Taking Back the Mic: PR Again at Center Stage

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PR_Mic_Center_Stage.jpgRecently, the Harvard Business Review and Denise Yohn published an article that highlighted an interesting transition in bloom within brand marketing — that large brands have begun to gravitate towards a master brand strategy. Citing large conglomerate, CPG and food and beverage companies like Coca-Cola, Yohn explains how several factors have contributed to the shift from marketing individual products/brands, to advertising the parent brand as a whole. Included in these factors: customer retention, brand equity and competitive strength.

Here at TrendKite, as we work alongside some of the largest conglomerate and lifestyle brands in the world, it is apparent to me that Yohn’s thesis and supporting arguments are simultaneously indicative of another shift in the marketing department. A shift that has redirected the spotlight and sparked both a resurgence and renaissance in PR.

PR is truly in the middle of a renaissance. While the birth of social business grasped considerable attention over the past few years, as brands have figured out what it means to be social --  today, the PR department (and now the data available to such professionals empowering strategic decisions) has evolved into both the epicenter and the north star of the modern day brand.

The Effect of Authenticity

We currently live in a world in which consumer voices have the power to be heard. And with this increased access and power at one’s fingertips to both connect with and be seen by brands, consumers not only want to be heard, but expect authentic responses. Whether a fitness blogger writes a review of Lululemon’s latest yoga pants or a TechCrunch reporter offers an opinion of what the best Bluetooth speakers are this year at CES 2016, people feel the need for direct responses or through other actions – both rapidly and with authenticity.

One of the most powerful conduits of authenticity is a brand’s voice. People naturally gravitate to that which they feel is real. That which speaks to their personal north stars. Brands that succeed in maintaining flawless continuity in their overall voice truly reap the benefits. Take vegan protein company, Vega for example, who has made it a priority to respond to every single Amazon.com review of their products with an unrivaled level of attentiveness and thought (literally several paragraphs of response) — and maintain consistent brand voice throughout. It is these types of responses that are so often the key to maintaining customer bases and first steps to creating brand evangelists.

But brand evangelism isn’t necessarily a new thing, nor did the idea emerge only as a result of the engaged Internet. For hundreds of years, universities around the world have cemented their brand identity and messages through the evangelism of students and fans. Pause for a moment and think about how many university logos you know by heart, potentially without ever having set foot in its state of origin. Today, universities continue their constant pursuit of evangelism in different and more targeted fashions. Take several of the universities that use TrendKite on an every day basis as an example, they've used Google Analytics integration to measure both the sources of and drive student applications. Other universities have used social amplification to determine the type of messages that resonate with certain prospective student groups.

Information Mining

As our online and tangible worlds continue to merge, the flow of information has become an absolute constant. Today, as sources and related data have become nearly infinite, synthesizing the influx of mentions and articles of which PR professionals need to be aware can be daunting. A constant flow of information requires constant monitoring — and the ability to extract that which is important and route those insights into directive action is now the responsibility of the PR team. PR teams today must determine that which is important and that which is filler. And supporting our clients to do just that is our north star.

Take Hershey’s for example, who recently found through TrendKite that while coverage pertaining to a certain topic had been receiving lower readership, those same articles had been logging exceedingly high marks for social sharing. Why does this matter? It matters because such insights move marketers to new actions. By uncovering the correlation between a seemingly unrelated to Hershey’s topic and social virality, Hershey’s was then able to identify new topics to monitor and, in turn, a newer subset of people to target with their editorial content.

The Power of the Lifestyle Brand

Several studies show that the millennial generation (and the rising “centennials”) spend money differently than Gen-X and baby boomers do, more often opting for experience over tangible items (with the exception of electronics). This trend is likely a key pillar and catalyst in the emergence of the strength of today’s lifestyle brands. The lifestyle brand is enforced by constant flow of information with strong emphasis on user-generated content and blogs. What is exciting, however,  is that brands can harness the power and valence of being a lifestyle brand by finding and maintaining the right brand evangelists. Take Lifetime Fitness for example, who has leveraged TrendKite’s conversion data to determine the true dollar value of each of their affiliate marketing program bloggers. In doing so, Lifetime Fitness has been able to calculate how many website visits they receive and in turn, focus on the right influencers.

As we have learned over the past few years (often through brand-related internet crisis), the power of the lifestyle brand can sometimes overpower a brand’s actual products — perception is reality. It is for this reason that now, more than ever, PR must be at the helm of both every action and reaction. PR teams must be equipped with the tools needed to manage, represent and provide their entire organizations (from the social team to the executive suite) with the compass and insights that maintain and uphold the authentic heart of their organizations.

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