Do We Buy Brands or Products Today?

IMG_0510Recently, I read a statement by a marketing professional who stated bluntly that people today buy brands, not products.

This pronouncement seemed wrong, like wishful thinking, a little ahead of itself. Regardless of what that writer and other marketers will tell you, people still mostly buy products, not brands.

When people buy brands, they do so because they relate to the company in a way that goes beyond just the function of its product. Cars made by both BMW and Toyota will get people where they want to go, for example. But some of us buy BMWs because this brand makes us feel good about ourselves, perhaps as a reward for years of hard work or for landing a coveted first job. Others buy Nike sneakers because we share this brand’s commitment to achieving excellent athletic performance.

On the other hand, people buy products, regardless of who makes them, because of their function. They provide what the buyer wants. Post Raisin Bran tastes good today, but maybe tomorrow, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran might taste better or might be on sale when the consumer is at the store. Pepsi and Coke might be interchangeable, depending what’s available at the restaurant or from the vending machine. Consumers subscribe to Comcast because it’s the only cable service available in their community, but they wouldn’t really care if AT&T were their cable provider.

Marketers are correct in saying that people are loyal to brands. But, it seems to me, their lack of loyalty to products is what’s really behind most of their purchases.

Some people may always buy Toms shoes because they are committed to the brand’s philanthropic goal of giving one free pair of shoes to someone who needs them every time the company sells a pair. But I believe most people, when they need a pair of shoes, buy the pair that looks best and feels best within their budget. They may occasionally buy Tom’s shoes, but only if the shoes meet these criteria.

Except for one period in the ’90s, I have bought Apple computers ever since my first Mac in 1985. I’m a pleased supporter of Apple, now buying iPhones, iPads and iPods exclusively. I believe in the company and its approach to building products, as Steve Jobs expressed in Walter Isaason’s biography of the Apple co-founder and former CEO:

When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.

Clearly, I buy the Apple brand, not just Apple products.

But Apple is about as far as I go in buying brands. And I don’t think I’m alone. It seems to me that most people still buy products today, buying brands only in a limited number of categories, perhaps only makeup or designer clothes. Certainly we don’t always—or even mostly—buy brands, regardless of what the wishful marketers may want to believe.

We buy products—not brands—because most companies’ storytelling doesn’t create for us an emotional attachment that goes beyond their products’ functionality. The narratives may honestly represent the beliefs and philosophies held by these companies, but we’re not relating to them, and we are not forming strong relationships with them. As a result, most companies still remain product makers, rather than brands that we feel represent us and our lifestyles.

(Note: I used the quote from Steve Jobs in an earlier blog “The Purity of Simplicity” on craftsmanship, which you may read here.)  

07/20/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are five noteworthy communications stories from the past few days.

Sponsored Content: An Ethical Framework by Richard Edelman, on edelman.com, July 16.

In this article, Edelman writes about his agency’s newly released special report on PR agencies’ opportunity to develop an ethical framework for sponsored content—content written and produced by marketers, not the media outlets. He says that PR agencies must “have a different set of ethical standards than the media buyer or ad agency, because our profession relies primarily on its trusted relationship with earned media. Those principles fall into three broad categories: Disclosure, Quality and Process.”

He discusses those categories and provides a link for downloading the report: “Sponsored Content: A Broader Relationship with the U.S. News Media.”

Social Media Makes for Better Student Writing, Not Worse, Teachers Say by Joanna Stern on abcnews.go.com, July 16.

In this article, Stern provides anecdotal and study evidence showing that social media and digital technologies are having a positive—not negative, as many people would believe—effect on student writing. A new study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the National Writing Project, for example, shows that three-fourths of the teachers questioned believe digital technologies “encourage study creativity and personal expression,” Stern says.

This result, it seems, is due mainly to students wanting to improve the quality of their classroom writing because they are sharing it with a wider audience through blogs and other online outlets.

Three Steps to Becoming a Thought Leader in Your Industry by Louise Julig, on socialmediaexaminer, July 17.

This article on how Drillinginfo, a company serving the oil and gas industry, has used social media to become an industry thought leader and to become recognized by potential and current customers as a premier source of information in the industry. Specifically, Julig details the company’s efforts to blog with a plan, market its marketing, and network with influencers.

Others can learn from Drillinginfo’s successful content marketing work.

Presentation Skills Learned from ‘Mad Men’ by Danny Groner on ragan.com, July 18.

Groner offers five tips that will help PR professionals—and others who give presentations—succeed while showing “some Draper-like swagger that’ll keep people on the edge of their seats.” To see how it’s really done, watch the three videos embedded in the article.

Brands Look for Guide to Navigate New World of Native Advertising by Sarah Shearman, on prweekus.com, July 19.

The growing importance of native advertising is increasing the PR industry’s “need to create a set of standards to keep the line between editorial and advertising intact,” Shearman reports. If this line is blurred, she writes, reader trust will erode because native advertising “threatens to encroach on the line that editorial and readers hold sacred.”

One of the first steps in creating these standards would be for people in the media and in the PR and advertising industries to agree on a consistent definition of “native advertising,” which Shearman describes broadly as “brand-sponsored content on a media site that is housed with and closely aligned with editorial in subject matter, design, and style.” It is sometimes referred to as “sponsored content,” as Richard Edelman does in his article mentioned above.

O6/22/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are four recent noteworthy communications stories.

Washington Post Opens Online Opinion Pages to Sponsored Content by William Launder, on the Washington Post’s website, June 12.

In this article, Launder points out that the Washington Post is now accepting branded content from trade groups, lobbying firms and companies as responses to the paper’s editorials. This action by the Post further widens the opportunities for marketers and others to deliver their specific messages to targeted audiences without relying on traditional advertising or earned media coverage. Several other publications also are moving into sponsored content in their printed editions as well as on their websites.

Social Stories: How to Use Storytelling on Twitter by Shanna Mallon on Spin Sucks, June 17.

Mallon writes, “The limitations of Twitter are no excuse for not putting storytelling to work, especially when you consider the ways others are turning it into a powerful tool.” She offers a few helpful tips on sharing your company’s narrative or your personal story on Twitter, even within its limit of 140 character per tweet.

What Is Brand Journalism? Get the Answer in Fewer than 3 Minutes on Ragan’s PR Daily website, June 18.

In this short video, Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications, and Jim Ylisela, head of Ragan Consulting, provide a clear definition of the term brand journalism and explain the idea of “a company as a media outlet.” While neither the term nor the idea is new, PR people just being introduced to them will find this discussion valuable.

Avoid Social Media Slipups the Dunkin’ Donuts Way by Dave Johnson on CBSNews.com, June 19.

Johnson writes that when confronted by an angry customer wielding a smartphone with video rolling, a Dunkin’ Donuts salesperson handled the situation appropriately, perhaps avoiding a viral video that would be damaging to the company. He says the salesperson acted “calm, cool and polite through the entire TV ordeal,” and in the end the customer came off looking like the villain. Johnson provides lessons other companies can learn from the situation.

05/11/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are eight recent communications stories of note.

The 10 Best Words the Internet Has Given English by Tom Chatfield, in the Guardian, April 17.

In this article, Chatfield, a self-described etymology addict, looks at the history of ten words that are gaining new life and, in some instances, new meanings on the Internet.

The New Look of Public Relations by Stuart Elliott, in The New York Times, April 28, discusses PR firm FleishmanHillard’s rebranding as an integrated marketing communications agency. The New Look of Public Relations—A Dissenting View by Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, in his 6 A.M. blog, May 8, looks at his firm’s approach to preparing for the future.

The PR business is in flux. And agencies everywhere are trying to determine their future role in the overall marketing space and in controlling their clients’ paid, earned, owned, and shared media mix. The best way for them to brand, or rebrand, themselves for this challenge is up for grabs, as these two articles show.

Solving Equation of a Hit Script, With Data by Brooks Barnes, in The New York Times, May 5.

Barnes writes that a former statistics professor thinks he can improve screenplays by comparing “the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success.” Vinny Bruzzese is not a writer. Instead, he’s interested in using data, which he gathers from focus groups and interviews with moviegoers, to suggest script changes. One screenwriter calls Bruzzese’s approach “my worse nightmare.”

Linguists Identify 15,000-Year-Old ‘Ultraconserved Words’ by David Brown in The Washington Post, May 6.

Some words are coined and then disappear in a matter of years. Even the strongest usually last only about 9,000 years before becoming extinct. But linguists have discovered a few words that have been around for 150 centuries, and they’re wondering why.

Grammar Rules Everyone Should Follow by Thomas Jones in the Guardian, May 9.

Jones says that although these “rules” are really conventions not rules, they’re worth following “in the right kinds of discourse” because they make writing clearer and more elegant. He is correct in eight of his suggestions, but I think he’s wrong about the use of who and whom.

Trying to Be Hip and Edgy, Ads Become Offensive by Stuart Elliott and Tanzina Vega, in The New York Times, May 10.

The authors say that advertising agencies and their clients may be trying too hard to reach millennials and “to create ads that will be noticed and break through the clutter.” The result: They are creating more and more offensive ads, leading to public outrage as well as embarrassment (and worse) for Madison Avenue and the brands being promoted.

The 30 Most Influential Bloggers in Public Relations on The CyberAlert Blog.

Today, there are more than 180 million blogs published worldwide on the Internet. Most have only a handful of followers, and their comments leave little or no trail. But a few bloggers are extremely influential, with thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of followers who can’t wait for their next post.

CyberAlert, a media monitoring service, has identified the 30 most influential bloggers who write about public relations and social media. PR and corporate communications professionals might want to take a look at what these bloggers have to say.

03/16/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are seven notable communications stories from the two weeks ending Saturday, March 16.

Blogs Outrank Social Networks for Consumer Influence: New Research by Patricia Redsicker, on the Social Media Examiner website, March 6.

Redsicker reports some interesting findings of Technorati’s 2013 Digital Influence Report.

Among the six findings she highlights are: One, blogs influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. In fact, they are “the third most influential digital resource (31%) when making overall purchases, behind retail sites (56%) and brand sites (34%).” Two, brands and influencers measure success differently. “Brands see success as increased activity on Facebook, Twitter or their websites, while influencers rank blog or website page views as the best measure of success.”

9 Tips to Enhance Your Content Marketing by Bill Miltenberg, on the PRNews website, March 8.

Miltenberg provides tips culled from PR News’ recent Digital PR Summit that featured three PR/content marketing professionals: David Patton from Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, Chad Melton from Ingersoll Rand, and Eliza Anderson from Intrepid Travel.

Why Brands Should Embrace Honesty by Nicola Kemp, on the MediaWeek website, March 13.

Kemp leaves no doubt how she feels about honesty: “At a time when consumer trust in businesses and institutions is at an all-time low, brands can no longer afford to shroud themselves in secrecy and hide behind generic press releases and oblique statements.”

She also makes it clear that achieving honesty will not be easy for businesses: “While the corporate communications industry has effectively built its trade on helping businesses save face, it has a long way to go in adapting to a world in which consumers are demanding that the face in question is a true and honest one.”

Pope Francis, Need Some Public-Relations Help? Here’s Advice from America’s Political Consultants by Brain Resnick and Elahe Izadi on the NationalJournal website, March 13.

For this piece, the writers asked a number of political consultants what they think Pope Francis might do to improve the image of the church and to shore up its support and confidence.

Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee says, “It’s not that different from politics here—you’ve got [to] connect with people, convince them that you ‘get them’ and that you’re willing and able to fix institutional problems.” Kevin Madden, a Republican advisor, says, “Presenting a reformist agenda will be a critical part of generating goodwill with Catholics around the world as well as those Vatican-watchers.”

Other consultants offer suggestions. Most are not only appropriate for the Pope and his church but are relevant for corporations and other large organizations facing their own crisis.

Gartner Finds Corporate Websites Still a Higher Digital Marketing Priority for U.S. Marketers Than Facebook—Just by Natasha Lomas, on TechCrunch, March 13.

In this article, Lomas says a Gartner survey of U.S.-based companies shows that “corporate websites are ranked as the top digital activity for marketing ‘success’ — beating marketing on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.” Forty-five percent of the survey respondents say that their corporate websites contribute to their companies’ success, while 43% say their social media efforts boost marketing success.

Lomas quotes Gartner’s research director as stating, “The survey results suggest that the corporate website will not be displaced anytime soon by a brand’s social media presence.”

The Journalist and the PR Pro: A Broken Marriage?” by Peter Himler, on the Forbes website, March 14.

“The historical love-hate relationship between journalists and PR professionals has taken a distinct turn toward the latter in recent years and cuts across virtually every media beat,” Himler says. But he doesn’t see the relationship as being completely broken.

Himler, a seasoned PR/media strategist, gives a few suggestions for what each side of this media-relations equation might do to do improve its relationship with the other.

How the PR Industry of Yesteryear Compares with Today by Michael Sebastian, on Ragan’s PR Daily, March 15.

Sebastian begins his piece by stating, “In just a decade, aspects of the public relations field have become unrecognizable.” Then he provides an infographic from InkHouse Media + Marketing showing how today’s PR industry compares with itself of a few years ago.

At the bottom of the piece is a link to another story worth checking out. This one lists 10 signs that show you are an old-school PR pro.