be close to end-of-life (EOL) and have reached the downward side of the S-curve. The other products bask in the halo of the hero products. See what the iPod did for Macintosh sales post launch? See what the iPhone has done for iPad sales?
2. Focus on long term influencer and early adopter relations and engagement. These are your natural allies. Cultivate them, let them talk for you because they ultimately carry far more weight and credibility than your own Press Releases, blog posts or advertising. Engage with not just technology influencers, but with business, social and celebrity folk that give you brand cache and style. It’s no accident that Stephen Fry is an Apple fan boy, so is half of Hollywood, thanks to decades of engagement with product placement on set and off set, with the stars themselves. Every episode of Seinfeld has a Macintosh and a small statuette of Superman in the background. Check it out next time re-run comes on. At one point, Jerry Seinfeld had a Mac too (and probably still does even though he did ads with Bill Gates last year).
So how does this translate into the iPad launch? How do these uber-strategies map with launch tactics? Well, here’s a synopsis:
The iPad launched officially on April 1, but embargoes were set for March 31. This means a wave of launch buzz and hype 24 hours prior to people being able to buy one (not counting the rumours and speculation in the prior nine months).
Key influencers were seeded with Product Verification & Testing (PVT) units three to four months out in some cases, depending on when these units were deemed stable enough and of sufficient quality to pass muster for people that will forgive non-production machine foibles because they love the technology and because they consider themselves Apple-insiders. These units went to key Apple business partners/friends (remember Google CEO Eric Schmidt got a pre-production iPhone and not so surreptitiously flashed it at Davos, where it stole the headlines rather than dry economic prognostications?), celebrities, technology gurus, etc. Also note that they all honoured the strict Apple NDAs — no insider wants to be ostracized and get thrown out of the club.
Journos/key bloggers in the US (a very select few, high impact folks) had their iPads under NDA for a week prior to launch, enough for them to play and enjoy, but not enough time for them to be too heavily critical. Launch reviews reflect that and it’s commonsense when you think about it. The shine always rubs off the shiny new toy the longer you have it. This early enthusiasm sets the tone for the launch coverage, providing the initial launch gestalt.
Celebrity Twitter-ers helped fuel the social media buzz. Stephen Fry was on the US West Coast at launch (funny how that happened) and put up video of the un-boxing of his iPad. He openly Tweeted he had one a day prior to the rest of the population. Robert Scoble did the same thing, except for the video of the unboxing (he later went out and bought two more iPads because his family kept hijacking his — and Tweeted about it). Reviews popped up the day before the official launch by Walt Mossberg and David Pogue in the US — two of the most highly respected tech journos in the country. Surgical media placement and engagement for maximum impact rather than a broad ‘hit as many as you can’ approach most companies take.
Foreign (that is, non-US) media got flown to a glitzy New York event and even if there was no pricing for their markets, they got to play with units at launch in salubrious surroundings and with high profile Apple execs. They in turn also had the opportunity if they were keen enough to buy their own units in the US, which judging by the coverage, a good few did, thereby continuing the buzz momentum.
And the result is, as you can see, a wave of initial great coverage that drives WoM, then sales and sets the tone.
More importantly its a self-reinforcing cycle of clever, surgical market engagement that fuels Apple’s mystique as a cult rather than as a technology company.
And the interesting thing is that other companies with ‘insanely’ great products could be doing the same to build their own mystique and stories. Mass communications doesn’t have to be massive, just smart.
Postscript: The iPhone OS 4.0 was announced a few days ago. Only Apple developers are supposed to have the beta code for testing. Stephen Fry, who last time I checked can’t cut a line of code, Tweeted yesterday that he had just installed it on his 3G iPhone. General availability for the masses is not expected until the northern hemisphere summer/autumn (fall).
In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, the captions and efficacy of photographer Roman Vishniac’s work in capturing pre-war Easter Europe is questioned. While various sources in the article debate whether or not his captions distort the reality of the pictures or if his images project a narrow point of view of that time and place, there is a technology debate in the article as well. Were the pictures staged or not?
This actually can likely be proven if we know what kind of camera he used: The article states:
“Other claims have required only common sense to refute, like Vishniac’s assertion that he took moving footage with a camera hidden in a valise. ‘Have you seen film cameras from that time?’ Benton notes. ‘They’re not exactly camcorders you can just stick in your purse.’”
Most of Vishniac’s pictures in question were taken in the late 1930s. And here is what a typical camera looked like from that era.
Isn’t technology more at the heart of this debate? What kind of camera did he use? Would like to see some follow up piece that hones in on this piece of the arguments made.
“ And yes Mr. Vice President, you’re right …”
If you hadn’t already seen, those were the words of White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledging Vice President Joe Biden’s hiccup last month, and in my opinion, one of the best examples of someone embracing a PR nightmare.
As PR professionals, we are trained to protect corporate reputation. Whether it’s internally or externally, much of what we do all adds up to defending reputation, whether it be of an organization or brand.
So when an external force does something to harm the reputation we are protecting, we want to do everything in our power to stop it. Unfortunately (or fortunately), rapidly-changing technology and social media has made stopping this increasingly difficult. We cannot remove every Tweet, video and blog comment when something goes wrong.
So what can we do? How can we stop it?
I recently attended a three-day training session about brands, and one of the main lessons I learned was that most of the time, trying to stop someone or something from hurting an organization’s reputation is not the best path forward. We need to embrace what is coming at us and think about how we can take the bad and turn it into something good.
So while we cant always stop the bad, if we are able to take a step back and ask ourselves if the situation we’re dealing with is “a big f**king deal”, we will be able to understand how to make the best of a bad situation.
The NY Times got me again. To say that this is a great read for any marketer is an understatement and it may be worth reading more than once.
At the risk of violating one of the premises of the article, the section that really struck me from a communications standpoint was a concept the article attributes to Cass Sunstein called “cyberbalkanization.” Essentially this is the ability for anyone to easily use online and social tools (as well as traditional ones) to surround themselves with news, opinions and ideas that are in-line with their own existing ideas, perceptions and beliefs. This eliminates the need to listen or learn from anyone that has an opinion outside of your own – this part is towards the end of the story.
While I believe much of this has been around for years via traditional media catering to specific consumer, business and political interests, the future is certainly accelerating the opportunity and dropping the barriers to entry while increasing the gap between opposing views. Instead of paying for subscriptions or content, I can now get almost whatever I want, free and delivered to virtually any screen I want while mashing it up with any other content I wish. I’m able to create my own happy little news world – surrounding myself with my preferred bloggers and authors (thanks to my RSS feeds, readers) and my own social networks (that , naturally, consist of likeminded “friends”). It is easy to see how small my world can become and how easy it is to block out the culture, ideas, thoughts and perspectives of those outside of it.
From a technology standpoint, some research groups are working on ways to try and intesect this trend. Take a look at the Dispute Finder project developed by Intel (Disclosure: Intel is a client) and UC Berkeley – here is a good video of the project as well. Through a Firefox extension, I’m able to read all the news and views I want, as normal. But when the Dispute Finder picks up a keyword phrase, I’m presented with the option to hear two perspectives of the story one supporting it and one opposing.
Until this type of technology is available for broad use, we’re faced with the challenge of determining how we speak with people and communicate with them if they’re not even listening or tuning in. Certainly we need to understand the habits of our target audiences (both online and offline) as well as the technology they use to gather their information – but we also need to be willing to listen to opposing views, learn from them and find ways to apply that knowledge to reaching our audience. Some of this may be engaging with them in discussion (online or offline) and that it is the beauty and fear of social media. I also think this is part of the reason we all jump to read the cyclical “PR is Dead” story or the debate about the death of embargoes (search Twitter for #newscartel) or how the media industry is dead (or dying – @themediaisdying).
We should be paying attention, and more importantly, we should be listening and learning.
Four key takeaways from Virginia Miracle on SXSW® Interactive 2010.
For the complete post, here is the link to our 360 Digital Influence blog.
Not too long ago, the NY Times ran a very interesting story that covered the emerging new marketing buzzword — Curate. This week Steve Rosenbaum added a new perspective in the Huffington Post introducing the notion of a Curation Nation. Fascinating read.
Certainly the concept and theme around agreggation as well as compiling and sharing content is nothing new, but the art and technology around this process is certainly changing. It has evolved to the point where we’re all becoming curators without even realizing it — whether that is through Twitter lists, Foursquare, Facebook or a seemingly endless array of platforms.
For brands the challenge remains how they can either move beyond simple content aggregation for aggregation sake and add value to the chain…or find a way to be an essential element in the content that is being curated. In other words, do you create the content that is curated or do you curate the content yourself?
I happen to believe that, for most bands, the best approach will be a blend of the two where they can deliver an experience that intersects the conversation around a particular area while creating and sharing relevant original content that adds to the dialogue. Its not about “owning” a topic or subject, its more about being a relevant listener and contributor to the conversation around that topic or subject.
Is she nuts? Social Responsibility costs money, and that was cut long ago. I know that’s what many of you are thinking. Hear me out. I think the planets are aligning to give companies more courage and motivation to align themselves with social causes. Here’s why:
1. Give the People What They Want. The data is everywhere: regardless of age or country of origin, people want to help people and they prefer brands that help people. Pretty simple stuff. But the numbers that support this thinking are encouraging and I think a little surprising. In the Pew Research Center’s Millennials study released last month, there is an interesting statistic that 21% of Millennials say that helping people who are in need is one of the most important things in their life – more important to them in fact than owning a home or being successful in a high paying career. Will their views change as they age and become less idealistic? I wonder. A December 2009 Yankelovich study showed 69% of consumers say that when a company donates to or does something for school or community, they think its right to buy things from that company as often as possible – a 10% jump in that answer from 2005. During this recession, consumers may not be giving as much money, but they certainly are giving their time. And they seem to be responding favorably to brands that give both.
2. Social is as Social Does. Social media has absolutely changed the relationship between brand and consumer, giving them more direct lines of communication. But as the medium starts to mature, or we as marketers get more experience in working in it, it seems that some corporate-driven initiatives that have an investment tie to social causes receive a stronger, more lasting embrace by their online communities. Think Coke’s investment in the Heart Truth to raise awareness for women and heart disease. The take-away? Most every brand steward not living under a rock is looking for a way to engage stakeholders and influencers via social media. B2C or B2B. The challenge is finding an idea or campaign that isn’t fleeting and has enough interest and appeal to be embraced by those online communities. So partnerships with social causes seem like a very authentic way to reach people around issues they are already passionate about with something they’ll really appreciate from a brand; putting money and effort where its brand mouth is.
3. As the Big Brands Go, Others Will Follow. Smart marketers have already identified this cultural desire for individuals and companies to be more involved in their community and pay it forward. President Obama has called for increased volunteerism. Pepsi has harnessed this desire to help others though their Pepsi Refresh campaign. At (client) Intel’s January launch of its Core processors, the company decided to partner with soccer powerhouse Mia Hamm. As part of Intel’s launch with Mia, the company made a donation to the Mia Hamm Foundation, which Mia created to raise funds and awareness for families needing marrow or cord blood transplants, and to foster opportunities for young women in sports.
I bet we’re only seeing the first set of waves on these kinds of campaigns. And I think that’s a good thing.
What do you think?
Can corporate initiatives (funding & resources) and programs for the social good co-exist without the “eeeew” factor?
When it comes to analysis on how well these programs help the bottom line, if all buying criteria are equal, could the consumer sentiment model hold true for B2B purchases and tip the scales towards socially-conscious corporations?
Is there a happy intersection of doing good and for-profit endeavors?
Boy I hope so. Earth Day’s just over a month away. Any campaign ideas on the whiteboard that could do some earthly good?
In early January I posted a blog on the “Top 10 Priorities for Tech PR Professionals in 2010.” I received quite a few comments on the blog itself as well as through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and email.
I waited a month and now have decided to re-post it with a single additional priority and some minor changes. The most evident is in the title, now “Top 11 Priorities for PR Professionals in 2010.” I left out “tech” because they are relevant to PR pros across practice areas. I added one priority (thanks to Lucy for the important reminder): “Building Communities”, now priority #6.
Here the revised post:
There’s no doubt that 2009 was a year that (further) changed our job as PR professionals. As I’m sure you’ve heard a million times, it’s an all new, ever changing world and we need to learn, move and adapt quickly. But, in concrete terms, what does that mean?
From my point of view (mostly from the agency side) I thought I’d list out the priorities for a tech PR practitioner in 2010. I think they stand for both experienced professionals and people just getting into PR.
One thing is for sure: our job is indeed getting more and more complex, challenging, and fascinating. All three qualities that have kept me in the same business for so many years.
1. Becoming a Content Creator. Technologies and the media environment are making it possible for companies to reach out to their stakeholders directly. PR must lead content creation. Cisco has done that very well for quite some time now, with News@Cisco. IBM is now following with the recent hire of Steve Hamm. I am sure many others will follow. A content strategy is pivotal in any good public relations program.
2. Telling Stories Visually. As PR professionals we need to become better visual storytellers. Read The Back of the Napkin for inspiration – you can get the new companion workbook to put Roam’s principles into practice on Amazon.
3. Learn how to use multimedia tools. Now that you’ve put Content and Visual Storytelling at the center, learn how to make news using all the multimedia tools available and how to develop and manage an editorial calendar (or hire people who do it well.) We will see more journalists getting in-house to do precisely this. Steve Hamm at IBM won’t be the only one.
4. Get a Room! I mean a media room. Nowadays it is so much easier to have a studio close to your executives or your clients so you can easily shoot video without taking away a lot of their time. This can be very handy in times of crisis where you want a quick response. In this post you can find specific suggestions on my favorite equipment.
5. Become a social media expert (if you are not one already.) Social Media is integrated in everything we do. PR professionals that are not at least proficient in Social Media, are going to be obsolete before the end of the year. So, don’t rely only on “experts”. Become an expert.
6. Building Communities
Once you create great content, whether you are a b2b or a b2c company, and engage your stakeholders in conversations, you have a golden opportunity: “to build a community for users, influencers, advocates, product champions, experts, partners, etc. around your brand, products or services.” per Lucy’s comment in my previous post. I am sure that in 2010 we will start to see more and more community manager job opportunities in the marketplace.
7. Think 360. Talking about integration, don’t stop at social media. Think about all the communication disciplines. Clients and companies face communication or reputation (or both) challenges. Rarely can something be solved by one communication discipline. PR, AR Marketing, IR, HR (Internal Communication), and in some instances Sales and Customer Service needs to work together in a more integrated way than ever before. My good old friend Sue from the UK call it “hybridise”. “PR practitioners must increasingly learn how to bring in elements from traditionally competitive marketing disciplines.”
8. Develop new services and become more efficient. More for less is here to stay. Now that companies have learned (by necessity) to do and demand from their agency partners to get more for less, why would they go back to getting less for more? For agencies that means providing higher-value services and be more efficient in providing traditional support.
9. Identify the right measurement criteria for your needs. If #8 is true (and believe me, it is), ROI is going to be even more important than before. Flexible measurement solutions, that cost less than 10% of the total investment, will become critical for the success of a Corporate Communication department and for the agency.
10. Integrate your customers in your PR planning. As consumers are co-brand managers, really playing a major role in shaping global brands like Google, Apple and Ford, B2B companies need to work closely with their customers so they can become co-brand managers too. What they say, think or write about will affect your reputation and brand building. A hint? It’s not just about developing and pitching case studies.
11. Understand where influence begins and how it works. Too often I hear that PR is going to die (yawn) because social media is changing the media landscape so there is less and less traditional media. The reality is that PR is not only media relations. The big opportunity for PR professionals is to understand the new “influencer” landscape to a greater detail than before. Understand the ecosystem where your company or client belongs to, and how to engage those influencers and the people who influence them. A colleague of mine suggested that I read the “best book on Influence ever written : Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. I’ve just downloaded it on my kindle but since I trust my friend I am sure it’s very good and want it to share it with you sight unseen.
Have a wonderful 2010!
Over the last year, location-based social networks such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Brightkite have exploded among early adopters. It’s no question—with increasing adoption of smart phone usage, location-based social networks are rising in popularity every day.
Recently covered in GigaOM, CNN, Ad Age and The New York Times, Foursquare is currently one of the most buzzed about location-based mobile social networks. Intel and Ogilvy recently used Foursquare to drive traffic to and create buzz around Intel’s offline events and activities at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month.
For CES, Intel created a branded Foursquare page, featuring locations where Intel had activity and tips for Las Vegas visitors. Intel also rewarded check-in’s to key events with branded badges, paired with the chance to win an Intel-powered netbook for all badge recipients.
This exclusive collaboration allowed Intel to track and build relationships with online influencers active on Foursquare at CES. With more than 400 cumulative check-in’s to Intel-affiliated locations and events, the collaboration was a breakout success and proved to be an interesting event-based model for brands looking to work with Foursquare.
We interviewed Tristan Walker, head of business development at Foursquare, to learn more about their vision for what’s to come for brands, businesses and Foursquare.
In today’s changing media landscape, many of us are looking for ways to make waves. Surveys can be a great way to accomplish that. I have done a few surveys in the past, but recently it seems that colleagues of mine are doing more of these and looking for guidance, so I thought I would share some best practices for developing and promoting surveys.
1. Select a topic that is not self-serving. For example, if you’re a b2b company with little brand recognition, pick a topic that a broader audience would be interested in, rather than one that answers questions about how well-known your product or solution is within your industry.
2. Write the headlines. I have found that one of the easiest ways to begin developing survey questions is to start backwards. Write a few sensational headlines that you would like to see and then work backwards to develop questions that will get you there.
3. Determine cost and 3rd party research firm. Depending on available time and resources, you may want to think through the type of survey you want to do. An Omnibus survey is an efficient, easy way to get quick results. On the other hand, if you have a bigger budget, you may want to consider an in-depth survey that polls a larger sample and takes a little bit longer. Regardless of the type of survey, you should use an independent 3rd party research firm.
4. Shop the final results around with a few select reporters early. While it seems like reporters are no longer doing exclusives these days, many reporters still like to see the information early before it’s released, particularly if they want to sift through raw data (which many of them will).
5. Ensure raw data and spokespersons are available. These are two key elements that reporters will ask for. They will want to see a full copy of the survey results (beyond what is in the press release), access to the 3rd party survey firm to validate the survey, and an expert from the company who can interpret the results.
Finally, when you and your team are ready to begin pitching the survey results, pitch, pitch, pitch! Think outside of your traditional reporters and expand your list to wires, bloggers, news services, etc. to ensure maximum reach and coverage.