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Positioning Your Product or Service (Part 1)

September 5, 2013 by Kay Paumier

One of the most important steps of any communications program is developing your positioning statements, which describe how you want the market to perceive your product or service. This process can be time-consuming and even frustrating. However, it is essential.

One important thing to realize is that, to a great extent, you don’t position your product or service. The market does. The purpose of the positioning statements is to help focus your company to do the things necessary to be positioned you the way you want to be positioned. This is a complex (and fascinating) topic. I’ll first discuss gathering and organizing the needed information. In my next post, I’ll discuss how to develop sound positioning statements from that information..

First, you need to know the following about your product or service, your target customer, market and competition. This may require some research, but positioning cannot be done in a vacuum.

Know your product or service.

For example, know its:

  •        Purpose
  •        Target customers
  •        Features and benefits
  •        Strengths and weaknesses
  •        Price and availability
  •        Product roadmap and/or product family
  •        Service and support.

Know the target customer.

If at all possible, do some primary research, directly connecting with target customers to discuss topics such as:

  •        What is their “pain?”
  •        What keeps them up at night?
  •        What do they worry about?
  •        What do they want (the “gain”)?
  •        What is important to them? What are their priorities?
  •        What motivates them?
  •        Who influences them?
  •        What are the obstacles to their success?

If you can’t do primary research, at least read the publications that target your audience to get an idea of their most important issues.

Develop “personas.”

Many people find it help to create “personas” from this information. A persona is basically a profile of a fictional character that represents an entire class of users, reflecting their typical motivations, goals, skill level, experience and attitudes.

A simple chart with information about the “person”—including his/her name, age, title, “pain,” frustrations and motivations—can be very powerful. This process can help everyone in product development and marketing keep your end-users’ goals in mind at all times.

In short, personas are powerful tools for communicating about different types of users and their needs, and then deciding which of those needs are most important to target..

Know your market and your place in it.

For example, you’ll need to answer questions such as the following:

  •        What is your target market?
  •        How big is it?
  •        Is it growing?
  •        Is it well-established or emerging?
  •        What does the market need?
  •        What are its major trends?
  •        Who are the trendsetters in this market?

You may need to do some research here or get some industry reports.

Know the competition.

You’ll need to answer questions such as:

  •        Who is the competition?
  •        What do their products and services do?
  •        How are they different from yours?
  •        What do they do better than you?
  •        What do they do worse?
  •        How do they position themselves in the marketplace?
  •        How are they actually positioned in the marketplace?
  •        Where do their products “belong” in the overall market? For example, are they high quality/high price, low cost/high volume, or something in between?

The next steps are to organize and analyze this information, develop your positioning statements and test them. I’ll cover these topics in my next post.

 

 

September Celebrations = Promotional Opportunities

July 11, 2013 by

 September brings a lot more than the official end of summer and the beginning of fall.

The month is full of anniversaries and other celebrations that can provide “excuses” to get publicity or do other marketing.

For example, my cat reminded me that September is Happy Cat Month (www.catalystcouncil.org). This is a great time for animal shelters and humane societies to promote animal adoptions.

Happy Cat Month is also a great opportunity for vets and pet stores to do some marketing. Maybe develop a checklist for people to determine how happy their cats are.

Or perhaps do a photo contest for the “happiest looking cat.” They could announce the contest in a news release, on their websites, in their offices or stores, and in an email message to their clients and customers. They could repeat the process to announce the winners.

The month of September has many other celebrations, including:

Other events celebrated during September:

This information came from Chase’s Calendar of Events, a great resource for anyone who wants to take advantage of celebrations and anniversaries.

More Tips for Handling Media Interviews

June 13, 2013 by

Here are two more techniques for handling media interviews.

Lead the reporter on.

Simply add a phrase at the end of a response, leading the reporter to the next, obvious question. For example:

“That’s not all.”

“Here’s how this might play out.”

“There is much more to this story.”

The reporter typically will ask for more information. “Tell me more.” “Can you give an example?” And then you’re on your way, presenting your messages.

 Redirect the question.

 Here you start with a verbal stop to shield yourself from an unwanted question. Examples of verbal stops are:

“Actually…”

“In fact…”

“In reality….”

Then make your point, possibly explaining why you can’t answer the original question.

No technique works all the time, but these techniques can help you through a challenging interview and raise your chances for success.

 Some material for this article came from the article “Sneak Peeks and Deflections: How they Can Raise Your Spokespeople’s Performance,” by Ed Barks (Public Relations Tactics, November 2012).

Get Publicity by Tying into Events in August

May 23, 2013 by Kay Paumier

 Regular readers know that I routinely provide ideas for tying publicity and marketing into observances.

For example, did you know that August 18 is Bad Poetry Day (www.wellcat.com)? This is a great opportunity for schools and writing groups to do surveys or contests. Ask people what their favorite bad poem is. Invite people to write bad poetry.

San Jose State University has done this very successfully for years with its Bulwer Lytton contest. The annual event, named after the writer of “It as a dark and stormy night,” asks people to write the worst beginning of a novel. The contest now gets entries from all over the world, and a great deal of publicity each year.

Here are some other observances for the month of August:

  • Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month – blindness prevention www.preventblindness.org
  • Get Ready for Kindergarten Month – celebrating a happy entry into kindergarten
  • National Immunization Awareness Month – prevention of life-threatening diseases
  • What Will Be Your Legacy Month – impact on future generations www.jirehpublishers.com

And here are some other days and weeks celebrated in August:

  • August 1, 1990: Celebration of World Wide Web Anniversary
  • August 3: National Mustard Day – celebrating mustard slathered on food www.mustardmuseum.com
  • August 4 – 10: National Exercise With Your Child – encouraging parents and guardians to exercise with their children www.sheilamadison.com/exerciseyourchildweek.html 
  • August 4 – 10: Single Working Women’s Week – honoring single working women www.swwan.org
  • August 4: Sisters’ Day – celebrating the spirit of sisterhood
  • August 15: National Relaxation Day – improving lifestyle through relaxation
  • August 18: Serendipity Day – celebrating unexpected discoveries www.serendipitydayholiday.com
  • August 25, 1916: anniversary of the foundation of the National Parks
  • August 26: National Dog Day – honoring the love and loyalty of dogs www.nationaldogday.com

What can you do with events like these?

Product Reviews I Have Known

May 9, 2013 by Kay Paumier

I have watched, with interest, as Tesla has defended itself against a negative product review in The New York Times.

Until recently, this could have been disastrous, but Musk took to Twitter. Of course, he had an advantage. The car’s data-monitoring system indicated the reviewer undercharged the battery, didn’t set the cruise control to 54 m.p.h. to save energy as he had claimed, and cranked up the heat as the charge faded.

Only time will tell whether consumers believe Musk’s tweets (and the tweets of other Tesla fans) more than they believe the photo of the Tesla being loaded into a flatbed.

The episode reminded me of experiences I’ve had with product reviews over the years. These reviews happened before sites like Amazon became powerhouse review resources, and before online social networking gave companies a real chance to fight back.

They happened when we had few options to fight a poor review. Sure, we could (and did) complain to the reviewer, refuse to participate in future reviews, explain our side of the story to our customers and business partners, and pitch other reviews to other publications. But in those days, we couldn’t take our case directly to the public as Musk has done with the Tesla review.

Here are some stories.

In one case, my client fired the technical contact we had given the publication, but let him stay on the job for two weeks. (An interesting concept, indeed.) In that timeframe, the reviewer called and the tech contact trashed the product. The reviewer believed him. The resulting review said that my client’s technology product was good as a door stop, little else. And our subsequent contacts with the editor got us nowhere.

Then there was the competitive review when the AT&T business phone got an “A” and all the competing phones (including my client’s) got “C’s.” The phones were very similar; we thought they were all “B’s.” Then we learned that the reviewer (a freelancer the magazine had hired for the review) was an award-winning reseller for AT&T. We notified the magazine, saying that we did not feel the review was fair because the reviewer had a vested interest. (The magazine ignored us.) We – and all the other companies in the first review – refused to participate in other reviews in that publication. But a new company did and the result was the same: an “A” for AT&T and a “C” for the other product. (Note: this is not to disparage AT&T which, in all likelihood, did not know about the subterfuge.)

Another time a competitor contacted a reporter, pretending to be “just an interested end-user.” The competitor said he had tested several products, and gave his “test” results to the reporter. The gullible reporter printed the information only to learn that the “interested end-user” had a vested interest indeed, and that the highest ranking product came from his company. The editor was duly embarrassed, and I doubt that the offending company ever got coverage in that magazine again. (My client’s product was not included in the “test,” so experienced neither a positive or negative impact from the episode.)

And a final example. We were promoting a home-networking product that was designed for the latest computer hardware and software. For some inexplicable reason, the reviewer decided to cobble together a network from used computer parts and outdated products for his test bed. Not surprisingly, my client’s product–and all the products in the review–got poor marks because they were all geared for up-to-date technology, not left-overs from previous years. The products made these perfectly clear in their user manuals. Again, we contacted the magazine to explain the discrepancy and ask for a new review, to no avail.  

Today, I often check reviews before making a purchase, especially a technology product. I know how flawed the system can be, and yet it still helps to see what people think about a product. And some sites, such as CNET, PCMag.com and Consumers’ Reports, have good reputations for objectivity.

I am glad they have. And I am happy I now can respond if the review is totally off base.

Some Telling Statistics re the Media

May 2, 2013 by Kay Paumier
  • The Pew Research Center indicates that confidence in traditional media has decreased every year during the past 10 years.
  • Fully 46 percent of the U.S. public gets their news online at least once a week while a third (32 percent) seeks out online news every day.
  • 25 million people record and watch major evening newscasts, but only 8 percent of the 315 million U.S. population tunes in.
  • About 93 percent of the U.S. population claims that they listen to radio at some point during the day.
  • Nielsen estimates that there are nearly 180 million blogs in the world.
  • Blogger software service WordPress says that it adds another 100,000 daily.
  • And PR professionals now outnumber journalists 4:1.

These are some of the sobering statistics in the article “Sourcing Information: the Impact of ‘Pageview Journalism’” in Public Relations Tactics (March 2013, Public Relations Society of America).

What does all that mean?

I think it means both challenges and opportunities.

Challenges because:

  • It is certainly harder and harder for PR professionals to reach journalists.
  • It is harder for professional journalists to reach their intended audiences.
  • Media and sources of information are more and more fragmented.
  • Credibility is definitely threatened.
  • Traditional (mainstream) media is shrinking.
  • Gullibility is both rampant (witness all the online scams) and extinct (witness the lack of confidence in traditional media).
  • The opportunities for inaccurate information to go viral increase each day.
  • The need for analysis will increase.

Opportunities because:

  • Organizations have more ways to reach their “publics” directly.
  • PR professionals can definitely take up the slack in terms of research and preparation of good stories, visuals and the like.
  • Traditional media needs the help of PR professionals, probably more than ever before.
  • As stated earlier, the need for analysis—for someone to put the factoids into context—will become greater and greater. Another opportunity for PR professionals to shine.

What will happen in the next few years? Probably an acceleration of the trends (e.g., fragmentation of the media, dearth of context and analysis, decrease in the number and quality of traditional media outlets) that have created our present situation. And what that will bring about, I hesitate to speculate.

Publicity Opportunities with Observances in July

April 25, 2013 by Kay Paumier

As you may know, I’m a fan of capitalizing on observances to generate publicity. The trick is to find and capitalize on the ones that fit your product or service. By tying your product or service into something bigger, you increase your chance for publicity and attention.

It is important to think ahead and plan such tie-ins. We all know that July has Independence Day. But there are a lot of other lesser-known (and more targeted) observances. For example, did you know that July is Cell Phone Courtesy Month?

What could you do with that? Well, if you have any connection with cell phones (e.g., a retailer or a cell phone service provider) or with business, you could consider generating publicity by:

  • Holding a contest asking people to write in their cell phone pet peeves
  • Writing up tips on good cell phone etiquette
  • Developing your own “top 10” list of pet peeves
  • And…

Get the idea? Here are some other potential observances for the month of July:

Here are some individual days celebrated in July:

  • July 1, 1862: Bureau of Internal Revenue Established (a good excuse for accountants to get into the news again)
  • July 1, 1847: First U.S. Postage Stamps Issued
  • July 1, 1968: Medicare Went into Effect
  • July 1: Second Half of the New Year Day (A midyear checkpoint)
  • July 2, 2002: First Solo Round-the-world Balloon Flight
  • July 2: Made in the USA Day (www.madeusafdn.org)
  • July 4: Independence Day (Of course)
  • July 7: Father-Daughter Take a Walk Together Day (great for family counselors, teachers, personal trainers)
  • July 20: Toss Away the “Could Haves” and “Should Haves” Day www.jirehpublishers.com
  • July 27: Walk on Stilts Day (www.stiltwalker.com) (A discussion about “stretching yourself”?)
  • July 28: Anniversary of the Start of World War I

You can learn more about these and other observances through Chase’s Calendar of Events, which is available at Amazon and at other leading book stores.

Eight Ways to Announce Products (Part 2)

April 18, 2013 by Kay Paumier

In my previous post, I discussed these five ways to announce a product:

  • Blog
  • Special Interest group
  • Barebones
  • Minimalist
  • Web conference

Here are three other ways to make an announcement.

#6: Trade Shows

I am not a fan of introducing products at trade shows, but it can make sense in some circumstances. If that is your case, I recommend arranging one-on-one interviews. Start contacting reporters and analysts about six weeks before the show (depending on its size and type) and give them enough information to get them interested, but not enough so they could report on the story without seeing you.

Depending on the type of product, you might find a way to make the “pitch” illustrate the product benefit. For example, a 3-D imaging company sent the media invitations that needed 3-D glasses to read. The company was almost overwhelmed with media attention, in spite of competition from much larger, better-known companies at the trade show.

Another possibility is to announce your product before the show. Many publications and websites have “show preview” issues. Generally you’ll get better coverage in those than you would in the after-show articles when you’re competing with everyone else.

#7: Press Conferences

I am also not a fan of press conferences. By definition, they require significant news and important people. Few announcements qualify.

However, if yours does, make sure you invite the media in plenty of time. Schedule the conference early in the day. Put out fewer chairs than you expect attendees, so it can look as if you’ve generated more interest than expected as you pull out more chairs. Practice the presentation and review possible questions. Videotape the presentation for use on the website afterwards and, for that matter, for a way to evaluate the effectiveness of the presentation.

#8: Media Tours

A media tour means you travel to the reporters to meet them in their offices. This can be very time-consuming, but can yield enormous benefits. After all, the reporters like the fact that you take the time and trouble to visit them. You get one-on-one face time in a fairly controlled environment, and you can tailor your presentation for the individual reporter.

Start at least two months beforehand, contacting the reporters and analysts. Get a good (no, a great) travel agent to help with logistics. And recognize that things will go wrong. (In one case, the company spokesperson and I were in a traffic accident while en route to a live TV appearance in Boston. We made it…with about 20 seconds to spare!)

A Final Note

In all this, I’m assuming that you have your other announcement “ducks in a row, e.g., that you have notified the appropriate people internally and externally, that you are supporting the launch through your social media channels, and the like.

 

Eight Ways to Announce New Products (Part 1)

April 11, 2013 by Kay Paumier

 New products are the lifeblood of many companies. They can provide the bulk of the revenue, and give the company the opportunity to become better known.

Yet getting media attention for new products is difficult, if only because so many new products are announced each year.

Even given the product “noise,” however, it is possible to effectively publicize new products. Here are eight approaches to publicizing a new product.

Note: I’m assuming you’ve already done your homework. You’ve studied the competition and market. You have set your goals for the announcement, and developed your positioning statement and messages.

So now you’re considering the importance of the product, the size of your budget, your timeframe, and other priorities as you decide on your announcement method.

Here are five approaches you might consider, arranged in the approximate order of difficulty. I’ll give three more approaches in my next post.

#1: Blog Announcement

Probably the simplest approach is to just make your announcement in your blog. Companies like Tesla and Netflix have been doing this very successfully. Of course, this only works if you have a large enough following to make an impact, which probably means your company is big enough (or interesting enough) to “make waves” whenever you announce something. And, if you are a public company, you need to abide by all SEC rulings regarding disclosure. But that is another topic.

#2: Specialized Group Announcement

Another approach is to simply make the announcement to a special-interest group. For example, a software company could announce a new version to the user groups devoted to its software.

This is certainly simple and probably can stimulate sales quickly. However, it has the disadvantage of “preaching to the choir.” The approach decidedly limits the scope and reach of the announcement.

#3: Barebones Announcement

For the barebones announcement, you would write a good release and distribute it over a wire service and individually to the media who are particularly important to you.

If your news is newsworthy and your release well-written, this may all you need to do. This is all I did years ago when I was announcing a new online service. Within 24 hours, Fidelity Investments had called my client and signed up for a trial.

#4: Minimalist Announcement

One simple way to augment the barebones announcement is by doing some telephone and local media interviews. For this to work, you need to contact the reporters before the announcement. (Don’t be like the company that, after it had made an announcement, contacted me to see if I would pitch the story to “my friends in the media.” Too late.)

If you are going to do interviews, make sure you train your spokesperson. Plan how you’ll approach the announcement. Think about the questions the media might ask and decide how you would answer them.

#5: Web conference

Web conferences are relatively inexpensive, provide a way to pace people through a presentation or demo, and enable people to interact in real time. They also let you reach people in different areas easily and cost-effectively.

However, it’s important that the web conference go smoothly. Incorporate as many visual elements as possible. Do not commit “death by Powerpoint” and subject your audience to word slide after word slide.

Include as many interactive elements (e.g., surveys) as possible. Encourage people to send in questions, and explain up front when they will be answered (e.g., as they come in, at the end of the presentation). Also encourage people to contact you afterwards, and follow up with the attendees after the fact.

These five are some of the simplest and least-expensive ways to announce a product. I’ll discuss three other, more complex ways in my next post.


Get Publicity by Tying into Observances in May

January 24, 2013 by

From Groundhog Day to an Elvis anniversary, it can seem that every day is earmarked for one observation or another. Sometimes it is well-known (e.g., Mother’s Day). Other observances are much more specific and sometimes even obscure.

Observances, however, offer a good opportunity for publicity. The trick is to find and capitalize on the ones that fit your product or service. By tying your product or service into something bigger, you increase your chance for publicity and attention.

For an offbeat example, Limerick Day (May 12th) provides the opportunity for a school to run a limerick competition, giving them a chance to promote the school’s creative writing department.

While not tied to a specific day, the English Department at San Jose State University has successfully run a similar competition since 1982. The whimsical Bulwer-Lytton contest, which challenges entrants to “compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels,” gets entries from all over the world.

Get the idea? Here are some other potential observances for the month of May:

Here are some observations that last either a day or a week:

  • Executive Coaching Day (May 1)
  • Keep Kids Alive: Drive 25 Day (May 1)
  • Labor Day (May 1)
  • National Return to Work Week (May 12-18)
  • Anniversary of the release of the movie “Star Wars” (May 25, 1977)

These are taken from 2013 Chase’s Calendar of Events, a resource I highly recommend. Note: Neither Chase nor I warrant this information. So if something here “fits” your product or service, I recommend you check with the sponsors to see if the observation is still being promoted.

 Good luck!

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