Charting the Industry: Branding and the Dating Game

Working largely within the realm of earned and owned media, PR pros face varied brand engagement expectations from audiences, as these findings from a Yahoo/BBDO study show. When asked of their expectations with brands that engage with them via digital means, being genuine, engaging and empathetic are most important to consumers. Source: Yahoo/BBDO

A Yahoo/BBDO study released in October 2011 appears to show a big shift in the role consumers are playing in today’s era of multiple digital screens and platforms. No longer passive participants, consumers now have higher expectations of brands and have outlets to voice their opinions.

Thus, the study aims to help brands and communicators understand how to best leverage storytelling to better connect with consumers across paid, owned and earned (POE) media. The key findings are put into a “courtship” perspective by the authors:

1. Paid media (advertising) is akin to a first date—all about the initial impression;

2. Owned media (Web site, social media pages, blogs) is about getting closer; and

3. Earned media (news articles, Twitter posts, online reviews) is like being in a serious relationship.

In discussing the study’s dating theme with PR pros, PR News found some skepticism. “Take this model one step further and I suppose ‘getting engaged’ would be the equivalent to getting a brand tattooed on your body,” says Stephanie Agresta, executive VP and managing director of social media at Weber Shandwick. The trouble is, that’s not how consumers think about their interactions with brands. “Consumers don’t know the difference,” she says. “Yes, their engagement with your work may vary depending on how well they ‘know you,’ but what truly creates passionate engagement with the brand is the wow factor.”

David Warschawski, founder of marketing communications firm Warschawski, agrees that the study misses the point in how one creates a strong brand. “It’s about creating a strong emotional connection first,” says Warschawski. “This study assumes that an organization has a strong brand already.”


So just how do you build a brand with pizzazz? Great brands are built by two elements, says Warschawski: how unique the brand is within its industry, and how emotionally relevant it is to the target audience. “It’s important that PR pros understand how great brands are built,” says Warschawski. “If you don’t you won’t get a seat at the table.”

As a communicator, Huma Gruaz, president of Alpaytac, says it’s your job to incentivize people to stick around once they’ve been touched by paid media. “Do not forget that once you secure the loyalty of your consumer—once you are in a relationship with them—this is your opportunity to turn them into brand ambassadors,” says Gruaz. “Show that you care and allow your customers to have a voice in the building of your brand.” Expectations are high in the areas of owned and paid media, says the study, as respondents said a brand should be genuine, engaging and “should understand me” (see the chart below for details).

Yet Agresta says today’s PR pros can’t ignore paid, owned or earned media. “In today’s socially engaged world, the best PR pros are not limiting their attention to one slice of the pie,” she says.

In other words, working across disciplines is the way to truly create a wow brand. PRN


Stephanie Agresta,; David Warschawski,; Huma Gruaz,