Branding, Advertising and Public Relations (PR), the ‘three musketeers’ of strategic communications in business, are often taken for granted to mean one and the same thing. This view, often held especially by small-business owners or start-ups, is not the correct approach to adopt if your business or brand is to truly enjoy strong market presence and long-term relevance.

It is conceded that the three are aimed at attaining the bottom-lines of sales, increased market share, customer loyalty, brand preference and endearment. All embrace creative communications and harness the power of consumer psychology for audience engagement. However, powerful and strategic differences exist among them and an unwise business decision is the assumption that once one of these is in place, the remaining two are no longer necessary. However, best value for your investment at business positioning is achieved when the three tools are creatively deployed to complement each other in integrative ways and in the right order.

The essence of a business revolves around its customers. Hence the need to effectively engage your target audience about what you do. The process starts first with branding which creates a concrete identity of what your organisation is all about and what sets you apart from generics in your industry. To command preference and thrive above competitors on sustained basis, creating a strong brand is not negotiable. The consumer needs to know the unique value that comes with associating with your brand and these need to be properly reflected in your brand positioning. The created brand is the core substance around which subsequent work of advertisement and public relations will then revolve.

Advertisement creates continuous awareness about the product, service or company. You need to warm your brand into the consciousness of your consuming public on regular basis to maintain awareness about same. Advertisement ‘oils’ the wheel of continued brand preference and customer loyalty. Chances of competitors ‘swaying’ your audience via aggressive visibility increase when you slack off on advertisement.

Yet while branding and advertising are great, solid public reputation management is even more critical in the long-term sustainability of grounds already gained. PR is what deepens the intangible connection between a brand and the consumer. It shapes perception of not only the brand but the organisation behind it.

When you have a good brand and positive public perception about the personality behind same, it becomes much easier to retain customer loyalty and continuously win new patronage through unsolicited referrals. Your reputation does ‘’auto-marketing’’ for you and boost your brand equity. The right news, impacts and reviews about your brand need to get out and optimally reach the critical audience, while potentially unpleasant occurrences should be healthily managed.

When the public comes to associate your brand consistently with such attributes as quality, professionalism, durability, functionality, environmental health consciousness, integrity and commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), you are more likely to have strong brand equity, gain more customers and inspire potential investor confidence. While it may take years to build a formidable brand reputation, it can take a matter of only days to ruin same via poor reputation management, flawed crises handling, slack stakeholder engagement efforts and attraction of bad press. The enduring and greatest brands are built on having time-tested credibility and goodwill from the public.

Compared to the value you stand to gain in the long-term and bigger picture, an investment in good PR support for your business remains one of the best decisions for your enterprise sustainability.

Lanre Fashina, Research & Strategic Communications, Zenera Consulting.