Public Relations has moved from a typically creative function towards a more calculated, measurable discipline. This change has happened quickly, and is a symptom of the movement towards accountability, accountability, accountability. A sub-conscious butterfly effect, it’s gradually swept across minds in both the private and public sectors as regulation increases and budgets tighten. And rightly so:, it’s a tough market and there is no room for partners who don’t understand that every penny spent, needs to be used wisely.
So what does this new, more accountable world look like? Well, for starters, PR practitioners are aligning much more closely to the sales function. The sales funnel has been around for a long time. It’s the principle that customers and prospects should be approached in different ways at each stage of a (typically) 4-stage process.
The stage that a prospect fits into is determined by their exposure to/interaction with the business. At Firefly, when we engage new clients, we look closely at the maturity of their prospects within the sales funnel and develop content appropriate to their level of awareness or understanding. How aware of your brand are prospective decision-makers? How engaged are they with your brand and services? How desirable is your offering to the person you’re speaking to? To be truly effective, each stage of the process requires different content and platforms. For example, word of mouth is the best way to encourage buy-in at the engagement stage. We are increasingly advising clients to engage their customers in PR programmes. It’s the third party expert, your prospects’ peer that will engage a new party in your business.
It can be argued that good PR practitioners are aligning themselves more closely to the business, by setting content KPIs that match the expectations of the sales funnel. This process is clear, it’s rational, and it makes sense. Doesn’t it?!
On the whole, the answer is yes. However, all too often the brand building communications is passed by too quickly in favour of ‘hard’ deliverables to directly support the sales efforts. Critically, the awareness stage sets the initial expectation; it creates the backdrop against which the subsequent stages come into play. From a communications perspective, I think of the sales funnel as if shrouded in a bubble of brand awareness and sentiment. For this reason the value of brand should not be underestimated.
While the sales funnel does help to focus the mind and refine objectives of the marketing team, it should not be used as an ‘absolute’ tool against which to marry your marketing. Stifling brand awareness through creativity will damage the effectiveness of your sales-generation campaigns in the medium-term.
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