Relationships and Branding
In a contemporary consumer society reliant on materialism and postmodern branding in order to fulfil purchasing behaviour – derived from the economics of needs and wants, stimulated by a reflection to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model – we should not assume, but indeed concrete, the fact that public relations is at the heart of maintaining the relationship between consumer and corporation. Those in branches of advertising and marketing will probably disagree, perhaps even differentiate each discipline and endeavour to ensure no correlation is made to PR.
Public relations, bizarrely, continues to suffer from a self-image problem within the wider professional community, despite becoming increasingly credible in academic arenas of discourse. If we’re talking about branding, then we can come to a number of conclusions, most prominently that a product requires a sustained period of exposure to market conditions during initial launch in order to remain profitable beyond advertising and marketing. Existing brands share this similar requirement; it’s all good and well to invest in the most successful marketing and advertising campaigns, but without public relations how do we sustain this consumer-corporation relationship? If something goes wrong, who is there to pick up the pieces and stitch them together in the form of an almost patchwork-like campaign to fend off campaigners?
A brand is a mental and social construction revolving around positive brand image, attitude and awareness; the most successful brands are those which not only strike our pockets with million-dollar advertising campaigns and the perfect Four Ps activity (priced in line with market conditions, a product that satisfies a need or want and economically viable, sold in accessible outlets and promoted well) but maintain this relationship. Take away marketing and advertising, and you have public relations; if the product has become established, it could well survive through positive promotion, persuasive corporate activity and positivity, particularly if that brand is well received, consumed and desired. But strip away PR and you are left with a product or service that can be advertised yet may face difficulties in advertising in the future based on the need for relationship.
It was Langer (1996) and Fournier (1994) who said relationships cannot exist without interactions between a consumer and its brand. Fournier also carried out research and claimed all strong relationships originate in an instrumental product performance, arriving at the conclusion that a relationship consists of attachments and connections. Public relations has a fundamental role – to retain consumers in the face of choice, ensure they remaun commited, sustain strong bonding and turn deserters into loyal consumers (see Hofmeyr and Rice, 1980). To satisfy needs is not merely economical and psychological; public relations is a key component of the process of sustaining consumers. Without public relations, our promotional discourse would be severely affected and problems with a corporation would be faced by those without specialist knowledge. We may still be able to market and advertise, but the over-lap or public relations should signify that to perceive this piece of the pie as irrelevant is to eat the entire pie without cream…