Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Branding and public relations (PR) are more than buzzwords when it comes to building a successful business. They are essential parts of a solid communications strategy, and they’re most effective when their messages are aligned to create a coherent impression of your business.
Before examining the relationship between branding and PR, it is worth clarifying the difference between the two. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) defines a brand as “the set of physical attributes of a product or service, together with the beliefs and expectations surrounding it.” If your branding is strong, simply hearing a brand name or seeing a company logo evokes this combination of attributes.
Nike is a good example of strong branding. The company’s Swoosh logo is simple, unique and recognizable to the point where almost any consumer — sports enthusiast or not — will recognize it without further explanation.
PR has a different function. The CIM’s definition states that public relations “aims to establish and protect the reputation of a company or brand.” PR also fosters a mutual understanding between the business or organization and the different audiences it communicates with.
The definition starts to outline the connection between branding and PR. The Nike example helps illustrate the relationship further. Simply put, Nike uses public relations to communicate its brand values.
The company’s 2018 campaign featured NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a message about commitment and conviction. Despite not displaying any apparel or sports equipment, the campaign raised Nike’s brand value by roughly $6 million.
Making branding and PR work for your business
Few entrepreneurs and startup founders will have the budget and resources of Nike. However, they can still benefit from creating synergies between branding and PR as long as those two elements complement each other.
Raising brand awareness
For any new or early-stage business, one of PR’s most important tasks is to raise brand awareness. The goal is to create a recognizable image in the mind of prospective customers and build positive associations with your brand values. To perform that task effectively, your PR team needs strong brand values to communicate.
This may sound obvious, but successful PR needs more than statements of company leaders. Powerful public relations establish your brand values by telling your story and showing those values to your audience.
Take product longevity, for example. A well-established business can share stories of long-time consumers and products. UK-based scuba-diving-equipment manufacturer AP Diving did this in 2019, as part of its 50th-anniversary celebrations. The company embarked on a quest to find the oldest, still functioning equipment customers had bought from the brand. They launched a competition that inspired customers to rummage through their garages and unearth long-forgotten equipment.
But new businesses need to take a different approach. When it is too early to prove the longevity of your product or service, consider offering a unique warranty and replacement service. This is an excellent way to build trust too. Assuming your proposition is truly unique, your PR team can use it to generate media coverage for the brand.
Besides increasing brand awareness, another key function of PR revolves around building a brand’s credibility and encouraging consumers to trust the brand.
In 2004, cosmetics company Dove set out to make a difference in a crowded consumer-goods market. Everyone needs basics like shampoo, body lotion and deodorant, but very few people think long and hard before purchasing their favorite brand.
To stand out in a crowded marketplace, Dove launched its “Real Beauty” campaign, using normal women in its advertisements as opposed to professional models. The campaign made it easy for customers to connect to the brand and recognize themselves in the advertisements.
Plus, the advertising campaign became a news story, generating public-relations coverage for the brand in its wake. Suddenly, Dove stood out on supermarket shelves. The campaign and the PR activity connected to it raised consumer trust and Dove’s credibility by talking about the company’s values rather than product features.
The examples above show that PR and branding are most effective when they work hand-in-hand. To facilitate that, your business needs to start by establishing brand values. What is your vision? Why do you do what you do apart from making a profit? Public relations can then develop strong stories to bring your values to life and help your audiences connect to your business.
Challenges and opportunities
The success of public relations is rooted in authenticity. When consumers notice a disconnect between what a brand does and the stories the company’s PR team tells, there are almost always negative consequences.
Dove faced a backlash when the company took the campaign one step further and launched limited-edition bottles representing different body shapes. Going back to the Nike example, the Colin Kaepernick campaign also led to adverse reactions, with some customers burning their sneakers. However, the campaign helped the brand connect to a young, urban audience, and positive outcomes outweighed negative responses.
To benefit your business, your branding and PR need to be aligned. PR develops its messages from branding’s values. Unique brand values and campaigns can themselves become the subject of PR. Well-thought-out and cleverly crafted PR activities are among the most cost-effective marketing tactics. Their cost effectiveness makes them ideal for smaller businesses and startups.
Related: The Impact of PR on Small Businesses
By putting brand values at the heart of PR messages, any business can bolster its credibility and sales performance.