Dorothy Crenshaw December 12, 2012 | 10:42:02

Five Ways PR Can Build Brands

It’s been said that PR drives reputation, while marketing builds brands. But that simplistic premise defines both PR and brand far too narrowly. It may not always take the lead in brand-building, particularly with large, global companies, but there are many ways in which the classic PR approach and tactics help defend, deepen, and even create an indelible brand identity. Here are some of the most common.

Storytelling.  This sums up PR’s advantages. A corporate or brand story might be threaded through all aspects of its marketing, but only PR can tell it in depth. Those stories aren’t just the splashy entrepreneurial chronicles, like Steve Jobs’ life or Richard Branson’s latest exploits. The most influential storytelling might involve how an innovation saved a business, improved a life, or rehabilitated a community, and it can usually be done in far more detail and with greater authenticity through social and traditional media relations than through paid media channels.

Third-party endorsement. To be strong, a brand promise must be credible. The essence of good PR is having someone else talk about your brand rather than the company itself. The third-party endorsement – either implied or explicit – is often very effective, sometimes more so than paid media. It helps when the publicity results include “proof points” that reinforce a brand proposition or identity.

Thought leadership. Staking out a position on a relevant issue and sharing new insights or ideas can yield far-reaching brand benefits. When Starbucks’ Howard Schultz weighs in on healthcare reform, or unveils a jobs program, for example, it’s more than a corporate reputation campaign. It’s an example of thought leadership about a critical matter relevant to most customers that has nothing to do with its products, but everything to do with its brand.

Education. In PR, “education” usually evokes unbranded behavior modification campaigns that seek to impact public safety or health, like obesity prevention or safe sex. Yet for companies and brands in “high-involvement” categories like automotive, technology, and some luxury industries, the depth and detail that product education provides can be a strong brand differentiator and a way to inspire customer confidence.

Creating advocates. This is where branding and reputation come together. Social media is like word-of-mouth on steroids, and its ubiquity brings an explosive acceleration of the cycle whereby regular citizens become passionate advocates, either for or against a brand. Through the power of social sharing, every customer interaction is potentially a public one, and a brand reputation can be formed – or dismantled – in a matter of days.

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