Posts in editorial relevance

The power of emotional brand storytelling

(You Can) Unleash the Power of More Meaningful Marketing

July 19th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand trust, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Customer Journey Map, editorial relevance, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Social media, Social proof, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “(You Can) Unleash the Power of More Meaningful Marketing”

Crafting stories that inspire action, change, movement

“Tell the truth but make the truth fascinating. You know you can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.” — David Ogilvy

Want to benefit from the persuasive impact of more meaningful marketing, then imbue your outreach with deeper meaning. At Emergent’s home page, your first encounter is a statement that reads: Crafting emotional, meaningful, powerful brand stories…

This phrase captures a core essence of what we do. Yes, we focus our communications work in the tactical areas of earned (publicity), owned (content) and social media. However, the real power and exceptionalism we bring to the table is in building stories well-told, where a brand’s customer is always the hero and thus finds themselves in it and benefits from the guidance and useful help a client’s brand provides.

Here we chart the path to better, more effective brand storytelling.

In the end great stories are respectful of the language used to tell them.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Mark Twain

Anyone who reads the Emerging Trends Report knows we publish early and often here on a wide range of topics from sustainability to brand strategy and media best practices. What these stories really ladder up to, beyond their inherent message, is an audition of our storytelling chops. Said another way, through our articles we’re demonstrating the importance of words and their meaning.

For the most part our published works are about guidance and coaching, thought leadership on topics of value to CEOs and CMOs and heads of Communications and PR. This in fact is a leading-edge strategy for more effective marketing. When you lean in to help, inform and inspire your audience to improve, you are casting the brand in its proper role of offering help over hype.

This is different than self-promotion that speaks endlessly to brand features, technology and formulation facts. While these elements of brand benefit remain integral to the storyline, they shouldn’t lead it for the very reason to do so embeds the communication with an intractable disconnect.

Every single day your customer wakes up believing they are the hero of their own life’s journey. When the brand is preoccupied with itself, it competes with the consumer for the hero role, and so the outreach is ignored while the consumer moves on to find a brand that can help and support them in fulfilling their dreams and aspirations.

The power of relevance, words and context

Very early in my agency career I discovered that language and inspirational storytelling can have an immediate and profound effect, even in unlikely settings. I wrote a pitch to a business editor about a regional packaged foods client that found itself sandwiched between giant national brands with endless resources and store brands nipping underneath with lower priced versions of their products. I cast this as a power struggle for hearts and minds that could only be won with unique, strategically-elegant moves to separate and differentiate their brand from the adjacent competition. I invoked emotion by making it appear to be a very human conflict, a mini movie of sorts where the intrepid, nimble regional brand ultimately prevails.

The editor loved it. The outcome was a series of interviews that produced a front-page story with a gigantic illustration of a David-like figure toppling a gigantic national brand Goliath. The story wound up in retail account presentations as a key piece of evidence about why the brand deserved stronger placement, more facings and retailer support.

The pitch was unorthodox and unconventional to be sure, but then that’s where the magic came from. The right words can have profound impact on outcomes. All business, ultimately, is storytelling. Stories that are imbued with deeper meaning are far more likely to change hearts and minds than the clinical expressions of facts and figures.

Brands are famously in love with their technologies and mousetrap, believing that once the world is made aware of their formulation prowess, people will beat a path to their door in droves. But here is where we separate perception from reality. People are not analytical decision-making machines. They are in indeed feeling creatures who think and not the other way around. It is always going to be heart-over-head.

  • If you know that the humanization of your brand storytelling has got to be job one. It may sound counterintuitive, but when you ruthlessly let go of reflexive tendencies to self-promote and focus instead on how you can improve the lives and wellbeing of your key users, suddenly an entirely new world of powerful brand storytelling unfolds.

Tell a story and put your audience at the center. Give them a role to play. Solve their anxiety and help them believe in what you’re selling. It’s the nervous kid at basketball tryouts who gets injected with a splash of confidence the second his feet slip into a pair of Nike’s. This is the sheer power — and magic of a well-written advertisement.  Jonah Malin

In the brilliant, animated movie Ratatouille, Remy the culinary genius chef rat tries to inspire his more ordinary rat-ish sibling to embrace the love of flavor experiences by combining a bite of cheese (flavor bomb) with piece of fruit (flavor enhancer). Alas his less appreciative rodent brother couldn’t make the gustatory leap out of the garbage can. The love of flavor and taste experience lesson though is ultimately about the result of food enjoyment. Cheese romance isn’t in the cheese-making, it’s in the taste experience and social bond of sharing these moments with people we care about. Remy has it right!

Setting up a successful story

Two important moves can help ensure the path to better storytelling prevails.

First is hyper focus on building personas of the various marketplace consumer cohorts you wish to reach. Go deep on their behaviors, interests, concerns and passions. If our client permits insight research ahead of the persona work, all the better as we get underneath the pieces and parts of how users think and operate.

This work serves as inspiration on the story topics and narrative paths we pursue. If a story isn’t relevant to the lifestyle of its intended recipient, it will not be resonant either. How can you truly cast them as hero of the story if you don’t know them? When consumers see themselves in the story like holding up a mirror, you’ll have their attention – which is the whole point. The biggest hill to climb in modern marketing is securing the time and attention of those you want to engage.

If the story offers no intrinsic value or relevance to the audience, it’s unlikely to be seen or heard.

From personas we move to message mapping based on that study. It’s here where the client’s product bona fides are woven together with the emotionally-inspiring stories that bring the ‘deeper meaning’ requirement to life.

The message map also serves as a terrific interactive tool for internal discussion on how brand stories will be created and what will be conveyed.

There are two specific goals in better brand storytelling practices

  • Remove risk. Nearly 100% of the time consumers operate with one singular goal in mind: to avoid making a bad decision. If for any reason they think a product experience will be unsatisfactory, they will avoid it. Removing risk through verification and validation from respected, credible sources that affirms outcomes will be key to success.
  • Build trust. Here, the character of the storytelling and the voices deployed become essential to gaining attention and trial. Quite often we bring in third-party subject matter experts to help inject trust by validating the fundamentals of what we want consumers to believe. Social media plays a key role here as a tool for proof: people believe the stories told by their peers before they’ll believe what a company claims.

Language matters. Trust building words like endorsed, proven, tested, quality and results can be invoked to help cement confidence. That said, the most powerful and important narrative device at your disposal is emotion. If people feel something through your story it can have a profound impact on behavior and attitude.

Relate-able stories of personal transformation, struggle and achievement will have bearing on engagement and takeaway. This is where deeper meaning lives. People want to be part of something greater than themselves. Help make that a reality. Use your brand’s Higher Purpose to create the foundation of deeper meaning and belief. If there’s a clear and compelling mission, it will become a rallying point for people who “join” the brand as advocates not just users.

  • Relevant, emotional, human, credible stories are the grist of business growth and enviable brand equity. Now you’ve got something relevant to talk about!

If you think a little fresh thinking would be helpful to refine your brand story, use this link to start an informal conversation with us.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

News media guidelines

Five Steps to Successful Earned Media Outcomes

July 6th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Earned media, editorial relevance, media placement, media relations, media strategy, Public Relations, publicity, storytelling 0 comments on “Five Steps to Successful Earned Media Outcomes”

There’s method, expertise and relevance involved…

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard a client express skepticism about the earned media channel of communication. Not because they don’t think it’s extremely powerful and effective – they do. Their tenuous belief has to do with a perception that seemingly random conditions lead to outcomes. That a great story secured is more of a happy accident and not, in reality, the outcome of a surgical, planned methodology.

Here we will debunk the media myth and explain the path to editorial glory. However, even though there are five steps and each one relevant to the successful outcome, the expertise involved to properly execute each one of these to maximum effect is also a byproduct of experience. Knowledge honed over years of working in the trenches to appreciate the nuance of what flies and dies in the reporting world. Let’s take a tour together on the path to editorial victory based on the fundamental understanding that great stories don’t fall like manna from heaven but are a result of a strategic process.

Granted you can’t buy legitimate editorial coverage, so the entire proposition isn’t transactional (for the most part) – at least it isn’t for the blue-chip media properties where journalism and reporting rules hold sway. But that’s the beauty of it. Editorial media is a reporting environment, based on storytelling that emanates from inspection, examination, evaluation and consideration; thus, why it is far more valuable, effective and powerful than an ad.

The essential truths

It’s helpful to understand what separates the editorial wheat from the chaff.

  • A ’story’ that’s not really a story won’t get told – truth to anyone looking at the reporting medium with clarity. The fundamental story idea you start with is the lynchpin to outcomes. How the story concept is constructed has a lot to do with editorial interest, relevance and value. Great reporters can see a great story unfold.
  • Story concepts built on self-promotion looks like advertising and thus why editors and reporters suggest contacting the ad department. When the story isn’t really there to benefit the media viewers/readers, reporters sense that immediately.
  • When you speak in editorial terms, with material that respects the editorial paradigm of inspection, examination and reporting, you can earn a conversation with editorial gatekeepers. This is where seasoned experience pays off most often.

Press releases are invitations to stories, not stories in themselves. The facts are most releases are devoid of a story, contain too much self-promotional, non-essential attribution and aren’t interesting. Media material is needed and valued when it’s done right. If it walks and talks like a story worth telling then you have something.

Five key ingredients to better non-paid media outcome

  1. Frame the larger story

Where you start is connected to where you will inevitably finish. The story concept is key. If you are planning a new product launch for example, the story isn’t the product launch. Rather it is placed within a larger context about trends, reports, studies and cultural shifts where a larger problem is being solved by the product – residing within a broader context.

  • Is there new technology involved that falls out of a growing trend in consumer behavior and need?
  • Is there a societal benefit or consequence that brings value to how people live, prosper, grow or succeed in some way?
  • Is a higher purpose connected to the company that is being served by this launch, are you bringing a new idea or solution to sustainability and climate impacts for example?
  • Is there a relationship between your product and a health and wellness outcome that benefits peoples’ lives or helps them overcome a barrier to personal growth?

Bottom line – find the larger story and outline how these parts fit together to create a better whole. Supporting studies and quantitative research can be powerful tools here if you can prove the condition is important and meaningful to consumers’ lives.

2. Do your homework

What do we know about the reporting world? For one, editors and reporters need trusted quote-able sources to do their jobs. The executive in charge of marketing or brand cannot be the only source cited in a story worth telling. What subject matter experts can be enlisted to help placed credible context around the problem you are solving?

Are there real people, not paid endorsers, who’ve had experiences with the product and found value in the outcomes of using it that reinforce the larger context of problem-to-solution?

Can you identify studies and reports from independent sources that lay the factual foundation for a cultural or societal shift you are addressing? Please note if it’s a study you paid for then its value cred is diminished right out of the gate (not entirely but take note).

When you are able to supply the reporter with respected third-party sources and experts that corroborate and verify what you are saying, you’ve accomplished two important things: one, you are able to help shape the story outcomes; and two, you are helping the reporter who is always under time constraints to do their job more successfully. Win and win.

3. Pick your targets wisely

The days of press release spray-and-pray are over. This technique is an old-school hedge-your-bet move by some publicists who attempt to win on a quantity game, assuming that some percentage of media receiving material will somehow run the story. Those days are gone.

The path to wider coverage begins with bellwether, respected media properties that tend to be influential to other channels (national print to TV). Moving the story along a planned continuum is a smarter play. Hope is never a strategy.

Where you take the story has a lot to do with where the reporter has been before. What media are likely to be interested in this story within its larger context? You can determine that in part by understanding the audience they serve and what will be inherently valuable to them in serving their readers/viewers.

Which reporters are likely to resonate to your concept/idea? If you do the heavy lifting to understand what they’ve published previously you may find a pattern of interest where you can draw lines of relevance from previous work.

4. Magic of vertical build

The industry trades that cover your category are a great place to start to frame the story elements and while doing so create evidence the angle has merit, reporting legs and is worthy of being told. Trade placements are not considered competitive to larger media properties, rather it serves as helpful background and elevates confidence in the story bona fides.

A stepped strategy that begins in trade channels is a strong game plan as you move up the editorial food chain to media with a larger, broader audience.

5. Editorial syntax in everything you do

If it looks like a story and walks like a story then it’s a story. When you create supporting material to take your idea out into the reporting world, it needs to respect editorial sensibility. If you truly understand how reporters would treat the subject and prepare your backgrounding materials in a way that screams you understand the rules and how they do their job, you earn respect right at the front door if inquiry.

So much of what editors and reporters see each day is self-promotional and never served in the context of a bigger story concept. They are required to wade through, identify and separate what is useful from what is not. Most won’t do it and thus why the pitch never materializes as a published piece.

If you want a reporter to respect you, listen to you, then serve the story up in a frame that bristles with editorial savvy and states, obviously, that you know them, their world, their audience and how they will likely treat the story themselves.

Too often story material is created to please the internal approvers because it sounds like an ad and tells the key messages directly, and without any editorial context around it. Looks good on paper, but in reality the release may fall flat on its face once in the hands of those who report rather than promote.

It’s tougher than it looks

All of this work is a bit like a symphony of well-crafted components that serve to anchor a story in the greater good and embed success in the effort rather than impede it. The paint-by-numbers approach of release generation to spray-and-pray distribution is truly a walk down the pathway of a loose dice roll to any tangible media outcome.

Better in the end to be strategic about how this great work is conducted and be patient with a process that has more moving parts. Inevitably it will position you for greater earned media success in the long run.

The relationship-building nuances of becoming a trusted source for real news with reporters are inexorably linked to achieving media objectives. Seasoned experience is required because you must have been at bat a more than few times, learned the differences between good and bad, before you understand what to do and what to avoid.

Simply said, reporters know if you know the drill.

If you think you need a fresh approach to non-paid, earned media outcomes use this link to initiate an informal conversation. We promise an interesting, useful dialogue.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Media placement strategy

Six Secrets of Earned Media Stardom

April 20th, 2021 Posted by editorial relevance, Marketing Strategy, media placement, media relations, media strategy, Public Relations, publicity, social media marketing 0 comments on “Six Secrets of Earned Media Stardom”

Path to game-changing glory for your brand

You may have witnessed first-hand the remarkable power of earned media, otherwise known as publicity, to quickly change the trajectory of a company’s business. When a story about a brand or business catches fire in earned channels, it can become a cultural phenomenon, moving the needle in ways that paid outreach could never hope to accomplish.

Ask any CEO or CMO and there will be a lingering interest in securing a major media piece in a blue-chip publication, digital news channel or TV news property. A top story in the Wall Street Journal. Cover of TIME magazine. TODAY show interview. Feature at Fast Company or Wired. Bloomberg news in-depth report. A Buzzfeed distribution build.

This level of respected media attention most often is not a happy accident. It is the outcome of a considered strategy conducted with skill, diligence and persistence. After many years of participating in earned media outcomes at this level, we have distilled the primary ingredients for success into six facets of media orchestration. Done in concert, this eco-system offers the roadmap to successful results.

The caveat: it is the integration of these pieces that helps achieve the objective. Taken apart and separated, the hill to climb gets much steeper and the outcomes less certain – and could result with your brand being relegated to a mention in a story placed by a brand that made the effort to build the piece properly.

Non-transactional media attention (not paid for like advertising) can’t be ordered up from central casting or invoked as a magical mandate for the PR team. The approach must remain ever respectful of the environment it sits in – an arena where reporting, newsworthiness, editorial relevance and objectivity hold sway. There are rules to understand and follow.

Six Red Carpet Moves to the Editorial Media Spotlight

  1. Casting the larger story and bigger picture context where the brand has relevance

Unless you’re running a trillion-dollar juggernaut company where every move you make is likely to be in the headlines, the fundamental starting point for earned media is driven by strength of the story concept. What larger issue is your brand/category/industry connected to, such as an identifiable link to cultural shift or a sea change in public sentiment? Is there an over-arching trend getting traction or an emerging social issue where the brand has a role? In other words, your internal story isn’t the only part of the story – rather it’s how your internal story connects with a larger issue, trend or cultural moment. Here are some examples:

  • Food choice linked to impacts on climate threat.
  • Pandemic influence on the role of health and wellness.
  • Decline of brand trust and rise of transparency.
  • Global food scarcity connected to new technology solutions.
  • Human need for control, safety and security amidst unseen and lethal dangers.
  • Connection of pet ownership to elevating human health and wellness.
  • Presence of food fraud/mislabeling in the midst of consumer demand for honesty and authenticity.
  • Emergence of new food making technologies in an era of back-to-the farm preferences.
  • Impact of COVID 19 conditions/isolation on mental health and lifestyle behaviors.
  • Sea change of preference for higher quality, fresh food on legacy processed food making.
  • The wallop of sustainability demands on supply chains and agriculture practices.

The key is targeting a larger scope issue where the brand has a role and a voice. This creates context for a bigger story that offers greater depth than a simple product announcement.

2. PR media team knowledge matters greatly – of consumer, product, company and category details, methods and behaviors

Earned media is a bespoke business driven by one-on-one contact with media gatekeepers. The question you are answering in each interaction with a decider: are you showing up as a credible source for well-researched story material?

To do this with skill the PR media team must know everything about the company’s products, processes, standards, beliefs, behaviors, strengths. Have they done the homework such that literally any question can be fielded fully and knowledgeably?

The team must know the details of the category where the business competes, what other brands are doing, their approach to product solutions and different consumer cohorts served by different brands.

In short, the PR media team needs to know as much about the business as the CMO or CEO. This requires a trusted relationship where the PR media experts are fully in the know of what’s going on behind the corporate curtain.

3. Editorial syntax deployed in all materials created for media consumption

All various backgrounding materials, fact sheets and releases built for reporter outreach and pitching purposes should be created with an editorial voice. They should be devoid of shameless self-promotion, unsubstantiated claims, flowery quotes, unverified marketing assertions, hyperbole and corporate speak. Everything should be cast in the context of how a reporter would likely approach the story.

If it walks and talks like an editorial story, then it’s a story. Anything else is deemed promotion and won’t survive the vetting process – and instead is likely viewed as more appropriate for a paid ad placement.

Credibility of the PR media team as a reliable source is at stake here. Proper construction of the materials signals understanding of what reporters, producers are doing and how a story should (will) be constructed.

4. Importance of third-party quote-able sources

There’s no such thing as a story where the brand is the only quoted source. When the story is built around a larger context of an issue or trend, it is vital that credible subject matter experts are enlisted to add validation, dimension and texture to the story premise.

If the PR team doesn’t make the effort to assemble expert sources, the reporter or editor will do it separately – which could take the story off track or add factors that capsize the desired messaging outcome. The ability to provide the relevant sources provides an opportunity to help influence the shape of the narrative, and to verify key essential pieces of the story arc.

If the story you’re building centers on the impact of food choice on climate change, having experts on climate impact and agriculture is fundamental to the story premise. This again signals to the media deciders that the PR team has done their homework. The expert verification of story elements provides greater confidence to editors that the details of the piece will hold up under scrutiny.

5. Deploying vertical media build

Big, bold feature media story placements with blue chip media properties don’t just fall like manna from heaven. There is a ladder to climb as the story moves up higher in the media food chain. When the story is placed first in vertical media settings relevant to the business category where the company competes, it creates a credible environment and testing ground where the story elements are played out.

Coverage in vertical media provides the larger, national media outlets confidence that the story is:

  • Important and coverage-worthy
  • Has impact on the business/industry overall
  • Creates a structure example of how the story flows
  • Demonstrates the authority, knowledge and value of quoted sources

National media do not consider industry verticals to be competitive so the fact you can provide links to these placements serves as supporting, credible evidence of the storyline, not a weakening of the value of the news they break.

Of note, arranging exclusives can at times be advantageous on the path to wider recognition. Some media like Bloomberg News are bellwethers for others and a major story breaking there will feed into other outlets creating a viral effect.

6. Experience of the players involved

If you have enough time in the saddle working with reporters and editors you come to appreciate the dynamics of how they do what they do. This pays benefits in direct conversations with deciders, the sequence of events once a reporter expresses interest, and the details of how materials are worded and constructed.

There is simply no substitute for hands on experience in this endeavor. The more seasoned the PR media team is, the better this goes. Until you have experienced “no” a few times you just don’t acquire a sensitivity for the mechanics and rules of how earned media works.

This isn’t just about who you know. Relationships can be beneficial, but the real acid test is the quality of the story the PR Team crafts and presents, and how well it is supported with credible source material (studies, reports) and reliable expert sources. Reporters know who the fluff pitchers are. They are more likely to devote their time and attention to brands represented by PR media teams demonstrating a commitment to journalistic standards and newsworthy reporting.

This isn’t easy but it will be rewarding

It takes patience and hard work to execute successfully in the earned media world. Done correctly and with skill, the risk of failure is vastly reduced because the story has obvious merit and the work to serve it up properly has been done.

  • If you’re patient to let these various layers play out, you’ll witness how the coverage expands to a point where it can eventually virally catch fire.

If you’re looking for support and guidance in an earned media setting, use this link to start an informal conversation with us.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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