Katie Creaser, Senior Vice President, Affect
The earned media landscape is tough for anyone trying to secure positive publicity for a B2B company. It seems as if the same sort of stories are being told over and over again. So how can you differentiate your public relations efforts to stand out in a highly competitive and crowded field?
For B2B PR professionals, engaging customers and empowering them to become brand ambassadors or third-party validators is a critical part of any marketing strategy. However, it’s not always easy to convince customers to commit to anything beyond a traditional case study or partner announcement.
From customers that don’t want to be named, to a lack of data or measureable outcomes to bland uses cases – many companies end up with PR and marketing collateral that goes nowhere. Boring case studies, self-promotional press releases, low quality social content and blog posts are likely outcomes. But nothing is worse than media outreach that falls flat with no earned coverage in sight.
As PR professionals plan for 2019, here are four ways to powerfully engage customers to support B2B sales and marketing efforts:
- Identify the “Right” Customers. Closed sales and signed contracts don’t guarantee great stories. If you’re hoping to see ROI from customer engagement, it’s important to focus on the ones that are primed for media outreach. Customers that fit the PR profile are:
- Well-recognized brands or executives
- Innovative and using your solutions and services to disrupt their business
- Seeing measurable results and impact
- Able to provide prescriptive advice to the industry at-large
- Willing to participate in thought leadership opportunities beyond traditional case studies, canned quotes
- Tell a Powerful Story: Traditional case studies are generally too bland to generate press interest – they’re simply not newsworthy (e.g. “our customer bought our product, it did what it was supposed to do…and they loved it!”) is not enough. A strong customer story has a compelling narrative arc – whether it’s a challenge that was overcome, a surprising outcome or discovery, an emotional journey or a lesson learned. It’s also critical to use data as proof points with key takeaways for readers.
- Go Beyond the Press Release: A press release is the least interesting way to tell a great customer story – and thinking outside of the box can generate stronger ROI. Inviting customers to be part of creative thought leadership initiatives is a powerful way to expand PR pitch efforts, this can include:
- Q&A style articles or blog posts
- Joint speaking opportunities, media interviews and byline articles
- Participation in surveys and reports
- Customer advisory boards and councils
- Joint responses to breaking news and trends
- Institutionalize Customer Engagement: B2B marketers should build customer stories into branding, content and thought leadership campaigns to directly support and empower sales efforts. It’s also important to put a formal customer engagement process and strategy in place and align with business development and sales teams to flag strong stories and educate customers on the benefits of PR participation.
To truly see ROI on customer engagement, it’s critical to think outside the box and bake it into an overall PR and marketing strategy. Institutionalizing the customer engagement process is a company’s best bet to extract as much mutual PR value from the relationship as possible. PR professionals have to be more creative than the traditional case study or customer announcement to move the needle in swaying public opinion, generating more business, and/or securing positive publicity.
About the Author: Katie Creaser is senior vice president at Affect a public relations agency in NYC that specializes in B2B technology, healthcare and professional services. She provides counsel to technology clients that are looking to bring PR and social media into their communications program as part of a thoughtful, holistic strategy. Follow her on Twitter or on LinkedIn.