October 27, 2016 / by Ken Wincko

Much has been talked about regarding the importance of marketing personalization and a 1:1 approach. We have used this philosophy in our own marketing efforts at Cision and PR Newswire, and it has significantly improved the effectiveness of our marketing programs. While it is still critical to facilitate contextual interactions with buyers on a personalized basis, based on the latest insights from our research and analytics, it is my view that it is much more complicated than that – which requires a whole new level of sophistication in marketing and communications strategy.   

Let me explain. Digital, social and mobile channels have empowered customers. Today’s audiences are looking for (and can easily find) information that appeals directly to their needs. And they’re looking increasingly for it from the people that they trust — most notably, their family, friends, colleagues, influencers and other subject matter experts. 

In fact, according to Edelman’s 2016 EARNED BRAND study, 86% of surveyed consumers rely on peer sources for learning about brands and 71% rely on peer sources for buying decisions.

Buyers aren’t just in control of their own purchases; they’re influencing other people’s purchases. It’s not enough to view your audience as prospects and customers. They’re potential influencers and advocates, as well. So, vast networks of buyers and influencers have been established.  

Meanwhile, brands have their own networks — both internally and externally. In many cases, they are sending out disparate messages to buyers via their own departments (communications, marketing, sales, etc.) that have to be coordinated. That doesn’t even take into consideration the messages being sent from their key partners, influencers and their own customers.  

In effect, what has been created is a network to network economy.  On one side you have brand networks, with buyer networks on the other side, and influencers in between, all interacting in a dynamic convergence of earned, paid and owned channels. The gap that needs to be addressed by marketers and communicators, is effectively identifying the influencer communities where the buyer lives, identifying key topics of conversation, and connecting the dots.

Influencer Communities Building Bridges Between Brands and Buyers Purple

We have entered the Era of Advocacy – where advocacy drives the markets, creating a new mandate for marketers.

You need to know how to tap into this community’s influence and build relationships that deliver a continual cycle of growth for your company. According to McKinsey, customers acquired via word-of-mouth have a 37% higher retention rate.

To achieve this level of sophistication, there are three fundamental questions that every Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Communications Officer must answer.

1. What’s your content strategy? At minimum, your strategy needs to identify what topics your content will cover, who will author it, and what format the content will take. The content must be highly relevant to your audience’s needs, come from an influencer or peer they trust and relate to, and be presented in a way that’s easy to interact with. Aligning these three keys with your audience’s needs and communications objectives will pave the way for compelling content experiences.

2. How are you sharing this content across channels? Multichannel promotion is a given for any communications strategy; however, many brands are missing the right channel mix. As I explore in my new white paper Master the Mix: Amplify Your Campaigns Results with Earned Media, consumers are becoming increasingly resistant to advertising and losing confidence in brands which decreases the effectiveness of owned media. It’s time to re-prioritize your earned media strategy and shift some of the investment from paid and owned to earned for a more balanced approach.

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3. How are you measuring your programs? Being able to track only visits, likes or shares is no reason to celebrate. Earned media measurement means having a 360-degree view of your communications and proving value across every stage of the customer journey – from exploration and engagement to adoption and advocacy. It means being able to use the data to A/B test and optimize future communications. More importantly, you need to demonstrate the business impact of your programs.

You may not be able to answer these questions overnight. However, there are steps you can take to lay the foundation. At Cision, we’ve identified the five key pillars of a strong communications strategy:

LISTEN to your audiences across channels.

We all know that monitoring what customers say online and on social media is important. However, brand listening needs to go way past this. You need to understand the buyer’s journey from beginning to end – across all channels – including traditional channels such as print and broadcast. You need to understand your audience’s knowledge gaps and motivating factors. And you need to understand what conversations are happening beyond your customers – including influencers.  Furthermore, you need to be doing it in real-time.

TARGET key influencers and decision-makers.

Influence is not just about the size of someone’s audience; it’s about the quality of their interactions and the ability to motivate other people to take action. In fact, a micro-influencer with a niche but dedicated following can be much more useful than a big-name influencer whose audience isn’t engaged. Harness the real-time insights you gathered when listening to your audience and identify who is driving conversations in particular communities, what they care about, and how they prefer to interact.

CREATE an effective earned media and content strategy.

Even today, brands’ earned media and content strategies are very often created in separate silos. This is very ineffective. Before partnering with your brand, influencers will research you, just as much as you research them – looking to see how well you’re attuned to your and their audiences. Demonstrate your value through thought leadership and engaging multimedia content. Conversely, a content strategy that doesn’t factor in an engagement strategy, incorporating earned media amplification in combination with paid and owned channels, will fail to achieve a robust audience impact. It all must work together as part of a holistic customer and influencer relationship strategy.  

ENGAGE audiences in a coordinated way across channels.

The only way to get your content in the right hands is by sharing your stories across multiple channels – including using earned media to generate interactions with key influencers. Your content can’t just be on your own social channels, or on your company website. And you can’t just invest in paid advertising. While they all have their place, they need to be part of a synchronized, multichannel strategy. What’s particularly exciting about earned media’s potential to engage new audiences is that earning media pickup and sharing it via paid and owned channels can lead to more earned media – further amplifying your brand story in a virtuous cycle.

ANALYZE performance and attribute financial impact.

Today’s marketing and communication professionals are being held to stricter standards than ever before. You need to be able to connect the dots across all channels and program levels – from top-level strategy to tactical performance to real ROI.  What’s working? What’s not? And can you quantify the financial impact your communications and earned media are making? A sophisticated analytics approach looks beyond individual campaigns and traditional performance metrics, focusing on conversion rate, pipeline, customer satisfaction, revenue and client retention with accurate data.  

Until now, it’s been difficult to scale, integrate and prove value for most communicators. Even if you’ve already begun to take the above steps, coordinating your efforts is likely a manual, clunky process – one that isn’t effective or efficient.

These pillars won’t work unless they’re working together.

They require better, more integrated technology, as well as a paradigm shift in which we think more holistically about marketing and communications.

Cision is excited to help lead the way in both of these regards. We want to put communications in its rightful place, and work with your teams to get a bigger seat at the executive table.

In fact, our latest white paper Master the Mix: Amplify Your Campaign Results With Earned Media offers a communications framework that will help you establish meaningful relationships throughout the entire customer journey. Download it now and learn how to execute a better balance across earned, paid and owned media channels.

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About Ken Wincko

Ken Wincko is the SVP of marketing at Cision and PR Newswire, where he manages the company’s global marketing strategy. He is also a member of the Executive Management Committee. He has more than 20 years of marketing, product, and business development experience in bringing innovative marketing programs and solutions to market for both B2B and B2C organizations. Prior to Cision and PR Newswire, Ken held senior-level marketing and product leadership roles at Dun & Bradstreet, ADP, Citigroup and IBM. He is an advisory board member of the CMO Council and a frequent speaker at major industry conferences. Ken has been covered in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, TechTarget, Information Management, The Demand Gen Report and MarketingSherpa.