Branding – The Next Frontier of SEM

Branding is a four letter word during a recession. When things get tight, no one likes to talk about it.

If you want to lose a sales pitch in tough times, just talk about how you would like to devote a significant amount of money on building the brand. You will get a few polite nods and kindly be escorted to the door.

I think it probably just represents a black hole of money. People throw tons of cash into branding and have little to show for it.

Search marketing has always been great for its trackability. If marketers know one thing about the Internet it’s that it can be tracked.

This tracking capability has always been a great asset for our industry. TV and print can never offer the tracking sophistication that Internet marketing is able to do.

We, as search marketers, have done a terrific job of communicating that asset.

However, I think all this tracking talk has trained people to see search marketing as a one-trick pony. Search is for acquisition and nothing more.

I’m here to tell you, search marketing is so much more.

Not only can search marketing be used for brand building, I also believe that we can track the progress of brand building better than any other medium.

Let me say this, though: branding is not selling.

You are not closing a deal with branding.

Let me step back and talk about exactly what branding is.

It comes from putting a hot iron stamp on a cow. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about branding.

The Wikipedia definition of “brand,” from a marketing standpoint, is total milquetoast. It completely lacks the “hot iron” quality of what branding is supposed to be.

The sadism and masochism Wikipedia definition is much more interesting and gets to the heart of what we’re talking about. In this case, it “refers to a method of creating bonding between partners by creating a permanent marking that is like a cattle brand on the body of the collared submissive by the dominant master.”

And Wiktionary has a good one too: “process in which a mark, usually a symbol or ornamental pattern, is burned into the skin of a living person or animal.”

We’re talking about creating a permanent burning impression on a person.

You don’t do that by selling all the time. You do it by building memorable relationships with people.

This is what social media is really good at, when done well. And a good social media branding campaign can tie very nicely into search marketing.

I was looking at year-to-year comparisons of traffic for a client of mine yesterday.

  • Visits are up 33 percent this year
  • Google is up 53 percent
  • Bing is up 436 percent

But direct traffic (people that typed in their domain or bookmarked them) is up only 5 percent. And keywords that include their brand name are not much better.

I think this is a direct representation of a lack of brand building.

I’m meeting with them next week and this will be a major topic moving forward: How can we increase direct traffic from a branding point of view?

They had a very good year and I believe they’re ready for the “branding talk.”

Basically…how can we get people to talk about you more?

We’ll set up goals and specific strategies for accomplishing that. And best of all…it will all be trackable.

We are coming out of this recession. There’s a lot of money burning a hole in a lot of companies’ pockets. The companies that leave a burning impression on their prospects (and I’m not talking about just yelling at them to buy buy buy!) will be the ones who will be the leaders in this next period of growth.

I believe it’s a different game out there today. People want a connection. They want the branding. Search marketing is here to give them that.

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