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
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
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
Kieran Moore is a director of Firefly Communications.