Building Your Brand with Public Relations
Here’s a little exercise for you. Name some of the world’s most popular brands.
OK, which ones immediately came to mind? Maybe Coke or Apple? McDonald’s? Walmart? Google?
While these companies may make building a branding look easy, it’s not. Brands are the basis of an organization’s emotional and psychological relationship with its customers. It’s likely that hundreds of people participated in many meetings and discussions about the look, feel and overall personality each of these companies should communicate. And coming to an agreement on a brand is only the beginning. Then you have to build it and nurture it, which takes time, consistency and dedication.
If you asked most people how companies build brands, they’d probably mention the ads they see in print and online, or the commercials they hear on the radio or see on TV. A few might also mention product packaging, merchandising displays or websites. While it’s true that all those elements of the marketing mix help build a brand, public relations also has a tremendous impact upon brand perceptions.
In the past, PR—like advertising—primarily consisted of one-way messages from an organization to its customers. In other words, PR professionals told people what they wanted them to hear without offering them a way to respond or provide input. Today, customers have the power to let us—and just about everyone else in the world—know how they feel about our brand, our products and our services each and every day.
As a result, PR has had to evolve. It’s no longer just about developing relationships with the media, but also with actual customers. It’s about listening, responding appropriately and delivering on brand promises that customers find emotionally relevant. It’s about developing a reputation and a personality with which your customers can identify. That’s why PR has become so integral to the brand-building process—not just for multi-billion-dollar corporations, but for even the smallest businesses. Consider the following PR strategies and tactics that can help any organization develop and nurture its brand:
- Become involved with relevant events and sponsorships. Find a cause that strikes a chord with your audience and find ways to publicly support it. For example, if your brand is designed to appeal to environmentally-conscious customers, you could find events or initiatives that support water conservation or recycling. Then, work with the media and use your social networks to spread the word about your involvement. One note—it’s not enough to only do this once and then drop it. The ways you support a particular cause can change over time, but the cause itself should be consistent.
- Craft social media messages that speak to your audience’s preferences, needs and desires. In social media, there are few things duller—or more offensive—than a company using Facebook or Twitter to talk only about itself. Instead, try to get inside the minds of your followers and figure out what’s important to them. Consider other newsworthy topics, pictures or events they’ll find interesting. Share relevant industry articles. Offer tools and resources that help them accomplish a task faster or easier. Ask questions that help you get a better handle on what your audience is thinking and feeling. Keep the tone of your posts consistent and relevant to your brand message. It’s OK to talk about yourself some of the time—just not ALL of the time.
- Train your company executives how to properly “work in” your company’s brand message during interviews and speaking engagements. While that may sound a bit self-serving, once you’ve established a brand, it’s important that all communication supports it—and that includes any speeches or interviews your company executives may make. Be sure to train these individuals on the best ways to craft subtle mentions or references to your brand when working with the media.
- Develop story pitches and bylined editorial pieces that support your brand message. Pitching and placing articles in online and print publications has been a basic PR tactic for a very, very long time—and it’s still relevant today. Consider your industry and the hottest topics going on right now. Then find story ideas and angles that speak to those topics while also providing an opportunity to build your brand. When you do mention your products or services, don’t just discuss how great they are—point out how they support your overall brand.
- Remember to back up your brand in both external and internal communications. It’s easy to think about building a brand with only your external audiences and forget that your fellow employees are customers too. If you’re attempting to convey a particular brand message to your customers, but you’re not backing that up behind your office walls, your employees won’t buy it—and they may tell others not to buy it either.
PR isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to building a brand. It’s just one tool of many in the marketing toolbox. However, when it’s done well, PR is quite possibly the most subtle, yet effective way to nurture and communicate a brand image. The key is to work a consistent brand message into all aspects of your communications mix—and back it up with your actions.