Getting ahead in the age of distraction
How strong is your brand’s messaging? You’ll only find out when you test it. While digital marketers treat testing as an essential part of everything they do, PR professionals tend to underestimate its importance to the narratives and stories they craft. Often, the first test of brand messaging comes when it goes out in a media pitch or press release. By then, the stakes are too high.
Brands need more than messaging to stand out from their competitors. They need distinct and decisive points of view that say something new, insightful, and relevant to the brand’s audience. Those points of view will only endure if they’re rigorously tested, not in the corporate echo-chamber, but out in the real world.
When we work on a brand’s narrative, we take pains to find out what resonates with people both before and after we devise a potentially ground-breaking point of view. There’s no better litmus test for a brands’ stories than these three groups of people:
Forget the catchcry that journalism is dead. Journalists and editors can sort the narrative wheat from the chaff like no other. Not only have they been trained to do so, but they’re exposed to so many brand stories that they have an acute, innate sense for what works and what doesn’t. Journalists’ feedback is also objective, sometimes brutally so: their interests lie in what appeals to readers and viewers, not what might please some higher-up in your brand’s organisation.
Contrary to popular PR opinion, many journalists will lend their time and insight to help brands hone their points of view – as long as you build the relationship first and ask nicely. After all, doing so also means less cookie-cutter pitches to endure in the future!
Where journalists provide breadth, customers offer depth. They live and breathe the issues that your brand wants to talk about, and they don’t have time for anything that doesn’t provide them with value. They’re in the best position to tell you if your point of view is well-justified, or if it’s based on assumptions that don’t accurately reflect what’s really going on. This becomes particularly relevant for B2B brands talking to more technical or specialised industries, where those nuances may be harder to pick up for outsiders to the community.
When working with a brand’s customers to test a point of view, I typically go for those who have done customer stories with the brand in the past. Not only are they more likely understand what we’re trying to achieve with our point of view, but we know that the brand relationship is durable enough to call in such a favour without adverse effect.
Successful points of view aren’t just unique: they cut through the rest of the chatter like a knife through hot butter. That means they need to be sharp, incisive, and (obviously enough) to the point. When testing a brand’s point of view, you have to not only examine what’s being said, but how you’re saying it.
This is where the uninitiated come in. These individuals include anyone who isn’t especially familiar with the brand or the industry issues at stake – friends, family members, and contacts from other industries fit the bill. While they might not be your target audience, this makes them especially adept at identifying how clearly, simply, and engagingly your point of view communicates its message. Ideally, they should not only understand your brand’s point of view, but want to know more after hearing it.
By the time your brand’s point of view goes out as a pitch, press release, or publicity video, you should already have a decent idea of how it’s going to be received. Testing with multiple groups not only helps refine that point of view, but also ensures it won’t be treated as just another “me-too” voice (or worse) by those you want to engage. The more rigorous your testing process, the more likely your brand’s story will stand the toughest test – of time.