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Customers and prospects are often suspicious of material that was obviously created by Marketing. Today’s marketers are paying the price accrued from decades of marketing – customers have become jaded. This may come as a rude awakening to marketing professionals, but loss of credibility can be an occupational hazard.
How can marketers address this problem? As we discussed in the previous chapter, one remedy is to have other people promote your product, service, or organization for you through social media and WOM advertising. If a WOM campaign is not feasible, however, what other options does a marketer have? The answer is to leverage the opinions of product reviewers, editors, industry experts and customers themselves via product reviews, awards, surveys and studies. All of these have more credibility and engender more trust than marketing-generated assets.
This chapter focuses on various methods that marketers and organizations can utilize to promote their products and themselves, both to key influencers and to prospective customers. Specifically, it examines the following marketing tools:
- Product reviews
Marketers can use any or all of these tools, depending on the what’s needed in their marketing mix.
A review can make or break a product. For example, the opinion of Walter Mossberg, who reviews technology products for The Wall Street Journal, can significantly affect a product’s market performance. In general, a great review will attract interest and pave the way for your salespeople. Conversely, a negative review can make prospective buyers shun you and create yet another obstacle for your sales team. Regardless of whether you are selling a consumer device, a car, or enterprise software, buyers trust third-party reviews, so you need to obtain them. All effective marketers appreciate — or should appreciate — this simple reality. Nevertheless, it’s amazing how little time and effort many organizations devote to maximizing their chances of obtaining positive reviews.
In order to attract positive reviews, it is important first to understand the life of a product reviewer. Quite often, reviewers are freelancers who were assigned to your product. They may not be paid a great deal of money to write the review, and they probably have a tight deadline. Understandably, then, a product that is hard to obtain, hard to understand, and difficult to install and use is not likely to elicit a glowing review. A good rule of thumb, then, is to place yourself in the position of the reviewer and ask, How would I feel about this product?
In the case where your product is being reviewed by a publication or an organization with a paid review staff in their labs, don’t forget that although the staff may be experienced reviewers with a bit more job security, they are not necessarily experts in your product or market area. Therefore you need to help them understand whom the product is designed for and how to install and use it.
One widely used strategy for assisting reviewers is to prepare an informative reviewer’s guide. As its name suggests, the reviewer’s guide is a document created specifically to help product reviewers do their job. Not providing a guide forces the reviewer to rely only on the user’s manual, online support, and the product itself. You can decide not to create a reviewer’s guide, but you do so at your own risk. Even if your documentation, product and support team are great, you would be missing out on the opportunity to paint your product in the best light. Fortunately, the process of creating a reviewer’s guide is straightforward, and it is well worth the effort. Below are key elements of the reviewer’s guide:
Product and Market Overview – Make certain the reviewers understand who the product is intended for. You don’t want them citing a lack of enterprise-grade features in a product intended for consumers, or comparing your ecowagon’s acceleration to that of an imported sports car. Context is important.
What’s New – Try not to list every feature in your product. Instead, focus on what’s new and interesting. This is the information that will grab the reviewers’ — and hopefully the consumers’ — attention.
Competitive Positioning – Tell the reviewers why your product is superior to the competition. This is your chance to set the agenda, so be certain to take maximum advantage of it.
How to Install/Use the Product – If you have a “quick start” or a simplified instruction manual, then it’s easy to create this section of the reviewer’s guide. You can also highlight key features in this section, explaining why they are interesting or unique. We also like to highlight any cautions so that the reviewers don’t erase their hard drive or set themselves on fire when trying to use the product.
Key Contacts – Provide the reviewer with the contact information for the following individuals: (a) a product expert who can help them install and use the product, (b) a spokesperson who can give them additional background on the market and your product’s distinctive features, and (c) a PR contact to whom they can direct logistical questions. Make sure to provide direct-dial and, ideally, mobile phone numbers as well as email addresses for all of the contacts. Dealing with reviewers should be a top priority for the contacts, so make certain they have time to perform this role and they understand its importance.
Pricing–The preferred policy is simply to list the suggested retail price of the basic configuration or package. For a head-to-head review, where your competitors’ products will be listed alongside yours, you should think about how your product’s price will look in comparison. If the way you package your product, for example as part of a bundle with other products, will make your product look significantly more expensive by comparison, make sure to explain this clearly so the reviewer can put the price in context.
Company Overview –The overview can be your standard corporate boilerplate, plus any other information you think is relevant.
Graphics, Photos, Box Shots – Provide print- and Web-ready graphics that the reviewers can use in their articles. You don’t want the reviewers to have to do their own screen captures if they are not set up for it. Make certain the reviewers have access to high-resolution versions of your logo so they don’t have to use whatever they happen to find on a Google image search.
Additional Research and Benchmarks – You may want to provide the reviewers with additional proof points that you know they will not be able to reproduce in their environment. You may have performance benchmarks for your enterprise software, for example, or the results of leaving your new smartphone in a frozen tundra for 30 days.
Your reviewer’s guide should be well organized, well written, and easy to use. You should provide it in electronic form to make it easy to cut and paste from. Remember, reviewers are on a deadline, and providing text they can cut, paste, and edit helps them as well as you. Avoid marketing hype, because it may turn off a jaded writer. A good reviewer’s guide is comprehensive yet to the point, and it should not exceed 10–15 pages.
You should consider tweaking the reviewer’s guide for each reviewer, perhaps highlighting things you think they may be interested in, or even organizing the details to match the way they write their stories. Your PR agency can assist with this task. Make certain that someone is assigned to check in with the reviewers periodically (without bugging them) to see if they need anything. Quite often reviewers are writing other reviews — or articles, if they are reporters — and they are too busy to ask for help. Therefore, adopting a proactive strategy can make their job easier.
As vital as product reviews are to your organization, there may be times when it’s in your interest to decline a review. For example, your product could have problems, or your company could have a bad history with the reviewer. Perhaps your better-than-ever new version is just around the corner. In circumstances such as these it is okay to decline. If you do so, however, you should find out whether the reviewer plans to publicize the fact that you declined to participate — for example, in a multi-product review. If so, then you need to provide a reason for declining that you would be comfortable seeing in the media.
Many publications hand out awards. These awards can take all forms. In some cases, they are the result of a successful head-to-head review against your competition. Your product may win an “Editor’s Choice” or a “Best Buy” designation that you can highlight in your marketing. Other awards are bestowed via annual roundups, like “Product of the Year.” Sometimes publications work in conjunction with tradeshows or conferences on “Best of Show” awards.
Whatever the award, you should make certain your product or company enters as many contests and competitions as it possibly can. As the great New York Lottery marketing slogan proclaims, “You gotta be in it to win it.” Your PR agency should assist you by monitoring the editorial calendar of the publications on your media list, both for review opportunities and for annual awards. In addition, you should inquire as to whether the trade shows and conferences you attend have awards. In most cases, to be considered for an award you simply have to fill out an entry form.
One basic yet effective strategy to enhance your chances of winning is to review past winners to determine how and why the judges selected these products and what characteristics they valued the most. Then, make certain to emphasize the same elements in your submission. If the award is being handed out during a trade show, creating buzz around your product can help. You might brief a select group of influencers who will be at the show, like bloggers and analysts, and try to get them to talk and blog about your product while at the event. Or you could stage some kind of stunt involving your product to get the buzz going. Finally, some publications confer “Reader’s Choice” awards where the readers decide the winners by popular vote. Mobilizing your customers via direct mail and social media outreach will improve your chances of winning these awards.
While you are pursuing all of these product awards, don’t overlook awards for your executives or your company. There are many “Fastest Growing Companies,” “Top Companies,” and “Most Influential Companies” types of awards sponsored by the business media. You may even want to enter a “Best Companies to Work For” contest if you are looking to recruit or retain talented employees. Your CEO or founder may be a good entrant in a “Most Influential” or “Top Executives” award. No matter what the type, winning an award, adds luster to your products and your company. Put every award you win on your website and your company overview and in your press kit. Even the media like to back a winner, and awards can influence them to view your organization in a more positive light.
Although some people consider surveys boring or mundane, they are great public relations tools. Surveys encourage direct interaction with your customers, and they provide you with a snapshot of what your customers or your market are thinking. Moreover, if they are managed properly, they can generate news that you can then promote to the media.
Marketers usually employ surveys to sample attitudes or to solicit feedback on a product, a service, or an experience. In addition, if marketing teams want to understand how prospective customers perceive your company, then surveys are extremely useful.
But these examples we are all “outside-in” uses of the survey – ways to capture how the market is viewing your company or products. Although this is valuable information, none of these uses really has a news angle. To achieve this objective, you need to design a survey specifically to generate newsworthy nuggets. If you do this successfully, then the survey can also educate your executive team about the market, and it can inform your product development team about what they should be working on.
To create a newsworthy survey, you need to determine what your customers are wondering about. How can you do this? The most effective strategies are to talk to your salespeople, review your online forums, and communicate with some of your customers. First, figure out what they want to know. Then, figure out what you want to know about their habits, purchasing plans, fears, or anything else. Finally, construct a survey that will elicit answers to these questions, and in a way that is quantifiable.
The media love to write stories that focus on customer attitudes and trends. Readers love to find out what other people like them are doing or thinking. Don’t assume the press will not publish survey findings from a company with a vested interest in the results. The media are too busy to create their own surveys, and they prefer to utilize a third-party source that is authoritative. Although there are lots of research firms that specialize in polling and surveys, there are thousands of things they do not cover. Creating a survey that yields interesting findings not currently covered by existing surveys is how you get the media’s attention.
Packaging the findings for the press is essential. After you have conducted your survey and analyzed the responses, write up the results clearly in a press release, and call out the key findings, ideally in bulleted form. Provide an expert opinion concerning the reasons for certain trends and beliefs both in the release and via a spokesperson who was involved in the survey process. You may also want to incorporate selected quotes or excerpts from responses that illustrate or strengthen some of the key findings.
In addition to issuing a press release, you should provide a copy of the results to the media. We recommend that you furnish a summary version of the results in the form of a report, and you create a longer, more detailed version that you make available to prospects as part of a lead generation offer. You can offer the prospects a “deeper look” or “exclusive content” to drive their interest.
Finally, many companies create infographics, visual representations of information, to augment their surveys. Infographics are prevalent in modern media, so why not create your own? At the very least they will help convey your results to the media, even if the reviewers don’t actually use them. Some journalists, and especially bloggers, will include them in their write-ups. Plus, the infographics might go viral via social media. Below is an example of an infographic created by the PR team at Symantec, based on a survey comparing attitudes of users and IT staff.
Figure 1: Infographic showing results of 2012 Symantec survey of IT staff and users
In some cases a survey will identify a particular topic that your customers need to better understand. Perhaps there are important legal or regulatory developments that would cause customers to become interested in your product or service. As another example, the safety improvements in your latest version might make it attractive to a market segment that is currently paying hefty insurance premiums. If teens in Peoria knew what teens in New York or Los Angeles were wearing, would it change their buying habits? The possibilities are limitless.
Suppose, however, that no one is studying the topic that your customers need to know? Industry analysts typically have their own research calendars, and you may not be able to influence them. How do you resolve this problem? The answer is actually rather simple: Create your own study. You can conduct your own study if you have expertise and cannot afford a third party. Just as with surveys, if your organization has expertise and no one else is offering a current study on the topic, you should exploit the opportunity. If the study is interesting, of good quality, and not overtly biased, the media will be interested. Figure 2 below is an infographic from an annual security study conducted by Symantec’s internal research team. This infographic was viewed thousands of times, and the study itself generated hundreds of articles and blog posts.
Figure 2: An infographic for Symantec’s 2011 Internet Security Threat Report
If you prefer to use a third-party expert, finding one to conduct a study is not difficult. You just need to look a little harder and dig a little deeper. Locate a professor at a university who has researched and written about the topic. Search for a consultant who has years of experience in a particular industry or with a certain kind of product. Think tanks, research institutes, and advocacy groups that focus on certain issues are also fertile ground.
The best arrangement is for your organization to sponsor the research. You pay an honorarium to the researchers to conduct research on the topic you are interested in. Most researchers will agree to pursue the project and publish the study if (1) the topic is of interest to them and (2) the results are based exclusively on the research and are not biased or modified by the sponsoring organization. Many researchers actually view these types of studies as opportunities to publicize themselves. You can assist them with these efforts by having your PR team arrange press interviews for them. Just as with surveys above, draft a press release summarizing the results and highlight the key findings, but use the researcher as the spokesperson.
Regardless of whether you do your own study or hire a third party, the research results are great fodder for all of your marketing materials. You can train your salespeople to utilize the research while they are prospecting. Various studies over the years have revealed that customers prefer to deal with salespeople who bring them useful information. You should package the actual study in a document and use it to generate demand for your product, either by uploading it to your website or by emailing it to prospective customers. If you plan to mail the study to the customers, we recommend a two-step process in which you send them a summary and then offer them the full version in exchange for a meeting or a phone call.
Ultimately, studies will bring credibility to your organization. Customers and prospective customers appreciate quality research. If industry analysts are not publishing research on the topic, then your organization should step in to fill that void. The longer you do employ this strategy – whether publishing an annual study or a series of related studies – the more trust you will accrue.
In 2004, this author’s former employer, PGP Corporation, was experiencing a problem. Several state governments in the United States had passed legislation requiring companies that lost sensitive customer information – such as credit card numbers and social security numbers – to publicly disclose the facts in a press release, in order to inform consumers. PGP Corporation sold software that protected against these types of data breaches. The software would encrypt details like credit card numbers stored in spreadsheets on hard drives, so that even if this information were inadvertently lost or exposed, it would be unreadable. The software, of course, cost money. The question confronting prospective customers was, Which was more expensive – the cost of the software or the costs associated with a data breach? No one knew the answer.
So, in 2005, PGP searched for an expert who could help us asses the costs of a data breach. We eventually found Dr. Larry Ponemon and his recently formed Ponemon Institute, then a small but well-regarded research organization based in Traverse City, Michigan that focused on privacy, data protection, and information security policy.
Dr. Ponemon possessed three key qualifications. First, he was dedicated to the study of privacy and the impacts of breaches of privacy. Second, he possessed both the reputation and the ability to conduct sensitive research with companies that had suffered breaches. Finally, he had the financial and accounting background to create the risk models – a skill well beyond what anyone on our staff possessed.
Dr. Ponemon published his initial study in 2006. His research involved interviews with 14 companies that had suffered data breaches. These were sensitive conversations that Dr. Ponemon handled confidentially. The research was beneficial to our prospective customers — another key to creating a successful study — because they could use the results to quantify the risk of future breaches for their management. The study broke down the costs into four main categories:
- Legal and PR costs
- Staff time spent investigating and fixing the breach
- Miscellaneous expenses such as software and credit protection services offered to mollify angry customers
- Lost revenues from enraged customers who took their business elsewhere
The study calculated the cost to be $138 per customer record lost. At first glance, this number might not seem particularly severe. Consider, however, that if a company lost 1000 records, then the costs would total $138,000. In general, the more records a company lost, the greater the cost. The average costs to the 14 companies studied were a staggering $4.5 million. Significantly, the greatest costs were not technology or legal fees. Rather, they were the lost revenues of upset customers taking their business elsewhere – something any business executive could relate to. With the business impact and the potential costs in the millions, and the PGP software costing about $200 per user, the sales reps could present a straightforward return on investment, supported by real data.
Since 2006, PGP (now Symantec, which acquired PGP and continued the research) and the Ponemon Institute have collaborated on a research study every year. Over this time the studies have attracted greater publicity and a substantially larger audience. The initial study generated only a handful of articles. By 2011, Symantec was conducting the study in eight countries, measuring the costs specific to different customer bases and regulatory environments. More than 200 articles, hundreds of blog posts, and thousands of clicks, tweets, and downloads have made the study a killer thought leadership piece that helps drive the business.