My sister is a Counter Burger fan and frequent air traveler. When I shared on Twitter that she chooses to layover at San Diego International Airport (SAN) because of The Counter, Co-CEO Craig Albert responded. Our initial Twitter exchange was friendly and brief.

Fast forward a few weeks. My sister was again headed to SAN, but risked missing The Counter’s closing time by 15 minutes. I tweeted and Craig immediately took action. We coordinated flight arrival time and burger service with the efficiency and excitement of a lunar landing. The result: a fun tweet stream, a great photo, and a brand advocacy story that’s hard to beat. Here’s the interaction:

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 4.47.10 PM

Craig’s tone and communication style is reflected in every Counter Burger touchpoint: on their website, in social media, and behind the sales counter. The company has created one voice – a voice that’s open, human, and fresh – and that obviously resonates with their loyal customers.

Many thanks to Craig and The Counter team.

CHmIKheWgAAYxnV

Choice is now available locally and globally on and offline for pretty much any good or service a consumer could want. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for brands looking to reach customers across the device universe (mobile, desktop, tablet, gadget, etc.).

Marketers have better access to customers, but customers are better informed as they go into purchasing mode. Comparison shopping, product forums, social media, and other information sources have given the consumer the ability to make informed decisions before, as well as at the point of purchase.

As a result, brands can no longer solely dictate pricing and product delivery timetables – their customers are playing an active and real-time role. Social media, showroom price matching, and price comparison marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon make it difficult for any brand that’s not dictating MAP (minimized advertised price) to be undersold or commoditized.

Here are a few examples:

  • In the B2C world, 66 percent of Moms say that the Internet has changed the way they get information about products, but this savvy comes with caveats. They want to initiate the conversation. Source
  • In the B2B world, 70 percent of B2B tech buyers surveyed said that the amount of budget spent electronically would increase if it were easier and more convenient to browse and purchase items directly from suppliers and their websites. Source
  • Then there are the Internet-born brands such as Warby Parker and others that are making costs and benefits more transparent, disrupting traditional retail margins. Eyewear was a market ripe for disruption. B2C lighting and plumbing supplies are markets currently being disrupted. Source

What does this mean for marketers? It means that brand narrative, data-aided personalization, rich product information, and access to company experts is more critical than ever before. It means that integrated marketing is here to stay.

The minute you accept that your brand or product is replaceable is the moment you start working on great things like positioning, merchandising, packaging, product development, measurement, and an integrated marketing approach. This is the time when you start thinking about how to surprise and delight customers and obsessing about how to remove friction from the buying process. This is when the product finds its voice, and you as the marketer find your power.

Public relations professionals can play a big role in driving and amplifying their clients’ digital marketing efforts. One area of opportunity is search engine optimization (SEO).

We all know that customers use search at the beginning of the information gathering and purchasing cycle, so it’s imperative for all brands and businesses to be found in natural (organic) and paid search. Since paid search can be costly for broad, general terms, it’s best to employ best practices to improve your clients’ exposure in organic, unpaid search.

Here’s a quick playbook for improving SEO with public relations.

  1. Determine the keywords and phrases your clients want to be known for in organic search, e.g., your client’s value proposition, brand or product names, and top three communication pillars or points.
  2. Measure where your client ranks for those keywords and phrases. There are a number of web and desktop applications that you can use for rank measurement including Rank Tracker, Bright Edge, and others. You’re looking for search volume (number of searches for these terms), competition (where competitors rank), and your client’s current rank.
  3. Create a plan to integrate the highest value and highest opportunity keywords into future communications. Map these words and terms to the most relevant pages on your client’s website. You want to match keywords to pages where high-value information and transactional goals are in place, e.g., a download, a lead capture form, etc. Or, create new landing pages that best serve your clients’ customers.
  4. Even if you’re measuring rank for 50-plus keywords, be sure to prioritize 5 – 10 keywords that will send viable leads or sales to your client’s website. This prioritization helps focus efforts across marketing channels and disciplines.
  5. Now it’s time to do the work:
    • Update web page meta data (your page titles, keywords, and descriptions) to include the targeted keywords and phrases.
    • Integrate keywords and phrases into your press releases and boilerplate, again mapping back to relevant pages on your client’s website.
    • Run your links through your measurement package’s link tracking tool, e.g., this is the tool for Google Analytics.
    • Create a process so that all internal stakeholders take these steps across all published materials.
  6.  Measure natural search referrals and results weekly (or monthly, based on resources), using any additional learnings to fine tune your SEO efforts – carefully reviewing how visitors navigate through your client’s website.
  7. For keywords and phrases where there is too much competition and your client cannot rank highly in natural search, consider using paid search and social marketing to boost visibility.

This same methodology can be applied to all outgoing content-related efforts, including press releases, website content, white papers, and more. Any digital content that enables links to your client’s websites, microsites, and other digital presences, such as social media, can help reinforce brand messaging and pillars. If there are special targeting considerations such as geography, customer job roles, etc., be sure to incorporate those into your planning.

This type of optimization on-site (websites, microsites, social destinations) and in outbound communications ‘tells’ search engines that your client has content authority, thereby improving their search engine rank over time. Be patient however, ranking result improvements take 30 – 90 days to start materializing in organic search results.

Retailers should make amends when customers voice a perceived wrongdoing, however, J.C. Penny’s new ad is a miss – a lost opportunity to draw in new customers. The ad does go to rebuild goodwill among the retailer’s current core audience, but to those unfamiliar with JCP’s newest product assortment, the ad strikes a desperate tone.

I’d planned to visit JCP because of Ron Johnson’s once lauded (and now derided) merchandising strategy. News of the new, brighter, more open JCP featuring independent brands that exude curatorial respect – Levi’s, Martha Stewart, Jonathan Adler, and others – got my attention. Now, I’m not so sure. While I applaud J.C. Penney for trying to protect (and win back) their core audience, this misstep might be a case of winning the battle, but losing the war. They’ll save today’s shopper, but lose tomorrow’s; shoppers that embrace experiences and narrative and who will pay a premium (or at least full price) for it.

In my opinion, J.C. Penney’s retail reversal is a loss of the “surprise and delight” that propelled Target (Johnson’s former employer) to retail stardom. They’ve exchanged a “new position” for an undifferentiated return to mediocre pricing tactics. J.C. Penney is once again about price – not value – a position shared by many others in an increasingly crowded space.

Come back, Ron Johnson. You were just getting started.

‘If you’re in a race to the bottom, to the best price, you’re not going to win long term.’ – J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler

jcp

 

An investor I recently spoke with stated, “I look at a company’s website and ask, would anyone care if this company went away? If the answer is no, I go on to the next thing.”

As a strategist I ask, “Has your company uniquely positioned itself in the market, and does that positioning align to your company’s mission, vision, and values?”

If the answer is “yes” to both questions above, then find ways – beyond sales – to validate that your customers feel the same way. If your customers aren’t reflecting your messaging (based on your insights about them), you’d better quickly change the conversation.

conversation