Are you cold calling and reaching out to prospects more than they’re calling you? Are you having to constantly explain who you are and what you do? Do even your current customers struggle to describe how you’re different from your competitors?

While these questions sound like the beginning of an infomercial, they’re important questions to ask. More importantly, if you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be dealing with a brand awareness crisis.

Brand awareness is a critical part of organizational success. Not only is it crucial when launching new products or services, but it is also critical for staying relevant over the long haul, whether the goal is to grow or to eventually be acquired. A healthy and well-known brand drives consumers’ decisions and differentiates you from the competition, but it also strengthens client retention, thus increasing market share.

If your brand isn’t doing these things, the following three reasons may be to blame.

  1. Your PR strategy doesn’t align with your business goals

You land a killer article in your local paper or even Wall Street Journal. That’s fantastic, but if it doesn’t align with your business goals or reach your target audience, you may not benefit from it. The article then, despite its masthead prestige, becomes a wasted effort and a poor investment.

When developing a successful PR strategy, you must first start with your organization’s goals. What are your primary objectives? Are you looking to close more deals? Launch a new product? Are you looking to hire for a certain position? Are there geographical areas more important than others?

But these questions primarily identify your immediate needs and short-term goals. You must also consider your long-term strategy.

Are you looking to drive sales by a certain percentage over the next five years? Are you looking to add 10 new positions to your team? What about in 10 years? Are you looking to attract investors? Are you trying to raise funding? What about your exit strategy or succession planning?

These are questions you must first answer before creating a PR plan. When you align the objectives of the entire organization, the results are more impactful and you’re able to appropriately manage brand awareness initiatives.

But what if goals change? Both fintechs and financial institutions must be nimble and able to quickly adapt to changes in the economy. If goals change, your PR strategy must also change, making it critical to revisit your business goals. At a minimum, you must evaluate your plan annually, but some organizations may wish to review quarterly. This may be the case over the next year as we anticipate various changes, such as a possible rate hike.

  1. You’re not communicating across departments

One of the biggest mistakes teams make is hoarding information. More often, it’s because departments may not think something they’re working on is relevant to another department’s work. While not intentional, withholding information can lead to a disjointed program.

For instance, if you’re a financial institution shifting its focus to reach consumers in a specific area where a branch may not be getting as much traffic, you need to make sure your PR and marketing teams are aware. If a recent PR win resulted in a signed client, make sure you’re communicating that as well so the team can replicate the success. If you have a major article published, make sure the sales team knows so they can promote it accordingly. Ultimately, there must be solid communication across the entire organization to ensure everyone knows and understands the goals and objectives, especially if outside firms are being leveraged.

While it’s important to communicate the wins, do make sure you’re also communicating the fails. If your PR efforts are not resulting in leads, your sales team needs to inform the PR team so adjustments can be made.

Additionally, ask lots of questions. The sales team should be asking prospects – especially those that don’t sign the dotted line – what their specific hesitations are. What are the pain points for customers that your solution solves? Turn that information into feature articles. It’s likely that if a few customers have the same challenges, others do too.

You should also be asking the “why” of PR tactics. For instance, why are you targeting certain publications? Do those publications reach your target audience? Do certain tactics increase awareness? If you’re primarily trying to reach consumers in your community to increase branch traffic, LinkedIn may not be the best channel for you. If you’re a fintech trying to reach other fintechs for partnerships, LinkedIn should be your preferred channel; not Facebook or Instagram.

Finally, sales should be asking the PR team what of their work should be leveraged in their efforts and how. Is there a stellar case study that the sales team should send to prospects? Are there awards that would be a great fit for current customers to show appreciation and keep the relationship sticky?

  1. Your core message doesn’t make sense to your audience

Your core message is the most important part of your business. If no one understands it, that’s a major problem. Too often, organizations make the mistake of focusing on what they do rather than why they do it.

Consider meeting someone new at an industry event. If they describe themselves by telling you about their daily tasks, you will likely lose interest, but if that person instead tells you a story and incorporates emotion and empathy, you tend to listen. Being more engaged, you’re quite likely to remember them. This same concept applies to organizations. Instead of listing out what you do (your products and services), talk about why you do it.

For fintechs, tell a story about your first customer and how it led to your current business. For a financial institution, tell a story about how your staff helped a specific customer. One example that resonates with me, is when a bank went out of their way to pick up a disabled customer at their home and then drove him to the local branch where he could set up his account in person. The process had been too difficult to complete over the phone.

Stories are what people remember and they’re what shape your brand.

Brand awareness is critical. If no one knows you – or even worse – your brand is not exactly one that’s positive, you may be dealing with a brand awareness crisis and growing will be practically impossible. If you’re struggling to get people’s attention or they have a hard time understanding what you do, it’s likely you’re making at least one of these mistakes.

The good news is that you can make changes to improve your brand and escape your crisis. Know your business goals and ensure they’re aligned with your PR strategy, communicate across departments, and have a solid core message that goes beyond just the bullet points of what you do.

Michael G. Misoyianis is CFO and COO of Atlanta-based York Public Relations, a PR firm specializing in brand awareness and crisis PR.

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