PR Roundtable Discussion: Brand in the Internet Era

We continue the PR/Blogger Roundtable discussion with Doug Haslam, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Brian Solis, Cathryn Hrudicka and Marc Orchant.

Yesterday we discussed the challenges facing Public Relations professionals as it pertains to social media. Today, we discuss branding in an open, internet driven society. I think you’ll like what they have to say.

What does the concept of “brand” mean to you and how do you see the concept of brand protection (or the concept of “open source brand”, so to speak) being transformed in the internet age?

Doug HaslamDoug Haslam: Brand is the concept of you or your company– what people think when they hear your name. What has complicated brand in the Internet age is that individuals now have a ready means to develop and promote their personal brands. Further, personal brand and professional brand are intertwined. Any communications an employee makes, whether on behalf of the company brand or not, affects the company brand in ways small and large. Likewise, anything the company says or does reflects directly on the personal brands of the employees. This intermingling of brands should affect companies’ thinking, from blog policies to employee morale and larger internal communications policies.

Cathryn HrudickaCathryn Hrudicka: A brand is more than an identity or logo; it’s the markets’ and your clients’ experience of you, what you stand for, your special value, what benefits you or your company offers, what customer service experiences you provide, and more. It is the sum total of how you communicate in writing, design and graphics, audio, video, print collateral, online, in your blog, everything. I feel PR and social media are an essential part of branding, and that branding messages used in advertising and marketing campaigns need to be included and coordinated with PR and social media campaigns, even if the communication styles are a bit different. For example, I’ve recently taken on a very cost-effective branding campaign for my new company services under the banner of Creative Sage , which is successfully crossing boundaries between social media, public relations and marketing, and each area is enhancing the other, which is ideal.

Tomorrow, the panel will discuss blogger engagement of social media. Stick around.

How can we protect brands on the internet? It’s more of a challenge, but certainly the concept of a trademark still holds weight in a court of law. I’ve found, though, that if you are strongly represented all over the internet, in a practical sense it becomes foolish for others to encroach upon your brand, and those who try are becoming more recognizable to the general public as scammers. You do have to be more vigilant in searching regularly for those who would violate or defame your brand (or your clients’ brands); and PR professionals spend more time now in online discussions defending a brand or responding to criticisms, false claims and defamers. It’s an unfortunate side effect of having a major Web presence. I’m an optimist and think that the accessibility of the Web and number of social media outlets and blogs will continue to create more intelligent discussions and debates that can ultimately enhance a brand. It certainly offers PR professionals more opportunities to fight back against defamers, false and negative claims against their clients. Anything negative usually offers a positive opportunity as well-we just have to see it.

Marshall KirkpatrickMarshall Kirkpatrick: The word brand has negative connotations for me, but let’s pretend it doesn’t for the moment. If your brand is at all based in the reality of your actions, then you should have enough staff capable of acting that way and who are actively engaged in social media.

I was just reading a comparison of Miro and Joost, for example. The Miro brand will be protected and extended by having people actively blogging, twittering, commenting, etc. in ways that promote free and open culture in general. Friend me on Twitter and pass me interesting news about DRM, Creative Commons, etc.

If you’re Joost, you should have a rich, probably European guy regularly do interviews about mainstream media’s embrace of innovation, with leading bloggers covering online video. Both of those companies are doing a good job of protecting and extending their brand using new social media.

Marc OrchantMarc Orchant: “Brand” may be one of the most bandied about and least understood terms in the PR and marketing business – and this is not a new thing. Many of the same questions about what constitutes a brand were being debated 30 years ago when I began my career in the publishing and advertising businesses. To me, a brand is the promises a company makes to its customers and how well it keeps them. That may sound a bit soft and fuzzy but I think it ultimately defines how consumers experience, relate to, and choose which brands they want to associate themselves with.

When I look at the powerful brands in my life ““ Apple, BMW, Southwest Airlines, and Starbucks to name a few ““ I see a consistent pattern of excellence in execution and focus on core values that separates these brands from their competition. They make a promise to me as a consumer and deliver on that promise faithfully over the long haul. This execution earns them a greater degree of “forgiveness” when they misstep ““ and all companies do from time to time ““ that I do not accord to others.

I think that’s the key to “brand protection” is earning the trust (or loyalty if you prefer) that can only come from an established pattern of delivering on promises made, these companies promote two important behaviors that help to protect their brands. They cultivate me as an evangelist ““ something Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba have documented in their books Creating Customer Evangelists and Citizen Marketers (aff). Having built up my personal enthusiasm for their offerings, I become part of the “front line” both in terms of spreading positive messages about their products o services and acting as a vocal defender when those brands are attacked by others.

Brian SolisBrian Solis: The brand is something altogether different today than it was BSM (before social media). The brand used to be something dictated by corporations and reinforced by marketers and ultimately evangelists.

However, these days, many marketing and business executives foolishly think that they can still solely control the brand and the corporate messages 100% when in fact people are also contributing to brand identity and resonance.

Social Media zealots preach that participation is marketing, and indeed it is, but there are ways to do it right and ways to completely f it up. One thing is for certain is that covering your ears to customer commentary taking place in social networks and the blogosphere and repeating “la la la la la” over and over pretending like it doesn’t exist IS NOT participating.

It the era of social media companies have no choice by to relinquish control, well somewhat, to those who chose to discuss it openly, in public forums that are in large part, actively contributing to the extensive influence enabled by social tools.

That doesn’t mean that companies can’t help chart the course of a brand, businesses just need to take into account that people now have voices and there in lies a new opportunity.

Let’s not forget that a good brand, or a terrible brand for that matter, evokes an emotion bond.

The true “open source brand” will acknowledge and leverage the “voices of the crowds” in order to extend and mold brands for both now and in the future – by connecting with people.

Again, Social Media is about people, not audiences, and therefore, brands affect people and in turn evoke responses. The smart marketers will learn how a brand relates to the various markets they wish to reach, why it’s important, different, and helpful, and connect with people directly to help them. This reinforces the brand and service attributes we ultimately hope to carry forward.

Published by

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

2 thoughts on “PR Roundtable Discussion: Brand in the Internet Era”

Comments are closed.