Being Specific About Online Branding

I’ve learned through years of conducting research that the most important part of getting the right answers is asking good questions. Being specific about what you want to find makes the job of finding it a whole lot easier.

The same is true for e-marketing. You have to figure out what you want to accomplish before deciding what strategies, tactics, and success metrics are appropriate. Investing time and energy in developing specific, achievable objectives is the first crucial step to e-marketing success.

Generally, e-marketing objectives fall into one of two categories — direct response or branding. Direct response means trying to get people to do something, like visit a site, register, or buy stuff. Branding means inspiring people to think or feel a certain way about a product in the hopes of inducing or increasing product purchase and loyalty.

When asked about their online objectives though, few people say “direct response.” They are usually more specific than that. Even if they are using a metric as rudimentary as click-through to gauge success, most people set out to accomplish particular goals, like driving traffic or acquiring customers.

But often I do hear people say that their online advertising objective is “branding,” as if the answer was sufficient. But branding is not one thing. Just like direct response, there are different kinds of branding objectives that dictate very different strategic and tactical approaches. So if your goal online is branding, it’s important to make disciplined choices about what your specific branding objectives actually are.

Online branding usually focuses on one or more of the following areas:

Awareness. Generally, people won’t buy your product unless they first know it exists. Driving awareness is crucial for selling new products or selling new attributes of well-known ones. Industry research shows that overall, online advertising increases awareness by about six percent. But if you are promoting a mature brand with high existing awareness, like Coca Cola, you can’t expect your online marketing efforts to move the brand awareness needle much at all.

Message association. When you think of a coffee that is “good to the last drop,” what brand do you think of? I bet you said Maxwell House. Kraft has spent millions getting you to associate that message with its commodity product and has built a lasting, profitable brand in the process.

Message association is closely tied to brand perception. Avis says, “We try harder,” and GM tells you that “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” These aren’t just slogans — they are statements meant to position products in consumers’ minds.

In my experience, the best way to increase message association on the web is through high frequencies of simple, uncluttered ad units or sponsorships of content tied to a brand’s message.

Purchase intent. In an ideal world, we would be able to measure how much individual online ad units lead to increases in actual sales. But because this can be very difficult, especially for items bought offline, correlating advertising exposure to whether people plan to purchase a product is the best data we can get.

There can be a big difference between what people say they will do and whether they actually do it. But many companies I have worked with have developed benchmarks that can be pretty accurate in determining how many sales will result from increases in attitudinal metrics like purchase intent. Purchase intent isn’t a perfect metric, but it can be very useful.

Each of these specific branding objectives can drive different online marketing strategies and tactics. But there are other important factors as well. Next week, I will discuss how the level of consideration necessary to purchase a product can dictate how online advertising should be employed.

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