People listen to a brand that is relevant to them: Fred Cook, Chairman, GOLIN

Cook spoke to exchange4media about brand relevance and changing media landscape

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Updated: Sep 25, 2017 8:44 AM

In an ecosystem where brands are born every day, what differentiates a brand is how relevant it is to consumers. Fred Cook, Chairman, GOLIN, highlighted the importance of relevance while he was in India to unveil a quantitative brand study titled Relevance Fingerprint. The study compares brands that actively compete in the same market.

Cook spoke to exchange4media about brand relevance, the changing media landscape, and also shared some advice on what role they can play in the current socio-political ecosystem to remain strong, for people to reckon with. Edited excerpts: 

Please give us asneak peek into the study…

 Some brands like Kodak and Nokia have always been trusted and been around for a long time. Butfor certain reasons over time, they have become less relevant to consumers.Others, like, James Bond, have been around for a long time, number of people have played the titular role, the franchise has evolved and still people of all ages find these storylines and movies relevant. Apple is another such brand that has evolved continuously over the years to stay relevant. Brands also go in cycles, for example Nintendo. They had been extremely relevant, then they dipped, and the next generation became relevant again. The challenge is for us as communicators to help them maintain their significance for long periods of time, because I think for brands, that is the secret. 

 What are the key attributes of brands that maintain relevance?

 There are different components of a brand that lead to being relevant. We have identified 15 attributes of relevance. Some of these attributes are: popular, authentic, innovative, welcoming, among others. We found that these components differ from category to category. It is a very dynamic process that changes from market to market. For example, in China we found that Prestige is a very important attribute that’s necessary to build relevance, while in other markets it was not as important.

 What is the kind of communication strategy brands can employ to create relevance?

In this day and age,the way that brands market themselves can vary dramatically in terms of what tools are going to make them most relevant. We find that if you have a brand that people feel is relevant, the main thing is that consumers listen to that brand. The fact that they are listening to you means whatever you say is going to have an impact on consumers, and Apple is a good example of that. They keep everything a big secret, and once they make an announcement everyone talks about the new launch. They create an enormous amount of excitement around the launch. Similarly, Tesla recently had 500,000 pre-orders for its latest model just on the back of anticipation without any advertising.

 How is the role of PR evolving in the social media era when brands can directly communicate their message to their stakeholders?

That is something we are all trying to understand and figure out. That said, social media is just another channel to reach out to people. The basic similarity is that whether you are in social media or traditional media, you need to have a good story to tell. Our role is to help brands create relevant content that consumers will listen to and act upon. And we have to be a lot more creative about how we do that. We cannot simply put out a press release and think that everybody will be excited about it. That’s probably the last thing you want to do.

 PR, Marketing is not independent of silos anymore…

Yes, the lines separating lanes in the swimming pool are all gone now. Everyone is swimming around and zigzagging around. We did a survey at the University of Southern California, where we found that almost half the people in PR believe that marketing and public relations are getting more and more aligned over the years. That’s going to be an interesting time because there are a lot of people swimming around in that marketing pool. It will be interesting to see who ends up coming out with the most market share in this competition.

 How does India fit into Golin’s bigger picture?

We have been in a partnership with GolinOpinion for five years now. We have seen enormous growth in these five years. As a company we see two or three countries outside theUnited States that hold high growth potential. India is one of those, and China is probably the second. These are the two most important areas for us. We thought Latin America would be strong, Brazil in particular, but their economy is facing some challenges. The future potential for India and China seem almost unlimited.

 Nationalism has emerged as an overarching trend globally. How can brands stay relevant in this ecosystem?

I see a global trend towards a nationalistic approach, a return to the values that have made companies or countries great. But that’s a sword that cuts in two directions. We want brands to be relevant and at the same time, we want them to lead. So there is an opportunity now for brands to improve the conversation that is being had globally. There is a lot of divisiveness between cultures, religions,communities, countries. Brands can play a broader role where governments may have not succeeded and bring people together. Company CEOs have the opportunity to have a broader voice in politics, and engagement. I welcome that and I think

it is good for companies to be speaking out about the views they represent. But we have to be careful that we are not attempting to turn back the clock to something that may or may not be compatible to more peaceful and harmonious environment.

Lastly, what is your advice to Indian brands on staying relevant?

In India, brands atare a different phase of evolution than they are in the West.In the West there is more scepticism, and the feeling of being disappointed by some rands over time In India, people have a great respect for major brands. And in order to maintain that relevance and respect, their behaviour is very important. We see brands say one thing, and do another thing - that's what makes them lose their relevance. I would say that make sure your actions are as powerful as your words. Also, having the willingness to change, adapt and innovate is important.  

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