In today’s frenzied, hyper-connected environment, a disconnect between science (think data) and art (think communication) can diminish even the most well-intentioned marketing and PR efforts.
By thinking about these things in tandem, and by looking at the intersection between them, we can unlock a treasure trove of useful insights into how we should “manage” customers today. It’s not enough to cull data and develop targeted campaigns, only to beat customers to death with factual product information, special promotions and sales pitches. We ultimately need to reach and converse with customers in a way that feels (yes, feels) authentic and meaningful. We ultimately need to reach and converse with customers in a way that feels (yes, feels) authentic and meaningful.
As of late, I’ve observed hundreds of conversations on everything from CMO LinkedIn groups to PR blogs about the “convergence of marketing and PR.” What is the difference? Who owns what? Is marketing about the product and PR about the relationship? Does it even matter?
The truth is, it does matter — because ultimately these two functions stand in closest proximity to the customer. Thus, our ability to engage our audiences is directly related to how we think about the marketing and PR. If we can’t find a meaningful way to respect and understand the strengths and deficiencies of each discipline, we will be left with a waste of effort, human resources and — ultimately — capital.
The fundamental downside is this: A customer will feel disconnected from a brand if its employees are disconnected. It’s simple psychology.
In order to serve the customer — which is the highest aim of a brand — it’s important to define the significance of each “service provider.” I’m going to take a risk here by making an assertion about marketing and its friendly neighbor, public relations:
Neither marketing nor PR is linear in nature, nor do they exist in a vacuum. They are cyclical and intertwined with each other.
To understand both the differences and intersection between Marketing and PR, I conducted a fun experiment with two respected professionals: The CMO of RichRelevance, Diane Kegley, and the VP of PR and Communications of PunchTab, Robyn Hannah.
I posed this question to both of them: How do you use customer data to guide the decisions you make around Marketing/PR campaigns?
Their responses were fascinating.
Kegley (Marketing): ‘Marketing is a process of continual optimization — running better and better campaigns based on data and results. So there is a tremendous opportunity to rapidly adjust our messages, content and channels.
“Ten years ago, my job as a tech CMO required locking down a calendar of ad buys, direct mail drops and webinars. Now I can adjust and improve ad/marketing/PR programs in real time based on reception and deliver progressively better campaigns within weeks based on what my customers care about.”
Hannah (PR): “When a sales rep says something in a presentation, and a phrase or sentences elicits those head nods of agreement, and when eye contact is exchanged across the room, then you know you’ve unlocked some magic combination of words that resonated with that customer. If you get that response two or three times from other people … your messaging has hit a sweet spot. I touch base with our sales team at least one a week because I want those anecdotal affirmations that our story is clear and our words are working. It’s data, even if it doesn’t come on a spreadsheet.”
As you can see, these two individuals have entirely different thought processes in terms of what drives decision-making, but both are important because the customer needs to feel both understood on an “emotional” level as well as a “functional” level the customer needs to feel both understood on an “emotional” level as well as a “functional” level. The latter of which has more to do with whether or not the information reaching the customer is relevant to what they want to buy. Hypothetically, this is driven by data.
For example: Please, please, pretty please can Facebook stop serving me ads for engagement rings already? Not. Even. Close.
Shoddy algorithms notwithstanding, Marketing’s role is to optimize. However, it needs the connective tissue PR can provide vis-à-vis ongoing narrative building and perception-based content development. The outcome, based loosely on Richard Edelman’s sentiment that “traditional marketing is broken,” is a collaborative function between marketing and PR that I like to call “Relationship and Communications Marketing.”
With this in mind, let’s turn to how this framework affects today’s customer and why it matters in terms of engagement, acquisition and retention. In other words, how PR and Marketing can work together to serve today’s customer, which looks very different from the customer of yesteryear.
Empowered by search and social networks, today’s customer generally begins their “path to purchase” online, equipped with information and knowledge from a variety of sources.
“I think it’s essential that we as B2B — and frankly B2C — marketers understand that by the time one of our sales people or associates is interacting with a customer, it’s later in the purchase cycle,” remarks Kegley. “Since the customer is arming themselves with knowledge and insights from their own networks or via online searches, marketing needs to be out in front of this much, much earlier in the process.”
Hannah echoes her thoughts, saying, “I think there has been a significant shift in the sales force, and somehow PR and marketing have become a pre-sales team of sorts. When we can provide quality content and useful information for the customer, we’re essentially building trust — which is largely about filling an emotional need. It doesn’t even have to be content directly related to what we’re doing (me, me, me!), rather it’s yet another avenue for fostering the relationship, which may eventually lead to a purchase.”
Knowing most customers are equipped with ample information prior to deciding to purchase a product is key. Marketing can analyze and optimize which types of content and messages, along with delivery channels, seem to be driving a customer toward purchase. PR, while having been an active informant of content subject matter, then listens closely for cues and signals from customers that can then be validated by marketing data; and later applied to the content roadmap.
Kegley offers a thought-provoking analogy, “The customers of yesterday bought bonds and mutual funds; while the customers of today are betting on hedge funds. Go big, or go home.”
The point? Well, ultimately, nothing is safe, so what have you got to lose?
A decade of swift and stunning changes has profoundly affected the customer’s mindset — and consequently how, when and why they shop and buy.
She adds, “The customers of yesterday had less information, fewer options and were incentivized to play it safe when it came to purchase decisions. Going with the ‘groundbreaking, innovative, disruptive’ choice was often frowned upon. But now customers have limitless information and a huge number of options and they are forced to place more bets by nature of the current buying environment.”
As a result, brands are best served to take a position of consistency and continuity when it comes to their messaging and marketing communications. Why? Because customers will go flitting about, open to everyone and loyal to none, until they have had enough experiences (good or bad) to settle on a decision. When they do, you had better be there just as you were when they considered you the first time, or they will leave again.
Brand stability requires discipline from a narrative standpoint, so PR’s “job” is to ensure the ongoing messages are consistent and thought-provoking and useful.
Adjacently, marketing holds the appropriate data to figure out where that customer is, what their buying habits are based on, and predictions about when they may come back to the proverbial buying table.
Given the amount of choices they have, customers seem elusive in their buying behavior. However, one truth about human behavior is constant: People want respect. This means they will ultimately want to be heard and touched. This respect, in essence, requires the organization to be sensitive to the customer’s preferences, and to engage that customer appropriately.
It’s not always about bombarding them with email campaigns or special offers via social channels, which is easy to do in our digitally driven landscape. It oftentimes requires high-touch environments and facetime with the customers.
PunchTab, in order to create an environment of “listening,” has put a tremendous effort into assembling marketing panels and “think tanks” with key customers as well as marketers in order to understanding pain points, and ultimately gain insights into what they need and want.
Hannah notes, “There’s just no substitution for in-person conversations and physical environments. This is the most impactful way to build long-term relationships with customers and to really understand what they’re thinking.”
For its part, RichRelevance built an actual lab — staffed by data scientists — in its SF headquarters. In some ways this seems very old school, but it meets the customers’ need to see the power of the technology in action, and to connect with the RichRelevance team face-to-face.
Marketing certainly benefits from a willingness to allow PR to take the lead on listening and generating conversations, while they focus on extrapolating data to guide the efforts of content and delivery.
“You absolutely must use qualitative and quantitative data to stay in step with your customers in the right channel, at every step of the purchase path,” adds Kegley.
In order to truly serve today’s customer, it’s clear that those closest to the customers must step up their game and figure out how to best leverage their assets. For any businesses, selling is mandatory; but understanding why someone buys, when they will buy, and if they will think positively about your organization is just as important as the actual purchase.
At best, marketing and PR will take the time to define where one begins and the other ends so they can align and support one another’s higher purpose. As challenging as this may sound, the customer will feel once it’s been accomplished. Assuming your product is meeting their need, the power of this partnership is unmatched by any other.
After all, we need science. But we need art, too.
How does your company treat marketing and PR? Tell us in the comments.
Rebekah Iliff is the chief strategy officer for AirPR.
This article was written by admin