Know Thy Niche! PR Tips For Micro-Targeting

Sure, your client wants The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Penetrating these publications means huge exposure for the company and a great coup for a PR pro. But sometimes an effective niche blogger campaign can be just as valuable. With a hyper-targeted focus, niche placements can drive sales and build awareness about a specific service or product.

Is your client a dopp kit retailer, for instance? Believe it or not, there’s a blog for that! There seems to be a blog for every topic imaginable nowadays, which makes niche outreach particularly useful.
With this in mind, here are three tips for PR pros looking to leverage niche blogs to build rewarding outreach programs for their clients:

Target-Hunting

One of the most difficult aspects of niche outreach is discovery—i.e., who are the targets. While a blog about dopp kits exists, finding it can be tough. That’s why using services like Alltop, SimilarSites, and Technorati can be helpful. They help you organize your search to limit endless and incessant Googling. Additionally, while often viewed as a relic in PR, blogrolls — a list of recommended blogs that a blogger includes in a sidebar — are especially useful for niche campaigns. Bloggers who post blogrolls are hyper-aware of other influential writers in their community, making those lists a PR treasure trove.

Legwork

When focusing on a particular niche community, advance preparation and research is a must. To effectively reach these groups, you must know how they work and what they find interesting. Given their hyper-targeted focus, don’t dive in without inside knowledge of their space. To do so generally leads to a missed opportunity and an unsuccessful campaign. Knowing the niche group you’re pitching is half the battle.

I’m Not Niche

When pitching a niche blogger – or any blogger, for that matter – remember, just because they’re not with The New York Times doesn’t mean that you should treat them differently. Don’t ever act as if they’re a “niche blogger.” Be attentive and honor commitments. This is key to any effective program. A targeted blog’s general reach maybe smaller, but influence today is measured in a number of ways and every blog can have an impact.

These are three ways to encourage success. What are some others?

Tucson And The Power Of Metaphors

When, in the aftermath of the Tucscon tragedy, some linked it to Sarah Palin’s gun sight map, I was actually irritated. Any attempt to politicize what happened is revolting, and it seemed like a red herring at best. (In my book, images don’t kill people, semiautomatic weapons kill people. But this blog is about communications.)

We use military analogies in PR and marketing speak all the time. Brands battle for share, we’re always in agency shoot-outs, we target different customer segments, and things blow up. It means nothing, right? Most of these terms have lost their association with violence, at least in a business context.

But what about others? Casual and private speech is one thing. How the most influential figures in media, culture, and government debate the issues of the day may be another. After all, we communicators give a great deal of weight to our choice of words, particularly in preparing speeches for corporate and political leaders. Each turn of phrase is carefully crafted to convey the attributes we want linked to the company or brand. It made me think again about the power of the metaphor in heated political rhetoric like much of the speech we heard last summer when the, uh, war to pass healthcare reform was being waged.

That’s why I was fascinated to hear author James Geary speak about effect of metaphors on our unconscious. Geary, the author of “I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World,” makes the case that metaphors in political rhetoric and imagery have a profound and largely non-conscious effect on us. I also consulted a family member who’s a clinical psychologist about metaphors and their potential to influence unstable individuals. Here’s what she wrote:

Metaphors are very powerful. They influence everyone, the mentally stable and the unstable. However, it may not be that the metaphor has greater influence for the unstable, but only that the unstable have less control over their impulses. The thoughts and emotions stirred up by a metaphor could be more likely to lead to impulsive behavior in the unstable for that reason.

She pointed me to “Therapeutic Communication,” a textbook by Paul Wachtel. Wachtel states, “every overt message… carries with it a second message, a meta-message … that conveys an attitude about what is being conveyed in the focal message.” So, the language or imagery chosen by a person, particularly an authority figure like a therapist, or an elected official, can convey not only the literal message, but also their attitude about what they’re saying. An authority figure using a military or violent metaphor may be subtly implying their endorsement of such behavior.

Words, images, how we communicate – it all matters, both literally and metaphorically. That certainly doesn’t mean that overheated rhetoric is why the shooting happened. It isn’t. But the aftermath has served as a reminder for many of us in communications to respect what we do, and to do it wisely.

When Brands Try To Be Cool

Recently, RadioShack announced that it’s changing its name. Or, more precisely, it wants you to use its nickname. In what’s billed as an informal move, the retailer has launched a campaign inviting us to call it “The Shack.”

I can understand wanting to lose the dated “Radio,” which connotes a bygone technology era.  And, the chain is known as “The Shack” by regular customers and employees. But, if the name of the stores doesn’t change, which isn’t yet clear, it’s a confusing, halfway measure. Plus, it’s a bit like your boss calling you by an embarrassing childhood handle, or my mother telling me her new sofa is “fly.” Even if the expression is hip, when it’s coming out of your parent’s mouth, it’s… well, not.

In perhaps a similar quest for its own slice of cool, Pizza Hut went the extra distance and removed the “P-word” from some of its stores so that they’re now simply “The Hut.”  The signs feature a new typeface and the red-roof logo redone to look even more like a hat. The company says the new moniker “ties in nicely with today’s texting generation.”  Um, as the kids say, IDTS. Pizza Hut later issued a statement that the name will not change after all.

In the most interesting branding experiment, Starbucks is dropping its name from three Seattle stores. One has already been remodeled in a new, rustic style and reopened as “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea.” According to the The Seattle Times, the unbranded stores will feature a traditional coffeehouse ambiance, complete with poetry readings, live music, and wine and beer. Starbucks has been accused of “stealth branding“, but, having worked with the company, I get the idea here, which is to “blend in” with the community and give each store a local personality….and, perhaps, a touch of that indie cred. Since the company has been open about the test, transparency isn’t the issue. It’s really about authenticity. If the un-Starbucks can offer an authentic experience, “glocalization” might be our next retail trend.
target_logo
Cool retail brands in non-cool categories are usually born, not re-made. Despite its recent battering by the recession, I still think Target takes the prize. Many assume Tar-zhay got its chic from its hip merchandising deals (the Michael Graves housewares line was inspired), or the iconic bullseye ads.  But, as author and Target biographer Laura Rowley points out, it really goes back to the retailer’s department store roots, and its blend of design, merchandising, and value. It was also about the reverse-snob appeal.

From the start, Target was authentic, and like that cool kid in junior high, it rarely appeared to be trying too hard.

Finally, it took time to build the brand persona. In fact, Target’s former president, Douglas Dayton, says he first heard the faux-French pronunciation of the name, not on a Coast, and not in the nineties, but in Duluth, Minn. when the first Target store opened in 1962. Now, that’s cool.