We live in a world where ideas, products, and signals are happening so fast that it’s hard for the consumer to process everything. Yet, direct-to-consumer brands can continue to grow with a strategic eye on awareness and trust. If we weren’t bombarded with over 5,000 advertisements per day, we could be more subtle.
The fact is, worldwide, the average person spends 473 minutes per day engaging with media. We also live in a post-ChatGPT world, and one still ruled by search engines and algorithms. Plus, newsrooms are shrinking (in 2021, they had fallen by 25% since 2008) as competition for ad dollars becomes less and less centralized. For this reason, DTC PR strategies need to keep up with the changing media environment and rethink earned media.
There are two ways to approach CPG PR; one is a holistic approach of communications, digital visibility, thought leadership, and product PR where metrics match key business objectives; the other is a laser-focused approach, which could be consumer product PR or thought leadership, depending on the brand strategy with more PR-focused KPIs. In an ideal world, all brands embrace a holistic point of view with a complete bespoke PR program. But, by choosing a strategic consumer PR lever, challenger consumer brands can be precise and thoughtful about their earned media. This is about the laser-focused approach, and consumer brand PR firms must expand their definition of PR to stay useful to DTC, CPG, and consumer product brands.
The Argument for Laser-Focused Media Relations
It’s a harsh world for direct-to-consumer brands to continue growing. For challenger consumer product, DTC and CPG brands – those past startup mode but not a household name – there are an overwhelming number of media options. From Instagram influencers to a dizzying array of advertising choices, the challenger brand has more choices than money. Therefore, it needs to act strategically to do two things at once to scale: build awareness and trust.
That’s one reason PR is the signature choice for consumer product PR: Trust and Awareness.
Trust is the longest game but the most crucial communication goal of any brand. Yet, trust takes a long time to build. Unlike Instagram Influencers (whose influence is waning) and paid advertisements, and the 68% of consumers who think cookie-based advertising is creepy (Marigold 2023), earned media addresses the #1 PR challenge for upstart brands: trusted reach. Whether your target audience is GenZ or a target broader, consumers must trust your brand before you edge in on the market share of competitors or create a new product category altogether, trusted reach is where the smart money goes.
So how do you build trust and awareness when your branding budget is limited? The fact is that branding is expensive, and brands with hyper-growth ambitions need a more direct form of branding. Indeed, product reviews play a vital role in both trust and awareness, and there’s one way to super charge product trust: product reviews in trusted media outlets. Media coverage has several advantages over other brand awareness options, including stickiness. Unlike a fleeting social media post or a questionably targeted ad, product coverage, especially reviews on online media sites, is extremely sticky, lasting in search results for years.
Owning Content and Messaging with Thought Leadership
Executive visibility has never been so vital. A well-developed owned content program isn’t a blog program; it’s a program that embraces all the thought leadership opportunities available to hypergrowth brands today. From blog posts and contributions to emerging topics to the multitude of contributor opportunities to executives willing to share insights with the broader public, thought leadership is ripe with opportunities for challenger brands. This is especially true for younger audiences who distrust established and entrenched brands more than they do startup consumer brands.
Even if your audience isn’t reading those contribution sites, they add a credible and authoritative SEO link to the website and present executives as willing and open to engaging with their customers. According to the Edelman Trust Report, businesses were more trusted than the government and NGOs. But that trust is tenuous because CEO trust isn’t on solid ground, yet business leaders are seen as unifiers next to NGO leaders and teachers; that’s some pretty good company business leaders are keeping. Plus, the best way to earn trust is to be more visible. Harvard Business Review says one of the most important ways for consumer brands to succeed includes deepening customer relationship, not just making comparisons with competitors.
Now is truly the time to embrace thought leadership because of the trusted status of businesses. From 2022 to 2023, businesses earned a 20-point bump in ethics on the Edelman Trust Report, so this is an area of opportunity for consumer brands – especially if they embrace purpose-driven PR. But even if a true purpose-driven message isn’t right for a consumer brand, there are likely aspects of ethics to which the leaders of the consumer brands can speak. And that’s important because 63% of consumers buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values.
Embrace Digital PR Completely with Product Reviews
Digitally savvy PR keeps their eye on the future instead of “of the moment.” Let’s be clear: for trust and authority, there are no short cuts Google sees those work around tactics and actively adjusts against them. This is not a recommendation to game the system; it’s a recommendation to embrace the system. Getting a bunch of low-grade links is actually more damaging than helpful. And the idea of an influencer is changing. A few years ago, brands rushed to implement Instagram influencer campaigns, 90% of which fell flat because they weren’t well executed influencer campaigns. And as the influencer’s trust continues to wane, brands need to understand where their target markets are and who they trust. GenZ audiences don’t trust social media but look to social media to find the news. And 49% of GenZ trust cable news and network news, while 52% trust online only news sites. These online-only news sites are a boon to consumer brand PR because they constantly work to churn out content; they always need new ideas and angles. Plus, product reviews drive eyeballs and, as an added benefit, can also be sources of revenue through affiliate programs. Creating digitally savvy content that supports hero reviews alongside gift guide inclusions is an excellent way to focus consumer product PR budgets.
How Digital PR and Earned Media Work Together
Working alongside journalists to support their objectives is and always will be the objective of media relations. Today’s savvy media relations teams understand how to help digitally savvy online news outlets so that their content surfaces on Google (and AI-driven search like Chat GPT). It goes beyond keywords into the deep algorithm that is Google’s search engine. Direct-to-consumer brands can continue to grow by leveraging Google’s search and trust algorithm for themselves. And that search engine is leaning heavily into authority and trust. There are millions of ways to signal that your brand is trustworthy, but one of the most attainable is aligning with Google’s most trusted sources, and that’s where consumer product PR can make the biggest impact.
Upstart consumer brands can become hypergrowth consumer brands by investing in very defined strategic PR initiatives. Connect with us today to learn more about our laser-focused PR programs for ambitious brands.