ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
October 4, 2012

That Thing That Every Brand Wants: Becoming ‘Relevant’ is Largely a Science


Join Brodeur Partners’s Andy Coville for the PRSA 2012 International Conference session, How to Make Your Brand Relevant, on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 12:30–1:45 p.m.

When you do a Google search, what do you want from your results?

When you flip through the flyers in the Sunday paper, what stops you from tossing them?

When you donate to a charity, vote for a candidate or choose the sexier tablet, what makes you act?

Relevance — which is what’s missing from too many brands.

We’ll explore this concept in depth in my PRSA 2012 International Conference session on “How to Make Your Brand Relevant,” taking place Tuesday, Oct. 16, 12:30–1:45 p.m. in San Francisco. I can’t wait to see you there.

So, what is relevance?

Too many brands are competing for the wrong things: buzz, virality, coolness, eyeballs or a lead-pipe logical case that their stuff is faster, better or cheaper than the next guy’s. These are all desirable things, I suppose, but they’re nothing if you’re not relevant. The people we marketers want to reach — consumers, voters, donors, business customers, etc. — are looking less for a brand that will wow them than one that offers meaning. People yearn for brands they can connect with, commit to and build a community around. That’s especially true in this age of political, economic and media upheaval; so many people feel utterly disconnected.

So a relevant brand is one that conveys meaning and makes a customer want to connect. My official definition: Relevance is the full experience of an idea, product, brand, candidate or cause, one that not only changes minds, but changes behavior, and sustains that change.

How do you make your brand relevant?

I used to think relevance resulted from some ineffable alchemy of gut decisions, luck and magic. But then I sat down with my team and studied our body of communications work over the past few decades. We looked at the challenges our clients faced, the many successes they experienced, and the factors that made them successful. We also looked at areas where they might have done better. We drew some inferences, read a lot of studies, conducted some research of our own, and came to a solid conclusion: Relevance is both art and science.

To the extent it’s a science, relevance typically results from connecting with people in one or more of four ways: through their value system, their social impulses, their senses and, finally, their rational mind. Although logic is part of a successful brand identity, it’s overrated.

For example, when Gen Y (18-34) and Boomers (55-plus) consider their ideal shopping experience, there’s a distinct practicality divide, our research has found. Gen Y shoppers place a significantly higher value than Baby Boomers do on sharability of the experience, association (I’m OK if people know I’m associated with [the retail brand]), sensory stimulation, and the ability of the retailer to “make me smile.” Our research has established other relevance pathways:

  • Americans over 25, especially if they’re married, feel overextended and generally want more simplicity in their lives. In other words, your brand is competing for relevance amid a lot of unwelcome noise. You must deliver meaning that penetrates the cacophony.
  • Americans see themselves as compassionate (two out of three embrace that label). This is good news for cause-related brands, which need only tap into the compassion, versus generate it from scratch.
  • Married people see the world differently from singles. Married people are far more optimistic than singles, but less interested in “making a difference.” Know your audience. Or segment it.
  • Amazon.com, entirely forgoing a physical storefront, has managed to become America’s most relevant retailer, followed by brick-and-mortar stalwarts Target and Wal-Mart.
  • High relevance scores correlate with superior growth and performance, even when a company is dwarfed by industry juggernauts.

We’re uncovering more of these insights every day. We’re also proving that a brand’s relevance can be measured, managed and systematically increased. There are methodologies to identify relevance gaps, analyze what’s missing, prescribe strategies to increase relevance, and test those strategies before investing in them.

Even though it’s largely science, relevance takes creativity to produce. The science just gives you a framework for producing and testing relevance. When your efforts pay off, you will know it, you will be able to quantify it, and you will feel it right down to your bones.

Andrea Coville is CEO of Brodeur Partners. For 25 years, Andy has developed and executed high-performing global communications campaigns for organizations in the business-to-business, consumer products and health care markets. Her agency’s extensive client roster has included the American Cancer Society (ACS), IBM, MasterCard, Corning, Phillips, RIM (Blackberry), Bio, Vertex, 3M and GE Plastics. Since being appointed CEO, she has diversified Brodeur Partners from a public relations firm specializing in technology to a multidisciplinary communications agency focusing on full-service communications, digital strategies, social change and business consulting.

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