Don’t build your brand on rented land
Successful communication through the ages has always been about developing mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation and its publics.
This was highlighted once again in 2012 when the PRSA redefined the practice of public relations through this lens in an extensive crowdsourcing project.
In the last 10 years, as communicators have polished their skills in search and social media, this revolution has provided the opportunity and often challenge to work at scale and with an unprecedented level of personalisation, simultaneously.
What is clear is that the development of genuine relationships that bring mutual and profitable benefits to both sides will remain at the centre of all communications work. But we need to be smart about how we do this.
Digital duopoly of distribution
Getting your message heard and developing those relationships often starts with being successful in search and social. And outside of China, that means mastering the properties of Google and Facebook.
Yes, you can still be successful with organic SEO and social media activities, but accepting we are in a pay-to-play environment on those platforms is also critical.
According to WPPs, Group M, Google and Facebook accounted for 84% of digital investment in 2017 and all other reports put their share of digital ad growth well above 90%.
While this onwards march will not go unchecked in 2018, with accusations of digital ad fraud and trust issues in social platforms continuing to dominate the agendas of media and regulators alike, the power and the share price of the digital duopoly is expected to grow.
For the small business owner, without the deep pockets of global brands and their traditional advertising dollars, the democratisation through these platforms present huge opportunities. But how can we take advantage of this?
Simple, view those as platforms as great places to rent space but have a clear strategy to convert the audience on there to your “owned” audience, accessible through email.
The rise of messaging apps, collaboration platforms like Slack and in recent times the emergence of chatbots, would have you believe that email is dead but I would beg to differ.
Today there are approximately 3.7 billion email users sending hundreds of billions of messages every day and that is predicted to rise. More importantly, most people's daily routine includes some dedicated time with their inbox.
Email should be one of your prioritised channels. Why? Because you own this channel. No one here will raise the price of a keyword or suddenly ask you to pay for an ad to reach an audience you thought you had developed yourself.
On that point, Mynewsdesk, which provides newsrooms and a public relations workflow platform to over 5,000 brands, sits on a wealth of data that tells us that there is a clear route to success.
Of course, you must produce engaging content, in an easily accessible format with a clear and differentiated point of view. However, you must look to do this on your audience’s terms.
Ensure you work hard on an effective subscription strategy for your readers. Accessibility, value and consistency are crucial. Make it easy for them to sign up for your content. Make it a valuable experience in consuming your content and help them address a problem they have and try to be consistent in your content publication.
Our data shows email opening rates of subscribers is over 40% versus the 20% opening rates of non-subscribers.
The above approach will, however, be a challenge for the public relations industry. Professionals don’t like to admit it, but the industry has had for far too long a business model reliant on media databases and spray-and-pray tactics due to the absence of real relationships.
Mynewsdesk's latest survey of 3,000 journalists and public relations professionals shows just how much of a challenge earning people's attention can be and why brand content falls short sometimes.
Fortunately, the positive changes as a result of the GDRP regulations will ensure we are all focused on “given” rather than “gathered” data in our digital communications efforts from May this year.
Who owns the cloud?
One final element to think about when perfecting your rent to own strategy is protecting your content and data.
Over the last 30 years, we have all moved to using software programs in one way or another that are owned by some corporate entity. Most of this software is today cloud based on third-party servers which are located a long way from the user.
On the positive side, the cost of cloud-based software compared to some years ago is incredibly low and has led to a democratisation of software use for individuals as well as communicators.
While there is a clear difference between what social networks and search engines offer, regarding a straight up exchange of your personal data for a "free" service, compared to what CMS, CRM and other SaaS vendors are giving the communicator, you still need to ensure your content is protected.
This issue was highlighted once again with the announcement by Adobe that they would stop supporting the Storify platform and all “free content on it” in May this year. It is another example of a valuable service, loved by its users at the mercy of corporate priorities and the danger of building your brand on rented land.
But with your content protected, go out and reach those “rented” audiences with a compelling message. Just ensure you have a strategy to own that audience and continue to develop a mutually beneficial relationship along the way.
About Jonathan Bean
Jonathan Bean is the Chief Marketing Officer of the public relations workflow platform Mynewsdesk and Non-Executive Director of LRF Media. He has been working across all areas of marketing, communications and technology for 20 years for both Fortune 500 companies as well as startups. He has an Honours Degree in Communications from Leeds University and MBA from Henley Business School.