What drives consumers purchase decisions and product recommendations? Positive brand equity or positive corporate reputation? New research analysis has documented the connection, and found that combining positive attributes from both brand and reputation produced stronger effects than they do individually.
The Council of Public Relations Firms and Harris Interactive, a research-based consultancy specializing in brand and corporate reputation measurement and modeling, produced the research and subsequent paper, A Hidden Harmony: Documenting the Connection between Brand and Corporate Reputation. In their paper, they advocate taking “product brand efforts and corporate reputation efforts out of their silos” and deploying them jointly in pursuit of common objectives. Although a valid recommendation, focusing on changed organizational structure as a way to amp-up consumer purchase decisions is organization-centric, and ignores another important finding. In digging further into their published results, I would advocate a more consumer-centric understanding of the research - the real harmony needs to be with the consumer.
If you dig into the appendices of the two consumer categories used in the research (automotive and food) a top attributes in both for brand is “Fits with how I think of myself,” and a top attribute for reputation is “emotional appeal.” These top attributes both indicate that a harmony with consumers' self identity is a strong driver for purchase decisions and product recommendations.
The reason the researchers may have avoided advocating for consumer harmony is that it is hard to achieve. Organizations have more control over their own structures than they do consumer harmony – helping consumers identify with its brand personally and emotionally. However, other research supports at least four approaches: provide experiences, tell authentic stories, create meaningful cause-related partnerships and practice transparency.
These areas are action items where public relations can lead the way. Building mutually beneficially relationships with stakeholders is a core value and a key function of public relations. Yes, PR and marketing professionals should break out of their cubicles and join efforts. But public relations professionals should not shy away from providing expertise where it has proven highly impactful – creating harmony with the consumer.