Tag Archives: crisis communications

Social Media’s Influential Role

role_of_influencer_todayI have already written about the important role “influencers” play in the purchase process – from the choice of what ice cream flavor to eat, to the complex purchase cycle of an enterprise software solution (link to prior post). This article will take a closer look at how social media has taken on an important role in helping influencers connect with buyers along their purchase journey.

It wasn’t long ago when Facebook was an application just used by college students looking to make plans for the weekend, or to catch up with others on recent news or activities. The amazing growth of members quickly validated how popular and how much value its members place with this social community.

Then, something interesting happened. Companies began creating pages, and the race to add “Friends” began.

I remember considerable apprehension and discussions that occurred in marketing departments about how much time, effort and resources should be applied to this social network, among others. Soon, success stories began to emerge from those businesses selling to consumers (B2C). Then it became clear that these online communities were actually impacting sales and the brand’s perception in the marketplace. Prospective customers were going to social media sites to share product stories, endorse or share an exceptional experience or rant about poor customer service.

Recommendations and referrals became important and seen as endorsements or validations to try new products or see a new movie, as just two examples. The role of influencer has gone digital.

Early adopters began to see patterns. Offer a venue for your customers to speak about their experiences with your product, and other future customers would take note. Add advance notification of a future sale to your followers, and response rates improved. Of course, this connection is most compelling if your own friends are the ones doing the recommendation … but this level of familiarity with referrals is not necessary.

Influencer Segmentation in the Digital World

Today, with the passing of time and the knowledge that has been gained, it is apparent that not all social media sites are the same. For example, Facebook might be a great venue for consumer goods products, those that are not too expensive, and could easily be substituted based on incremental differences or brand perceptions. Yelp, on the other hand, seems to have found a niche in the sharing of service stories, such as eating out at a restaurant or using a hair salon. Travel Advisor, on the other hand, has now become the place to research vacation stays, tourist attractions or other such activities you might do when travelling out of town.

Other social media communities, such as LinkedIn, have proven to be quite effective for presenting thought leadership discussions. This type of discussion indirectly helps shape the perception of your brand. Influencers will take note, and either help or hurt your ability to promote future business opportunities.

Each of these venues has now taken on a critical role – letting influencers expand their reach to be virtually global. This is an enormous responsibility, and one that must not be taken lightly. I now feel almost an obligation now when I take a trip, to be sure to provide my feedback on what worked well, and perhaps what I would suggest to improve, so others can gain from my experience. If we all took this approach, I suspect global service levels would all go up.

Nowhere to Hide in the Digital World

vw_diesel_scandalOf course, we don’t live in such a perfect world. Anytime there is an opportunity for companies to take a shortcut to save time or a few dollars, some will take this less than ethical path. This was recently the case with the VW Diesel Scandal, where a faction within VW thought they could cheat their way to passing U.S. emissions tests with engine-management software that altered emissions during the test cycle.

The proverbial “ball” is now in the court of the digital (and other) influencers. How will this end? How much brand erosion will occur? How much will people forget over time?

As a point of reference, it was just a couple of decades ago when the Audi 5000 had sudden acceleration problems – at least that is what the story was on CBS’s 60 Minutes back in 1986. Interestingly, three years later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued their report on Audi’s sudden unintended acceleration problem. NHTA’s findings fully exonerated Audi. Regardless, Audi sales collapsed from 74k units in 1984 to 12k by 1991. Anyone who experienced this crisis first hand knows that their car became virtually worthless over night – no one wanted to buy a car that could allegedly accelerate suddenly, and potentially run over someone! It took nearly 10 years before Audi was able to make significant inroads back in the US market. The company has always claimed their innocence.

That incident occurred in the 1990s, when digital influencers didn’t really exist, with a company that claimed innocence. Today’s VW incident is totally different, in a very different time. Will VWs fate be more severe? Can they recover? Or, have we all become almost “numb” the fact that some companies will take advantage of its customers if given the chance?

One thing is for certain. If we as digital influencers decide “enough is enough,” we can certainly get our message out there and heard by all – and cause havoc to the brand that cheats or deceives us. And that is a force to be reckoned with. Markets and senior management teams take note – we are all brand stewards and need to take very seriously the role digital influencers play, as part of the obligation in taking ownership in the brands we work for.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in creating and executing marketing communications strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

Leave a Comment

Filed under Brand Integrity, Marketing Communications, Social Media

Saving Lives with Better Communications

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, The Talking Cure for Health Care, research has long confirmed that improving communications between Doctors and their patients can actually save lives. The news prompting the article is that healthcare organizations are now taking actions based on this knowledge as a way to improve how Doctors speak with their patients.

Some of the stats that came out of research conducted by Doctors Co. indicate the lack of effective communications issue is widespread:

medical_communications_failure_rates

 

Here is the point I found most intriguing: This type of communication should be the MOST effective, given the setting and subject matter. If you are a patient sitting in front of your Doctor who is explaining something to you that is as important a topic as your health – don’t you think that you would be really paying attention? Given this assumption, the fact that up to 20% of all malpractice claims were derived from communications problems tells me that there are probably even greater issues in communicating effectively on other topics, which are not life and death scenarios.

Take marketing communications, for example, written by professionals trying to convey a message about value propositions, promotions or other compelling cases why a buyer should perform an action. On has to now assume that a big part of the message will likely be lost!

So, next time you venture down the path of writing a webpage, email or sales collateral, think carefully on what can be done to improve the effectiveness by simplifying what you are saying, as most likely, a big number of your readers simply won’t get it.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

Leave a Comment

Filed under Business Communications, Marketing Communications

Did Labor Unions Really Kill the Twinkie?

The nostalgia world may never be the same after the events from earlier this month. After 88 years, Hostess, the makers of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread, is going out of business. According to the story that ran on NBC.com, the CEO blames the unions, which made the decision to go on strike as part of the latest round of labor negotiations. The company has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings for the past 10 months or so. Last week it was announced that all assets will be liquidated, resulting in about 18,000 employees losing their jobs – certainly an unfortunate turn of events.

When I first read this news story, it struck me as interesting how strong the focus was about the role that the Labor unions played in “bringing down” the company. Since the labor unions would not accept new lower salaries, the only choice CEO Gregory Rayburn had was to shut down the company.

That is one way to tell the story.

Another angle is that the company failed to adjust to the times. Over the past decade or so, eating habits changed – the focus today is on eating healthier foods. Given this trend, it is not surprising that a company such as Hostess began having problems, given its product line. I don’t think anyone will argue that the nutritional value of a Twinkie is not too high … according to info published on Livestrong.com. At 150 calories per Twinkie, it has 4.5 g of fat, 20 mg of calcium, 20 mg of cholesterol and 19 g of sugar, equivalent to almost 5 tsp. Double each of these figures for the typical way this product is sold, as a two pack. Other Hostess products don’t fare much better.

This brings me to my point. When you are crafting a story for the press to cover as a business communications or news announcement, there are many options on how to pitch it. Seldom is there just one story. In this case, perhaps the Hostess CEO and management team sought to blame the unions for the downfall of their iconic institution in order to deflect a different line of questioning – such as what were you doing about new product introductions a decade ago when this trend first became obvious? A few days later, more details began to emerge indicating that maybe there were other issues impacting sales. Clearly their cost structure was not well aligned to revenue. It might be that there is no business model that could work for these products today; however, a story focused on that theme wouldn’t do well to help the company find a new suitor. When faced with these alternative stories, portraying the problem on the unions was probably the best way for them to deflect blame while keeping the door open to a new buyer that believes they can address the labor issue.

When you have a business communication to address, sometimes you get to choose what the lead in story and news will be – more often if you proactively make an announcement or hold a press conference. If this is the case, best to take advantage of this opportunity. Other crisis communications, such as an oil drilling platform explosion and fire, can’t really be modified to give it a good “spin.” Over time, if your story has more to it, then it is most likely that the rest of the story will follow. But, it will be secondary to the original announcement, which might just buy you some time to get through your crisis, should you have to experience this type of announcement.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Brand Integrity, Business Communications