Taking customer engagement to the next level

Taking customer engagement to the next level

by Mike Bawden, partner, Bawden & Lareau Public Relations, LLC


“People no longer go online. They live online.”

That was the sentence in last month’s article by Sebastian Jespersen – appearing on the ANA website in mid-Decmeber – that caught my attention. It’s a simple truth, but an all-so-accurate description of the fundamental change unhinging the marketing communications profession today. There is multiple ways companies do this, a common use of a bot now is having a 24/7 live chat to answer any simple customer queries using a bot framework.

“We no longer just search, browse or buy online; we live and breathe in a digital ecosystem.”

Jespersen’s point is that marketers worried only about a their share of a customer’s mind are missing the point. Instead of share of mind, he posits, marketers should be positioning themselves either vertically (focusing on “share of passion”) or horizontally (focusing on “share of life”).

The examples he uses are Nike (vertical, share of passion positioning) who are constantly innovating and entagling customers within their interests in fitness and fashion (go to a Nike Store and you can see this strategy manifest itself beautifully in a real-world example); and Amazon (horizontal, share of life positioning) who have expanded their e-commerce offering beyond books and other media to now include groceries and more.

Jepsersen’s agency, Vertic, promises to pursue a “client entanglement” strategies for Fortune 500 clients that fosters mutually-rewarding relationship between brands and their customers.

Client entanglement on the micro-level

But how does that work for the other 2.5 million business that fall outside the Fortune 500?

An essential component for such a program to work for clients (and it’s not really mentioned in the article), is customer research. Before a marketer can pursue a serious program of “brand entanglement”, he/she has to have a more complete understanding of the customer’s values and how their brand compliments or conflicts with those values.

In 2018, BLPR completed a signficant research project for a client that involved a series of online panels with our client’s customers in order to develop a deeper understanding of what was important to them and how they evaluated products like our client’s (and the competition). The information gleaned from the panels was then used to construct a battery of questions asked via a national, omnibus survey to help us identify the geographic and demographic profile of those people who were most likely to hold similar interests and attitudes.

The result of this investment has been a highly targeted content marketing program combined with a digital and PR program that will help us “entangle” our client’s brand with both existing and potential customers on a much deeper and more meaningful level.

It doesn’t have to take millions of dollars to put this high-level, Fortune 500 thinking to work for you and your company – but it does take a willingness to listen and invest in the research neccessary to make sure you’re marketing smarter.

Not harder.

Let us know today if we can help you build more entangled relationships with customers tomorrow.

How do you create “brand energy”?

How do you create “brand energy”?

by Mike Bawden, partner, Bawden & Lareau Public Relations, LLC

We often spend time with clients talking about building brand “equity” – but there’s more to making sure the concepts of equity and growth are connected in real life. We call that brand “energy.”

So, what is “brand energy”?

It’s a term we’ve borrowed from Forrester Research. According to Forrester’s Dipanjan Chatterjee, it’s brand energy that moves the needle and generates your return on marketing investment. In short, it’s the brand’s energy that unlocks the potential in the brand equity and creates market growth.

According to Chatterjee in this article in Forbes, there are three pieces to the brand energy framework: salience, fit and emotional activation.

“Salience goes back to the classic notion of awareness – awareness but more. First and foremost, if people are not aware of you, if you’re not on the shopping list, you will not be purchased. But it’s not good enough to just be aware, you need to be familiar, you need to have knowledge of, and more than anything else, you need to make the top three of the list.”

The second piece is “fit” and relates to having both the right product or service to meet the needs of the consumer, but also presenting the brand in a way that “fits” with the consumer’s image of himself or herself. Aligning a brand’s values with the values of its customers is a way to ensure the kind of resonance necessary to convince a consumer your brand is a good fit with who they are (or want to be).
Chatterjee concludes with the final piece of the brand energy puzzle: “emotional activation.”

“Emotion is critical to building long-term relationships with customers,” he says. “This absolutely influences brand equity. Whether B2C or B2B, people ‘feel’ something about the brands in their life. It’s what keeps them coming back and telling others about their experience.”

We’ve all experienced this. When a commercial we catch on the TV captures us so deeply that we talk about it with our friends, or a story in a magazine or newspaper gets torn out and mailed off to a relative – these are examples of “emotional activation” at work.

That’s why our mantra at BLPR is “stories well told.” We strive to unlock the brand energy we see inside every client, at every opportunity.

Let us put that enthusiasm to work for you.

Have you started working on your 2020 marketing plan yet?

Have you started working on your 2020 marketing plan yet?

by Mike Bawden, partner, Bawden & Lareau Public Relations, LLC

You might just be shaking off the holiday “blahs” (it takes time to recover from the holidays which is why the first two weeks of the year are so unproductive), but you could wind up paying for your lack of productivity next year as a result.

Because while you’re focused inward on trying to get “back to work” you could be missing signs of great opportunities that pass by when you’re not looking. This isn’t so much a case of letting a new client slip through your fingers or missing a new product launch date.

No, this is more a case of creating a self-imposed blind spot on your business that will hamper your ability to plan for growth in the coming year.

Your 2019 Marketing Resolutions:

Here are a few easy resolutions for the year that can help you turn 2020 into a success before 2019 enters the fourth quarter:

Take a quick look back

Today – make notes about what’s happened so far this year (before everything just becomes part of the “fog” of everyday business). If you can make notes of business activities in December, so much the better.

Starting today and going forward

Keep track of key events at your business on a calendar. It helps if you make this a regular routine. I do this every morning when I have my first cup of coffee. My notes for the previous day usually include a quick run-down of calls (my phone keeps track of who I call and who calls me), key meetings and large blocks of time dedicated to specific proejcts.

Collect customer names and email addresses

You don’t have to start a direct email program right away, but the more names and email addresses you have when you start, the faster you’ll see a positive ROI on email marketing. It’s as easy as asking customers if they’d like to receive offers from you via email in the future, then taking their name and email address.

Giving customers a little “thank you gift” in return is a good idea, too. A free item or small, courtesy discount is a great way to seal that relationship and let the customer create a connection between that email they’ll receive at some point in the future and the permission they gave so you could send it.

Do a little dreaming – but keep track

Keep a file of events or seminars you’d like to participate in someday but can’t afford to right now. If you see ads you like or articles that are of particular interest, toss them in that file, too. Have a late-night brainstorm? Then add it to the file, there’s always room for more ideas.

So why do all this?

Because planning starts with a full understanding of where you are, where you want to be and who’s going to help get you there.

In a word: research.

And our experience with businesses of all types is that they are usually very short in real-time research – that is there may be financial and sales records we can review, but very little in the way of extemporanious notes made by the people who are actually going to have to implement the marketing communications plan we’re asked to produce.

Whether you work with a firm like BLPR or you meet with your team at the end of the year to talk about what you’re going to do in 2020, you’ll find these notes and “marketing assets” to be of tremendous value as you get ready to enter the third decade of the 21st century.

It’s never to early to start planning for success.

Understanding the value of your brand’s equity.

Understanding the value of your brand’s equity.

by Mike Bawden, partner, Bawden & Lareau Public Relations, LLC

For my entire career, I’ve had to help clients walk the line between the “warm and fuzzy” side of brand-building and the bottom line focus of sales-driven marketing. Some clients were able to see how the two were connect. Others … not so much.

So why the confusion?

I think it’s due to a general sense that marketers have to pick one or the other, when the opposite is true.

This isn’t “The Matrix” – where you’re given a choice between a red pill or a blue pill. No, this is more like “Mad Men” where we should take both pills. And then wash it down with an old fashioned.

But I digress.

In an article that recently appeared in Forbes Magazine (you’ll find it here), they took a deep dive into a Forrester Research study that indicated many “B2B CMOs (i.e. Chief Marketing Officers) may be short-sighted if they ignore building brand equity for their firms.”

According to DipanjanChatterjee, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, brand equity is the essence of the brand that defines its relationships with its customers, but it’s a hard concept for marketers to grasp: “The challenge that I’ve seen for CMOs is when they begin to talk about brand equity, especially in B2B companies, is it is an amorphous thing – important but squishy.”

Not all CMOs fail to see the connection, though. According to Dell’s SVP of Global Brand and Experiential, Liz matthews, “Building brand equity and growing the business are not mutually exclusive – they depend on one another.”

But why is that?

At BLPR, we believe brand equity is built using a very basic (some might say “fundamental”) formula: keep the promises you make (via advertising, sales calls, collateral, PR, your website, etc.) and you’ll see brand equity grow. People will believe you when you tell them something about your brand. They’ll begin to rely on your brand to deliver the goods/services/value they need.

In the end, they’ll prefer you and your brand.

That is the essence of brand equity.

And we can make that happen for you. Just let us know you want to meet so we can tell you how.

How much should I spend on marketing?

How much should I spend on marketing?

It seems like a simple, straightforward question. The problem is, no matter how much research you do into the subject, the answer remains a mystery.

It seems like no matter how much you budget for marketing your product or your company, it’s never enough. And while it may be true there are always other intriguing options available to you that might coax out a few more dollars here or there – the fact is, whatever you decide to spend on marketing is enough.

It’s enough because YOU say it’s enough – not because you’ve covered every conceivable possibility that might exist (or might come to exist) when considering your marketing plan for the coming year.

This ambiguity is what lies under every tense conversation over budget between a client and agency (or freelancer). In order to do a good job, the provider (the agency, graphic designer, web designer, etc.) needs to know two things: what are the client’s expectations for performance and will there be enough time and money to meet those expectations.

Clients, on the other hand, a reluctant to tell their marketing service provider too much information for fear they may be taken advantage of and that the provider will take advantage of them. It’s a valid concern, born out time and time again by unscrupulous ad agencies, publicity agents, fly-by-night web programmers and media reps.

In Search Of Budgeting Guidelines
Even going online to find answers doesn’t bear much fruit. You’ll find articles in respectable business-oriented publications like Forbes and Entrepreneur Magazine. But the problem with those sources is they often rely on old “rules of thumb” that may (or, in more cases, may not) apply to your business and the situation in which you find it.

Steve Olenski, the author of the Forbes article, provides some analysis of marketing budgets as a percentage of gross revenues. Even though the article is now a few years old, the percentages cited (B2C marketers spent around 9% of gross revenue on marketing and B2B marketers spent around 7%) still hold up. Olenski further opines that new businesses need to spend a greater percentage (12-20% of gross revenues) than older, established ones (6-12% of gross revenue). Presumably, this is because age of business is related, in some way, to established brand awareness.

Laurel Mintz, the author of the Entrepreneur Magazine article, provides some handy “rules-of-thumb” for what typical marketing services should cost (i.e. “Inexpensive”, “Good” and “Great” versions of branding, websites, social media services, advertising, content and events). The problem with these budget suggestions are that what passes as a “Good” budget in one market might be impossibly low in another or unbelievably bloated in a third.

So, is there no way to set a marketing budget and feel good about it?

The Wrong Priorities
What’s wrong with the common advice or practices of most marketing folks when it comes to setting marketing budgets is they wind up making arbitrary decisions with no context and then suffer the consequences for the coming year. This can be frustrating for both the client and the service providers who are left to “guess the budget” when it comes to planning for the coming year. As a result, dollars are very often misallocated and bad decisions – with real, strategic consequences – are locked in for the year.

All this results because of misplaced priorities. The focus is on the number and not on the outcome. There are two reasons for this: first off, focusing on a number – either a legacy number (this year’s marketing budget needs to be no more than X% more than last year’s) or an arbitrary percentage of projected gross revenue sets a budget cap with no grounding in reality. Second, setting a firm budget without any context makes spending the budget the objective. The result is undisciplined marketing planning foregoing research and customer insight for “shopping” for advertising, PR and promotional services until the budget is max’d out.

Putting First Things First
So, what’s the most practical way to set a marketing budget?


Instead of setting a marketing budget, spend your time defining exactly what kind of change you want to see happen to your company or brand’s bottom line and visualize how that change will occur. What kinds of products and services will be most likely to generate the bottom line result you want to achieve?

If you can visualize what “success” looks like by the end of the plan year, you’ve taken a big step in the right direction. Because once you’ve identified your destination, you’re able to quantify the distance you have to travel to get there. That journey – and overcoming the obstacles that lie in your way – is what you need to fund with your marketing budget.

We advise clients to quantify the financial benefit of overcoming those obstacles and successfully completing that journey. What’s it mean to their bottom line. Believe it or not, that’s a relatively easy number to quantify. All that remains is deciding how much you’ll want to invest in the trip to get there.

And any amount you choose to help your company or your brand get there is the right number.

Just remember, it’s less likely a marketing dollar spent will generate a return of 100x than it is to generate a return of 10x. What this means is we typically combine a conversation about the size of the coming year’s marketing budget with details about “how” the client expects to generate revenue and net income.

Understanding that part of the budget calculation is every bit as important as nailing down the top-line annual spend.
But we’ll save that conversation for a blog post about planning.

What You Need To Know About Improving Your Website’s Search Engine Rank

What You Need To Know About Improving Your Website’s Search Engine Rank

by Mike Bawden, partner, Bawden & Lareau Public Relations, LLC

If you’re like most business owners and managers today, you’re frustrated when your company’s website doesn’t show up at the top of an Internet search (via Google, Bing, Yahoo or any of the other, lesser-known search engines) for anything other than the precise name of your company. But do you understand why?

It may be that your website just isn’t built right.

I’m not saying your website doesn’t work. It might work just as it was designed to work. But a well-designed website requires more than making sure pages load and links actually go somewhere.

Your website needs to be built with a purpose in mind.

And it’s the purpose of your website that will help determine just how your site will perform when it comes to online search and how its ranked by search engines like Google.

This article, by author Jeff Goins, lists twelve tips on improving your website’s search engine performance and I recommend you read it. But I also recommend you pay attention to a few key points he makes early on in his article:

Make sure you know what your website is about and the one primary topic that is most important to your visitor. For BLPR, this website (or at least the public part of it) presents our work and our capabilities in a way that’s intended to attract and interest prospective clients. Keeping that “mission” in mind, we’ve loaded it with examples of our work, interesting articles and tips on “practical PR”, an email newsletter sign-up page to deliver those tips and examples to the inbox of interested prospects and intake forms for prospective clients to use to help initiate discussions on possible projects.

Everything in this website is intended to invite prospective clients to engage with BLPR.

And once we’ve managed to produce and organize the content on the website, it’s time to optimize it so a search engine can understand, categorize and rank that content for future searches in a meaningful way.

Advance planning helps. That’s how we made sure our permalink structure takes advantage of keywords. But we also try to embed as many internal links into our posts and pages as possible. Images are optimized so they load quickly and we try to make sure every post ends with a meaningful call to action (or multiple calls to action) that help drive the conversation with a prospective client one step further.

But all the planning and the execution is driven by one thing: a single-minded purpose for the website.

So, does your website have a single-minded purpose? Could a lack of focus be the primary cause for your website’s less-than-desired SEO performance? Do you have time to research, re-think, re-design and re-build your site so it works better for you?

It’s entirely possible you won’t be satisfied with the answers to those questions. If not, fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch with you in the next business day to begin a conversation that could not only change your website, but change your entire approach to telling your brand’s story.

Not ready for that conversation? No problem. Feel free to sign up to receive our weekly newsletter PRACTICAL PR and learn how you can make small changes in your vision, operation and leadership that can make big differences to your bottom line.

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