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PR Has to Be More Involved in Company Branding

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

“It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”Claude M. Bristol, author of The Magic of Believing

“I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.” -- Muhammad Ali
A cover feature article in BusinessWeek, a major article in Darwin and overview pieces in both Fortune and Forbes earlier this year once again raised the level of interest in branding for companies, products and even individuals to a feverish pitch. The common thread in all of these articles was sublimely simple…develop a great name and advertise it aggressively and consistently in good times and bad.

What’s missing? Public relations. And we say that not because of some professional self-interest but rather of what public relations can and should do for a brand…internally and externally.

Not that one should be used at the exclusion of the other but public relations is about communications two-way communications. Advertising is about encapsulating and sending out a message.

Depending on which expert you listen to branding even as the Internet and Web level the playing field is either everything or totally overrated.

Brand image simply does not come from marketing and a brilliant even memorably ad campaign. Brand image comes from living, breathing people.

When we read the BusinessWeek article we quickly scanned their listing of the 100 top brands to see how one of our global clients fared. We were disappointed to see how low in the listing the company was listed but we were completely surprised by the authors’ notes and comments. It was totally counter to what we knew management believed to be “the true brand position.”

But That’s Not Us
We sent the article noting the company’s positioning to one of the client’s senior executives. His email back noted that it wasn’t a good impression or placement of the company’s brand and that was why the organization was preparing to launch a new branding ad campaign in the U.S.

We responded by noting:
  • it wasn’t a local issue, it was a global issue

  • you don’t brand by advertising the problem away, you start internally and work your way out

  • management had to understand that the company was not the center of the universe but the customer is the center of the universe. It isn’t about what management thinks but what the customer thinks that counts
From the inside it comes from what employees and partners think of the firm, its products/services, the customer value(s) they deliver and how they project themselves and the company on a day-to-day basis. From the outside it comes from what the customer business or individual thinks of the company, its people, its products/services and the value they receive.

Web Changed Everything
Examining branding activities, let’s take a page from the click-dot-bomb book and consider Great ads. Even we wanted a sock puppy but the infrastructure wasn’t in place to support the warmth of the ads. It might have been more effective if the branding had begun on the inside and focused on the staff (and systems) that addressed, developed and maintained a one-to-one relationship with the customer.

While firms have cooled toward the Web slightly since the implosion of the industry, almost every firm worth its legal filings realizes how the Internet and Web can benefit the company and its long-term success. What most company presidents can’t or don’t understand is how quickly that brand image can be torn down when dissatisfied customers take to the Web. Smart firms realize the importance of being responsive to complaints and criticism in real-time to make certain the brand that is projected is consistent.

Or consider that felt brand didn’t matter…it was all about price. In fact, Jay Walker, the company’s founder, questioned the value of brands compared to price in the Web-enabled world. Surprise! Brand mattered. When we fly we go to, or For a recent trip we chose a higher priced American flight rather a low-fare flight that had three stops and a plane change. The savings simply cost too much and we had a definite brand preference for American.

Intel learned a valuable lesson regarding their branding and the Web several years ago when a customer found an obscure equation would raise havoc with the performance of their CPU chip. They dismissed the problem as being inconsequential and something very few computer users would ever encounter. The voice in the wilderness grew to become a howling mob heard round the globe. Their noise attracted the news media and suddenly “Intel Inside” was losing its cache. The logic of engineering minds couldn’t understand the furor until then-CEO Andy Grove and his PR team stepped in to “do the right thing” and restore confidence in the company’s brand.

Since its founding in 1969, Mitsubishi Chemical’s Verbatim Corporation has branded itself as an innovator in the storage products industry that consistently produced superior quality backed by a no-nonsense, no-questions-asked money back warranty. In today’s price-ravaged CD market you can go into a store and buy a no-name spindle (stack of 25-50) CD-R discs for as little as 30-50 cents apiece. Or you can buy Verbatim branded media for prices ranging from 50-75 cents and even a dollar per jewel-cased disc. Computer manufacturers prefer to bundle samples of the Verbatim media with their systems because it is consistent with their image. Serious business users prefer the firm’s media 6-1 according to a recent storage industry survey. In other words there is added value in the Verbatim brand and when a problem arises it is solved…no questions asked.

Firms that sell only on price have nothing going for them but price…and someone always has a better price.

Branding is Overrated
While he built his reputation on branding for such firms as Intel and Apple, Regis McKenna, chairman of The McKenna Group, today feels branding is overrated. Using factoids as he enjoys doing, Regis notes that the average U.S. company loses half of its customers every five years, half of their employees every four years and half their investors every year. His conclusion is that as a result, much of the money, time and effort spent on branding is therefore wasted.

Unfortunately in some ways he’s right because too many CEOs and heads of marketing think of branding as an activity and a program directed at the consumer. But the Internet has changed the way companies must view branding. It allows people to interact and exchange information. To address the new total marketplace many firms have found a solution they have adopted called CRM (customer relations management) software.

But the sterile, automated misses the mark. It isn’t customer relations management, its personal relations management. This says “I know you better than anyone else and I’ll deliver the product or service you want or need.”

That’s the way Lou Gerstner changed IBM from a frozen-in-time Big Iron company to a solutions-driven service and software firm. While he may be struggling to find the next wave, that’s the way Michael Dell built his PC firm from a dorm room to the number one computer producer in the world. Each did it by building brand equity in their organization and their people to meet customer expectations…one customer at a time.

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Branding Is PR, PR Is Branding

If you’re still not convinced you should dirty your hands by helping your company or client focus on branding in an interconnected world we suggest you read two books Emotional Branding: How Successful Brands Gain the Irrational Edge by Daryl Travis and Richard Branson and Brand Manners: How to Create the Self Confident Organization to Live the Brand by Harnish Pringle and William Gordon.

Both books, each taking a different approach, may help PR people convince themselves that branding really isn’t a marketing or advertising issue. It’s a senior management and communications issue.

Branding is organic. It takes into consideration the fact that opportunities and our environment constantly change and that we really do have smarter workers and customers. If this is the case then public relations should play a key role in helping the organization bond employees, business alliances and customers. It should be used to help firms create communities where dialogue and relationships where individual experiences produce results.

Branding is all about how a firm’s employees, business partners and customers feel about the company, the relationship and the products. Contrary to McKenna’s opinion that brand is overrated, we believe it is more important than ever as people become more disassociated and new products, ideas and services are thrown into the marketplace every day.

Branding is what makes some people in this mixed up world feel so strongly about a cause that they are willing to die for the cause. We don’t expect you to build this level of commitment for your company, its products and services but you wouldn’t expect advertising to deliver this level of commitment would you? No…it’s public relations and communications.

It’s time that you took your job seriously and focused on helping your company produce value, build its assets and constantly create and recreate your organization’s brand. Marketing and advertising can’t do your job. It’s up to public relations to help people feel a connection/bond with your company and its products.

© Copyright 2001, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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