The line between advertising, branding, marketing and PR may appear blurry to some, but I believe clarity has arrived.
Interestingly enough, it is the disruptive visual platforms Instagram and Pinterest that are bringing clarity to the overall communications industry.
In a traditional sense, Public Relations practitioners have been wordsmiths; conveying written and (limited) visual messages to the public. PR pros have mainly used words and text to increase awareness and educate people about products, services, controversies, and causes.
But, 2014 has been a tsunami of visuals and images in communication. This has widened the skills gap between branding and PR. For example, research proves that press releases and blog posts containing visuals have significantly higher open and read rates than content with straight text.
Many PR executives and organizations are inserting video snippets or infographics into their press releases. Their goal is to improve engagement and news pitches to reporters. Visual tours are becoming more commonplace with PR, too. Show, don't tell.
This is a far cry from branding and the visual web that's unfolding in our industry today.
Who 'owns' a company's brand positioning?
Not the PR department, the mavens of linguistics.
According to a post on TheNextWeb, photo and video posts on Pinterest refer more traffic than Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn and Google+ combined.
Storytelling with visuals is driving branding as well. Forty-two percent of all Tumblr posts are photos.
The first commercial camera was introduced in 1873. Today, there are more than 1 billion photos on Instagram.
Welcome to the visual web.
Branding, marketing, advertising, and sales are based on the psychology of influencing human behavior and emotional touch points that convert into revenue.
I don't believe that students of PR are the most trained, skilled, or experienced in these areas. This is a far cry from matters such as Crisis Communications, an area of expertise that rightfully belongs within the scope of PR. Public Relations is aligned more closely with media relations than it is with branding. PR has largely owned social media because it's closely aligned with reputation management. But the visual web changes all that. Storytelling has long been the role of the Advertising or Brand Agency.
A post on Content Marketing Institute addresses the transformation of brand experience:
Just as Copernicus revolutionized our understanding of cosmology by proving that the sun is the center of our solar system (not the Earth), marketing has gone through a transformation of focus. Historically, we placed our brand at the center of our marketing decisions, which resulted in a lot of wasted effort. Cristina Heise gyro's Director of Brand Experience points out that we've now put the customer in her rightful place - at the center of the marketing universe. "Think about the human at the center and how to make it easier on them. Think about what's concerning her, what's troubling her, what excites her, what motivates her, what she wants to accomplish and how you and your brand can help," she recommends.
The hub of today's hybrid messaging and modern marketing is the visual web. Analyst Shar VanBoskirk of Forrester says a marketing strategy based around value-driven interactions is vital in meeting customer expectations.
Linguistics and text are a shrinking part of the overall picture.
As the demand for consumer engagement skyrockets, it's the visuals that show-and tell-our brand stories.