You'd have to labor to shield yourself from the power of Branding; it's hard to avoid it in today's business and social climate. Even in the backwoods of very, very small-town America, you couldn't emancipate yourself from the in-your- face concepts of Branding messages from all over the world. Even in conversations that don't discuss it (and those are becoming few and far between), Branding is present. On television, in the supermarket, at the movie theater, in your car, Branding is constantly with you. If you're in business-any business-you are involved in Branding in some way. If you are a sole proprietor, you may, yourself, be a brand.
It is no longer enough to simply be the best-or even the best-selling-product on the market. It has become necessary to establish a brand identity, which can lead to additional products, deeper market share, and expanded consumer loyalty.
As Cable Neuhaus, editor in chief of Folio magazine, says: “Branding is so paramount. A car to many, many people is an extension of themselves. It's an extension of the way they see themselves. Relatively few people go down to the dealership that's closest to their home and say, ‘What can I get for $22,500?’ That's not the way people buy cars for the most part, and that's the reason the car companies spend billions of dollars worldwide, in all likelihood, on the Branding enterprise. GM just fired the guy who's in charge of Branding because they feel he wasn't very successful there. They have a succession of car lines and you can move up the lines: Chevy, Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac. There isn't all that much difference between a Buick and a Pontiac; they're usually built on the same frame. The difference is how they market themselves to the audience. Pontiac is ‘We build excitement. ’ Buick is ‘American luxury. '" In the world of public relations, where I work to brand some of today's hottest stars, it's virtually impossible to avoid talking about Branding.
Working in Hollywood for 20 years, I've never heard the kind of buzz around a concept that I've experienced with Branding. Everyone is looking for the key to the concept; everyone is saying the word, although most have misconceptions about its meaning.
The problem is, only the select few people know what Branding really is. And even fewer understand the essential role public relations plays in the Branding process. As Duane E. Knapp, president of BrandStrategy, Inc. and author of The Branding Mindset, says: “Most people do not have a clue what brand means. The common misconception is that brand is hype. They have this concept that one of the ways to be a successful brand is that you've got to hype the brand, you've got to have a lot of activity, a lot of communications, a lot of advertising, which is the antithesis of the true concept of brand. I think [PR] is the most important role. The company should decide what their promise is. If you don't have a brand promise, you have nothing, and it's not the advertising tagline. It's what the employees and the company promise to consumers. It's not a promise unless it's written, unless every single employee in the company can tell you what they have to do to deliver that promise. They might not be able to recite the exact two or three sentences, but for example, at L. L. Bean, they know that there is no such thing as an unhappy customer. "
"I think (public relations) is a massively important, and even more massively under-leveraged, role in the Branding process. I don't think people fully understand the value of setting up an interview with a major magazine or somebody else endorsing your brand. 3M talks about how you perceive your brand in three different ways: one, ‘customer satisfaction, ’ two, ‘would you buy the brand again, ’ and three, ‘would you recommend it to a friend. ’ I look at PR as an analog to ‘would you recommend it as a friend. ’ “
-Scott M. Davis, managing partner of PROPHET's Chicago office and co-author of Brand Asset Management
It's impossible to look at Branding without the public relations perspective, and my business happens to be public relations. In doing business with high- profile celebrities from Barbara Streisand to Fleetwood Mac, Demi Moore to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charlton Heston to Michael J. Fox, and corporate clients like Pizza Hut, I deal with concepts like advertising, marketing, market research, and sponsorship. Public relations is part of all those disciplines. And since public relations is, we'll discover, an integral part of the Branding process, I have a unique perspective on the business of Branding. I work with people who create and perpetuate some of the most successful brand names and brand identities. I've worked with the highest-level actors, actresses, entertainers, directors, and Hollywood insiders, all of whom strive to become brands and some of whom have done exactly that with unparalleled success.
I know the advertising executives and marketing professionals who create brands, and I know the editors, producers, studio executives, and television moguls who present them to the public. In fact, you'll read about their experiences and hear their opinions throughout this book. They'll help me to explain why some things work and others don't. It's not alchemy; it's not voodoo. There may be magic involved, but magic is usually the product of intense drudgery, endless practice sessions, and just a touch of inspiration. Branding isn't the wave of a magic wand; it is a discipline that can be taught and learned. It can be practiced and examined, discussed and analyzed. The better it is understood, the more successfully it will be utilized.
There will also be a total Branding experience: the creation of a fictional brand of ice cream that we'll see grow from an idea into a full, mature brand through the best use of public relations practices. The concept of the product, the name, the presentation, and the advertising and marketing will all be influenced and shaped by the uses of public relations. The brand win emerge through its promise to the public, and through the way that promise is communicated and reinforced. That is pure public relations.
The journey we're about to take will be a fascinating one. We'll examine brands that are practically sacred in many households, and discover how they got that way. We'll look at the most inspired choices and biggest Branding mistakes ever made. And through it all, we'll keep an eye on what you can do to use public relations techniques to help create that once-in-a-lifetime brand.
Michael Levine is the founder of the prominent public relations firm Levine Communications Office, based in Los Angeles. He is the author of Guerrilla PR, 7 Life Lessons from Noah’s Ark: How to Survive a Flood in Your Own Life.
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