While top-tier marketing and advertising are valuable, associated PR campaigns can help propel a brand to the next level of emotional attachment. It’s that anticipation you get when you hear the three-note music intro before a Netflix movie or the warm recognition of a classic Mickey Mouse logo. You feel connected to these brands. They’ve become an enduring part of your life and are woven into enjoyable memories or happy experiences.
Some customers are initially attracted to certain brands because they like their ad message. Others are loyal because of a good experience with product quality or customer service. But sometimes the emotional connection between us and a brand is hard to define, and even harder to achieve. For companies looking to differentiate themselves from the pack, PR (integrated with advertising and marketing) can help build a foundation of brand love.
PR gives voice to brands
Especially in today’s atmosphere of increasing corporate activism, a company that takes a stand on a controversial topic can create lasting bonds with customers – even if it alienates others in the process. It is well documented that today’s rising generations value a company’s ethical stance and an authentic commitment to social responsibility. PR is a primary tool for corporate speech on social issues. In 2016, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook took a controversial stand (on its news site and in TV interviews) against the U.S. government when it refused to unlock the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone. The shooter’s phone was ultimately cracked without Apple’s help, but its stand on privacy was consistent with long-held principles and arguably those of its core customers. Patagonia, a smaller, privately owned company, has earned a loyal customer base by making good products, but its communications has also played a big role in engaging consumers. The brand’s book publishing and filmmaking arms help convey its position on environmental issues that are also important to stakeholders and customers. When brands like these take a stand on social issues, they are humanized, making it easier for like-minded consumers to engage.
Storytelling brings brands to life
When a company tells the story of the human beings behind the corporate logo, it brings the company to life. But the storytelling should go beyond the founders and employees. A great PR initiative will allow its other stakeholders (like employees, customers and third-party influencers) to tell their stories. In the B2B sector, Salesforce excels at storytelling and has a team dedicated to it. Its website has a success stories page, with well-produced articles and videos featuring “trailblazers” – Salesforce users. CEO Marc Benioff’s outspoken leadership on the topic of management always goes hand in hand with the Salesforce story – making him an outstanding CEO brand evangelist. His storytelling prowess combined with his corporate activism makes it obvious why Salesforce is such a beloved B2B brand.
PR helps differentiate
People gravitate towards uniqueness. Customers cannot fall in love with just another face in the crowd. They fall for the disruptors like Apple and McDonald’s (back in the 50s, it was radical). Differentiation is key to gaining competitive advantage over crowded markets. In B2B, ads alone may not inspire the confidence a customer needs to make a high-priced decision in a long sales cycle. Third-party endorsements like consultant reviews, analyst reports, and executive bylines help to explicate a company’s unique attributes for the potential buyers.
But sometimes a company lacks a true differentiator when it comes to its product or service. With all things being equal, intangible attributes become a source of differentiation: values, ethos, management philosophy, corporate culture. Public relations programs are designed to bring such values into the public conversation. Certainly, Airbnb has gained separation from competitors like VRBO/Homeaway through its marketing/PR activations. REI’s “opt outside” campaign, in which it closed its stores on black Friday and urged people to go outside, was a compelling social activism campaign that in turn helped REI separate itself from other outdoor retailers.
PR helps fosters brand immersion
Marketing, advertising, and PR should work in combination when tying to take brands to the next level. Experiential marketing generates the kind of customer interaction that is key to attachment. When brands create immersive experiences that are so compelling and unusual, they earn media placements from the press, adding a whole other dimension to the marketing campaign. These activations allow customers to participate in the brand story, as well as capture and share unique and memorable experiences.
Netflix partnered with Lyft to create some mildly scary, but amazing experiences for Lyft customers in promotion of the second season of Stranger Things. Borrowing a page from Walt Disney’s playbook, the Lego Group, which was named #2 most reputable company in 2017, created LegoLand theme parks and a Legoland themed hotel. Airbnb opened a pop-up open house for four days in London as part of its 2016 “Live There” campaign. Over 1400 people ventured in to see how locals live. Not only did Airbnb give people fun and informative experiences, but the event incorporated its messaging — the resonant theme urging travelers to ‘live like locals.’
Companies not only create immersive experiences with events and attractions, but also with dialogue. Netflix frequently invites two-way conversation and participation of its customers, especially on social media. For its show Orange is the New Black, it created a photo-sharing app on which viewers could make their own show-related memes. Users get to feel as if they are in on the joke and in on the fun. Experiences are not easily forgotten, and they break the barrier between brand and customer. For more on experiential PR, see this PR Week article.
However, if substance does not back up a company’s storytelling, it’s unlikely to make customers fall in love. There must be a great story to tell; the commitment to values must be sincere and relevant; and the interaction must be honest. Whether for a mid-sized B2B or an early-stage consumer brand, a solid PR approach can build brand attachment as well as growth. See our earlier post for more on 7 PR tips for brands to woo customers.