Marian Salzman: PR is the new digital; culture is the new new media

In 2008, most consumers aren't persuaded by fancy words and images. After all, they see thousands of them every day and have learned to tune most of them out as 'noise.'

BY Marian Salzman, CMO at Porter Novelli, New York; trendspotter and futurist

In 2008, most consumers aren’t persuaded by fancy words and images. After all, they see thousands of them every day and have learned to tune most of them out as ‘noise.’

The point is not that brands are dead or dying; it’s that the relationship between products and brands is changing, with product becoming a more crucial part of the equation.

This doesn’t sound earth-shattering at first. But it’s revolutionary when you consider the vast amounts of money, time and energy spent on creating, sustaining and updating brand halos, to say nothing of what’s spent in the never-ending quest for big brand ideas. And it means that it will no longer be business as usual for marketing professionals and communications agencies. On both the PR and the marketing sides, we have to rethink the way we operate.

The pace of change today requires constant product news. With the rise of hyperconnectivity and interactivity, standout product performance creates more buzz, which in turn creates more sales. Consumers want compelling demonstrations and credible recommendations – and with today’s rapidly proliferating social networks and specialist blogs, they have no trouble finding them.

Now that the pace of technological innovation means that one company rarely has the newest, best, cheapest product for long, there’s less reason for consumers to keep their purchasing habits. Even more important, consumers have more choice among the channels for information and dialogue about those products, as product life cycles can go from launch to crash in a matter of days.

All this means enormous opportunity for marketing and public relations agencies that recognize that the savviest consumers pay more attention to the tangible products than to the intangible brands. A strong enough product can now create a halo that casts the whole brand in a positive light – like Prius has done for Toyota – a reversal of traditional thinking.

Are we looking at a future that’s all product and product news? Certainly there will be more of it – released more frequently and more creatively via even more functional messaging, whether unpaid or paid.

Looking beyond the product-brand dichotomy, it’s increasingly difficult to reach consumers with any kind of message. ‘The challenge…is ascribing unique and appropriate roles to every element of the marketing mix,’ says Ira Matathia, director of consulting at Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve. ‘For example, conventional ads are still good at creating awareness, but are not a panacea for effectiveness. Most important, and most ignored, is the idea that it is culture that is, in fact, the new media. So weaving the DNA of the brand/product into the DNA of the culture is a very powerful weapon.’

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