Lessons Learned from Nikon BlogHer PR Mis-Fire

In a much tweeted and blogged about mis-fire, Nikon lost some love from the mommy blogger empire at the BlogHer conference this past weekend in Chicago.

When I read the first blog post about the big #fail I felt sympathy for the PR team and for Nikon, both who truly had the intent of providing a fun experience for a key audience.  This is a perfect example of a big brand trying to connect with its audience but missing the mark by just-this-much.

Instead of re-capping the tweet-by-tweet play, here are the highlights:

1.    Nikon wants to strengthen ties with the mommy blogger community, an obvious synergy.

2.    They decide to host a party for said important bloggers/attendees at BlogHer.

3.    Select invitees arrive at Nikon’s party with baby in arms.

4.    Select invitees are turned away because the venue has a no-baby policy, which allowed for no last-minute flexibility on Nikon’s part.

5.    Outrage ensues and the hashtag #Nikonhatesbabies is quickly born and spread.

6.    Nikon is skewered publicly and the original intent of building good will with the BlogHer audience is overshadowed by tweets, posts and WOM of Nikon’s out-of-touch approach.

The event was well intentioned and Nikon likely spent a ton of money with high hopes of connecting with mommy bloggers and walking away with a legion of new fans to point to for ROI when reporting back to the CMO to justify event costs.  Instead, it turned into a bit of a flare-up.

My bet is that plenty of the party’s attendees had a good experience, all aside, and the vocal frustration of said mommy blogger/s to get inside of the party is testament to the desire to see what Nikon had to offer.  Was Nikon’s brand tarnished to ever-lasting effect? No.  Did it have a marketing/pr #fail? Yes. One small hiccup derailed what could have been reported to corporate as a wholly positive experience, instead turning it into one that will require a re-cap and a what-went-wrong meeting.

That’s OK. It happens. It’s not ideal and I’m sure everyone will now always make sure a BlogHer venue allows children. We’re all people trying to do our jobs and, I guarantee, at the end of the day, it wasn’t ultimately a fail for the brand. My money is on Nikon, that they did make solid relationships that will pay off long after the story of the #nikonhatesbabies story fades into the Digg trash heap. Instead of skewering them for missing the mark, let’s take a look at what we can learn from the experience and then move on with our lives.

1.    Audience: Nikon knew whom they wanted to reach and they knew they’d find them at BlogHer.  The idea to throw an event makes sense but they didn’t fully evaluate the possible actions of their audience and plan accordingly.  Unfortunately for Nikon, thevenue they chose didn’t allow for on-the-fly flexibility.  Which is why it’s always good to fully evaluate…

2.    Environment: Nikon knew that BlogHer was teeming with mommy bloggers full of opinions and reach, but Nikon missed the one crucial detail of the BlogHer environment that might impact their event if they’d paid more attention the psychology of their audience — children are encouraged. For any influencers who bring their children and expect to be catered to on-and off-site with anything BlogHer related, you better treat her like the blogging princess she is; free to move about with child in-tow.  It’s easy to fault Nikon, but I also see how it happened. Which is why it’s always good to have a…

3.    Contingency Plan: When throwing any event with bloggers, especially ones who are vocal and love to discuss the scandals of the days and evenings before (Note: I’ve attended and I’ve seen pictures be sent and women be shunned overnight,) you better walk through every possible scenario.  Granted this requires having a solid understanding of #1 and #2 because when you don’t you end up with…

4.    Damage Control: I’m sure the mommy bloggers who were offended will make those Nikon PR people work overtime to gain their attention back but I truly believe that Nikon made new connections with party attendees, many who likely rolled their eyes at the whole ordeal.  It’s easy for the PR teams and corporate to get freaked out by these bursts on twitter and the blogosphere but I highly doubt those mommy bloggers will boycott Nikon forever.  The #nikonhatesbabies creator herself even retracted later saying it was meant to be “tongue in cheek.”  (Also something that missed the mark.)

At the end of the day you have to assess the overall damage and if it’s a minor temper tantrum online (deserved or not) it’s going to happen.  Welcome to the new world.  Luckily the new world also means people are more tolerant to mis-fires like this.  And if anyone’s forgiving to a little chick (like Nikon wading into mommy-blogger territory,) trying something new, it’s mom’s – who recognize the spirit behind the stumble. Which is another big #fail on Nikon’s part – missing the…

5. Emotional Connection: Public Relations is about communicating.  About connecting with various publics that drive your business.  As PR moves more into the realm of marketing, it has to wade into new territory, which is the psychology and sociology of people.  This is integral to sales, which PR is at the end of the day.  Nikon had a captive audience of vocal women immersed in an environment focused solely on empowering them as women, as mother’s, as entrepreneurs, as friends, among so many things.
Nikon could have delved a little deeper than trying-to-make-friends-with-new-influencers and paid more attention to creating an emotional connection through the experience that would then lead to friends-with-new-influencers.  They could have created an event that embraced and complimented the environment it was taking part of (BlogHer) by including child participation, maybe even a photo shoot with mom.  A bonding experience she’ll never forget, captured forever thanks to Nikon…

Emotions are powerful things and it’s what’s at the heart of sales.  Answering pain points, encouraging the things that make us happy, reminding us of something we miss…whatever it may be, establishing a connection that creates authentic loyalty for your brand is an arduous process. The sooner you learn to focus the development of your communications and marketing plans around that, the fuller you’ll find your evangelist (and sales) pipeline.
Take aways:

1)    Know your audience and what motivates them.

2)    Understand the environment and culture.

3)    Always poke holes in events and campaigns before launching; identify contingency plans to avoid mis-fires.

4)     Always address potential initial damage but don’t forget to take a step back and look at the big picture (as in the collective opinion about the experience, not just the ones that said it the loudest.)

5)    When creating an experience for a consumer, whatever it may be, don’t forget to think about it from an emotional point of view. What emotion do you want encourage and have associated with your brand? Once you know that, see step #1 to determine what it will take to get there.

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