Even the most innovative technology needs support to keep it in the spotlight and creating a good story is one way in which PR is effective in developing brand recognition with potential customers.
Generating interesting content is now even more important with the rise of social media, which aims to engage and entertain as well as inform. For anyone who reads all the online reviews before a major new purchase, the power of endorsement doesn’t need spelling out.
In PR we have always appreciated the value of personal recommendation, encouraging journalists to talk to customers or to trial products themselves in order to create genuine third party reviews and build confidence in a company. Now with online and social media, there are new channels for talking directly to customers and influencers.
But how do you create a good story when the company and/or the product is new?
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking.
1. Create a history
People feel more comfortable about buying from a company if they know where it has come from and who is behind it. For start-ups we create a story about how the founder had the original idea for the company. For SureFlap, the microchip-operated cat flap company, we explained how it was frustration with a neighbour’s cat frightening his pet, that drove the Cambridge scientist to come up with a radical solution. People can identify with the problem and appreciate the innovation. Also, it starts to create a character for the brand, in this case a company that cares about pets.
2. Pump prime with case studies
Ideally you will have a customer story to support a new product launch, but that can be a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. How can you get a customer if the product isn’t commercially available? We would recommend that a new product is beta-tested with the type of organisation that could be a customer. If you make it mutually beneficial, this early adopter is likely to be prepared to participate in PR. One of our clients had developed a new type of interactive projection screen that did not require a room to be blacked out. We persuaded other clients to use the screen and we created a series of stories that benefited both parties. The innovators soon had a series of different scenarios to demonstrate how the screen could be used and this created material for press stories and marketing.
3. Talk to customers
An advantage of being an external agency is that often our client’s customers will talk more openly about their experiences to us. This often reveals new needs or different viewpoints and allows product stories to be customised for different audiences or market sectors. One client thought his customers valued his IT support service because it offered a fast response time. We spoke to his service users and they said the biggest benefit was that the engineers stayed until the issue was fixed. In addition, that they were prepared to troubleshoot to identify the source of the problem and make recommendations that provided a longer-term improvement in the system. This created a series of story angles for media coverage and valuable input to the marketing strategy to capture this differentiator. It was also a pat on the back for the staff and boosted morale.
4. Focus groups provide new perspectives
It is difficult to predict the market response to disruptive technologies and focus groups are a low risk way of gaining insights. In the early days of mobile phones, we persuaded one client –convinced his new app would be a hit with 20-year olds – to test his assumptions with a number of focus groups. We ran sessions with groups of students in their twenties for the equivalent of the price of a few beers and had a couple of other sessions with time-poor professionals and stressed mums. We discovered that the students had alternatives to the app that they would prefer to use. It was instead the mothers that immediately appreciated the benefits of the app. They suggested a whole range of scenarios when it could be used and that offered good illustrations for media stories.
5. Don’t be boring
Journalists are human too and not many of us are thrilled by a story that starts “Greys Ltd are pleased to announce version 5 of LS45 is now available with 69% more gizmo”. A good story is one that you would tell a friend over a drink and may follow the following format: an unsuspecting person gets into a scrape, potential disaster threatens, fortunately they are rescued by an unexpected source. This formula can be adapted to most technology stories and if you can add drama or human interest then all the better as this creates a memorable story that will hopefully be recalled when they come to purchase the product .
We used this formula for the Cambridge University Eco Racing team to help them gain media profile and broadcast coverage with a vehicle that was four years old and a few renders of their next car (see their case study).
What is your story? We would be very interested to hear it.