January 31, 2014
Can you be the award-winning designer and contractor for building a new brand image for your organization or client?
Architects and engineers start with a vision of what the completed new building or device will become. What are the essential elements to build on? How can you add nuances and features that give it style or utility? Novelists weave in key themes and ongoing evidence to advance toward a conclusion. Artists envision the final painting or tapestry. They add strands, swaths or dots of color to create their masterpiece over time.
The same approach works in building brand image and reputation with public relations. Use smart positioning, bright writing, colorful stories and facts to create your own masterpiece.
Start with determining how you want to be known in two or three years. What do you stand for? What are your core values? Can you deliver on the promise? And can you do it with personality, facts and ongoing proof of principle so that your reputation and brand image grow accordingly?
The method: Own content and become a great teller of the brand story at every level. With all the communications tools available, every PR professional has the opportunity to reach targets regularly through many channels and with a purpose. The following six basic steps can help you develop your own approach:
Delve into company and industry research, market dynamics and other measurable factors.
To mine gems for the creative side, conduct an internal audit of key people. Ask each what the organization stands for and to describe its key values. Does it have a culture, with case histories and anecdotes that can bring it to life? Are there great people stories? Technology breakthroughs?
Review the research and audits, brainstorm and think about true differentiation, not just throwing a bunch of jargon into the mix (e.g., “we are a national leader in software solutions”), especially in industries with me-too products and services.
Develop key, compelling themes that you can weave into every story that you sell.
This is essential if you are working with two- and three-year horizons. You can map your route to global dominance with project management software. With all of the new channels and tools available today, the game is more like a three-dimensional game of chess (or a big PR Rubik’s Cube).
Start by identifying the different segments that you are trying to reach (target industries, media, investors, customers and future customers). How do you reach these vertical markets? The essential channels can include media relations, website, social media, trade shows, investment conferences, webinars and video.
Then, determine how you are going to build your plan with daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual activities.
Find ways of integrating the elements and leveraging one channel against the others for maximum impact.
A hotel in downtown San Diego needed to rebrand after bankruptcy, deteriorating service and soured community relationships. The new owner, Kimpton Hotels, was committed to long-term success and changing perceptions as soon as possible.
This led to repositioning the now-renamed hotel as a hot boutique property in the “emerging cultural district” in downtown San Diego, with an ultra-community-friendly staff and spirit.
The steps to creating the tapestry: Develop positive ties with the civic, political, business and arts communities, celebrate with regular events and donate to local causes.
The hotel team delivered. The media began referring to the hotel as a boutique gem in the heart of the emerging cultural district. Stories about their local commitments and activities multiplied. Positive reviews on the travel websites soared and occupancy grew.
For complex technologies and new products, you can also strive to connect with target audiences with emotion and power, not just with data.
When preparing to introduce a new portable oxygen concentrator that would replace oxygen bottles for people with pulmonary disorders, agency research found what the new device could mean to older users: the freedom to enjoy a more active lifestyle without being tied to an oxygen bottle.
Rather than use industry jargon in positioning the device, people stories would demonstrate the new freedom and benefits better than any data sheet.
The media covered patients taking tours and vacations they never would have enjoyed before. Print and broadcast stories added color, with additional video testimonials on YouTube and blogs. The device went from zero sales to a market leader in 18 months.
Lacking technology or other technical advantages? Proprietary processes and other magic ingredients can help you break through.
In the cluttered mortgage banking space, a growing regional lender was competing against giant banks. To differentiate, the company wanted to emphasize its customer-friendly personality.
So it created the Home Guru, dedicated to the finest in customer and community service. It would blog weekly tips. Daily tweets and Facebook postings would provide helpful links. Local stories on community relations activities and local personalities built outside validation and awareness. Regional and national stories covered company growth. And awards programs highlighted many attributes.
Every square in the PR Rubik’s Cube and 3-D chessboard filled with color about the friendly customer service culture of the company and its commitment to strong community relations.
The result: building a brand image for one of the fastest-growing mortgage companies in the country.
How is the plan working? What needs to change? How can you keep improving? Get critical and analytical.
Return to the research. Then, march through the other steps to find new stories to keep reinforcing the core values and quality of the brand and watch your image momentum soar.
Tom Gable, APR, Fellow PRSA, is founder and CEO of Gable PR. A former financial journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee, he is author of “The PR Client Service Manual” and a frequent speaker on jargon-free public relations, creativity, strategic reputation management and crisis communications. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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