What does precision web marketing have to do with branding? No matter what useful and cool one-to-one features you build into your web site or within your online marketing program, branding is much more important.

A great web site with uncommon or negative brand is no better than a great brand with a poor web site. The most successful web sites today exhibit both great web design/functionality and great branding. If you haven’t put an emphasis on branding, you may want to rethink your strategy. Consider the importance of branding in both your online and offline marketing efforts with these core principles.

Online Branding Challenges

While traditional offline brands are having difficulty figuring out how to use the web to promote its brands, online brands are increasing the use of traditional media to drive new customer web site traffic. The Internet brands are getting quite an education in traditional branding, which is important in competing with the mega-brands now grabbing their own piece of the web. For both types of brands, the web has its own challenges as a branding tool.

  1. Audience — Many large brands have stayed away from the web for fear that there weren’t enough people to justify a presence. Other brands see the web as a means to do some branding in specific target markets. Although the web has not presented huge audiences for many brands, it’s a great way to find that special audience that represents the best customer segment.

  2. Technology — We are still trying to figure out the best ad formats and technologies for branding. Traditional brands feel that bandwidth limitations make it difficult to use tried-and-true branding techniques, such as video and audio. However, today’s web provides many interactive capabilities that can be leveraged for online branding.
  3. Impersonal — Traditional branding counts on the ability of the brand to make an emotional connection with the audience. Many people feel that the web can be very impersonal and is only for techies. Actually, if done right, interactive applications and one-to-one technologies can make the web more personal than other media can.

The biggest challenge for all marketers is to understand the web. I tell people that the web is an entirely different animal, but at the same it’s just another channel to the customer. Think of it as basic as this: It is two-way (much like personal selling) and has a direct response orientation (what you learned in direct marketing definitely applies here).

The Web-Brand Correlation

It can be easy to shy away from brand marketing because it can be very expensive, and you can’t determine the hard-dollar return from each marketing dollar used for branding. However, there is some evidence to the fact that people do business with companies they know and trust.

  1. Know — Traditional brands spend many dollars achieving top-of-mind awareness (aided or unaided). This kind of awareness means shortening the buying cycle.

  2. Trust — On the web, trust is even more important if you want to use one-to-one web marketing. In traditional branding, trust means that you or your products deliver what you promise. The web has the added dimensions of user privacy and security, which are required for the level of trust demanded by online customers. Trust means a loyal customer base and will also lead to word-of-mouth advertising (representing about 30 percent of new web site traffic).

It is as simple as that. To quote a joint research study by Cheskin Research and Studio Archetype/Sapient, eCommerce Trust Study: “In short, even if a company can combine a well-known brand, strong navigation and strong fulfillment, it can’t ensure that its site will be perceived as trustworthy if its brand isn’t considered trustworthy.”

In reading and analyzing the study, I found that brands people were familiar with but didn’t use online were still considered trustworthy. Many times the well-known offline brands were considered more trustworthy than the well-known online brands in the same category — even though the offline brands had lower online usage than the online brands. Thus, the legacy investment in offline branding by these traditional brands paid off when they went online.

The most well known Net brands are beginning to figure this out. According to a recent Intermarket Group study, 86 percent of the top e-commerce sites now spend marketing dollars in traditional media. There is a strong correlation between the size of marketing budgets and how well known a brand is online — the larger the marketing budget, the more well-known the brand online.

Yes, this is really basic marketing stuff. But it’s easier said than done .

Over the past 100 years, we have added many different media types (but never took any away), the buying public has become very fragmented, and there are now hundreds or thousands of competitors where there used to be only two or three. (Enough to make one want to find another career!)

Media Mix and User Experience

Remember, the desired outcome of a successful branding campaign is top-of-mind awareness of your brand by your market(s). Look at it as a two-step process: 1) Build awareness for trial using offline and/or online media, and 2) Increase loyalty via repeat usage/purchase using brand-bonding web features and service. (Also, think of word-of-mouth advertising by your customers at this point and use your web site to facilitate it.)

If you are a Net brand, I suggest you consider the use of offline media to establish your brand personality and drive traffic to your site: PR, magazine, TV, radio, direct mail, packaging, and so on. For both types of brands you will need to perform marketing to segments or even on a one-to-one basis. Luckily, the web is great at targeting.

If you manage a traditional brand, you will need to understand that the web is about two-way communication (vs. the one-way communication of traditional branding), and it’s about the user’s “experience” with your web site and web marketing.

For your web site marketing efforts, consider creating interactive applications or communications that get users to visit often. For your online advertising efforts, you may want to consider supplementing your online banner campaign with online games/promotions and web site sponsorships.

Next Week: I’m taking a break from ClickZ to write another book – this time about online branding. So please give a warm welcome to the new Precision Marketing columnist, my good friend Cliff Allen.

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