Building Brand Equity with Public Relations

Article excerpt

Savvy marketers are finding clever new ways to bring their products into the spotlight and, in doing so, build brand equity.

It has happened without much fanfare, but those who are responsible for overseeing the marketing process or the marketing budgets of their companies will be interested to know that, for many reasons, the relationship between public relations and product marketing is growing stronger.

Perhaps one of the best examples can be found in an industry in which consumers have strong opinions about the products they buy--the food industry.

Those opinions are based on a lot of things: taste, cost, quality, environmental safety and even fashion. When you put all these factors together, you have the recipe for consumer loyalty toward a particular product or brand.

Consumer loyalty is the central issue in marketing. And the way to gain consumer loyalty is to build brand equity. The power of brand equity is most obvious at the moment the consumer reaches for the shelf and picks one product over another. Brand equity involves the attributes of a product and the degree to which those attributes fulfill the consumer's needs and desires. At its most basic, it's a matter of trust.

Some of a brand's attributes are concrete, but some are intangible. When one American fast food chain opened its first store in Moscow, the place was surrounded by a huge mob. These people didn't come just to sample any of the eatery's products. Russian consumers had never sampled the products. Nonetheless, thousands desperately wanted to try the American brand. Somehow, they knew they were part of a great cultural event. They had faith in a brand.

Of course, not every brand can aspire to such global status and not every brand may want to. But building brand equity is something that everyone can do, and an effective public relations campaign is one way to do it.

Why PR?

But why use public relations? Why not just advertise? Actually, good marketing comprises both. Public relations, however, does have a few unique advantages:

* Timeliness. Public relations can be tied to real-time news coverage. Thanks to satellite technology, grand openings, press conferences and other special events can be covered and broadcast live, integrating a tremendous sense of urgency into a campaign.

* Adaptability. A public relations campaign can work in concert with advertising, direct mail or sales promotion.

* Credibility. A unique feature of public relations is "third-person endorsement," or "the halo effect." When a reporter talks about your product, there is an implied endorsement. Consumers tend to find messages delivered by a trusted journalist more believable than purchased messages.

* Cost efficiency. The cost of a public relations effort is typically much lower than it would be for advertising.

* Mobility. You can conduct public relations anywhere your imagination will take you--locally or nationally.

Public relations can play a very important role in product marketing. To illustrate how this notion works, consider the following four rules for building brand equity and see how public relations supports the process:

RULE 1 EVERYTHING IS A BRAND.

This is the easiest rule to overlook or to misunderstand. Conventional wisdom has it that today's market is a battleground between brands and non-brands. On the one hand, there are national name brands, like Nabisco or Heinz, which are sold by advertising. On the other, we have the private labels. These products are manufactured by reputable food processors, but sold at a discount under exclusive arrangements with regional retailers. Food Club canned vegetables may be sold by several supermarket chains across the country, but only one retailer per market can carry the label. Price is considered the primary consumer benefit.

A private label is a brand, and it builds its brand equity by gaining consumer confidence in its quality as well as its price. …