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On crafting a brand

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by Mike Bawden, President & CEO

I’ve written quite a bit about how to create brand equity. But in reviewing all of those missives, I find I continue to come back to the one essential truth on which I’ve built my professional career:

“Brand equity is built through a series of promises made and promises kept.”

It’s that simple. Really.

It’s the same rule that applies to any relationship whether between parent and child, spouses, or employer and employee. Human beings tend to infuse life and meaning into everything they interact with, and that includes brands. So people really do have relationships with brands – and how those brands are handled by their stewards makes a difference in how much those relationships mean to the people who use them.

On Brand Crafting
So the first part of the process is easy to understand. It’s the “promise making” part. What we tell people. The images we evoke. The jingles. The jokes. The jeers.

Crafting a brand shouldn’t happen by accident. If you own and have responsibility for a brand, you need to be deliberate in how you position that brand and can clearly identify what kind of valuable contribution that brand brings to the people who matter most to it.

Think about it as having a “point of view” and a “proposition” for your brand.

This is your quest for “relevance” in the eyes of the customers, employees and partners you’re trying to form relationships with. If you can’t understand how or why your brand should matter to them, don’t even think of wasting money on the “shouting from the rooftops” part of this job.

For many brands, a “point of view” reflects the culture and values of the organization. It’s your approach to solving a problem, distilled down into a bottle, a service, a platform or a “mission” that drives your enterprise. Sometimes, a brand’s point of view doesn’t appeal to a prospective customer – and that’s okay. It’s all part of the social selection process people go through when they try to sift through the millions of messages and impressions that come at them relentlessly every day.

But you’re missing opportunities (and business) if the way you communicate your point of view is muddled in the messaging. Simply put, people will skip over messages delivered from a point of view they don’t understand.

You won’t even get a hearing, let alone a fair trial.

Once you’ve got a clear point of view on your brand, though, you’re work isn’t through. Understanding who you are and what you stand for is only part of the job. You need to do even more work getting to know and understand the people who are most important to your brand’s success: your customers, employees and business partners.

That takes time and effort (and usually money), but it can yield insights into the needs, aspirations, fears and concerns of those people with whom you want to do business.

And that’s a good thing.

You can use that information to identify opportunities where your interests and point of view overlaps with their needs and wants. With a little creative thought, you should be able to spot opportunities for making promises that will really mean something. Promises with real value.

Those are your brand’s propositions – and they need to be clearly and concisely explained, expertly packaged and delivered right to the people who need to hear them.

What you do with your brand after its promises are heard and understood is the subject of my next post on Brand Building.

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Essentials of public relations

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by Mike Bawden, President & CEO

It’s no secret that both public relations (PR) and advertising offer unique benefits when employed correctly. And, when working together, the two practices can build awareness, boost brand value and drive sales. Some of our most successful campaigns stem from a strong relationship between our PR team and advertising agency partners.

To contrast the two, PR earns media coverage through strategic outreach to journalists while advertising is a controlled message placed in paid-for space. Both practices work to influence the behavior of consumers by swaying opinion, calling consumers to action, etc., but the tactics used to gain results and meet goals couldn’t be more different.

Unfortunately, PR tends to be overlooked during the planning stages of some marketing campaigns because many don’t fully understand the benefits. And, if PR isn’t overlooked all together, many times key decision makers don’t quite understand how it works or worse, don’t understand how to measure a PR campaign’s success (common measurements include impressions, number of placements and types of placements).

The primary goal of any PR campaign, no matter how large or small, is to build relationships. Through these relationships, we’re able to secure stories, build momentum and create opportunities for brands, be it a person, organization, product or service. Before launching any PR campaign, it’s important to outline measures of success to fairly evaluate the benefits as well as manage expectations both internally and externally.

So what sort of benefits can you expect from a well-planned PR campaign?

Affordability. When compared to advertising, PR is an economical way to stay in front of consumers and works to build brand loyalty. With PR you are paying for time required and minimal out-of-pocket expenses in order for your agency to develop relationships on your company’s behalf. With advertising, not only do you need to pay your agency for the time required to create the ads, but you’re also paying the media outlets to run your ads.

Credibility. PR professionals pitch story ideas to reporters and because the journalist vets the story first, it becomes more unbiased than advertising. In contrast, consumers generally understand that an advertisement means that the company provided the messages and is therefore approached with some level of skepticism. News stories aren’t typically viewed with as much cynicism.

Visibility. By implementing a PR campaign, you can affordably increase search engine optimization (SEO) and organic results as well as repeat exposure for the same story through media coverage. You can achieve similar results through advertising, but because that visibility is paid for, the costs are great.

Value. PR results are tied to placements secured, conversations started. The value comes from those third-party endorsements that we work to nurture and develop on a client’s behalf.

Relationships. PR builds relationships with journalists and consumers on behalf of your organization by sharing information. Further, PR creates loyalty through dialogue that take place via tactics such as social media and events.

Details. Because PR coverage typically results in more space and time for information sharing, consumers are exposed to more details about your company’s product or service. This, coupled with established credibility, allows consumers to freely take in information from unbiased sources to ultimately make an educated decision for themselves. PR and advertising can easily complement one another by pushing the same key messages via varied channels.

Legitimacy. By launching a PR campaign, you’ll see regular media exposure that typically results in enhancing and legitimizing your reputation. As consumers see increased, positive media coverage, they’ll begin to look at your brand in a favorable light.

Position. Through PR, you can tell your side of the story and be seen as an expert within your industry. By working with a PR firm, they can train you on how to work with journalists, ultimately assisting you with interview styles, key messages and on-camera confidence. Once established as an expert, many times journalists will seek to interview you on other industry topics as new opportunities arise, allowing you to further solidify your authority.

Timely. Because fewer people are involved in developing and pitching a story in PR, advertising campaigns typically require more time to plan and execute. Messages secured via PR, more times than not, will appear much faster when compared to advertising. In addition, PR and advertising can work together to prolong messages presented in the media

When used correctly, PR can be a valuable marketing tool benefiting your brand position and bottom line. PR is not the only answer to a strong marketing campaign, but it is an important practice to employ in order to build strong brand credibility, legitimacy and value.

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Why getting (and keeping) customers isn’t as easy as it looks.

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by Mike Bawden, President & CEO

Customer loyalty is a big thing.  In fact, more than half of the marketers recently surveyed by Forrester Research said they were investing more in customer loyalty programs in 2013 over 2012.  But with all that money being spent, only 45% of retail customers enroll in a store’s loyalty program. The good news: only 33% of retail customers actually redeem the rewards.

Carolyn Goodman writes about the Complexity of Loyalty for Target Marketing’s website this month, too. She focuses on the growth of airline loyalty programs and how they’ve gone astray. Too much of a good thing, perhaps?

The last piece in the loyalty puzzle relates to the power of the word-of-mouth referral. P.J. Bednarski writes about the comparable values of a Facebook or Twitter referral versus a referral from a real-live person whom you actually know.

The death of media advertising could be the end of traditional PR.  Seriously. PR News’ Tony Silber makes a cogent case that the problems faced by traditional media advertising could result in a smaller news hole and, in turn, make old-fashioned media relations that much harder for traditional PR pros.

Of course, I’d be a fool not to point out that I made the same case back in 2006.

How do you know your PR is working? Marianne Eisenmann provides a handy 6-point checklist for PR measurement.

Is fear the consultant’s enemy? Scott Berkun, writing in the Harvard Business Review, challenges consultants to go work with the people who pay for their advice. But they won’t, according to Berkun, because they’re afraid. They should try it, though, they might learn something …

Solving the online registration puzzle.  If you manage or host events, you’re constantly challenged with finding an efficient and effective registration and audience management system. Here’s a checklist of ten decision points to walk through when making your choice.

Lifehacks are big.  As life gets more complex and we spend more time in “the cloud” – gaining control over our electronic life will become an ever-increasing issue. Jill Duffy provides some useful tips on managing passwords in PC Magazine.

Follow all this news (and more) on Twitter … @BrandCentral

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