The previous Tech PR Review post discussed how branding roles have evolved and argued that PR has supplanted all other business processes as the most important factor in developing a brand. Today, branding is no longer just about brand building or brand awareness. The last decade has seen a huge rise in how people get their news – and now also make news. The Internet changed everything a decade or so ago. People were suddenly able to get news in their inboxes and online whenever they liked. Today, social media has the power even to allow people to make news out of events and the media has certainly jumped on fueling the fire when it happens. The recent Susan G. Komen controversy is a testament to this. Today more than ever, branding is no longer about building a product’s or company’s name or creating awareness for it. Corporations must build and maintain “brand faith” in all that they do.
Distrust Is Everywhere
Decades ago, if a corporation had a crisis you might appear in the paper or nightly news. Today, such corporate events can spread worse than a wildfire – with similar damaging consequences – on all types of social media, blogs, online news sites, TV, radio, etc., etc. And, it lingers and lingers. The fact that social media allows consumers to directly weigh in means consumers are more emotionally tied to such events than ever before. This monumental shift has heralded the need for corporations to invest in brand faith. It all starts with integrity.
Few companies today enjoy brand faith. What is brand faith? Simply put, it is when a company enjoys practically unwavering belief in just about everything they do. This includes even when they err – that they will fix it and be forgiven, and customers will continue to purchase the company’s product in droves. The media may cover their errors but the tone is far less damaging than for companies under scrutiny – which is most companies today. For companies enjoying brand faith, their customers also see them through thick and thin – they believe the company will fix any problem they create and they stand by them, often forgiving them far more for a fix that usually should have been better, compared with how unforgiving they are with a company they lack faith in or outright distrust.
A lawyer, a car salesman, politicians, etc. – these are professions many people distrust as consumers. Many surveys have been done revealing them and others amongst the least trusted. While it’s a stereotype – not all of them can be untrustworthy, can they – the point is the general public has come to believe that they are often hiding something, not being truthful or being capable of deceit. The combination of the big recession starting in 2007 and the power of today’s media in its many forms has now also thrust corporations onto the list of “always up to no good” unlike at any other time in our lives. Media and social media users are quicker today than ever to jump at an opportunity to scrutinize a corporation. Few corporations enjoy brand faith. Currently, Apple is the pinnacle of this example because of delivering on promises beyond consumer expectations which started before the recent recession. It’s not so much because they are transparent, honest and operate with unrivaled good integrity. So, today Apple has left a door open to being susceptible to losing its brand faith.
On the flip side, three companies come to mind that are not enjoying much brand faith – their brands are constantly under attack: Google, Microsoft and Netflix. A couple of recent stories and story comments provide some insight to the scrutiny Google and Microsoft are under – and this is just for one of their products. Netflix once enjoyed brand faith but has stepped all over its own toes recently, opening it up to continued scrutiny and a loss of brand faith.
Integrity Counts More Than Ever
Brand faith today starts by operating with public-facing integrity. Corporations must be open with the public – a secretive corporation runs the risk of being lumped together with the most distrusted professions and organizations. I’m not suggesting that corporations reveal their competitive strategies and secrets. However, corporations must make sure anything they do – whether they intend to make it public or not – can hold up their corporate integrity. If something they planned to keep secret becomes public, it should be easily explained why it was not made public and with an explanation that doesn’t jeopardize integrity. Whenever an action is planned, it should be weighed against maintaining integrity and it should be considered whether the action should be made public prior to the action being taken. This is all in an effort to maintain open communications with key audiences. In other words, the more secretive actions a corporation takes, the more opportunities they create to be scrutinized in an era where scrutiny spreads worse than a wildfire, and lingers.
For corporations already under the fire, they should consider their actions more carefully – don’t just consider the benefits of an action but, also how the action ensures honesty and integrity. In Tech PR Review’s previous post, it was pointed out how the role of PR is often second fiddle to a CEO’s ego, legal advice and even advertising advice. This is gone – PR should be a primary concern because today more than ever your brand can burn to the ground overnight with media scrutiny that now goes worlds beyond the newspaper.
Faith implies confidence, trust and belief – even belief that is not based on proof. This is why companies that enjoy brand faith can do a mediocre fix when they err and still maintain faith in their brand. Building brand faith starts by delivering on the promises you make and the promises must be bold and market-leading. It then moves to unwavering support for what you delivered in a way that is first about honoring the consumer, not legal concerns, a CEO’s ego, etc. This means being open and honest whenever possible with your consumer – even about questionable actions you had to take or need to take.
Public relations is the primary method for building and maintaining brand faith. This is because – unlike any other marketing element – public relations efforts and results are all about establishing credibility via unbiased third party influencers. With PR as the primary method, marketing and social media efforts can then be used to reinforce the brand faith that PR establishes and maintains.
Branding has evolved – long ago. Brand faith is now paramount and it begins with establishing public-facing integrity via PR.