New opportunities for PR as traditional brand promotions need to change
One of the biggest beliefs in marketing is the importance of a brand. Marketers assume customers will value a brand more than anything else in making a purchase decision. But these days customers don’t rely so heavily on brands to make a purchase decision.
International surveys show that the first thing considered in people’s purchasing decisions is usually the reputation factor. “People’s willingness to buy, recommend, work for and invest in a company is driven 60% by their perceptions of the company, and only 40% by their perceptions of their products,” according to Kasper Ulf Nielsen, Executive Partner, Reputation Institute. Brand is what you say about yourself, while reputation is what other people say about you, and so it is vital for organizations to take care of customer perceptions of the company, ie reputation, as the first marketing priority.
Looking past the brand
Customers are now able to look past the brand to evaluate the quality of a product or service. They can employ user and expert reviews, social media and comments by columnists and readers of news websites. These alternatives fragment the traditional marketing approach and create new opportunities for PR professionals, who are active in all the new channels.
In many industries, rather than relying on what a company is claiming about its brand, consumers can simply access the internet to find out about actual customer experiences. The international Edelman Trust Barometer surveys show that consumers are increasingly relying on the feedback of ordinary people such as other consumers and even company employees through their comments in social media and the Twitter etc.
As a personal example, when planning travel, my wife and I check email or website offers for airlines, hotels or resorts and then seek traveler reviews using sites like Expedia, Trip Advisor etc, (staying alert for fake positive reviews). The same approach can be used with cars, books, restaurants and electronic purchases such as cameras, smartphones, tablets etc.
Firms can’t rely on customer loyalty any more for the same reason. Rather than relying only on a product they respect, shoppers can instantly go to the internet and find genuine reviews from actual users of other products on which to base comparisons.
Same with positioning. Volvo used to position its vehicles in the marketplace on the basis of their safety performance. But customers can test this by basing their purchase decisions on user and expert reviews. Thus Volvo or Apple can try to position their products in a certain way, but people can find out actual attributes and performance so easily from other sources these days.
When consumers can assess their likely experience without having to rely on concepts such as brand names or positioning activities, everything changes. In view of these alternative sources of information about your product or service, it is clear that the brand is now only one element in the mix. Therefore, it is essential to ensure the coverage of your product or service stands up to scrutiny – that you provide good value for money.
If you are engaged in marketing communication, you can look at all the alternative ways to engage customers. Many of these involve two-way conversation, in which you can give customers the attention they are seeking. They want to share, to be heard and gain a respectful response to their views. This is a powerful way of building the brand. And it’s a perfect way for PR people to show their worth.