PR’s Top Pros Talk… Women Leaders – Joanna O’Connell
Joanna O’Connell, VP and Principal Analyst, Forrester Research
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: JOANNA O”CONNELL
DOUG: The relationship between consumers, brands and content publishers is changing, how does that affect communicators? We’ve got the perfect guest from Forrester Research. Thanks so much for joining us. And can you shed some light on that?
JOANNA: Oh, gosh, yes. It’s a complicated topic, but it’s also not because it really is a question of relationships. I’ll start by saying, I think about advertising and that may not feel like a classic thing for someone in the communications field to be thinking about. And yet advertising is a communications medium, right? It’s a way for brands and consumers to connect. And so, if we think about the ecosystem players in advertising, really fundamentally, it’s about brands and consumers, like I said, and also publishers, you said content creators, that’s absolutely right. And all three parties benefit theoretically from advertising. But the balance of kind of the needs of those three constituencies is kind of have gotten a little wacky. It’s gotten off balance, quite frankly. And it’s causing some real tumult in the industry right now.
DOUG: So where is it out of balance? Is it not enough value for the consumers who are participating, too much information being shoved to them? What’s the misbalance and what can PR people especially do to get that balance back?
JOANNA: So, it’s a great question. The first thing I’d say is let’s just remember that we’re all consumers. And so, we’ve all had annoying advertising experiences or creepy advertising experiences where it feels like the message you’re getting in an ad is just too close to home. They know you too well, or they’re following you around the Internet, or it’s just the wrong moment, but it’s really up in your business. And the reality is so much of advertising has kind of gotten into this place of defaulting to using data and technology to make decisions that we sort of lost sight of the fact that, again, advertising is about a relationship between a brand and a consumer and often intermediated by a publisher. So, we need to, as you said, get back to a place of appreciating what value means, but really what value means to the consumer, right? So, this is not just about the old school model of selling something by showing them a bunch of features.
DOUG: The barriers between what used to be called advertising and PR are coming down, changing dramatically with the PESO model, paid, earned, shared and owned. Do you think that’s going to continue and is that a significant development?
JOANNA: Well, here’s the thing. I mean, when we’re talking about those different sort of traditional silos, ultimately we’re just talking about content really, and how you can communicate again with consumers and other constituents, of course, too. So, to treat them as though they are somehow separate, separate is just a very, that’s last year’s model. We’re just not there anymore. You need to be thinking more holistically about how these elements support one another, are additive to one another where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So, to me, when we’re talking about something like advertising, it shouldn’t be separate from the conversation, like what’s going on in PR or even other elements of marketing. They are all connected, part of the whole
DOUG: And PR people are really renowned for our storytelling ability because historically we had to create stories that a gatekeeper, whether it was the media or something else, would have to choose to put out there. Is that an important advantage? And is it just about telling the story that will create that engagement and the connection, or does there need to be something more?
JOANNA: There does seem to be something more, but that is certainly a really important component of it. I mean, when we’re talking about, again, we’re talking about advertising, which is a part of the communication strategy and growth strategy of big organizations. But advertising, again, is just a part. And there are all these elements that go into advertising that are actually bigger than the advertising itself. So, what is our strategy as an organization around data? What is our strategy as an organization around partnerships? How do we think about the components that will lead to short term and long term business growth? Like these are all really, really big, important questions, and I think a lot of roles are implicated in the decisions that get made around those questions. So, good storytelling should be one of the outputs of really good, thoughtful strategy, right? I mean, that that really ultimately is what it comes down to.
DOUG: Do you think it’s going to be harder for brands to get access to consumer data? Like will legal, political put barriers up and will consumer awareness put barriers up? And if you do think that I see you’re nodding, it’s probably a yes. What are the ways that brands can gain access to the data in a way that customers, consumers feel comfortable about?
JOANNA: That’s the best part right there, the way that customers or consumers feel comfortable about. So, you’ve got a regulatory environment and legislative environment that is going to change the rules of how consumer data access can be made available, how consumers themselves can control what’s made available about them, how they can opt out and say, hey, I don’t want to hear from you at all, please don’t collect my data. But you also have these other powers that are taking action theoretically on behalf of consumers like the browsers, Safari, or Firefox, or Google with Chrome, or device manufacturers like Apple, who are starting to say the way that data is being taken from consumers, whether it’s sort of malicious or not, is problematic, and it doesn’t respect the spirit of privacy and consumer choice. So, these guys are stepping in and saying, oh, we’re going to kill this little feature that allowed you to do this thing, or we’re going to kill this little system over here to let you do this thing. All of that means a more data sparse world. So, to get to the heart of your question, it becomes a question of how a brand thinks about the longitudinal relationship with the consumer. So, getting closer to a consumer sort of sounds easy on its surface, but back to that question of value, what is it that you’re communicating that helps the consumer understand? This is why I want to engage with you, this is what you’re going to get out of it, and this is what it’s going to be longer term, so, it doesn’t just feel like some immediate transactional thing where the relationship is going to die right away, right?
DOUG: So, if you are speaking to the chief communications officer at Brand X all around the country and they said we want to improve our relationship with customers long term while we still have access to this information, what’s the single thing you would tell them?
JOANNA: I think I would probably say start asking them how they want to engage with you. You have customers already, probably, which means you have a really good testbed to start having communications more directly with consumers. But you could also start experimenting with different models, like in a classic prospecting exercise, like I’ve never seen this person before, maybe I can try a different kind of message with one group versus another and see what resonates. Those things can be powered by technology fairly easily now. So, it’s not so much, again, the data and technology itself, it’s kind of how you use it to create a better understanding of what consumers actually want, and how they want to engage with you. I would love to see a brand be brave and come out and say, we believe that consumers have choice over how their data is used, and we are going to take a stand in how we approach that question. So, rather than kind of waiting for everybody else to figure it out, I would love to see brands be more forthright. It could be a real opportunity.
DOUG: So, interestingly, it seems that brands, by letting consumers have a choice of how much data they want to give up, can help build more engagement with that.
JOANNA: That is the theory. If you do it in the right way, if you do it in a value creating way, those are the kinds of things, again, that we’re talking about. And we’ve done a bunch of research on that, sort of how do you create value creating experiences. So, if you’re Sephora, you’re creating things like quizzes and recommenders and the like, so that the consumer actually feels like there’s a reason for her to come back and continue engaging and give more information, there’s something interesting and valuable for her.
DOUG: Awesome, thanks so much, and that was interesting and valuable information in this conversation, so we appreciate the contribution.
JOANNA: Thank you so much for having me, appreciate it.