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Search: A Brand Campaign Tool?

  |  July 6, 2004   |  Comments

Search should be an ongoing effort to support a site or marketing strategy. Should it be a branding tactic, too?

Did you catch The Wall Street Journal's front-page article on the South Beach Diet last week? The headline and subhead read: "Diet Book Found Novel Ways To Get On Top – and Stay... South Beach Uses Web Push To Keep Profile High; Paying For Search Words." And a highlight from the story: "The Web blitz is one of several unconventional marketing techniques..."

I always get a kick out of how mainstream media report on Internet ad trends and tactics. But search portrayed as "novel" and "unconventional"? Hasn't search become fundamental to any good marketing effort?

As the article notes, the fine folks at Rodale, the book's publisher, contracted to spend $750,000 a month on search resources such as Google and Overture to drive traffic to a promotional support site. Keywords and keyword phrases such as "South Beach," "low-carb," and "low calorie diet" are driving viral buzz and book sales to the tune of 65,000 copies per week.

We marketers consider this second nature. We wouldn't give a second thought to ensuring our online efforts contain a healthy dose of search engine magic to build our plan. But this story has a finer and subtler lesson -- search as a branding tactic.

Rethinking the Layers

In most disciplines, successful tactics can quickly become common practice. Online media planning is no exception. Most media planners will tell you search should be an ongoing effort to support a site or marketing plan. Display efforts are layered on top of that to support specific branding flights or tactical initiatives.

Should search be a branding tactic, too?

The current argument is search has branding value. Some publishers and core search agencies push this thought to ensure they participate in the current surge of major brand marketers converting TV dollars to online efforts. I applaud their salesmanship. But this thinking seems to put the cart before the horse. Just because a client is reallocating its media mix to better reach its target doesn't mean a good set of keywords will help replace a few gross rating points (GRPs).

Does a client's name or product name in a search box constitute a "brand moment"? On some level, everything we do for a client supports the brand, even direct response efforts such as search. But it's degree and level of connection, large or small, varies by tactic. So, yes, search does affect a brand. Question is: How much?

It's worth investigating how search can help a brand campaign reach specific communications objectives. Some approaches to this might be:

  • Buy keywords and keyword phrases for the specific product name, and phrases associated with the product. For example, during the launch of the new Subaru Legacy Sedan, Subaru could buy "subaru legacy sedan." But it could also purchase words describing key features, such as "symmetrical all-wheel drive" -- a key selling point of the vehicle.

  • Buy the new slogan or keywords within a campaign's headline.

  • Buy the name of the celebrity or spokesperson used in the pitch.

The above will help drive incremental traffic to the advertiser's site. Taking things deeper would involve integrating a brand effect measurement against this specific traffic to gauge branding metric lift.

Benchmarking the improvement against other online tactics would be an interesting comparison. Anyone tried this yet?

Send me your thoughts. Even if you just mention a generic client name, and I'll share them in a future column on online brand effect.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Hering As SVP and director of interactive marketing at t:m interactive, JamesHering's teamdevelops a full range of interactive solutions for a variety of clients.Since 1994, he's been involved in development and evolution of AmericanAirlines' AA.com. With over 10 million registered users, it's one of theworld's most successful e-commerce sites. James' experience includes contentpublishing and development; online CRM; sponsorship/partnerships; searchengine marketing; and execution and implementation of AA's award-winninginteractive campaigns. Other client experience includes Adams Golf, BellHelicopter, eiStream, Nationwide Insurance, Nortel Networks, Match.com,SABRE Travel Information Network, Subaru of America, Reno Air, Nestle Foods,Texas Instruments, Texas Tourism and Pizza Hut. His group's honors includethe Internet Marketing Association's Excellence in Interactive Marketing,WebAwards for Site Design, Communication Arts, NY Festival, iNOVA awards,CASIE Interactive awards and @d:Tech awards.

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