Platform: Why branding is the key to future success - As companies become ever more competitive, branding is more important and PR must get in on the act, says Kieran Moore

No one can deny the importance of branding any longer. Even among the traditionally tit-for-tat, feature-driven technology industry, brand consciousness has risen dramatically. ’For many years, technology companies could build a better mousetrap, then sit back and watch their customers line up at the door,’ says US management guru Chuck Pettit in his book Techno Brands. ’Those days are gone’.

No one can deny the importance of branding any longer. Even among

the traditionally tit-for-tat, feature-driven technology industry, brand

consciousness has risen dramatically. ’For many years, technology

companies could build a better mousetrap, then sit back and watch their

customers line up at the door,’ says US management guru Chuck Pettit in

his book Techno Brands. ’Those days are gone’.



Taking technology as an example, the sector is becoming more and more

consumerised with computers now firmly established in most areas and the

arrival of the internet. Hi-tech consumers now perceive products within

categories rather than as a bundle of unique features. As in other

markets, this ’commoditisation’ of the product means that non-product

attributes, such as brand image, become increasingly important, if not

tantamount, in the purchase decision.



Many people think of branding mainly in terms of advertising. But this

is a costly exercise and, while it can be effective at building brand

awareness, this is no longer enough. What is crucial now is going beyond

logos and getting to the real messages behind them - communicating and

reinforcing the values which the brand stands for. This requires a

softer sell for which PR is ideally suited. Without the support of PR,

branding will be weak or muddled at best and even contradictory. The

fact that PR is also a much better value-for-money proposition than

advertising is an added benefit for the client.



Savvier clients are waking up to this. Marketing directors, who have

become more PR-aware with access to much bigger budgets as well as

responsibility for return on investment of these budgets, are looking

for tighter integration of marketing and more consistent and effective

brand messaging.



Unfortunately, many sectors of the PR industry have been much too slow

to catch on to the significance of brand. Our counterparts in other

marketing disciplines have stolen the jump on us, often making our

efforts look amateurish. How could we be in this game for so long and

still be so brand ignorant? We must improve our practices and

quickly.



And not just for our bigger clients who are demanding it from us.

Branding is as relevant to the small service organisation as it is to

the large public limited company. Too often people confuse brand with

size or market leadership. Say ’brand’ and the response is likely to be

Coca-Cola, Sony or McDonald’s. The association of brand is with global

spread and pervasiveness. While, of course, these organisations do have

incredibly strong and successful brands, branding is not their exclusive

remit. It is just as important, if not more so, for smaller players.



It is our responsibility as PR professionals to make ourclients - no

matter what their size or sector - aware of the importance of branding

and how PR can support this. In many cases, client organisations may not

even believe they have a brand or know what it stands for. They are too

close to their own business or may lack the objectivity or confidence to

recognise their own strengths and competencies. They may not be aware of

how they are perceived or how they should be perceived.



We must help all of our clients to think strategically - identify the

brand, probe it, understand its ambitions, evaluate how well these are

currently received by the target market. Only then can we define and

design really effective PR campaigns, communicating the right messages

at the right time to build and support the brand.



The power of brand equity is well demonstrated by its increasingly

frequent appearance on company balance sheets. Brand is not something to

be taken lightly or for granted. Not by companies and not by their PR

advisers.



Kieran Moore is a director of Firefly Communications.



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