How PR Supports or Destroys Brand: Ask UA

Written by: Danielle Stitt

United Airlines (UA) has made the headlines this week for all the wrong reasons. Dragging paying customers down plane aisles does not make anyone feel they’re flying “the friendly skies”. And when most of your customers have cameras in their phones connected to social media, UA was always going to find itself in a sh*tstorm of brand-damaging publicity.

As marketing mastermind, Seth Godin said, “It’s easier to love a brand when the brand loves you back.” UA did not show the love and the $250 million plummet in the company’s value a few days ago shows the feeling is now mutual.

So how do you ensure you are building a financial services brand your customers will love? And how do you use PR to ensure you feel and earn the love?

Good branding starts with research

Formulating a strong, in-depth understanding of your target audience is foundational to developing a brand. If you don’t know who your customers are, how are you going to develop a compelling promise and story? Research will also help you identify the core DNA of your brand and where your white-space is in the crowded financial services landscape.

Not sure where to start? The BrandMatters "Guide to Brand Research" is a helpful kit that will guide you through the step-by-step guide on how to conduct effective brand research and how to turn that research into brand strategy.

Branding is about more than just your logo

So what exactly is branding? Maybe it’s all about the logo, the website and the name you choose, or maybe it’s down to the right colours, and an exotic typeface and business card?

Not so much unfortunately – which doesn’t mean these things aren’t important. They are. But they are not your brand, they are only part of it.

Your brand is your voice in the marketplace, it’s your proposition for disruption, it says why you are special, different and better, and the stronger your brand, and the more your customers believe it, the more loyal, and potentially less price-sensitive they will be.

How PR supports this:

An effective PR strategy starts with your business’s goals and what the company is attempting to capture through the marketing strategy and amplifies this to the world. All your PR activities should translate the brand’s promise into key messages that will resonate with your target audience and differentiate you from your competitors.

It takes time to build a brand

According to Warren Buffet, it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it (this will be particularly resonating with him right now given his Berkshire Hathaway is a big investor in UA). And that’s the challenge. Building a brand takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight, and consistency is key. The minute you lose sight of the central importance of your brand, and stop working on it, the higher the risk of something going wrong.

How PR supports this:

If nothing else, PR and communication specialists are experts at relationship building. They help build relationships with journalists, influencers, stakeholders, employees and regulators. And relationships take time, time to build trust, to understand what each party needs and how to deliver it. Short bursts of PR may work well for specific product launches, for example, but to build the brand story over time takes discipline and endurance.

Your brand is your story – don’t bore everyone to tears

If your brand is your story, then you had better be able to tell it well, because if you can’t, you can be certain that no one else will be able to either. Branding is about knowing not just what you stand for but how to communicate what you stand for – the value of what you do, and the character of your product or service. But your brand is also your personality, so it’s important to think about what kind of personality that is. Are you a funny brand, a serious brand, a helpful brand? Answering these questions will help you define exactly what you stand for.

How PR supports this:

Through PR you’ll be able to tell the stories that makes your brand relatable and relevant to your target audience. Part of developing your PR story is deeply understanding your audience and what they want to know then finding the intersection between what your company wants to say and what your audience wants to hear. Ultimately good PR is the ability to tell good stories well.

But as UA just demonstrated, you also need to be behaving congruently with your brand promise.... although there's nothing boring about a bit of bad PR, just as long it's not your brand, right?