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A New Era of PR: The Changing Face Of Brand Activation

Digital transformation and brand reputation are inextricably linked. It is no longer sufficient to have a well-known name in order to earn people’s attention. This traditional privilege has changed, driven by abundant choice and social media. Brands need people more than people need brands. Traditional ways of marketing no longer apply.

Brand activation is increasingly at the forefront of standing out, and it includes a combination of specialties. For our agency, that means tapping into applied insights, optimized media, digital and social media, tech-enabled content and production, public relations, brand strategy, experiential marketing, e-commerce and CRM. Each is growing in the billions every year, and yet, for all of its collective power, this is not enough. Already we see the separation of the winners and losers.

Only those that understand and live dynamic deployment will truly win.  Dynamic brand activation (DBA) has that authentic gene of empowerment, driven by insights in action, common sense and clear signals of humanity that are fundamental to a winning formula. Just doing stuff is like lazy cooking: You know how to put all of the ingredients together, but the meal that stands out is the one with exceptional taste. DBA is exemplified by a brand showing up repeatedly, proving it knows how to share great and authentic stories that motivate participation and sharing.

Today, accountability and results are paramount. Initiatives that don’t meaningfully impact clients’ businesses and ROIs are irrelevant in an environment of perpetually competitive growth. How do the most successful PR firms make this happen? Not through cutthroat actions or poisonous misinformation, but rather a perfect collaboration of relevance and empathy. Dynamic PR companies integrate the connecting power of people, like micro-influencers, but that’s not the whole of the story. Best-in-class means pivoting to outside-in marketing: seeing things from the customer’s perspective, supporting customer value creation, and harnessing their insights and voice. In short, it’s about creating value between people and brands through conversations and often telling the same story through different perspectives. This is crucial, as emerging social media platforms and fragmenting digital culture have put consumers in charge; they have the power to opt in or switch off, such as the power of choice.

We’ve seen today’s most famous companies grow exponentially in a completely nontraditional fashion, bolstered by their messaging. As the now-famous quote goes: “The world’s largest taxi firm, Uber, owns no cars. The world’s most popular media company, Facebook, creates no content. The world’s most valuable retailer, Alibaba, carries no stock. And the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, owns no property.” Much of their success came from applied empathy — not just knowing but leaning in and serving tangible needs in ways that embraced others. (Full disclosure: A couple of our agencies conducted business last year with Uber, Airbnb and Facebook.)

PR, in some ways, is one of the last few bastions of many well-established marketing traditions. The power of humans connecting with humans at important moments remains an important central element, but the means of connection have been revolutionized. 

Accordingly, the lines are blurring between PR and traditional marketing, a transition that affords tremendous opportunity. But as with any opportunity, this situation must be handled correctly in order to truly benefit.

Successful organizations should always protect the foundational things that are working: proven and progressive culture, protecting key assets and respecting key client relationships whilst ridding themselves of toxic ones. But in the current environment, these actions alone are not sufficient to grow a PR business — or any business, for that matter.

Those that are successful understand the “power of me” — the power of heightened individualism. At the forefront of this is a perpetual need for relevant connection, through common ground. As an industry, we must understand:

Affinities And Attitudes: To look at people as part of evolving tribes (smaller and more cohesive in behavior than demographic segments), eliminating the risk of defining people too narrowly or misconstruing behaviors and purchasing behaviors.

Human Connection And Emotions: To better understand value creation and authentic experiences at the moments that matter.
Contextual Relevance Through Online And Offline Communication Behaviors: To inform how ideas are presented and how people will engage across relevant channels.

Dynamic PR shops we see have three additional commonalities: 

Audience Empowerment

Effective dynamic PR strives for excellence at spreading a powerful, empathetic voice through multiple channels, especially social media hemispheres, enabling participation and conversation.

For example, would brands be adopting sustainability programs without the cultural context of the concerns around global warming? Would brands be adopting increasingly healthy menu options without the cultural shift toward health and wellness?

By celebrating culture and being empathetic to what matters most to people, brands can proactively participate and thus be socially relevant in and of themselves. This empathetic approach requires seeing people as tribes, not segments, an intensified focus on contextual relevance, and ensuring empathy is innate to the total organization.

Long-Tail Capability 

Dynamic PR should also help shape the evolving narrative with storytelling that is honest, succinct and relevant. Increasingly, clients depend on high-precision work that is not just good for the moment but has the ability for a long-tail effect — continuing the conversation long after the moment, launch or event has occurred. The long-tail effect is key to ensuring brand presence is not episodic but truly epic.

Beyond Analytics 

Using cutting-edge data may sound antithetical to empathy, but serving larger audiences demands precision in the messaging. But no excuses — indiscriminate data unleashed without permission is wrong and increasingly illegal. Unvalidated data and spillage are a major vulnerability to organizations.

The curation and authentication of multiple data sources provides a more complete, empathetic and scalable understanding of the world. In particular, the ability to combine qualitative data (in-depth interviewing, surveying and direct response) with quantitative data (behavioral, transactional and attitudinal data) enables a deeper level of understanding into motivations and behavior of people. Win through trust. Embracing relevance and exercising thoughtfulness is where the winners reside.