Communicating with consumers in the digital age

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With digital technology continuing to develop at an alarming rate – and consumers increasingly adopting an ‘always on’ mentality – it is vital that businesses keep up with the technological times. Many brands are already utilising platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to provide real time information, but those that stand out are incorporating more advanced technology, such as AI (Artificial Intelligence), VR (Virtual Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality).

Take China’s WeChat for instance. The brand is leading the way in how to bridge the gap between consumers’ online and offline lives. Service users can do everything from answer work emails and take video calls, to buying everyday essentials, theatre tickets, paying bills and booking hospital appointments. For those using the app in a professional capacity, the WeChat QR even takes away the exchange of business cards – one short scan of a code and your networking is complete.

A WeChat user never has to leave the platform as it ‘integrates [all mobile apps] into a single digital identity’ (The Economist), which gives us a glimpse into how technology will eventually blur the line between the virtual and real world.

When Facebook opened up the use of its messenger to chatbots in early 2016, 11,000 businesses developed their own programmes in the first three months (Retail Dive). Major brands bought into the chatbot process on Facebook messenger to give their customers a personalised service that is always available, providing a reliable and exciting alternative to traditional customer service tactics.

Brands that are paving the way to chatbot success include major makeup brand, Sephora. In February 2016 it became one of the first businesses to develop its own chatbot programme, and since then the tool has continued to develop to meet consumer demand. Chatbot users can now try on makeup with a Virtual Artist before buying preferred products. Other functions include a Reservation Assistant and Colour Match.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has also expanded into the chatbot arena, giving users the chance to use their Facebook Messenger platform as their digital boarding pass. Now this may not seem particularly revolutionary, but the way the chatbot interacts with the user is. Using the Facebook Messenger platform, users are greeted with a conversational interface that also reminds users when check-in opens, gives them their boarding pass, sends flight status updates and will answer any questions at any time of day.

When compared to own brand applications, chatbots undoubtedly make more sense. They’re cheaper to develop and increase user interaction as they don’t need to be downloaded onto a mobile device as a separate entity.  The ultimate goal for brands is to become a fixture in a customer’s online identity by making the process for consumers quick, personal and hassle free.

By harnessing the power of the digital platforms that are continuing to evolve, brands will not only gain attention for modernising their ways of working, but also attract a larger customer base.

Human after all

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“Journalists aren’t interested in you or your organisation; they’re interested in covering great stories that are a perfect fit for their audience. So anything that sounds like you’re just trying to plug your company – rather than provide compelling content – is an instant turn off… tell stories, use visual imagery and anything that appeals to the senses.” – Janet Murray, The Guardian

The simplest display of humanity can spur an emotional connection. Sentiment plasters the pages of newspapers and media websites. Christmas adverts which do more than just sell products are one timely example, charity collaborations are another. People want to hear about their local heroes and journalists are keen to pitch these stories to their editors.

Journalists write stories. And what is a story if it contains no characters? What audiences really want is to get to know the people behind the brand. To understand the motivations and aspirations that drive that particular business and inspire its customers.

As a PR or marketing manager, it can be all too easy to get swept up in key messages and corporate objectives, and to lose track of what makes your target audience tick. But, no matter what your business, you should always look for a way to make your story resonate on a personal level.

Bringing the human element of a piece of news to life is the job of a successful PR. It’s what makes a good story. The sort that people can’t help but read, or watch. More and more, journalists at major online news outlets are asking for video content to supplement their articles. Whilst beautifully crafted hi-resolution images have their place, a short video clip of a store manager giving a roundup of Christmas treats to look forward to can add another dimension to a news piece. Better still if the video is pieced together with interviews and clips filmed at a customer’s local store, resulting in a multifaceted story that’s relatable to the outlet’s audience.

The Trump and Leave campaigns have highlighted more than ever that there is a disconnect between people and storytellers. This is the proof that PRs and brands need to explore and understand, leaving those that build locally relevant stories at a distinct advantage when trying to connect with the consumer. It has to be the starting place not the destination.

The art of newsjacking

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Here, we explore why ‘newsjacking’ is one of the great ways law firms can increase their brand awareness and drive business, using the ongoing Uber test case as a prime example.

As a PR agency, we’re always on the lookout for different ways of generating media interest in our clients’ stories. This is particularly true when working with law firms, where competition for column inches is high and legal journalists are few and far between (as well as notoriously hard to get hold of!).

So what can we do to cut through the noise?

One of the advantages of working in the legal sector is that there is never a shortage of stories that need commentary, or indeed people that want to comment on them. Almost every story we read, be it political, financial or about Harrison Ford’s broken leg, will have a legal implication that consumers and businesses can consider.

Take the ongoing Uber employment tribunal as an example. After much deliberation, the judges will soon deliver their hotly anticipated verdict on whether the global firms’ drivers should be classified as ‘workers’ or ‘self-employed’ in the UK. Whatever the decision there will undoubtedly be mass media interest, so with many legal PRs vying for the top spot on what this means for employee rights and how the news will affect the burgeoning gig economy, we needed to be prepared ahead of the proposed judgement on 12 October.

PR top tips for newsjacking a legal judgement:

  1. Consider both eventualities and prepare the necessary statements and content so you’re ready to hit send once the judgement lands
  2. Talk to relevant people within the business who can deliver insight on the impact of the decision – any data will be gold dust
  3. Research the media that are active on the story and be prepared to feed them your content

Even the best laid plans never go exactly as you think however….judgement day came and went without so much of a hint at the result – and we’re still waiting more than a week later. However, those initial conversations have still proved fruitful, with us being asked to provide commentary from our client for the BBC’s piece, ‘What does Uber’s employment case mean?’

Unfortunately, we don’t always have the luxury of two months to prepare, so moving fast on these opportunities is an absolute must. Thankfully, law firms have experts in almost every field so we are primed and ready to shed light on the next breaking news story!