What Should Be Increasing in 2010: Branding

Blank billboard in desert landscapeAs a recent Financial Times article noted, companies are looking to spend more money in terms of marketing over the next calendar year. While we would love to say that a large piece of the pie would be allocated towards branding and public relations, we are realists and know that the money—for the most part—will go towards ever more advertising efforts.

And that is a damn shame. While advertising may be the flashy cog that looks good in media forms, what does it all mean? Your company is much more than a singing fish, talking baby or another gimmick. Sure you can name what companies are associated with the previously mentioned gimmicks. The question is, do you know what these brands really stand for?

Advertising can’t answer that question—only good brand building can, and that comes from a comprehensive branding and communications program, one that takes a long-term approach to both a short- and long-term business solution.

The fact of the matter is that a company’s brand is its lifeblood. It is what people trust and is eventually what they come to consume. In a down economy where everyone is looking to cut back and tighten their belts, only the strong brands will continue to grow.

So how do you enhance a brand?

You do that with positive public placements and other public-facing campaigns. We all know the PR placements and can tell you how many are in our clip books. The public-facing campaigns, on the other hand, help the customer base connect with your company on a more personal level.

For example, if you are a food company, donating food to local shelters and charitable events can show that your company is more than just another fast food joint—your company actually cares about the community. And in today’s economy, where seemingly every company tries to advertise that it truly cares about its local community, but doesn’t always back up those ads with true community engagement—real, physical engagement with members and organizations throughout a community—a public-facing campaign, one that actually enhances a company’s branding for the long term, will do far more good over the long run than a short-term advertising blitz.

While it’s true that 2010 and 2011 global ad spending looks to increase after two very dismal years in the industry (which PRBC examined in a post last week), what many companies should focus on now is realizing that while they were cutting back on all of that advertising over the past two years’ worth of a recession, what little PR and branding initiatives they kept up likely did them a good bit of long-term good in terms of their overall stance with their customers.

True, a cutting back on advertising may have led to decreased revenues for some companies, but revenues can often be fleeting and a near-constant chase, while a positive brand affiliation—one that leads to long-term company growth and sustainability within a marketplace—is something that should never be given up on or reduced, and PR plays a major role in enhancing both the public- and industry-facing campaigns that help to achieve and grow that brand affiliation.

What are your thoughts? Where (advertising, PR, branding, etc.) should companies focus their marketing efforts in 2010/2011 as the world begins to emerge from the recession?

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  • Interesting. I too feel that when companies get allocated larger budgets for the fiscal year, the first thing they want to spend it on is more advertising. Everyone loss money over the last two years, but as you pointed out, there is an opportunity in every situation. The smart companies used this down time in sales to work on their self-actualization processes and how they can better connect with their publics. There seems to be an important underlying point in your post. No matter how much money you throw into advertising, if you don't maintain a strong product or brand, you won't last.

  • Great thoughts as always, guys. I know I can always rely on y'all to get me thinking about the big picture. And I get why you have PR and branding's back on this one, I do, but I always feel the need to play a little devil's advocate and say that advertising gets a really bad rap from us flacks. Sure, at its worst advertising is an annoying, gimmicky, flash-in-the-pan that blows millions of dollars at a time, but at its best it is an equal partner in the Ad-PR-Branding Holy Trinity. Each branch supports the other in its own way, right? And maybe this sentiment that we should focus more on branding than advertising is a natural backlash against the emphasis that's been placed on it in the past. I do believe it's a balance among all three that we should be seeking. The strange thing is, once it's all balanced and working together smoothly, the distinctions between the three sort of–disappear.

  • jeffespo

    Teej or should I say Beelzebub? I love you playing the role and you make some very valid points that I agree with.

    I think that all three are very complimentary pieces that go along with one another, however there has to be a balance as you mentioned. I feel that the emphasis on advertising has had a lot of brands lose their identity to ad gimmicks. How does a baby tie into eTrade? I would also say a company throwing ads out to skirt around problems is just awful as there is no trust there.

    Look if Toyota wanted to prove that they still have a strong brand, don't get hokey with plain folks thanking them for a great car, get the word out there on how the brakes have been fixed. Maybe the CEO in a crash-test course saying if we weren't safe, would I do this?

    Just a thought.

  • Well, first of all, who's gimmicky now with a CEO careening wildly down a crash test course? LOL, I get what you're saying, but it's still very funny to me. I think the problem you're identifying with Toyota is that their messaging is off, not their use of advertising. They said something. Just maybe not the right thing.

    And as far as babies and eTrade goes, welp, online trading is very difficult to understand. But babies are very easy to understand. Everyone can spot a baby in a lineup. Does a baby have anything to do with online trading? Of course not, but advertising seems to me like the blitz play that sticks the name of a company in people's heads, while branding is more of a long game.

    That's right. SPORTS METAPHOR. Up top!

  • jeffespo

    I bow to the master and will defer all future comments to Keith.

  • keithtrivitt

    Kyle – You hit the point of this post spot on, so kudos to you, my friend! You're exactly right: The companies that were looking toward the future when all was breaking loose throughout the world were the ones that were focusing on enhancing their brand equity and corporate reputation. And how do you accomplish that? By focusing on branding and PR, which, in my mind, have a more long-term value to them than PR, as those initiatives, while still fairly costly, will help to see your business through the lean times. Because if you're not doing that, both in good times and bad, and you drop advertising once the economy gets tough, what, then, are you doing to build your company in the public's and industry' eyes?

  • keithtrivitt

    Hmmm … Teej may have gotten us on this one, Jeff. Haha!

    Actually, I see both sides to this. TJ is right to point out that, yes, advertising does deserve a spot at the C-level table when marketing budgets are being drawn up each year, but take a look at the response I wrote above to Kyle's comment. When times get lean and budgets are being slashed, the best companies, historically, have aimed to build brand equity and retain what they already have, rather than try to go out and blitz with a big ad campaign, because they realize that is a short-term gain. And how you do that, IMO, is via branding and effective PR/communications work. Advertising is great, don't get me wrong, but when times get tough, PR and branding far too often get cut in favor of quick fixes via gimmicky ads.

  • mikeschaffer

    Great stuff from a super-team here!

    At the end of the day, branding is the name of the game. Let people know 1) the name of your company/product 2) what it is/does and 3) the awesomeness of it above all other similar items.

    A well-developed brand comes about because of a multitude of actions and reactions (PR, advertising, marketing, sponsorships, grassroots, social media, and more). The smart companies (read: successful) are ones that can utilize the entire toolbox to educate the public on what their brand is.

    The mix of tactics may change over the days, weeks and years, but branding is a true long-term investment.

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