Corporate communications teams often have responsibility for developing and distributing PR messaging to several internal and external audiences. However, the audience made up of current and prospective customers is arguably of special importance.

In the eyes of sales and marketing (and for many senior executives) this is a crucial constituency due to the impact it can exert on the bottom line – whether through purchasing products or influencing others to do so. Developing and executing a thoughtful PR strategy in this area can therefore boost a communications team’s credibility and stature in the company.

So which approaches can your team use to demonstrate value to senior management in this area?

Assuming the team already has a clearly defined set of messages that are being distributed to current and prospective customers, here are some media intelligence strategies to help you demonstrate clearer impact in this area.

Manage Perceptions on Key Product Attributes

The PR messaging your team distributes may relate to key characteristics of the company’s products, their positioning in the market, or the way you want buyers to feel about them. If so, media analysis applied to this type of coverage can reveal which aspects of your products and services messaging authors tend to repeat and which they are prone to criticize. It can also show how audiences react to these opinions and, when sentiment turns south, how successful the team is in defusing negativity.

For a large telecom firm, PublicRelay analyzed coverage relating to attributes of their products and services – pricing, performance, and other factors. By using a carefully constructed taxonomy of topics and issues, we found a strong upward trend in complaints related to the company’s infrastructure.

We also found that this content was getting inordinately high sharing compared to comparable content for peers, signaling growing discontent among opinion leaders. Later, when upgrades were announced, PublicRelay’s media analysis detected a groundswell of customer support.

What if product-related messaging is not an area of emphasis for your team? It still pays to be vigilant, since both professional and amateur writers may be filling the void and writing content of this type (and social media commentators almost certainly are). Carefully analyzing attributes within a specific product line allows your team to detect problems early – and to get more mileage out of perceived strengths.

Support Your Product and Operations Team

Keeping an ear to the ground on feedback gleaned from news and social media can also add substantial value to your product and operations team.

For one customer that was launching a major software product, PublicRelay found a key error being discussed in a small number of social media posts by early adopters. The error condition caused the software to shut down, leaving customers stranded.

Due to the small volume of comments and inconsistent vocabulary used to describe problems like this, it’s not uncommon for fully automated media monitoring tools to miss complaints of this nature. In the scenario described above, only 5 comments, drawn from many thousands of posts about the organization, described customers’ problems with the software.

Understanding more precisely what customers or reviewers are happy about (or frustrated with) can boost the communications team’s value to other parts of the organization and improve public relations strategies. By providing data on product perceptions, the team can become a source of rapid market intelligence to product and operations teams within the company, and make a real economic impact.

Think Expansively About What Customers Want from the Company

Many aspects of your PR messaging that are not directly related to products can still affect how customers feel about the company and influence the likelihood that they’ll become customers.

Below are three categories of coverage that can affect consumers’ affinity for a company.  For each, we’ve included examples of topics within the category and a description of the impact they can have:

CategorySample TopicsImpact
Company Values / Culture•Social responsibility/philanthropy work
•Stories with ethics component
•Coverage of employment practices
Make the company feel more “human” and form a stronger bond with customers who are like-minded
Growth / Market Position•Revenue or profit growth
•Financial strength
•Industry rankings/market share
Reinforce perceptions that a company is the preferred producer in its market, or is likely to overtake the leaders
Expertise and Innovation•Thought leadership content
•Coverage of R&D efforts
•Customer success stories
Influence opinion leaders and become the aspirational choice by developing a reputation for designing smarter solutions to customer problems

Measuring your effectiveness in placing messages related to themes like these with the right audiences can be a useful indicator of team success.  Over time, reinforcing positive perceptions should lead to greater customer affinity for the brand. However, accurately analyzing content like this may be difficult to do with software alone, since many of the themes are concepts and don’t lend themselves to simple keyword searches.

Keeping in mind what your customers care about — not just product-specific topics, but content affecting the company’s overall image — can boost your team’s value to internal groups, prospective clients, and to the bottom line. Are you missing an opportunity to capture strategic media intelligence, support your company’s growth and make the communications team more valuable to senior leadership?

Chris Bolster is a Managing Partner at PublicRelay. 

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