Like all things in life, the marketing and communications industry is constantly evolving.
By Roy Barford, head of business development at Flow Communications
1. Put relationships before everything else
The lifetime value of each customer/potential customer you have is massive, when you consider what a multi-year relationship could bring in terms of revenue and referrals. This is, however, dependent on establishing and maintaining relationships, which are based on trust, as well as providing consistent value.
When you sell someone something that ends up not being of value to them, the chances of repeat business and referrals diminish substantially, if not entirely. So always remember the potential value of the long-term relationship.
2. The delivery is far more important than the promise
If your product or service does not live up to the expectations created in the sales process, you have done long-term damage to your reputation.
Manage the expectations of your prospective client carefully before concluding a sale, as these expectations have a huge bearing on customer satisfaction.
It is also important not to compromise on price if this may have a negative effect on delivery.
3. Know your customer’s challenges before making your pitch
Asking questions not only gives you insights into the needs of your customers, but also encourages them to reflect on their situation.
An understanding of your customer’s challenges enables you to tailor your value proposition accordingly, and is especially beneficial if there are multiple products or services that you can offer. The best salespeople are excellent listeners.
4. Existing customers are your best salespeople
If your existing customers are happy with your product or service, they will recommend you to their friends, family and colleagues. With this in mind, make sure your customers are happy with your product or service, and that you are getting feedback from them.
Telling a potential client, “We believe our services could save you money” will simply never be as convincing as being able to say, “80% of customers surveyed found that our services saved them money.”
Think carefully about how you can repurpose positive feedback and reviews from existing customers, and remember that satisfied customers will always be your best salespeople.
5. Discuss budgets verbally before sending quotes/proposals
Dan Lok, an international sales coach with more than four million YouTube subscribers, does not believe in sending written proposals before price has been discussed. He says, “If you cannot close them on the phone, what makes you think a few pieces of paper could close them?”
Wherever possible, Lok will give his price verbally over the phone and then immediately ask, “How do you feel about that?” This gives the potential client no option but to express an opinion, indicate their level of commitment, or state their objections.
From here, his preferred approach is to send a written “agreement” that includes the price, as well as the terms of his service.
If you simply send through an email quotation you lose the opportunity to properly convey your value offering, and you risk losing the opportunity to address objections that the prospective customer may have.
6. When in doubt, ask this question …
“What would it take for us to do business today?”
This question gives the prospective customer the opportunity to present their ideal scenario, and prompts them to highlight what is most important to them (i.e. price, payment terms, quantities, guarantees, etc.).
The answer to this question often reveals obstacles to closing the sale, which could include:
- You are not speaking to the decision-maker
- The prospective customer is locked into an existing contract that they would need to exit
- The prospective customer’s expectations or requirements do not align with your offering
Whatever the case, this direct question is a great way to cut to the chase. You don’t have to agree to the prospective customer’s scenario, but at least you’ve outlined the points for discussion.
7. Be resilient, be inquisitive and be adaptable
Rejections happen, but for every rejection you get there are many more opportunities ahead, if you keep your mindset and your energy right.
Wherever possible, find out why you were not successful with a sale, as the feedback may just give you an advantageous insight towards adapting your approach. As the saying goes, there’s winning and there’s learning.
By Richard Frank, CTO of Flow Communications
Artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot system ChatGPT is generating poems, articles and songs, and is writing code and social media campaign ideas in mere seconds, setting the world alight with questions and concerns.
Creative professionals are asking: are we in danger of losing our jobs to Chat GPT? Are we plagiarising when we outsource parts of our work to ChatGPT? Are we obliged to reveal to the world that we are making use of AI to generate copy or ideas or images? Will clients start choosing to use AI in place of creative agencies?
The truth is that nowadays, AI has infiltrated every aspect of our lives – it is all around us. With or without our endorsement, it is here to stay.
It is remarkable that the artificial intelligence company, Open AI, was able to train the ChatGPT model to understand what people mean when they ask questions and respond conversationally.
I confess, I have spent copious amounts of time inputting questions into ChatGPT as an experiment to gauge the kinds of responses I will receive.
During my dalliance with this new tool, I asked it to write a press release to announce the appointment of Flow Communications’ head of social media, Miliswa Sitshwele, using inputted information from the original press release (published on 17 January 2023).
Unsurprisingly, the response it generated was very generic and boring. It became evident that the AI tool sifted through millions of press releases online about appointments and had used its probability model to predict what the press release should look like and what the CEO of Flow Communications, Tara Turkington, would say about a former employee rejoining the company. And bam, out came a wordy press release riddled with clichés and repetitions.
I prompted it further with more questions and instructions, and after endless follow-up questions to ChatGPT, I was able to help the system refine its responses. But still, the copy was not up to the Flow standard.
This makes sense, considering the model was trained by being exposed to massive amounts of data on the internet. So, the best it could do was regurgitate that information back to me – without much creative flair or consideration for the readership that would consume the piece.
The shortcomings of the latest AI “threat” don’t end there. Open AI has openly admitted that:
- ChatGPT sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers
- When a user asks an ambiguous query, ChatGPT guesses what the user intended instead of asking clarifying questions
- ChatGPT will sometimes respond to harmful instructions or exhibit biased behaviour
- ChatGPT is sensitive to changes in the input syntax or repeated attempts at the same prompt. For instance, the model may pretend to not know the answer if the query is phrased one way, but if it is phrased slightly differently, it will provide the right response.
- The model repeatedly states that it is a language model developed by Open AI and utilises other overused words. Biases in the training data are the cause of these problems.
As I went further and further down a rabbit hole, I concluded the following:
- ChatGPT is an interesting tool to use, but it simply cannot compare with the creativity of human beings
- If ChatGPT can generate your idea, then it’s probably not good enough. Use it as a rational check to gauge how “generic” your ideas are.
- If you pair a good idea with a series of facts on ChatGPT, it has a tendency to produce sentences that are written in boring business-speak
- ChatGPT is very good at producing logic, but it won’t produce an entire program. And be careful: it can introduce bugs to your code.
To echo the words of a colleague, Lizette Sutherland: “AI tools have the power to take over the menial tasks – the slog – that consume copious amounts of time and can give us the time, space, energy and mental capacity to focus on real creative work. That’s a plus to me.”
I don’t think we need to be threatened by the existence of such AI tools. They can function as a supplement to assist in our daily work but don’t stand a chance when it comes to replacing our jobs.
For us at Flow Communications, while we will track AI tools such as ChatGPT carefully and will use them if and when they make sense to our clients, we will continue to position ourselves as creatives who generate unique content with the right tone and style. We will continue to differentiate ourselves because we don’t rely on generic gibberish: we execute every brief with the respect and finesse it requires. That’s how you win!
Public Relation trends, the buzzword for 2023 when it comes to communications, marketing and public pelation trends (PR) is artificial intelligence (AI) and it seems that everyone is talking about ChatGPT, its benefits and threats. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of AI tools already available online – and that are often free or offering trial versions.
The chatter’s also about navigating the realms of Web3 and the metaverse. While it’s important to be at the cutting edge of tech advances, it’s equally important to not lose touch with the heart of PR.
Here are five PR trends for 2023 from Flow Communications:
1. Will AI take over the world?
The media and marketing world is abuzz with conversations about whether we’re all going to be replaced by AI. It seems that ChatGPT can create reasonable PR and marketing campaigns and even write a media release in a matter of minutes, given the correct prompts. Considering that AI technologies are still in their infancy, this may be a concern for PR practitioners. But AI is far from creating what lies at the heart of quality PR – understanding, strategic thinking and storytelling.
A good communications strategy is always based on understanding your client and your target audiences – human beings. For the moment, at least, humans are still better at understanding what interests and drives other humans. AI is only as good as the prompts you give it.
While communicators would be wise to investigate the plethora of mind-blowing AI tools out there, this should be done from the perspective of how these can enhance what we already do and make our lives easier, and possibly reduce costs for our clients.
We take the same approach to Web3 and the metaverse at Flow: while we’re keeping our eyes on the amazing opportunities on offer, these new technologies are unlikely to completely transform the “PR-verse” in South Africa – at least, not yet.
2. It’s all about human interest
Robots may be able to write, process big data, and spit out impressive facts and stats in the wink of an eye, but what they don’t quite get yet is human interest. PR experts intimately understand what interests the media and their audiences.
We keep working on new ways to tap into those interests every day. Human interest is about being able to weave a captivating tale – it’s all about storytelling. Humans are interested in other humans, in subtlety and nuance, in humour and wit. You need to know how to present cold, hard facts with the wrappings and bows that your audiences can’t wait to unwrap.
3. The rise of on-demand media
The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation across sectors. According to Statista, in 2018 about 62% of the total South African population was accessing the internet and this grew to almost 80% by 2022.
With this growth, the world of on-demand entertainment and streaming services burgeoned – leading to less reliance on television. But what does this mean for PR?
Well, that depends. In South Africa the majority of the population still relies on free-to-air television and listens to the radio, so if you are wanting to reach the mass market through PR, television and radio interviews are still the way to go. In fact, whichever market you’re targeting, you can’t go wrong with broadcast interviews. Radio is still alive and kicking, and DStv can’t be beaten in terms of access to sport and news. Prepare your clients for more in-person interview requests in 2023 than the previous two years.
Having said that, we need to be cognisant of the fact that if we want to reach the slightly higher LSMs, there is an ongoing migration to Netflix, Showmax, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video, and podcast listenership is also growing. These on-demand services don’t function in the same way as traditional media do, and we’re having to innovate to continue reaching their audiences.
4. Let’s get integrated
Crafting communications strategies that include paid, owned, shared and earned media is not a new trend, but in 2023 we will see further integration of marketing and PR across all available channels and platforms. There are two main factors influencing this – the continued shrinking of the traditional media landscape, as well as accelerated digital transformation.
Tiffany Turkington-Palmer, managing director of Flow Communications, predicts that we will see even more brands using owned media to earn media: “As the traditional media space contracts and the digital revolution gains pace, brands are increasingly thinking smart to leverage their own media or channels (social media, blogs and websites) to create talkability and earn headlines – creating groundbreaking PR that is immediate and connecting.”
5. Diversity, equity and inclusion are more important than ever
Global PR trends predictions for 2023 are espousing the value of diversity, equity and inclusion in communications strategies and plans. Welcome to the party; we’ve been doing this in South Africa for a while now. It’s about time!
Daya Coetzee is an account director at Flow Communications, one of South Africa’s leading independent agencies. Founded in 2005, Flow now has a permanent team of more than 65 professional staff, working remotely across South Africa.
By Grant McMullin, technical team lead, Flow Communications
The internet is an ever-evolving beast and we’re now into what is seen as its third major iteration: Web3. But what does this mean, and what impact will it have on our lives? Grant McMullin, the technical team lead at Flow Communications has some insight.
The original iteration of the World Wide Web, Web 1.0, which is generally recognised to have stretched from 1990 to 2004, seems quaint now. It was a static version of the web, where users consumed read-only content. The barriers to entry were high: one needed a desktop computer and expensive online access to surf the web. One of its defining features was hyperlinking, allowing users to jump from one page to another.
Importantly, Web 1.0 was decentralised; essentially, it “belonged” to everyone. But Web 2.0, also called the social web or interactive web, which prevailed from 2004 to 2014 (and beyond), would change everything.
For starters, the barriers to entry for users were significantly lowered. One could use a smartphone or other device to access the web, and both read it and write to it – in other words, consume and create content. Social media really came into its own in this period, connecting people all over the world.
But Big Tech companies – the likes of Meta (then still known as Facebook), Amazon, ByteDance, Alphabet (before 2015, Google), Advance, Microsoft and others – also began to dominate and consolidate the web, centralising it. They now control an exceptional amount of content on the internet. A good example is Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, three of the most powerful social networks on the planet.
Most significantly, users have become the “product”, providing the data and content that these networks own; the problem is, amazingly, the social media networks are beginning to run out of people on the planet to join their platforms.
It’s also notable that Web 2.0 did not entirely replace Web 1.0. Rather, they coexist and complement each other. A streaming service such as Netflix is a clear example of a thriving 1.0-type offering, simply providing users with content for a fee.
But Web 2.0 also brought with it major concerns, including surveillance (so sensationally exposed in 2013 by former United States National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden), the monetisation of user attention (in other words, advertising), polarised online discourse, censorship and who owns data.
Web 2.0 lives on, but Web3 – a term coined by British computer scientist Gavin Wood (web inventor Tim Berners-Lee’s earlier prediction of a “semantic web” is sometimes also called Web 3.0) – has been with us since 2014.
Essentially, Web3 has several important features that contrast with Web 2.0: for starters, it puts ownership of data back into the hands of users, not Big Tech; and through the use of blockchain technologies it strives to once again decentralise the internet, by eliminating centralised authorities that can control who accesses data.
Web3 is also trustless and permissionless, where data exchange and transactions are transparent, and cannot be changed or obstructed by anyone. It features connectivity and ubiquity – the internet of things, where the web is everywhere and everything is connected, without hardware or software limitations.
Finally, Web3 is a semantic web, a concept Berners-Lee described as “a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines”. Essentially, through advancements in machine learning (ML) and natural language recognition (NLR), computers will be able to understand and interpret context, emotion and nuances of language, and thus connect data in the way that humans can.
An example of Web3 is Mastodon, open-source software that allows users to create decentralised social networking services. It uses blockchain technology, it has no governing authority, and users decide on important aspects such as codes of conduct, privacy and content moderation.
Web3’s supporters claim that it holds great advantages, in terms of addressing the over-centralisation of the internet by Big Tech, as well as improved data security, scalability and privacy over Web 2.0.
But it has many detractors, too: new Twitter owner Elon Musk has said it “seems more marketing buzzword than reality right now”, for example. Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey describes it as a “venture capitalists’ plaything”, arguing that it will simply centralise the web in the hands of venture capital funds instead of Big Tech.
Web3 does have its drawbacks. The sheer energy consumption of blockchain computations is a big concern. Decentralised services are harder to regulate than centralised ones. (Most are not as decentralised as they claim, too, because they often use centralised services to access blockchains.) And many implementations are still niche ones, primarily around cryptocurrency.
At Flow Communications we recognise the importance of future-proofing and keeping one step ahead of the game in the ever-changing and fast-evolving online landscape – which leads to the question below.
So, is Web3 a revolution, and how does it affect us?
I believe that we will continue to see different integrations of Web3 concepts into the internet, such as self-sovereign identity, where users control the information they use to prove their identity across platforms; blockchain and non-fungible tokens for licensing and ownership declarations; cryptocurrencies for transactions; and ML and NLR for linking data and chatbots.
But a revolution? I don’t think so. Like Web 2.0 is to Web 1.0, supplementing instead of supplanting it, Web3 won’t completely change the internet as we know it. It will be more evolution than revolution, then – and we will evolve with it.
Grant McMullin is the technical team lead at Flow Communications, one of South Africa’s leading independent agencies. Founded in 2005, Flow now has a permanent team of over 60 professional staff, with more than 700 years of collective experience in marketing and communications.
By Cara Wares and Lizette Sutherland
You’ve probably heard of the terms UX and UI before, but what do they mean and why are they important for successful digital product and website development? Our team at Flow Communications has some answers for you.
The whole experience a user has with a company’s goods or services is referred to as the user experience (UX). How simple or difficult it is to interact with each piece of a product or service determines good or terrible UX design.
User interface (UI), on the other hand, refers to the style and layout of the product, including all the buttons, placeholders, text, images, checkboxes and other visual elements that users interact with.
Who are you designing for?
When you think about your UX design, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who are your users or clients, and where and how will they use your website, product or service?
- What are the products or services you’re selling or promoting and how can you motivate your customers to buy or use them?
- Why is your product better than that of the competition? What is your unique selling point?
It’s important to bear in mind that your user is at the centre of everything.
Five UI questions to ask yourself about your product
1.Is it easy enough for the user to find what they’re looking for?
2. Is the app or website too complicated?
3. Does the onboarding process make sense, or is it too long?
4. Do the buttons or other links do what your user expects?
5. Is the text easily legible and concise enough?
Make it work for you
Now that you know all the theory, how do you practically implement it? Here are 10 steps from our team at Flow Communications on creating a winning website for your business.
1. The process flow
The building of a website should kick off with your whole team – including designers and developers – working out exactly what you’re trying to achieve with the project.
2. Site map
The site map is the basic structure of everything that’s going to be on your website. It’s a working document between you and your client to work out exactly what content needs to go onto your site, how you’re going to structure it, and how you will lead your users through that content.
3. Take your users on a journey
After the site map is done, you need to create a user flow, or user journey. Here, you map out how users will move through your website until they, for instance, get to a point where they purchase a product or subscribe to get regular news updates, depending on your end goal.
You need to look at all the feedback loops – using the system’s outputs as inputs for product improvement – and possible places where the customer could end up abandoning the process and leave your website, and create solutions to stop that from happening.
4. Give your users a personality
User personas are fictional or imaginary characters that represent your customers and target audience. Despite them not being actual people, they are based on data and facts discovered through actual interviews, surveys and other user research methods.
5. The blueprint
The next vital stage of the project is building your wireframe, which is the blueprint for your website. It is basically a “stripped-down” version of your site, where you place all the information and content that will go onto the site and structure it accordingly.
6. Time for the good stuff
Next on your to-do list is the UI of your website: the design look and feel. This is where you decide on your brand identity, which includes selecting your colours, fonts, the images you’ll use and everything that will bring your site to life. This is the side of your website that people will see and interact with.
After the UI stage, the prototype is created. This is an interactive demo of your website. An interactive prototype serves as the “live” version of your wireframe and gives the product life by displaying the entire flow combined with the actual text and the finished copy.
This allows for everyone on the team to go through the website from their laptops or mobile phones and to click through the site pages as if it’s the final product.
8. Website handover
It is now time to hand over the project from the designers to the development team to implement the finished design.
Designers always include a style guide for the developers, which determines aspects such as font sizes and colours, button styling and icons. The designer will also create a folder with corporate “assets”, such as header and footer logos, favicon (a 16×16 pixel tiny icon used in web browsers to symbolise a website or web page), icons, optimised images, font files, colour codes and components.
9. Almost there …
Before the site goes live, it needs to go through the testing phase. UI testers make sure all the buttons, fields, labels and other items on the screen work as specified by checking screens, colours, fonts, sizes, buttons, icons and more, and how they respond to the user input.
10. … and we’re live!
Developers have a go-live checklist before they can officially launch the website. This is a crucial part of the final process to check that servers, the security of the site (whether it’s easy to hack and/or retrieve your client’s details from a database), URLs, links and forms are all correct and working.
Cara Wares and Lizette Sutherland are senior UX/UI designers at Flow Communications (www.flowsa.com), one of South Africa’s leading independent agencies. Founded in 2005, Flow now has a permanent team of over 60 professional staff, with more than 700 years of collective experience in marketing and communications
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Khaya Thwala on firstname.lastname@example.org or 078 349 0668.