Congratulations to our president and founder Joseph S. Grano, Jr., MBA for being awarded the 2020 Ginnie Duffy Troyer Award of Professionalism. Named in honor of former Central West Coast Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association (CWC-FPRA) and Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA) president, Ginnie Duffey Troyer, APR, CPRC, this award is presented to a member who displays the highest level of professionalism in the public relations field.”
What’s your favorite brand? Maybe the latest technology has always peaked your interest. Perhaps styles or fresh design keep you coming back to your favorite clothing outlet. What gets you excited to shop online, browse through a store or follow a brand on social media? There must be something that triggers your brain to actually bother to check up on the latest news or products from your favorite brand, right? You bet. This is called brand connection – what you want to achieve with your own brand ecosystem.
These terms refer to the experience you create for your customers, how people view your products as potential buyers and how you track customers and prospects across all channels of communication. Messaging, social media presence, website usability and image are all key components. Brand connection is what makes someone refer your product, follow you on social media or continue to make the same or different purchase over and over again. But how does this happen?
All successful brands understand that in order to build a lasting connection with customers, they need to connect with them on an emotional level. We are all human beings. Emotion is in our DNA, whether we like it or not. This gives a company multiple opportunities to engage with the natural, unfiltered side of humanity and make lasting connections with potential buyers.
That’s why many brands seek partnerships and ways they can promote their brand alongside organizations or events that seek to make a difference and/or speak to a population. Sponsorships also give a business the chance to not only gain important exposure, but voice their company beliefs or values. Have you ever seen companies partner with sports or teams? Of course. Do brands donate parts of their profits to charity involving nature or disease research? Sure they do. This activity plays to our own likes and/or tugs at our heartstrings to foster respect for these brands. This, in turn, motivates us to spread the word or follow them in the news. We become an advocate for them. Now that’s brand connection.
The brand ecosystem involves all the important decisions a business makes behind the scenes and designs for our customers. Today, most of this comes down to digital marketing. The goal is to create organic leads that drive to meet a customers’ needs. Create an experience that is so interconnected that they’ll never want to leave.
Once you identify your target audience and test your customer experience process, you’re ready to launch. But it doesn’t stop there. Next, you need to track the results. Are there any gaps in the online experience you missed? Are your sales increasing or decreasing? Does your experience generate organic interaction and real leads? Keep testing and analyzing data and soon enough, your brand ecosystem will be thriving.
Brand connection truly comes down to having a healthy brand ecosystem. They go hand in hand. Connecting with your target demographic and honing your online experience will keep potential customers coming back time and time again. It’s not a ‘one-time stop.’ It’s called an ‘experience’ for a reason. A stronger experience leads to a stronger connection, which leads to a stronger brand.
There’s something to be learned from every experience, and the current pandemic has taught us a lot about ourselves and others, testing us in ways we could not have imagined just a couple of months ago.
Lately, we’ve been hearing about a “new now” that likely will challenge us even further as we step into an altered landscape. Let’s face it, we all harbor concerns about what’s ahead. But that’s to be expected. What could be unexpected is that we look deep into our hearts and minds as we make decisions in this new world and realize that, if we stick together, we are limitless.
This applies to business communications, as well as interpersonal interactions. There’s nothing new in the formula except the amplitude. It’s a matter of taking what’s good about us and making it even better. In that vein, here are few thoughts we’d like to share on working together – in any world.
Being positive. It’s a luxury for those of us who can see the light and not just the tunnel. It’s also something that costs us nothing to share. Positivity and persistence reflect optimism and dedication to getting the job done and hope for a better future.
Being compassionate. From American businesses who have stepped up to the plate to every essential worker and volunteer to everyone doing their part, we have shown that we care about each other and are willing to do what has to be done to get us through as a people. In the current situation, when one person’s inconvenience could be another person’s tragedy, we’ve seen what separates us and unites us. As companies and individuals, we must realize that others always need our help and understanding and let it show in everything we do and communicate.
Being flexible. Some things may never be the same, but people and businesses must strive to evolve and progress no matter the circumstances. This involves a new look at corporate and life strategies, operations and goals and articulating that in a way that says who we are now and what that means to others.
Being authentic. We’ve seen the effects of not knowing whom to trust. Transparency, always important, has increased in value in the past months. In the corporate world, transparency builds trust both among the public and employees and provides the foundation for the creation of reachable goals.
Being responsible. Never in recent history have we had such an opportunity to help protect others with simple actions. It’s something worth remembering going forward: not being tone deaf to others’ needs as we recover and doing nothing that puts our families, friends, colleagues and others at risk.
Being proactive. It’s easy to feel deflated, but there is still the future to be considered. Thinking about the next strategy, the next plan, the next stage of life and commerce will serve you well, helping you be prepared and ahead of what’s being thrown at you.
Being open minded. The words “we’ve always done it this way” have flown the coop never to return. If we know anything at this point, it’s that a lot of things can be done differently – and well. Consider that when someone comes up with an idea you’d normally quickly quash. Take a breath and let it breathe.
Being a friend. Yes, we all need friends right now, and just knowing they’re out there can make the day better. Going forward, we can draw on that to reach out, really listen and be a friend to others. We also can make a greater effort to look at things from another’s perspective, as we all deal with challenges in different – not necessarily incorrect – ways.
Being persistent. Things may not run smoothly at first, so we’ll have to hang in there, adapting to change and making it work. We’ve proven we can do it. We just have to keep on doing it. How we cope and how we move forward will define us for years to come.
We at Next-Mark hope all is well, and will continue to be, for you and yours. We also are here should you need help in assessing, restructuring or enhancing your marketing communications as your business or organization moves ahead. To paraphrase the song, we’re in this world together. And, working together, we can make it better.
Among their other devastating ramifications, COVID-19 and its precautions have created an extraordinary level of uncertainty that can be felt in every business and every market on the planet. Few things make such a widespread impact, but when one hits, it really gets us thinking.
As businesses and organizations work to adapt to this new and fluid environment, a primary goal is staying in touch with their audiences, adjusting their messaging to resonate in the current climate and showing their concern and compassion.
They also have to rethink their messaging delivery channels, putting emphasis on what makes the most sense now and creating a foundation for business as usual once the pandemic ends. That pursuit, we believe, will require a strong emphasis on digital outreach.
1. Stay Relevant
When a situation presents itself, analyze it. Make sure you have a good understanding of what’s going on, how it affects your business and how it affects your audience. How will your social media presence showcase your interpretation of this event? How do you stay relevant? In the COVID-19 situation, healthcare is in the spotlight. To show your respect and appreciation for its front-line forces, create more content that addresses this industry. Stay up-to-date with events, such as Doctor’s Day, World Health Day and International Nurses Day. Frequently post shout-outs to healthcare workers, share inspiring stories or relevant news updates in your area. People seek clarity during times of confusion, so it’s important to stay authentic without adding to the irrelevant noise of poorly planned social campaigns.
2. Rev Up Your Video Content
Video should already be a big part of your social strategy. Once a content marketing trend, now it’s the norm. Social media platforms are investing in improving their video capabilities because video content means higher engagement and better customer retention. Today 81 percent of businesses use video as a marketing tool – some doing it better than others. To attract a larger audience and hold their attention, create live event videos, presentations, product demos, how-to videos, vlogs or webinars.
3. Be a Tactful and Reliable Source
It’s always like this when it comes to sensitive issues. Especially as a business, it can be difficult to find the sweet spot when talking about touchy topics. Always refrain from exaggerating or minimizing the situation. This is trouble waiting to happen. When it comes to COVID-19, only post reliable statistics and information and cite sources. And, of course, do nothing that can be seen as take advantage of the situation. Those companies who treat people the most fairly during a crisis will be their go-tos afterward.
4. Don’t be Afraid to Entertain
Now is a great time to think of creative ways to engage with your shut-in audience. Consider providing relief to their boredom and worry with content such as shoppable posts, quizzes or polls that your audience will want to repost and share, increasing brand awareness and keeping your product or service top of mind.
Working to be strategic during times such as these can prove a useful exercise with lasting benefits. It requires a deep look into processes and messaging, which, in good times, can become outdated or stale.
So, when planning, think of it as an opportunity for a fresh start once the worst is behind us. We’re all in this together, and we stand ready to help you however we can.
As professional communicators and marketers, we are working hard to understand what the current situation means to our clients, and how it affects their marketing and communications needs. Whether it’s for us or our clients, it’s clear that one focus must stay constant: maintaining responsible marketing and communications.
These times we’re all experiencing together offer us an opportunity to proactively manage our marketing and communications in a responsible way as well as to prepare for the positive bounce-back that we’re all looking forward to. With this in mind, we hope the following tips will help you make the most of the current marketing environment.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
In new and threatening situations, the natural reaction tends to be reactive. Covering up. But it’s dangerous to be too reactive. First, reactions focus on the specific threat, creating instant tunnel vision. If you’re keeping your eyes open for opportunities, the last thing you want to do is hyper-focus on the one thing that you see as the problem.
Being reactive also causes stress. Instead, taking control of your destiny creates a positive stance, ready and eager for what’s next.
So much of marketing today is virtual that, on the surface, it seems like one of the least affected industries. This is partially true, but subtle changes have already happened. While it sounds counterintuitive, some industries might see more competition than before for online attention. This is especially true for email campaigns. Also, some businesses that are traditionally in-person, bricks-and-mortar only, have managed to be nimble enough to shift workers to online jobs or offer virtual versions of their traditional services. So, digital marketing and communications will continue to thrive and morph at the same time, embracing some activities and marketing needs that were once almost totally offline.
All Systems Go
The increase in virtual contact drives communication levels up, so you’ll want to remain responsive without doing everything as one-offs. That’s when your existing systems such as CRM and email marketing (hopefully connected to your CRM) play an important role. Good marketing demands engagement on your customers’ terms, so make sure to use every tool at your disposal to respond and serve as needed.
Tools of the New Trade
If you haven’t utilized webinars or podcasts before, this is a good time to start. It has always been an effective way to share your insights or demonstrate the value of your product or service with minimal commitment—and substantial opportunity for engagement—from your audience. To a certain extent, the same holds true for short videos, blogs, or the tools of public relations including media releases, by-lined articles and networking with the writers and editors.
Along with the latest business communications tools, do not overlook your social media. This is a new era of engagement that calls for the highest standard of messaging and content.
Whether it’s texting, calling, video chatting, or via any other means, reaching out to your customers and clients has become more necessary than ever. You’ll realize at least two big benefits from increasing your one-on-ones: communicating what actions you’re taking these days and gaining insights and other perspectives from others. If it isn’t already part of your daily business life, being proactive in your one-on-one communications should become an essential part of it now.
We are Not Alone
If your inbox has already filled with more emails than usual from companies you’ve done business with, keep that in mind when you plan to send one of yours. Not only will it need to pass the usual gauntlet of spam filters and subject-line relevance to earn an open, the message inside will need to be different from all the others in order to resonate in a meaningful way. The correct approach is actually the same as it ever was: offer something of unique value, including the experience of doing business with you.
Take on High Road
Now is the time to be a proactive partner with your customers, clients, vendors, and others. While it’s important that you show your confidence in every interaction, there is no excuse for overreaching to the point of becoming opportunistic. If you have a product or service that you can offer for free, for instance, do it as a positive gesture and acknowledge that it’s because we’re all in this together. Your responsibility, as always, is to serve the needs of your customers or clients.
Even when business was business as usual, putting out fires was much easier than stopping long enough to focus on strategy. Try not to get sidetracked by the immediate situation. Whether it’s your messaging strategy, marketing strategy, or business strategy itself, focusing on the big picture will likely pay big dividends going forward.
Stay on Message
Your business should already have a solid messaging strategy in place, so everyone knows what to say to support your brand and its mission. There is no reason to diverge from this because of the current environment. Instead, take this opportunity to augment your messaging platform with those messages that are newly important. Everything still needs to work as a comprehensive system and stay fully aligned with your strategy.
Just as important as staying strategic and on message: keeping your brand active socially. Use the tools of public relations and social media to widen and deepen engagement with your audience. The media and publishers are hungrier than ever for content that can enlighten and entertain. Seek out opportunities to appear as a guest on radio and podcasts as well. As for social media, make an extra effort to engage more often and more directly with followers. Now, more than ever, going beyond posts to pursue actual dialog with your audience will increase the sense of connection—so important to any brand.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
We’ve started to notice one positive indication that life beyond the curve is going to happen. The news outlets are letting the “normal” stories inch back into the news cycle. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We just don’t know exactly how long the tunnel is.
As for us at Next-Mark, each of our clients has adjusted differently to the changes. While some are clearly focusing on their internal actions, others have actually accelerated their communications and marketing outreach. And, we’re happy to share, with have welcomed new clients who see as an important partner in developing strategic communications and marketing programs in this new era of business. If this is what the new normal looks like, then we’re feeling good about the future.
As always, we encourage you to reach out anytime. Whether you need a sounding board or you want to share some your own insights, we are here for you.
Although a lot has changed in our past 15 years in business, some things have remained constant. Among them is our belief in the importance of core messaging. That’s why whenever we start working with a new client, we strongly encourage them to let us help create a core messaging platform before they start any other marketing initiatives. Messaging is that important, and here’s why:
Why do we insist (or at least try to insist) on developing a core messaging platform? Because every brand, every company, every organization needs a clear voice. With an established core messaging structure, this voice is fine-tuned to help the client’s customers and prospects quickly understand the value of its products and services. Actually, the benefit is not limited to sales; staff, executives, and potential hires also win when the messaging house is put in order.
Establishing core messaging virtually eliminates the tendency to return to square one on every project, wondering what to say and how to say it. Anyone in the organization can refer to the messaging guide for keywords, talking points, a positioning statement, the brand promise, and more. Target markets come into focus, and buying personas within the markets become more lifelike and easier to address.
Time and Money
And did we mention that this saves clients time and money? Every marketing project started after the messaging platform has been created will run more efficiently, whether it’s done in house or by an agency. That’s because people can cut to the chase in meetings, because they’re not getting sidetracked by confusion over messaging. Plus, marketing budgets are no longer hijacked by guesswork, because the core messaging helps spotlight the differences between good spending and bad.
While the process of developing a core messaging platform requires a substantial amount of work, it is well worth the effort. In fact, we enjoy this type of project and think clients should look forward to the experience as well. They always find the process to be empowering, because it helps them see how far they’ve come, understand where they are now, and articulate where they want to go in the future.
So, now you know why we grabbed Marshall McLuhan’s classic “the medium is the message” and gave it a new twist: “The Messaging is the Message.” McLuhan never meant that the message wasn’t important; he wanted us to appreciate how important the context of the message is. A core messaging platform provides both the context and the messages that spring from it—and that’s very good for any business.
Next-Mark earned two 2020 Silver ADDY Awards at AdFed of the American Advertising Federation. AdFed Suncoast is the Sarasota region’s club . These awards are especially rewarding, because they span multiple categories that directly impact our clients’ business success.
One of our many projects for Elsevier won in the Sales & Marketing category for a Product or Service Sales Promotion Campaign entitled “‘Summer of 79’” is Memorable Again.” The colorful design and themed messaging combined to deliver on the client’s project needs, and we’re happy that it also stood out for the judges.
Our other win, also for a 2020 Silver ADDY, was in the Cross Platform category for an Integrated Branded Content Campaign for another major client: Medecision. This complex campaign including videos, cube design, signage and collateral, and it was called “Innovative Targeting of Personas” Liberation.
We’d like to thank these and all of our other clients for their constant support and creative collaboration on every project we work on together.
By the way, the venue for the awards, CinéBistro in Sarasota, added another level of satisfaction for us, as Next-Mark provided the marketing and PR that launched CinéBistro when it opened. Today, it’s the top location in the company’s entire upscale dinner/movie cinema portfolio.
One day, long ago, I was raking leaves next to a busy road in Maine. Yes, there are such things. A car stopped, and the passenger asked me how to get to a certain park. I gave them such clear and concise directions that pride welled up in me as they disappeared down the road. Then it occurred to me that I had given them excellent directions, but to the wrong park. What’s worse, they would need to drive right past me again to get to the right park. So, as I figured how long it would take them to drive back to where I was, I stopped raking and hid inside the house.
In marketing, it’s rare to give your agency’s team members direction that is exactly opposite to what they need. But even the best marketing managers or directors find themselves giving direction that can almost do more harm than good. To help you help someone else (who definitely isn’t you) give better direction in creative projects, here are twelve quick steps.
Relax! Of course you don’t have time to relax when a big, threatening deadline is looking over your shoulder. But you also won’t have the time—or budget—for later corrections caused by giving vague or ambiguous direction right now.
Take the time to review any materials being used as background or input for the new creative project. Missing key elements now will likely be harder to fix later on. Don’t just read the current version of the project; also read the overall project direction and guidelines occasionally to make sure you’re still on track.
3. Timing is Everything
If you’re responsible for setting delivery deadlines, be realistic. Whether your team is in-house or an outside agency, everyone is juggling multiple projects and deadlines already. So, setting an unrealistically short deadline is often counterproductive. When unnecessary time pressure takes over, that’s when mistakes get made.
4. Think CTA
Including an effective call to action (CTA) is just good marketing. Using the CTA as a focus will help you produce more effective direction, because it’s harder to stray from precision when you know exactly what you want your reader/viewer/prospect/customer to do next.
5. Get Your Specs On
Whether the end product is digital, video, print, radio, or whatever, it will need to follow all necessary specifications. Designers, for example, will need the exact dimensions of the image size and restrictions on file size. For copy, it’s normally word count. Every organization should have a brand guide that specifies proper usage of logos and colors in all applications, too.
6. Include Everything
They say editing is the hardest part of writing, but this step is actually about including all the elements required for the project. Little will frazzle a designer more, for instance, than adding an image or logo element they’ll need to include in the design after they’re already halfway finished. It’s similar for writing copy, too. In short, try to get everything to the project team at once, before they get started.
7. Copy That
Provide clean copy whenever possible. True, adding comments and marking up copy changes within a PDF can be expedient. And placing the comment exactly where the change needs to happen, that’s a good thing. But providing clean copy in a separate document is still the best way to make sure nothing gets lost in translation. After all, it’s very easy to miss or misunderstand copy changes when they’re embedded in comment blocks instead.
8. Mark it Up
I just gave some love to marking up PDFs for a reason. Whether you use Acrobat, Preview, or another tool to proof and indicate necessary changes—or use the “Track Changes” within Word—aim for clarity in your markups. Having marked-up versions along with clean-copy versions will make it much easier to backtrack at any point, if necessary.
Sorry, just when you’d started forgiving me for asking you to read project materials more thoroughly, here I am asking you again. But investing a bit more of that time you don’t have will pay project dividends. Be empathetic and as much of a mind reader as possible: if there’s anything that might still be unclear when a project is approaching perfection, now’s the time to fix it.
10. Version Control
Software companies learned long ago that being very specific about versions—though painstaking—would help avoid confusion in the long run. For example, MacOS Catalina is actually Version 10.15.2 (19C57). Establish and stick to a straightforward system for tracking versions as changes are made. This holds true for copy and artwork.
11. Finally FINAL
As much as possible, avoid including the word “final” in the names of project files. This is extremely tempting, and much too common. By the way, capitalizing “FINAL” never prevents making changes later, either. It’s all about version control, so if you’re not using a meta-tag or filing system to identify status later on, at least use meaningful terms such as “print ready” or “with so-and-so’s markups” to distinguish among the many iterations you and your project team have created. As with version control, the goal is to avoid confusion for now and for later.
12. Distribute Wisely
Just as important as the specific direction is how it’s communicated to the project team. Take care to avoid ambiguity regarding who needs to do what. So, if you’re copying several people at once, parse the tasks and call out the team member responsible, in order to make it extra clear.
There are certainly worse habits to kick that giving less-than-perfect direction. But you (I mean your friend) will be pleasantly surprised by the improvements that can be made to creative marketing projects by following these steps.
I recently spoke to the Florida Public Relations Association on “Building and Nurturing High Performance Teams.” In preparation, I polled a number of seasoned marketing communications professionals and senior executives, asking for their expertise, candor and insights into building and nurturing high-performance communications teams.
My questions were couched in the key assumption that high performance goes well beyond traditional communications skills or technical marketing acumen, as well as in acknowledgement that we’re talking about people with a lot on their plates, both professionally and personally, from unrelenting deadlines to family obligations.
Still, something this important must get done. And it’s well worth the effort – for everyone involved – as employees are inspired to do their best work and stay in place, contributing to the bottom line for overall business sustainability and success.
To build anything, however, you have to know what it should look like. And that’s what my respondents provided, with their advice culminating in 10 traits that define a high-performance communications team.
- An Environment of Trust. Trust is the foundation for every functional team and must flow across the business continuum among peers, clients, subordinates and colleagues. Successful marketers actively guard this characteristic, as broken trust is almost impossible to restore.
- Self-Awareness that Challenges the Status Quo. This requires staying involved without over-managing.While you need processes in place to ensure accuracy and compliance, you don’t want to become the team proofreader or a bottleneck. It’s also important to develop input sources with multiple points of view including customers, prospects, lost clients, sales team members, etc.
- A Culture of Learning. Those who truly excel at their craft foster continuous learning, both formally and informally. Be sure to stay open minded about new technologies and new ways of doing things — and learn to do them yourself instead of deferring to the early adopters. That said, never let go of your professional past experience — your wisdom may be indispensable.
- A Willingness to Move Beyond Labels. If someone is better than you in a particular discipline, think of them as a complement to your talents rather than a threat.Teams should be a well-rounded mix of energetic and savvy younger talent, coupled with the wisdom of tenured industry experts.
- A Passion for Excellence. High-performing teams have a profound passion for excellence. They champion each initiative with a drive toward greatness. They neversettle for average, but strive for the next level of success. They also are self motivators. The most successful members of any team are the ones who don’t wait for the request – they’re the ones who think about the objectives and look for both new and tried-and-true ways to achieve those goals.
- Celebration of Failures. Really? Yes. Let go of the small things and move on from mistakes. You can’t control everything, so focus on big-picture ideas to achieve team success. Don’t dwell on your shortfalls; use them as a springboard to your next level of achievement.
- Willingness to Share Risk. Your team needs to stay on top of the plan to make sure the ball doesn’t get dropped. That’s why it’s imperative that you help them understand the strategy, not just execute on it. Teams are always more effective if they understand the “why.”
- Sense of Humor. A shared sense of humor must be present. The demands of any profession are serious; however, there needs to be room for appropriate hilarity.Laughter is essential – if we can’t take the time to laugh, something is damaged at a basic human level.
- Mentorship is Integral. Seek mentors outside your group and completely different than your team members for an alternative perspective. Mentor even the more experienced team members to help them stretch and move toward their career aspirations.
- Embrace Success. Do not succumb to cynicism. Be authentic in your journey and attract the team members and business colleagues who share your values. Above all, don’t be afraid to take risks.
Here are a few direct quotes that are well worth remembering as we strive to foster performance that drives excellence.
“True professionals understand that communications is a discipline — it’s not glad-handing or a creative think tank.”
- “If you inherit a team, give yourself time to trust their insights before changing up everything.”
- “Self-awareness means keenly understanding your individual and collective strengths and weaknesses.”
- “To survive in marketing communications, you need to re-invent yourself twice a decade or more.”
- “Your failures will always have more information than your successes.”