The classic PR model assumed that there were well-read and well-respected journalists with a loyal audience. When traditional PR was at its peak, journalists were one of the main links to potential customers. Now potential customers can talk directly to each other. And that has changed the game forever.
It’s not just that the communication channel has opened. It’s that journalists never really did think like buyers. Their mindset had – and has – little or nothing to do with helping a buyer make the right decision. They were more focused on “news” and wrote articles to please their editors (or each other).
Sure, there have always been some exceptions – people who reviewed products in magazines, for example. But even these reporters didn’t necessarily ask the same questions and have the same concerns that a buyer would have. And of course, no self-respecting journalist would “rave” about a product or service; that would be beneath him or her. It was part of the journalists’ code to always find the downside.
A buyer who was hoping to make a regret-free purchase, and who was looking for the best possible solution for his specific situation, often did not find his answers in published reviews.
Now that customers can easily speak to each other, they can get answers to the questions they are asking while attempting to buy something. They can find others who feel the same way about the desirability of certain product functions. In my upcoming book, I talk about the Critical Characteristic – the one function or feature that a product has to have in order for the buyer to even think about buying it.
Real customers know better than anyone what the Critical Characteristic is. A buyer trying to find out if a product has that Critical Characteristic is more likely to find it in reviews written by other customers with similar wishes and requirements. by real customers raving in social media channels, or by bloggers who actually use the product or service – and purchased it as any buyer would.
Customers and bloggers who have had a great experience don’t mind raving – it doesn’t hurt them to do so. They don’t need to find the downside, although all of them will certainly mention it, if there was one for them.
If customers and bloggers do mention a downside in a review or blog post, they buyer may still buy it. One man’s downside can easily be another man’s shoulder-shrugger.
The beauty of the customer-to-customer conversations is that there isn’t any filter in between – there is no agenda that would keep the customer reviewer from telling the truth.
All marketing copy has an agenda. Everyone knows that marketers are supposed to write copy in a way that is all-positive. It’s almost meaningless to today’s buyer now. If marketers would 1) interview their customers and 2) stick to the facts (nouns and verbs – no adjectives), their copy would be far more helpful and relevant to the buyer who is hoping that the product will meet his need.
Yes, traditional PR must still be part of your marketing mix, and there are still journalists worth wooing – Walt Mossberg from The Wall Street Journal comes to mind. But PR ain’t the powerhouse it used to be. Customer-to-customer conversations and blogger articles are more efficiently answering the questions customers ask as they ponder a purchase.
This is where you want to reach your potential buyers. Include reviews where you sell your products. Find people who tweet about your type of product, and send them direct messages so they know about you. Make sure bloggers who cover your type of product know about it. Set up a community for your customers and potential customers.
These activities are now a mandatory part of the marketing mix.