Back in 1997 things were much simpler.

A story from the past

Early in my career I was working with a telephone calling service.  This ingenious (for the time) system would call your work, then home, then mobile number in sequential order to find out where you were. When you answered the call, you were told the name of the caller and you could choose whether to take the call or send it to voicemail.

This product is, of course, redundant in a world where the only reason for having a landline number is to facilitate broadband.  But at the time it was new and newsworthy, and it was my job to get it into the newspapers.

At the time every major broadsheet newspaper had a weekly technology supplement, such was the advertising money washing around the industry.  To fill the pages in between lucrative adverts, interesting technology stories were in demand.  A few calls and a long-ish lunch later, my client was due to feature in ‘Connected’ – the weekly Times supplement for geeks.

In those days, every article would end with a phone number for more information (this was before companies bothered with a website).  The next day 10,000 people called the company’s call centre wanting more information.  The client signed up for another 12 months of PR fees and I basked in the glory of a job well done.


The end of ‘cause and effect’

These kind of immediate ‘cause and effect’ results rarely happen now. The ‘customer journey’ is a more winding and tortuous path.  You may get a great article in the media but even those that read are unlikely to take immediate action.  They will look at reviews on Google and TrustPilot, they may check out your website and Google your competition.  People are not necessarily making more informed decisions, but they are making decisions based on more information.

Serendipity does still happen.  Less than a year ago a salesperson at one of my clients called me to say that he had just spoken to a significant prospect.  This person had been alerted to the client’s product through a podcast he had listened to the day before, recommending the device.  But these moments are becoming rarer.


Know your audience

In this environment, what can a company do?  Viktor Frankl famously said ‘control the controllables’ a quote that neatly encapsulates the Serenity Prayer.  For me, companies should focus on three things primarily.

  • Get as much detailed information on your customers as possible and ensure that all communications target these people. Think carefully about where they gather online.
  • Engage with customers as much as possible, even those that may not have had a great experience with your product or service. Make these people your champions.
  • Take a long-term view – don’t believe one positive or negative review will change the world.

There is only so much any entrepreneur can control directly.  We all sleep better when we realise this.