One critical mistake that brands make when it comes to considering the public relations media cycle is many companies don’t begin soon enough. Many believe that advertising and PR function similarly, that you simply turn on the machine, stories happen, and new audiences flock to your door. That perception is incorrect, because the way we consume earned media differs dramatically from how advertisements intentionally disrupt our attention.
In 2011, Google released a paper titled Winning the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) in which they discuss the moment when shoppers realize they have a need and begin to research what they should/want to buy. The impressions on the shopper of their brand choice come in this stage of the buying process – impressions accumulated from earned media sources such as online reviews, articles, news, word of mouth, and organic search.
For example, about 6 months ago, I knew I’d be in the market for a new commuting/travel bag that had to be precisely made with the perfect pockets. The moment I opened my browser window and began my search was my personal ZMOT. However, I didn’t buy at that moment. I did a lot of searches before I finally bought a bag this month.
Let’s take the tech ZMOT research as an example of how this timeline plays out in the tech industry. Google asked 500 shoppers who were the primary and/or shared decision makers who purchased a personal technology item in past 2 months when they first started their research around a new purchase. Examples of technology provided included a computer, laptop, DVD player, Blu-Ray player, digital camera, mobile phone, iPad, TV, video camera, etc.
Above, we see that people are influenced by what they find out about potential purchases as far out as 2-3 months before (the bright orange and red areas) with additional influences a few days before. Think about what this means for your media cycle, for your public relations efforts. You have to be in the news, earning media, months in advance of when a consumer is likely to make a purchase.
This isn’t just an imaginative theory. You can see ZMOT in action in your own web analytics data. Let’s consider the purchasing/sales timeframe for one of our consumer tech clients. When we take a look in Google Analytics at the Assisted Conversion Path and the Days Before Conversion data, we get a picture like this:
Note that just prior to 80 days out is when the first searches start happening for this company’s products. People are interested – they want to know more about the technology. They’re visiting to check things out and begin to perform activities that will assist in converting them to paying customers. We see a steady flow of conversions closer and closer to the day of purchase. If you add up the people whose first impression is more than 14 days out, it eclipses the last minute buyers. In this case, public relations and earned media help the brand to be present in the consumer’s mind before the conversion process starts, as far as 80-90 days out.
PR is a longer game than most companies anticipate. Earned media matters much earlier in the consumer’s mind than most assume, whether we’re talking about B2C consumer goods or B2B products and services. Take a look at your own conversion data inside of your chosen analytics program to understand how far out your media cycle and public relations efforts must begin. Use it to consider what you should be doing to reach your audience before they’re willing to invest money in your product. If you’re about to launch a product or service, consider that earned media efforts need to be working for you long in advance of the launch date, and engage your PR team or PR agency as soon as you possibly can.
Account Manager, Marketing Technology