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Closing the Marketing Credibility Gap

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By now you've heard the news—your paid marketing and advertising efforts are suffering from a loss of credibility with your target market. Marketing authorities Al Ries and daughter Laura have even declared the "Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR" when it comes to building brands and perceptions in the minds of consumers.

In effect, marketers are now dealing with a "credibility gap"—if you were to create an ad tomorrow that was 100% fact, your target audience may not believe the message solely because it came in the form of a paid advertisement.

The good news is that you can close the gap significantly for your brand's marketing activities by leveraging PR and marketing together. Specifically:

  • Use PR to drive awareness and credibility for your brand through the media.
  • Align your PR and marketing objectives to allow the credibility generated by your PR to rub off on your marketing—making your paid marketing messages more credible in the eyes of increasingly skeptical consumers.

In this article we'll look at how PR can be used to enhance a company's paid marketing efforts using the framework of a well-known marketing model—the product lifecycle. At each stage of the lifecycle, we'll identify the PR strategy and tactics that can be used to enhance the credibility of your brand and your marketing efforts.

Introduction Phase


The marketing challenge for most companies at this stage is to promote the benefits of the new category. Often, brand-building is put on hold in order to first establish the category in the minds of consumers.

PR Strategy

In the early days of a category, the key strategic consideration in PR is establishing your company (or a specific person) as a "thought leader." You want to attach your brand name to the category through the media, so that your brand recognition and credibility will grow as the category grows.

PR Tactics

Target your efforts on respected bloggers and opinion leaders in your field, along with writers for specialty magazines—they are most likely to be interested at this early stage and are often well read among early adopters.

Sharing information is key. You'll probably find yourself answering questions about the category in general, and that's OK—the real win at this stage is simply having your name affiliated with the category as it grows.

Details matter to niche publications, since their readers have a higher level of interest in the category than the general public, so provide plenty of detail to these media outlets—provide specifications, talk about how the product is made, discuss future uses for the product, etc.

Growth Phase

As volume picks up, more competitors enter the market and consumer interest accelerates. Establishing brand leadership is now the key marketing objective.

PR Strategy

Your PR strategy should attempt to steer the growing conversation in the media toward your key marketing messages.

For example, in the early days of flat-screen TVs, there were plenty of consumer stories about whether to go with an LCD or Plasma TV. If your brand was available only in LCD, you can imagine the credibility you could create for your "pro-LCD" advertising by ensuring that the positives of LCD vs. Plasma were highlighted through your various media appearances.

With the category going mainstream, your media targets will change to reflect your broader marketing goals. Instead of an in-depth story in a niche publication, you are now chasing a 60-second segment on the 6 PM news, aimed at a much broader audience who don't have the expertise or the heightened interest of early adopters.

A big win at this stage is landing a major media story on the growing category that features your brand and aligns with your marketing messages. Many companies that accomplish this will actually integrate the media content into their advertising and paid marketing, knowing that the positive coverage radically closes the credibility gap for their ads.

PR Tactics

The 6 PM newscast has a broader audience than the niche publication you targeted in the introductory stage, so pitch high-level story ideas—highlight the key benefits of the new category, illustrate the difference between the new product and the product people are using today, and keep it simple.

Make direct pitches to reporters for wire services and reporters in major cities who cover the category, leveraging past media appearances in niche publications as credibility builders for you.

A more robust media center on your Web site will be needed, and make sure it's filled with easy-to-find, high-level information—ideal for busy reporters who have only a few seconds or a few hundred words to tell a story.

Maturity Phase

Volume peaks, margins are tight, and price becomes a deciding factor for many clients.

Marketing efforts here are all about points of differentiation. In a market where many products begin to look alike, companies strive to point out why their product offering is superior and why it should command a premium price over discounted entrants to the market.

PR Strategy

Use your PR opportunities to legitimize the differences that you are promoting with your marketing.

For example, if you are actively promoting the energy efficiency of your brand of flat-screen TV, draw attention to this aspect of the product in the media wherever you can. An article in a respected newspaper or magazine about the "energy efficiency" angle will encourage consumers to use energy efficiency as part of their purchase-decision criteria. It will also lend significant credibility to your ads promoting this aspect of your flat-screen TV vs. the competition.

With everyone ramping up marketing expenditures, there's no shortage of noise in the marketplace. Getting your message to consumers through a source they trust in the media can help your brand message be heard above the riot.

PR Tactics

Consumer reporters make great targets at this stage, as they will be willing to focus on a specific aspect of the established category to help viewers/readers make an informed purchase.

You can safely move away from directly promoting your brand in news releases at this stage, and instead promote your key point of differentiation—if you are successful in making energy efficiency an issue in the media, and your marketing has already clearly established you as the most energy efficient flat-screen TV around, you've given your marketing a major credibility boost.

Closing the Gap

A good PR strategy will work in concert with your marketing efforts to add credibility to the message you are trying to deliver to the market. This in turn helps your paid marketing to be perceived as more credible in the eyes of the consumer—and that closes the credibility gap, leading to a higher return on your marketing investment.  


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Geoff Dillon is a Toronto-based marketing communications professional. You can reach him at geoffdillon@geoffdillon.ca or via his blog, The Marketing Blender, (www.geoffdillon.typepad.com).

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