Understanding Signal Theory: It’s not just what you say, it’s the way you say it

People buy from winners, and what winners don’t do is hit the panic button the moment they are confronted with a problem which is beyond their control. To quote Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going” – and that’s where the majority of us find ourselves now.

I joined IBA eighteen months ago. We’re a B2B marketing agency. We work globally for all sizes of companies from start-up, to scale-ups to Nasdaq listed companies. We all learn to write at IBA but we all learn one other key business rule of PR. Methodology, pattern and signals matter – far more than just words. They enable companies no matter their size, to remain strong and to navigate seen and unforeseen challenges.

How clients can convey leadership in testing times

The problem is not every company has a solid methodology or an understanding in place of how to stay relevant and appeal to potential prospects even at the best of times – let alone during a global pandemic. It is those companies with a carefully thought-out, blend and consistent level, of PR and marketing activity who will enhance their reputations post COVID-19, and why those who don’t will find life increasingly tough ­as customers look for strong partners going forward.

Patterns matter

Of course, the magnitude of COVID-19 means every company has been impacted in one way or another. Business continuity has never been on the lips of so many and at the heart of all contingency plans is flexibility. From a PR and marketing perspective, that may well mean holding fire on that scheduled product launch or partnership agreement or postponing a campaign until even Q4, but it would be foolish to cut off all activity. Why? Because people notice.

Maintaining a pattern of communications activity at a time of great difficulty is a signal that a company is successful, sufficiently capitalized and financially stable. This not only demonstrates a company is committed to provide support to their customers during their time of need, but that they are fit for purpose on a long-term basis as well. This is especially important in a B2B landscape where a buyer’s career depends on making the right decisions.

I’m not just talking about direct communications with your clients and prospects – but with the media. Remember that they are a third-party endorsement that gets you to your prospect marketplace. And at the moment, not only do you need the media – but the media needs you!

It’s not just what you say, it’s the way you say it

It’s the frequency of press communications which help journalists identify and make judgements on companies.

Journalists are experts at spotting patterns. When a company is creating consistent and relevant noise in the media a journalist or editor will take notice. Even if the journalist doesn’t choose to run a piece of content, it’s served to heighten their awareness and understanding of a company which always pay dividends further down the line. At the same time, when the level of press activity of a company suddenly drops, this instantly signals there’s a problem. That the company is unable to cope when the going gets tough.

That’s not to say during a time of crisis a company should produce masses of content, but they should signal enough to demonstrate an appropriate level of business as usual – a volume of activity which aligns with their brand status.

It’s the function of a field leader to educate the marketplace – so show your leadership

We hear a lot of marketing talk about brand leadership, thought leadership, industry leadership. The operative word is ‘leadership’. We are encouraging our clients to look for stories about customers working remotely, delivering for their customers, using technology to enable jobs to be done. It could even be a story about how a brand has stretched their offering during this challenging period – from engines to ventilators, gin to sanitisers.

Could be a case study, could be a blog but certainly forms an important signal of success and business continuity and would form a key element in a pattern of activity.

Thought leadership – after this the world has changed, or has it?

Some B2B businesses are taking the opportunity to redefine their market – the ‘new’ supply chain, ‘re-defining’ field service. A blog, white paper or thought leadership article provides a powerful signal, a key element of a pattern that signals success and enables these companies to put themselves in front of journalists who will use these striking and thought-provoking pieces to help educate their readers – and of course your potential prospects.

Keep in touch – go virtual

Not everyone has the muscle or bravery of SAP to hold its massive global industry conference as a virtual event, or are as big as IBM to donate massive computing resource to crunch COVID-19 data, but on a smaller scale, businesses can take a lead too.

At IBA we ensure our clients are communicating consistent messaging on a global scale whatever the circumstance – keep a close eye out for future blogs on the importance of signal theory in the coming weeks. While you wait, why not reach out to our team of B2B marketing experts to find out how we can help keep your messaging consistent?

Sam Harris is Pitch&Place Specialist at IBA International.

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