An investment in digital PR is never going to be as easy to justify as one in, say, paid search.
Because PR is a top of the funnel activity.
It’s about reaching wider audiences, compelling them to engage with your brand so that one day, further down the line when they need it, they choose to buy from you over your competitor. It’s not, simply put, guaranteed to result in a conversion because, when done well, its primary goal is rarely conversion based. (Yes, it’s also about building links – but again, even that’s top of the funnel SEO because we don’t know for sure the traffic/conversion impact any one of our links will have).
Of course, while the above is all based in widely accepted marketing theory, the reality is that, in the majority of cases, we as PRs and marketers still need to be able to justify our investment in all activities, regardless of where they sit in the conversion funnel. Which is what’s inspired this post.
Here’s how I believe we should be thinking more holistically about PR as part of our marketing mix, and how we can provide stronger ROIs for it.
Good PR = good storytelling
Recently, my iPhone broke.
I mean, it’s fair enough – I’ve had the thing for years, paid £60 for it when I bought it off a colleague, and it’s done well for me.
But now, it’s running out of memory, the screen is cracked and the camera just isn’t up to scratch anymore.
So I tell myself I need a new phone.
But wait, do I? Well, in some senses, yes – it’s running out of memory, which isn’t ideal. Though I could just do what I’ve done previously and delete some apps and content.
And the screen’s cracked but, let’s face it, how many iPhones these days don’t have cracked screens?
So I tell myself I deserve a new phone. I work hard, after all. Shouldn’t I have something a bit nicer than an out of date cracked piece of tech?
OK, so maybe I don’t ‘deserve’ it, per se. Yes, I work hard, but I already reward myself plenty by spending my money on my hobbies and socialising with friends.
So I justify my decision to buy a new phone by simply acknowledging that I want it. I want a new phone, so I’m going to get one.
At the same time, the businesses selling iPhones are advertising their products to me all the time. They tell me they’ve got better functionality, improved cameras, nicer designs, more compelling offers… They want me, essentially, to buy from them.
The bottom line is that any purchase decision, big or small, is simply a series of stories – those we tell ourselves as consumers that drive us to purchase, and those brands tell their consumers in an attempt to encourage purchases from them over their competitors.
Knowing your audience means knowing their stories
For PR to be conversion centric, it needs to play a part in telling and supporting the stories that form the conversion journey.
Tangibly speaking, that means we need to know:
- What stories influence our audience in the conversion journey
- What stories our client/brand wants to/has credible reason to tell
Let’s focus first on point 1.
This, for me, is where a tool like personas can provide real value. I’ve talked about this many times before, so I’ll leave detailed explanation out of this post, but for anyone looking to better understand what personas are and how to create them, check out this video of my talk from Brighton SEO.
Once we have our personas, we can start to delve deeper into their motivations. What stories are they telling themselves in their conversion journey? What challenges are they facing that lead them to be interested in what you have to sell? Some great sources of this information include:
- Site search – what do people search for on your site?
- Chat history – if you have online chat, what common themes come up?
- Sales teams – speak to them! They speak to your customers and can shed some light on the challenges faced
- Publications relevant to the customer – especially useful in B2B
- Google Analytics’ Affinity Categories report – to understand what topics our audience engages with outside of our site
- The customer themselves – that’s right! Let’s speak to our customers and ask them, through surveys or one on one, what made them come to the conclusion they needed our products/services and what challenges/issues have we helped them overcome
Let’s focus now on point 2.
What stories does your client/brand want to tell? And what does it have credibility in telling?
This is all about knowing the business inside out. For me, one of the most effective ways to get answers to this is actually speaking to the key stakeholders – business owners, managers, those in charge of product, etc etc. You want to know about aspirations more than anything else, so looking back at data is less useful, in my opinion, than discussing the future.
One method I’ve found works really well for this is actually super simple and involved Post-It Notes, flip chart paper, big pens and a couple of hours of everyone in the same room together. It’s old school, but it gets the discussion going.
You can then consider building out a ‘message house’, where you document the stories you want to tell alongside your ‘proof points‘ – so if the story is ‘we’re the UK’s number one producer of X’, what’s your proof? If your story is ‘we’re an ethical brand…’, what’s your proof?
Funnel based storytelling
The next stage of a more integrated, ROI focused approach to PR is to understand where in the conversion funnel your stories, and those of your audience, sit.
The above is a visualisation of a basic marketing model, AIDA. At the top of the funnel, we have the awareness area, where people are becoming aware of the challenges/issues/motivations that will eventually. Then, we move through interest, where they start to see the potential benefits of your solution, desire, where they want it and action, where they buy it.
Where in this funnel does your story fit?
Another way we like to visualise this is through something we call circles of focus; here, we address with our client/brand which topics sit closest to their core conversion area (i.e. are about what they sell) vs which they’re willing to expand into.
The basic premise here is that – especially when we’re talking about PR – the press is far more reluctant to share our stories that relate closely to what we sell, because it comes across as salesy and promotional (that or they will share them, but they’ll ask us to pay).
That’s where we need to be willing to expand beyond what we sell and into related topics, but not so far beyond that our PR work becomes completely unrelated to what we sell. You can read more about the circles of focus theory here.
It’s no coincidence that the circles graphic above is the same as the funnel graphic that precedes it (just viewed from a different angle). Essentially, all we’re doing it categorising our stories according to where in the conversion path they fit.
PR ideation in the funnel
So by this point, hopefully I’ve made my point that ROI focused PR starts with an understanding of the end user, and the user journey. It’s only once we have all of this background insight that we can, in my opinion, create content that appeals to the right audience (i.e. potential customers and relevant online publications).
I don’t want to spend too much time on this point, because there’s plenty of info our there about PR ideation, but in the spirit of any PR related post, here are some nice examples of campaigns which I believe fit well into the brand’s conversion journeys:
This piece sits well within that ‘tertiary’ layer of the circles of focus, facilitating engagement with an audience interested in beauty and doing so in a pressworthy, sharable manner. This is one of my favourite pieces of digital PR – kudos to Fractl, the agency behind it.
Why it’s awesome
You can easily see how the piece fits into the conversion journey, with audiences interested in beauty being an obvious audience for a beauty brand, but it doesn’t come across as salesy, nor does it represent any opinions of the brand itself.
This interactive quiz certainly got us chatting in the office, and gained itself heaps of coverage firstly for the quiz itself, and secondly for the insights the quiz revealed about how we see. Kudos to the folks at Verve for this one.
Why it’s awesome
It’s not specifically about contact lenses, but you can totally see why someone interested in how they see objects later be interested in buying an eyewear product. It’s also got a cool interactive element with which audiences can engage, with some research suggesting that brands we play games with are more likely to be our brands of choice when it comes to conversion time.
Another quiz, more like a fancy survey, but another of my favourite digital PR pieces because once again, it’s clear how this fits into the user journey. Halfords sells, amongst other things, car maintenance products. This quiz, based on the updated driving test, appeals to those who own cars. And just like that, they’ve got themselves a campaign which drives relevant links and also a relevant, captive audience. Nice work by Edit.
Why it’s awesome
It resonates with a car buying audience without being so specific to cars as to narrow that audience too much – and like the Verve piece, it gets coverage for the quiz itself, and then for the results that come from it.
You can check out more of the campaigns that inspire our team over on our public Pinterest board.
Tying it all together with an integrated channel strategy
By this point, I’ve hopefully got you on board with the idea of PR campaigns that tell stories pertinent to every level of the conversion funnel, and also given you a recognition of the fact that the majority of successful PR pieces actually sit at that top of funnel awareness stage.
So how, I hear you ask, do we tie this all into a conversion driven strategy?
Well, for me, truly integrated marketing comes not through how we attribute success, nor does it come simply through the use of multiple channels.
True integration comes only when we use multiple channels to tell coherent stories.
And that’s where, for me, the next level of digital PR comes in. It’s in our ability to tie our stories together and to lean on a range of channels to facilitate positive user journeys.
OK, so that’s a whole heap of jargon. What do I really mean? Here are a few examples.
Let’s say we were Lenstore, and we’ve made that fabulous piece about seeing caterpillars in sushi (seriously, give it a go, it’s a lot of fun!).
We create the content and we PR it. Hurray. Links abound, we’re happy, client’s happy. Job well done.
But wait; how else could we be using this?
One of the biggest challenges faced by social media advertisers, especially those on Facebook, lies in the content they’re given to promote. As any social media advertiser will know, it’s nigh on impossible to get good visibility for any message considered too ‘salesy’ (i.e. anything at the core of that circles of focus piece).
So, if I was working for Lenstore, I’d strongly recommend giving the Can You Spot it piece to their PPC team and using it to drive visibility and clicks from broad audiences that fit into their target, but which aren’t necessarily about the convert – so calling on any characteristics of the audience known to be common across converters, but not going solely for those people who have somehow indicated they’re in the market for new contact lenses.
Cool, now what?
Well, those people have now engaged with our content, be it through the PR coverage it gained or through the social ads, but they’re not necessarily going to buy contact lenses on that basis alone. So we need what I call a funnel campaign plan. Specifically, what is the next story, and the story after that, that will lead to conversion?
Perhaps it’s another piece of PR content. I happen to know that Lenstore has created a quiz about how we see colour – maybe that would be a nice follow up piece of content to send directly to those people who have engaged with the first piece, perhaps through more social ads or via display retargeting.
From there, perhaps it’s more about how to improve your eyesight; we know those people have engaged with those pieces of content, so now might be a good time to show them a more sales-led guide to protecting your own eyesight, or even picking out those people who’ve not scored so well and sending them to a product page.
We might use PPC, in the form of social ads to target our audience, or maybe we do some bid adjustments to show search ads more prominently to those users who’ve engaged with our brand through these PR pieces.
Perhaps one of our KPIs now extends beyond coverage and links and into audience building, assessing the size of audiences we’re able to build via tracking in Google Analytics as a measure of success, and also looking at the conversion rates of those audiences and indeed their time to convert in highlighting which PR campaigns have had the highest and quickest impact on our eventual revenue.
We might use SEO too, optimising our product pages for terms related to our PR campaigns – ‘contact lenses for colour blind people’ or even having the quiz itself housed within the product page or product category to drive relevant link equity.
Hey, maybe we’ll even go a bit more old school and have people give us their email address as part of the PR content and use that in an email campaign.
That’s just one example. The key takeaway I want to get across here as that we, as digital marketers, need to be thinking bigger picture.
It’s no longer enough to create a campaign and celebrate the links it achieves, because the marketing managers, the marketing directors with whom we work need to see more of a return than that. Yes, let’s measure ourselves on our ability to build links and yes, absolutely, let’s monitor the effect of those links on the rankings we’re aiming to improve and the subsequent traffic and conversions we want to send.
But let’s think too about how digital PR plays a role in the conversion journey, and where we can be using our tools to support other channels.
Remember, a truly integrated strategy is only achieved when we use multiple channels to tell coherent stories.