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MIa Pearson

The secret weapon for changing consumer behaviour Add to ...

Many small businesses and startups face a similar challenge: how to change consumer behaviour or habits so that the companies' products or services become part of consumers' lives.

A great earned media program may just be the secret weapon.

People like to do things the way they’ve always done them, which is one of the main reasons that so many seemingly good ideas fail to catch on.

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Having groceries delivered to your house or picking up a rental movie from a vending machine both make sense for a lot of reasons. Yet, grocery stores seem to be doing better than ever, and it wasn’t Redbox that toppled Blockbuster.

The early stages of online shopping highlight just how many issues a new service may face as it strives to become accepted.

Security was one of the first major concerns that companies like eBay faced when they were trying to grow a user base. Simply put, people were nervous about using their credit cards online and buying products from people they didn’t know.

People also had to learn to accept a new type of experience. Trying things on, picking items up and feeling fabrics are elements so entrenched in our collective shopping experiences that consumers found it difficult to make purchases with no physical connection.

Big-box retailers offer up an interesting example of changing behaviour as well.

One-stop-shops such as Costco have changed North American shopping habits hugely over the last 15 years. Unlike European or Asian cultures, where people are much more likely to shop for groceries and household items multiple times per week, even daily, many North Americans stock up by buying groceries and household items to last for weeks.

The growing acceptance of e-commerce and changes in shopping behaviour on a large scale have taken great amounts of time, effort and expense to make possible.

But for a small business or startup, earned media -- in other words, public relations campaigns that lead to credible third parties writing or speaking about your product or service in traditional or social media -- can be a great way to take the initial steps.

PR is considerably less expensive than advertising and can reap many of the same benefits. It also has some distinct advantages over other approaches in the marketing tool kit.

Getting editorial coverage of your product or service carries an implicit endorsement from the reporter or media outlet. A lot of people trust their favourite media personalities in much the same way as they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from a friend, and will see their positive interaction with your product or service as something they can trust and relate to.

Partnering with a spokesperson for media appearances and interviews is another great way to highlight the benefits of your product or service. A carefully chosen and knowledgeable spokesperson endorsing a product or actually using it helps consumers get through some of the initial stages of a purchasing decision.

Public relations can also help to broaden your audience. Quite often, companies find themselves telling only one story. Think about all the different angles that might be available to you, and see if there is a story that fits. By telling your story in different ways through different media outlets, you will be able to reach new audiences. If you make a technology product, for instance, see if you can tell a lifestyle or fashion story.

Get creative. It will allow consumers to see your product and company from different angles and, hopefully, lead them to change their behaviour or habits to make room for something new.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

Join The Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

 
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