The practice of public relations these days is tricky business. You have a vast and complicated media landscape, increasingly fragmented audiences, and tons of competition for attention. This is all even more challenging if you are managing multiple brands under one corporate umbrella. It is possible to develop an effective PR strategy in this situation, some of the biggest companies in the world have done exactly that, but it does require careful planning and intense focus.
Master Brand, Individual Product or Hybrid Strategy
The first step is to determine whether you will have a master brand, with products that are closely aligned with the overall company brand and each other. Whether you will have multiple brands operating independently and only loosely associated, or if you will have a hybrid of the two.
FedEx is an excellent example of a company that’s chosen a master brand strategy. They offer FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Office, FedEx Freight, and other services all with their own brand identity, but still all associated with the FedEx organization. A master brand strategy makes sense when the same type of customer will consume a variety of products and services, and brand loyalty is likely.
One advantage of this approach is that goodwill and good press is enjoyed across the portfolio. When well done, it can make advertising and PR more efficient and powerful. On the flip side, if a product fails or there is a PR crisis, individual brands are not shielded from the impact on the master brand. If FedEx starts losing packages for Express customers, that bad news is likely to impact the Ground business just as much.
You may not realize that Skippy Peanut Butter is made by the same company as AXE body spray, but both are owned by a single parent company, Unilever. Another company that uses the individual product approach is Proctor & Gamble. They offer everything from laundry soap to toothpaste. The individual product strategy works well when the products have different purposes or audiences, or when the market is fragmented, and people are not brand loyal. For example, Proctor & Gamble produces both Tide and Gain laundry detergents. This makes brand-switching less of a problem and helps them control a bigger portion of the grocery store shelf.
The individual product strategy gives companies more flexibility to introduce products that might not succeed without impacting the other offerings. It also goes a long way to protect one brand from bad PR that might affect another. The downside, of course, is that each brand must have its own marketing and PR strategy and that positive public brand perception does not flow from one product to another.
Some companies leverage both approaches at the same time. Coca-Cola is a great example. They offer Coke, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Coke Zero, and more all with the master brand strategy, but also offer Sprite, Dasani water, Power Aid, Minute Maid, and more as individual brands. This is a smart approach when the brands are related and serve the same audience, but you want to offer choice and make a clear distinction for customers. All of Coke’s products are beverages, for example, so they are related, but Coke Water or Coke Lemonade would be confusing.
No matter which strategy you pick, effective PR for a multiple brand company requires careful monitoring and attention to the media landscape. Advanced analytics can tell you how much impact news about the company is having on each brand. It is important to note when media mentions include only the master brand, or when the sub-brands are included as well. This will help drive your response.
It is also useful to know when there is audience overlap between products or when they are distinct. For example, messages that appeal to drinkers of Coke and Sprite may not resonate with drinkers of Honest Tea. In addition to messaging distinction, the best channels and publications for reaching an audience may be different for each brand. PR software can help you determine what is working, where synergies can be leveraged, and where an independent strategy is needed.
PR pros with more than one brand to manage face a challenging task, but not an impossible one. Just keep in mind that useful data and lots of it is more important than ever when you are juggling more than one ball.
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