As channels evolve, brands need a grip on social media

What goes around: Social media and branding go hand-in-hand, and modern communications pros must tap into this synergy to maximize brand/consumer relationships, according to insider David Chauvin.

Thanks to the proliferation of social media, the relationships brands share with their target audiences have changed drastically.

Researchers suggest that consumer/brand relationships psychologically mimic personal relationships; professionals measure how consumers feel about a brand based on categories including Passion, Commitment, Intimacy and Trust.

This relationship is measured by the Brand Relationship Quality Index. Without giving away the secret sauce, I can say marketing teams use this measurement to develop messaging that strategically cultivates a specific relationship between brand and consumer.

It’s no accident that certain brands are synonymous with certain personality traits, or symbolic of universal aspects of everyday life. And you don’t need a communications expert to tell you the rise of social media and the evolution of media technology have given everyone a platform and a voice – and in so doing, have transformed the communications playing field.

Brains are hardwired to identify and absorb narratives, and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provide unique ways to tell stories. How people view brands has changed as a direct result of these platforms, completely separate from the multitude of user-review opportunities on private product networks.

Social media channels add more touchpoints for brands to share their message with consumers, providing levels of access that were impossible decades ago – stories of employees inside the company, influencers using products, real-time customer service experiences and more.

David Chauvin: Communication reconfiguration.

This closeness both enhances the personal relationship with brands and makes the relationship more volatile, because consumers now treat brands as personal friends – expecting them to act like a friend and not as a company, and disavowing them when they don’t behave as expected.

The consumer-brand relationship has evolved drastically year-over-year, including 2019, which has seen several #boycott efforts spreading on social media – often when a company’s leadership takes a stand on a social issue and usually regardless of a particular product’s quality.

Edelman, one of the largest public-relations agencies, has studied belief-driven buying, or the decision to buy based on the brand’s position on any number of social issues. Their consumer surveys found that the propensity for decision-based buying grew from 51 percent in 2017 to 64 percent in 2018.

Today, more than ever, consumers are putting their faith in brands to stand for something, do the right thing and help solve political problems. Arguably, this is the result of so many brands being so ingrained in consumers’ lives.

By making the brand’s story part of your story, the brand says something about you – and the score on the Brand Relationship Quality Index skyrockets. But when a brand breaks that bond and no longer mirrors that ideal viewpoint, there’s a strong feeling of disloyalty and the index flips in the other direction.

Acclaimed marketing guru Simon Sinek has based his teachings on the concept that all messaging should “Start With Why,” because people don’t buy based on WHAT you do, but rather WHY you do it. These “why” stories are much more easily distributed and understood because of today’s social media connections between brands and consumers – and also relates heavily to advertising strategies, one more way brands interact with customers.

Consumers are becoming less able to distinguish between advertising messages, owned content, news coverage and other brand communication. Every time a consumer interacts with a brand, it’s an opportunity to clarify that relationship. With more storytelling channels comes more creative opportunities to tell the brand’s story.

In previous generations, there was a clear divide in storytelling responsibilities between public relations and advertising: Public relations teams secured earned media coverage while advertising teams handled everything that was paid. In today’s communications industry, that line has become blurred – or been erased completely, especially with the expansion of native advertising.

Where editorial content (in print, television, radio or digital) was normally the purview of public relations, it’s now often sponsored and provided by an advertiser. What you see now is traditional PR companies investing heavily in what was previously considered the advertising space, and seeing positive results. Such campaigns are intended to reinforce messaging and hone relationships between consumers and brands, which has always been the PR team’s core responsibility

As communications specialists, our mission is to develop messaging by identifying audiences and analyzing how they interact with a brand. From organizing live events and designing websites to curating social media interaction, producing commercials and securing media coverage, it’s imperative that everything be rooted in the brand’s messaging to maintain and strengthen that relationship with the consumer.

Public relations firms are no longer judged solely by the number of media impressions they generate. Over the past decade, they’ve become increasingly responsible for – and taken the lead in – developing creative, social, digital and paid media. To meet the demands of this trend, many traditional PR companies have made executive-level personnel moves and dedicated vast resources to take on large-scale content offerings.

It’s a quantum shift. But the changes we’ve seen in the communications industry are what make the industry so exhilarating and fun. Each day brings a new puzzle to solve, a new audience to reach and a new outlook to share. Future generations of marketing professionals, take heed: This is not your grandfather’s communications industry.

David Chauvin is executive vice president of Great Neck-based public relations firm ZE Creative Communications. and former director of communications for the Town of North Hempstead, among several government positions.