5 Alternatives to Traditional PR

By Aaron Agius

Traditional publicity has been falling by the wayside for a number of years. The public’s trust in mass media is now at just 40%. Among Americans younger than 50, it’s a mere 36%. This means that PR relies on a system that is fundamentally untrustworthy.

But if we don’t pursue publicity in the conventional sense, what’s a business to do?

The answer lies in trust. By earning trust, rather than pursuing it, you will eventually plug into any business’ most powerful attention-generating ally — your consumers.

How do you earn trust in ways that are visible, effective, and likely to put the spotlight on your business?

Do it selflessly.

Too many companies focus on themselves. Their products, their sales, their pitch. Seriously. No one likes a self-promoter. Instead, let’s examine strategies that you can use to put your name out there in effective ways.

1. Use Content to Become Visible

Content marketing is all the rave these days for good reason. It provides opportunity for you to provide real value to your consumers. The best content shares the following characteristics:

It embraces your consumers’ ideas, perspectives, and cultures.

If you have a subset of multicultural consumers, why not embrace their diversity? According to a Nielsen report, high earning African-American households “are 142% more likely than non-Hispanic whites to react positively about seeing other celebrities in the media who share their ethnic background.”

This means that by simply reflecting diverse backgrounds you can encourage affinity to your brand.

But it isn’t just about diversity of background. What about your consumers’ voices?

Research in the Journal of Interactive Marketing proposed an interesting concept. To win in the hyper-globalized and digital business world of today, “it is important to have a culture that supports open access to relevant knowledge and expertise within [a] firm.”

SaaS companies do this all the time by hosting user-generated forum topics and Q&As.

But how many non-technical small business websites have you seen with areas that allow customers to generate their own discussions, questions, and publish their thoughts? Consumers “trust their networks when they recommend…content.”

Why not facilitate this exchange?

It provides actual, not perceived, value.

Consumers in the digital age are resourceful. They will find, filter through, and dismiss anything that doesn’t serve them. They can spot agendas like hungry hawks.

B2B content tends to be criminal here. Vendor content is overly “technical, product-centric, and self-serving.” Who wants to read a sales sheet posing as value?

As a business, it’s critical that you practice selfless customer-centric content creation. According to the Journal of Interactive Marketing, “the needs of customers should be the ultimate driver in creating value.”

This means that when you generate content, you should address your consumers’ pain points honestly.

Ask yourself, “Can I take care of these pain points?” If you can’t, be prepared to refer them to those who can.

It is “de-sponsored.”

Close to half of consumers trust content written on specialized blogs. Nielsen has even determined that, “credible content from experts [is] the only content type that perform[s] consistently across all stages of the purchase process.”

Invite influencers and thought leaders to produce content for your organization. Earn their trust and build a rapport so they can share your material. For strategies on reaching out to influencers check out my post, “7 Reasons Influencers Are Ignoring Your Outreach (and What To Do About It).”

Explore avenues that audiences trust to publish content generated by you and your organization. Become a thought leader yourself by reaching out to those consumers who read specialized non-branded content.

2. Use Social Media to Connect

Let’s face it, if you’re a small business, traditional PR is not going to work for you. But social media will.

Use social media as a channel for distribution. Rather than relying on traditional media to reach out to the masses, cut out the middle man and engage with your consumers directly.

Bring them relevant information about your business and your industry. But also share content and updates that are relevant to them and not exclusive to you.

If you’re a B2B who isn’t active on social media, you’re seriously missing out. Per Social Media Today, “53% of B2B buyers follow social discussions about vendors they are considering…and 54% of B2B of website social media visits are via Facebook.”

Did you know that 49% of Twitter users follow brands? What’s more telling is that 15% of these users will unfollow brands that don’t engage them within 3 weeks.

3. Use Branding to Communicate

Most people think branding is just having a cool logo. Well, yeah that’s part of it. But branding is actually everything.

It is the entire picture of your organization, from hiring to culture to product.

To brand effectively is to call attention to your business because it is a way of communicating who you are and why you’re the one to matter.

Here are some things that you can do to build brand awareness.

Be innovative.

Google is a globally recognized brand and it regularly gets attention for its unique culture of innovation. Just by practicing “continual innovation” Google’s brand value increased by 32% in 2016.

Be holistic.

“Sure,” you say, “but they practically build artificial intelligence. I make pots.”

Remember, branding isn’t and shouldn’t be about one thing. Product offering is as much a part of branding as organizational process.

Zappos is best-known not because of its shoes (although the selection is awesome), but because of its unique customer service and management practices. In 2015 the company got a spotlight on them by implementing a holacracy.

Be different.

Some brands are easy to spot: Facebook, Google, Nike, and Pepsi all standout among each other. But how do Nike and Adidas stand out among themselves?

In a crowded, competitive business environment, broadcasting how your value stands out is critical.

Have you ever wondered why Toyota and Honda are both successful despite appearing so similar? Consumers look at both brands as companies that make reliable, efficient, and low cost of ownership cars. The secret is that Honda and Toyota both standout from the rest of the mass auto market. Strategy + Business confirms that for these brands, “tangible product differentiation is…critical to success.”

Be recognized.

45% of people polled think that a bad digital and/or print presence is worse than having no presence at all. If you plan on coming to the party, make sure you wear your best get-up.

Visual content is powerful. Don’t underestimate the research and psychology of your visual presence.

Even a small thing like color can affect how your brand is viewed.

Ensure that your identity packages are consistent, clean, and professionally made.

4. Use Culture to Open Up

Invite bloggers, influencers, industry luminaries, and customers to your offices. Provide them with materials on your organization, your business, or you.

Encourage them to share their thoughts through their preferred venues, whether they be word-of-mouth or publication.

Having an organizational culture of openness builds trust among consumers, stakeholders, and internal staff. Just take a cue from an agency that tripled in size after they adopted open culture practices.

5. Use Advertising to Get Noticed

Advertising gets a bad rap, but guess what? It’s still effective. As a matter of fact, there’s tons of psychology supporting it. Despite the groans you may hear from crowds who hate it when their favorite Hulu show goes to commercials, people recall brands because they are mentally stimulated by “rich” ads.

Do me a favor, fill in the blank: “Share a _______.”

Can you remember the brand whose motto I just quoted? (In case you didn’t, the answer is at the end of this post.)

Music, color, fast editing, gorgeous photography in commercials. Funny and witty headings in banner texts. Cats in silly situations on YouTube. Weird and annoying GIFs. These all have the same effect.

They get noticed.

Anything that gets your audience’s attention engages them. It’s basic brain science. Ads are great, but maybe you have a limited advertising budget. That’s fine. Just be sure to maximize the investment you make with bold, eye-catching ads.

Putting It Together

You say you’re willing to try this PR-free thing. Awesome. Let’s look at the general steps to put this into practice:

  • Design a branding “bible” to ensure consistency in all messaging, activities, and processes. Use your branding guidelines across the below activities.
  • Design a content strategy focused on valuable, honest, and customer-centric content to earn and retain trust.
  • Design a social media strategy that connects you directly with consumers and share things that are valuable to them, even if it comes from a third-party.
  • Establish a culture of openness and reach out to those who may be enticed by your business. Encourage them to share what they perceive your value to be.
  • Design an advertising campaign that is memorable. Grab people’s attention to generate word-of-mouth.

Getting noticed is difficult, yes, but it’s not impossible if you follow a well-researched strategy based on best practices.

What have you done to gain visibility for your business? Share any tips that you have found helpful. I’d love to hear them.

PS: “Share a _____”’s motto belongs to this brand.

Images: Garry Knight, Creative Commons; Brett Jordan, Creative Commons


Originally published at www.salesforce.com.

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