Why Corporate Communications and PR Professionals Need to Own Their Brand Voice in 2017

January 11, 2017 Krystal Overmyer

corporate communications

Your brand voice is more than just a press release.

Sure, plenty of corporate communications and PR professionals understand that brand voice matters. But plenty of these same professionals continue relying on traditional forms of digital outreach, such as putting out press releases or placing thought leadership pieces.

While these strategies have their place, today’s crowded media space has meant earned media opportunities are much less effective than they used to be. That’s why yesterday’s press release generated dismal levels of traffic. And it’s why brands across industries are putting more time and effort into creating and publishing owned content.

When brands own their content and customer experiences, they don’t have to worry about PR firms not getting their message. They depend less on expensive PR agencies to uncover dwindling opportunities to reach potential audiences. When brands are content creators and content publishers, they call the content shots.

Earned vs. Paid vs. Owned

For many corporate communications professionals, de-emphasizing press releases is a revolutionary proposal. But before we dive into the problems with press releases, here’s a quick refresher on the differences between earned, paid, and owned media.

  • Earned media refers to media coverage that has been freely given to you from another outlet. It can include mentions from influencers or bylined guest articles in other outlets. Press release certainly can drive earned media exposure, but other vehicles like social media can drive earned media, too.
  • Paid media refers to exposure you paid for. When you pay to get content placed on a website or in a publication, or when you pay for more exposure on platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook, that’s paid media.
  • Owned media refers to the content your brand controls. Owned media can include your website, blog, digital publications, and your social media accounts.

Media

For a long time, press releases and subsequent earned media coverage have been the bedrock of corporate communications. The first press release, as we’ve detailed on this blog, was born out of crisis in 1906: the Pennsylvania Railroad needed to quell rumors in the wake of a train wreck, and the first press release ever invited journalists to see the scene themselves. The move earned the company praise for its transparency.

Red Bulletin

Over a hundred years later, newspapers have lost ground to the myriad of content available at our fingertips, including via social media sites. This has opened up new spaces for brands to present their own stories using a variety of digital channels, bypassing publishers entirely.

There are several advantages to creating and promoting owned content as part of a branded content strategy. Brands in unique or complex industries have found that owned media allows them to tell stories that media outlets and spread-thin journalists aren’t able to tell. Brands at the forefront of the trend—think Red Bull and Marriott—have moved completely beyond the “company news in a press release” model. These brands have built their own content studios to deliver lifestyle-oriented articles, videos, and more. The brand’s voice is developed through the content, giving newbies and fans another reason to engage.

“Paid and earned get most of the attention, but the new battleground is going to be owned media,” wrote Mark Bonchek, Shift Thinking’s CEO, in the Harvard Business Review. “If you want to get ahead, and stay ahead, you need to rethink your owned media strategy.”

Why an Owned Media Strategy Is an Effective Strategy

When brands focus on their owned media, they get a big benefit: complete control of their voice. Any time your content goes through a middleman (whether a PR agency or a publisher), there’s a risk your brand voice will be diluted and your message derailed. When brands become publishers and owners of their own content, they no longer have to give away their brand voice and marketing.

Bonchek proposed three building blocks of an owned media strategy: content, community, and context. Content channels (website, newsletters, blog, mobile apps, etc.) are the pathways for delivering content to your audience directly. A successful content channel is personalized, relevant, and valuable. Community focuses on fostering connections among customers through virtual communities or in-person events. Context sheds light on connecting audiences to an overall experience, not just a one-off interaction. Loyalty programs are an example.

The resulting multifaceted content experience “pulls prospects and customers into orbit around their brands,” Bonchek wrote. Other benefits of owned content include: Owning the content forever, boosting search engine ranking, and growing brand authority, according to Moz.

Earned and paid media still have an important role to play in corporate communications. A great media mention can expose a wider audience to your brand and its services. A socially promoted thought leadership piece can boost brand awareness outside your usual circle of connections, leading to more potential leads.

But the effects of these campaigns can be short-lived. Owned media works best for long-term marketing goals, like deepening consumer relationships with the brand. A long-term strategy needs longer-term metrics, including brand perception and increased loyalty, versus short-term metrics like sales conversions. Results are seen over time, not necessarily immediately.

Creating a successful owned media strategy isn’t easy. Executing an ad buy or traditional PR campaign is far easier than delivering continual quality content and growing an audience for that content over time. But as earned media effectiveness withers, brands that have a robust owned media strategy will have a leg up. With a direct relationship with an audience, owned content and customer experience can shine.

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