The lifeblood of any startup is new customers. Whether it’s a B2C company that needs a high volume of sales or a B2B with a slower selling cycle, every high-growth business invests heavily in customer acquisition.
Many businesses use a mix of email marketing, paid search, SEO, content marketing, and social media marketing to create prospects and turn them into customers.
Where does public relations, with its roots in media relations and events, fit into the customer acquisition picture?
The picture becomes clearer when we address some common myths about public relations for technology and other startup companies.
Not necessarily. Now, I’ve seen new products (or, better still, new categories) that were so clearly innovative, disruptive, or well timed that they did generate media attention without outside PR help. And it’s well known in our industry that media coverage often begets more media coverage.
But most businesses aren’t marketing that kind of lightning in a bottle. Even if they are, the self-perpetuating media attention will eventually die down, or turn negative. In most cases, just because you built it doesn’t mean they will come. A smart PR strategy, backed with solid tactics and professional execution, will maximize the potential for an average product and help chart a long-term success for a great one.
Wrong again. The credibility of earned media coverage can do wonders when well executed, but it won’t drive demand if customers just don’t want the product. We placed a segment about a wearable fitness device on the “Today” show, not once, but twice. But it never really caught on, because the market was cluttered, and there were distribution issues. Conversely, if customers are fooled by positive PR for a product that doesn’t measure up, they will feel burned. That’s a recipe for reputation disaster.
It’s great when clients understand the importance of news, but sometimes they define it too narrowly. A big new product launch typically happens once in a couple of years at best. It’s the role of the PR agency or internal team to create relevant news in the absence of a new product announcement or tech update. There are other forms of “news” — like research results or insights, or a CEO’s strong opinions about industry trends or changes. Branded content can help a company differentiate its offering through insights and thought leadership. Social responsibility programming creates its own news. All are powerful tools for creating positive coverage and customer acquisition.
As social platforms have exploded, many companies have turned to influencer or celebrity marketing, especially those in consumer product categories. But too many companies confuse popularity with influence. The two can coexist, but they’re not the same; true influence rests on credibility as well as relevance. There’s also the fraud factor. Fake followers, bots, and influence pods have become a real problem, especially on Instagram. My bottom line on influencer marketing is that it has its place, but for many companies, outsourcing the customer (or prospect) relationship to influencers doesn’t make sense.
Public relations does indeed drive the kind of awareness needed to create top-of-the-funnel prospects. But it can also do much more. A well-designed strategic PR program influences active shoppers by inspiring them through storytelling. It can also produce relevant content that further educates informed prospects as they research a high-value purchase with stories that convey specific messages about features and benefits. This is a critical phase, where “interest” gives way to “consideration.” It’s the point where customer testimonials, recommendations and reviews from “people like me” and earned media features and interviews can be very powerful.
A robust PR program doesn’t live in a vacuum. It should integrate with other components of the marketing mix to create prospects and move them down the customer funnel to the point of purchase and beyond.