As technology brings stakeholders closer to their beloved brands, the immediate and direct communication platforms intended to nurture the brand-stakeholder relationship are leaving little room for miscalculated brand communication strategies. Add to that the propagation of social media newsfeeds that are extending the lifecycle of news, which can spotlight and prolong any misalignments.
Just in the past year, we’ve seen an iconic beverage brand miss its mark with a controversial commercial, a groundbreaking international restaurant chain still reeling from a food-safety crisis, and a consumer credit reporting company suffering reputational damage from a security breach. To respond effectively to such instances and navigate tactfully through news cycles, it’s essential that communications strategies are insight-driven and that business executives are maintaining a focus on stakeholder sentiment. This way of thinking is essential to the success of media communicators tasked with cultivating a brand’s voice and building a positive brand perception.
Below are four goals from best in class brand communicators. Aim for these goals in order to effectively act and react to evolving stakeholder sentiment and news cycles:
1. Influence, Align and Incorporate Business Objectives into Brand Communications
Good brand communicators don’t just create positive publicity. They create meaningful media coverage, real relationships and stakeholder sentiment that aligns with and supports broader business objectives. By tying communications strategies back to corporate goals (such as growing thought leadership in a key area, improving corporate social responsibility or improving customer/investor perceptions), proactive professionals can improve brand value and deliver relevant and impactful results. In today’s environment, this requires business objectives and media communications strategies to work in synergy, influencing one another. Business leaders must recognize these strategies as a means to empower the company brand and meet corporate goals.
2. Get to Know ALL of Your Audiences
With a business mindset in hand, a successful communicator can turn their attention to stakeholder engagement. The first step is for the media communications team to utilize all available market and customer intelligence to gather as much intel as possible about their most important audiences. Recognizing “who” is the recipient of the intended message is crucial to crafting a strategic campaign.
In the past, media communicators relied merely on demographic data. Today, we must be more granular – not only to identify stakeholder drivers, but also to unveil and pinpoint niche audience groups that weren’t traceable before. Simply relying on generic characteristics isn’t enough to determine factors that influence stakeholder behavior and interests, which are essential for any strategy to be truly targeted. Armed with this intelligence, PR strategists can now “deconstruct” the audience profile – what’s important to them, what their brand demands are, what the customer concerns are – thus creating a more intimate experience with consumers. By mining the data in such a way, intelligence morphs into targeted action that can drive results or mitigate damage should a crisis break.
3. Hack the Media Landscape by Tracking Sentiment and Adjusting
Once you visualize the end goal and understand all of the characteristics that make up your most important stakeholders, you need to assess “the battlefield.” The 24×7 news cycle is constantly reacting, responding and keeping up with viewers’ and readers’ attention span. Therefore, to penetrate the morphing cycle, it’s essential to assess the opportunities and most effective strategies and activities to align with media narratives.
This is where media sentiment is essential to detect the lifecycle of news. Deciphering the tone and sentiment of coverage provides context to news cycles, as it provides a more granular understanding of authors and outlets – what issues are spiking their interest or what type of stories are prompting them to veer from their traditional reporting style. For example, detecting sarcasm in a reporter’s story is an indicator of the level of interest and engagement attaching them to the issue and the potential of follow-up or additional stories that your brand can pursue. By contextualizing content and media interest, we can envision how a brand’s intended message fits in, adjusting its delivery accordingly.
4. Rethink How You Measurement Efficacy of Your Media Communications Strategy
How does a good brand communicator determine if their media strategy hit the mark? Or if they reacted adequately to or recovered from a publicity issue? Once media campaigns are complete, it’s time to provide the boardroom with a clear and concise view of the effect on corporate strategy. If campaigns are data-driven, data-based evaluation is built in from the beginning, making it easier and more accurate.
For many years, communicators would measure their outcomes in a simple numeric form – a number of hits, a percentage of the industry narrative, etc. But as PR strategies work in lockstep with the boardroom, it’s not enough to simply deliver a metrics report that’s overwhelmed with disparate numbers. Instead, it must present measurable outcomes, weaving data points into context and correlating the data with the stated business goals. In other words, “yesterday” one would present a coverage report; today they must explain the value of the results, translate the report into a context of corporate goals and measure a campaign’s impact on the brand-stakeholder relationship. By adding context to these metrics, they become relevant to business leaders and support the board’s decision-making process.
However, measurement is more than “a look backward” after the completion of a campaign to evaluate the outcomes; it’s an “active” tool during a campaign that helps determine if a course correction is needed, identifying what’s working and what isn’t, in order to readjust your strategy in real time. The longer you measure against business goals like brand and reputation drivers, the better able you become to predict outcomes.
If “moving the needle” is the expectation a good brand communicator starts off with, then measuring the “grounds gained” is the qualifier of a media campaign’s success, once it crosses the finish line.
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