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Unexpected business communications lessons from the Kardashians and Beyoncé

There are some valuable business communication lessons to be found in the recent activities of the world's most famous women - the Kardashian sisters and reigning pop queen, Beyoncé - if you care to spend a few minutes thinking about it.

Much to the chagrin of my colleagues George and Dylan, I'm a proud card-carrying member of the Kardashian-following, Beyoncé-loving fan club. I don't have a particularly low IQ (testing pending) in case you were wondering, however I am fascinated by the women who shape global trends and whose every move is captured by an image and caption-hungry media.

As you might imagine, the above names are in the media on a daily - if not hourly - basis. From Blue Ivy to Caitlin, Jay Z to Kayne, everything the Kardashian family or the mononymous queen Beyoncé touches becomes instant media and social media fodder. Think worldwide trending hashtags, explosive blog comment threads, and closer to home, frequent office arguments.

But rather than focus on their celebrity, I would like to touch on two of the Kardashian sisters' homes being featured in the prestigious Architectural Digest, and the reaction of popular US family restaurant chain Red Lobster, after being name-checked in Beyoncé's new socially, racially and sexually charged song, Formation.

Why?

Because to me, these two instances - played out, superficial, fleeting, as they may be - offer some useful communications guidance for businesses and industry sectors in 2016.

Kardashian sisters stand out from the crowd with Architectural Digest home feature



Say what you will about the Kardashians, but those women know how to market themselves.

From beauty and haircare products, diet pills, fashion and kids' clothing lines, to paid apps and endorsements, exclusive content, games, and of course the long-running reality television show that has made the family a household name, the Kardashian-Jenner clan have quite literally dominated the market with their presence and profile - and of course they're making major bank from it all.

Despite all their commercial success, a common theme and criticism that runs through those elements, is substance. That's why I was surprised to see two of the sisters' California homes featured in the hallowed pages of Architectural Digest recently.

It's not the typical publication in which you would expect to see the women featured, and yet it works because of how the story and images are positioned and presented, and because the article itself focuses on information that the audience of a serious architectural magazine would be interested in.

There's no talk of the latest make up product the women are hawking on QVC, or the bawdy, outlandish conversations the show 'Keeping up with the Kardashians' is so famous for.

Instead, the feature is all about the design process, the global and ethnic influences, and the contrasting aesthetics the two sisters chose for their respective (and gorgeous) homes. It's a masterclass in tailoring content to fit an audience, and to stand out from competitors, rather than push the subject's usual agenda down the throat of the unsuspecting reader or viewer.

And I think there's some valuable business communications lessons we can take from that approach.

Communications takeaway: Branch out into new sectors, but stay on brand

We're always encouraging clients to communicate to wider sectors than the immediate ones they operate within, in a bid to stand out from the crowd and to connect useful information with the people that want it.

Of course you should position yourself as a knowledge and market leader in your own field as well, be that property, development, education, recruitment or law. But in our view, it's incredibly valuable and useful to share information and commentary within your client sectors and spheres of influence as well.

Go to where your audiences are, rather than expecting them to come to where you exist. The same adage goes for social media and communications: don't post a message on your website and expect people to go there. Instead, communicate on the channels your audience is already using, be that Twitter, LinkedIn, or even (gasp) Facebook.

In the past few years, we've found it exceptionally effective to work with clients to get well-timed, well-thought out content and commentary to their client sectors.

Some of our most successful clients are making gains in the market by positioning themselves in front of their client sectors as well as their own: think about industrial property brokers communicating with logistics magazines, or legal firms front footing key business issues, or recruiters talking to construction publications. The key is to stay on brand and be consistent, but to offer knowledge or advice that will be well-received and relevant for the audience at hand.

It's an unexpected play, and others are now starting to catch on which means we're onto a winning strategy, but next time you want to reach your own clients or customers, think like the Kardashians and communicate through channels you normally wouldn't feature within.

Saucy Beyoncé mention sees Red Lobster sales jump 33%


I won't repeat the exact line here out of respect for my audience, but when music mogul Beyoncé dropped her new single Formation out of nowhere during Super Bowl Weekend, and referenced Red Lobster (the chain of seafood-focused USA family restaurants), the business immediately started trending on Twitter - something that had never happened before. In the days to follow, Reb Lobster saw an increase in sales of over 33% across the USA.

But that's not what interests me: what's noteworthy, is the fact that for hours, the Internet waited with collective baited breath to see what @redlobster responded with.

Free Maine Lobster for life for Bey and co? A hilarious, raunchy and instantly viral meme?

Not so, dear readers. After hours of waiting, Red Lobster made a (pretty weak) reference to 'Cheddar Bey Biscuits having a nice ring to it'.

You see, Red Lobster is considered to be a conservative, family-friendly food joint, first and foremost. It didn't get caught up in the whirlwind of Beyoncé fandom, because the point of reference wasn't consistent with the Red Lobster brand and what its audience had come to expect of it.

Not all brands or businesses would be so scrupulous; in fact given half a chance, most would be shouting from the rooftops if someone with Bey's fame and clout mentioned them in a hit song - brand guidelines and loyal customers be damned!

I think it's fascinating how Red Lobster responded; they acknowledged the song hours after it was released, but didn't play into the explicit nature of the lyrics. Did the Internet love the response? Not really. But did Red Lobster walk away with its head held high, and brand integrity intact? Absolutely.

Communications takeaway: Respond authentically and quickly to social media activity involving your brand

The lesson we can take away from the Red Lobster / Beyoncé situation is that business brands need to have a clear idea of who they are, who they serve, and what the guidelines are for communication.

What's more, Beyoncé vs Red Lobster highlighted the need for a quick response to social media activity, good or bad. It's such a shame when we see mentions on Twitter, or posts on a Facebook page, go unacknowledged sometimes for days or weeks by the brand in question. Whether it's because no one sees the mention, or there's no plan in place for how you'd deal with the comment anyway, the result is the same: radio silence.

This is 2016, people! Please, be present online and actively monitor how people are interacting with your brand at all times. Or at the least, engage a professional communicator to do it on your behalf (ahem).

Having a simple and practical social media guide for staff and management can go a long way to ensure that all outgoing online communication that involves the brand is 'on message' and aids the objectives of the organisation, rather than detracting from what it's trying to achieve.

This can be as simple as a few key themes, or territories that you do and don't want to cover in your online activities. A social media guideline need not be an exhaustive tome that collects dust in a bottom drawer; make it a short and sweet one pager with some easy to grasp concepts and then ensure you have support and buy in from your staff.

If you want to make use of the many communication opportunities at hand, and ensure that you are working it like Beyoncé, or capitalising on everything like the Kardashians, then get in touch and we can start planning. Don't worry, I won't make you listen to Beyoncé's 'Formation' song more than twice.

mikela@theclaritybusiness.co.nz or @ShapeTheMessage