A Brand Guy's Lament

Why the obsession with click-through?

Please raise your hand if you have ever been to Amazon.com. (Just play along – we are in the interactive business).

I see that most of you have (and I’m sure your coworkers are wondering why you just raised your hand). Now, please keep your hand up only if you first got to Amazon.com by clicking on a banner ad. Ah… not a single click-through among you. Alas, the power of branding.

I must confess, I’m a brand guy. I always have been and I guess I always will be. So take my comments with the proverbial grain of salt.

The obsession with click-through as a measurement of campaign success has always been perplexing. Why the focus on the 1 percent of the people who click on a web ad (this coming from companies that would spend in excess of $1 million on a TV spot that can’t be clicked)?

What about the remaining 99 percent of the people who don’t? What’s going on in their mind? In the case of Amazon.com, customers are typing in the URL, or are repeat buyers (I heard that’s where two-thirds of its business comes from).

I can already see the ROI fan club emails coming — you don’t understand: It’s the data, it’s the conversions, it’s the… whatever.

Hey, relax. I’m not against direct marketing and the concept of ROI. I just firmly believe that it all begins with brand building — that true ROI comes with a strong brand and not the other way around.

My recent experience in the interactive industry has even strengthened my convictions to this thesis and to the following principles of success that I believe companies need to focus on to create a true ROI for their marketing dollars.

  1. Perfect your blocking and tackling. Time and time again, you see companies going for “the big play” while the fundamentals of the business are lacking. What’s the core business proposition? Does it fulfill a real customer need? Does it have legs? And even if the business is sustainable and scaleable, is it being packaged and sold correctly? Is it targeted at the right audience with a message that resonates?

  2. Death by pinprick. I’ve often been asked what is the most effective part of my marketing efforts. The answer is all of it. The components of the overall campaign — advertising, PR, direct mail, online, events — all work together to create an impact on the target audience. Which pin prick did the trick — the first one, or number 2000? It was the aggregation of them all that did the damage, not each one on a single basis.
  3. Presence builds preference. A truly effective integrated marketing program makes an impression on your audience in the time, place and environment that will create the most impact. It’s not just reach and frequency — it’s the quality of the reach and variety of places the frequency comes from, all of this in a context that makes most sense for the person you are trying to reach. Why is it that you always see a Coke logo when you’re thirsty? And while it represents the ultimate in brand ubiquity, you don’t have to be a multi-national conglomerate to effectively brand through creating a dominating presence in your respective field of endeavor. The bottom line is that the more people see your brand in the right context, the more they will think favorably of your brand.

So, you say, this is a bunch of marketing mumbo jumbo — not so. In actual practice, these three principles can create a brand and, yes, a strong ROI. You want facts, not a thesis — let’s take a look at Chipshot.com. While a work in progress, Chipshot seems to have gotten it right.

Blocking and tackling: A strong business premise, “The Dell of Golf Clubs.” Custom-ordered clubs to fit you and your needs delivered in days. The audience is upscale male. Here is where execs there could have gone awry — they could have positioned themselves in the “We offer clubs for everyone at a good price” arena — too broad in my opinion. The message delivery is focused on the love of the game (not pricing). Golf is emotional. (Why else would we keep playing it?)

Death by pinprick: Chipshot had affiliate deals with all the usual suspects along with a banner campaign online. Some results, but nothing to write home about. A well-targeted outdoor campaign (in key golf markets) coupled with equally well-targeted radio creative and timed during the start of the “golf season” created instant presence over a measured period of time.

Presence builds preference: While I’m not allowed to use exact numbers (Chipshot is a privately held), this much I can tell you. Triple digit quarterly growth, double-digit click-through increases (along with doubled business through the affiliate programs, so not just more customers, but more qualified customers), and high measured levels of awareness in its core target audience.

I’ll step down off my soapbox, but I was long overdue for this rant. It’s been hard to stand idly by watching branding take a proverbial beating by new age marketers. After all, I’m a brand guy. Always have been, always will be.

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