March Branding Madness

If you market a product consumers purchase periodically, your brand needs to stay top of mind all the time. This is particularly important when you can’t predict when your customers will be in purchase mode. So as a marketer, how do you cost-effectively keep your brand in front of your customers?

This was the challenge Randy Wagner, CMO of Orbitz and CheapTickers, faced. There’s intense competition in the online travel space. Customers may only buy a couple times a year. Fortunately, Orbitz had built brand equity in games contained in its pop-under ads. Reviewing market research and consumer feedback, Wagner found customers consistently mentioned Orbitz’s games.

“Travel is a game. And we want customers to know that they can win at the travel game by booking on Orbitz,” Wagner said. “So, why not create a site where customers can play games and interact with the brand even when they’re in non-travel mode?” Thus, Orbitz Games was born.

Envisioned as a sister site with the sole aim of extending the Orbitz brand, Orbitz Games has a complete marketing plan. Brand elements such as design, color, and voice are creatively integrated into the site, which also includes links to the main travel site and travel advertising. In contrast, it’s difficult to get from the main site to Orbitz Games; when customers are in travel purchase mode, the aim is to help them purchase as efficiently as possible.

To entice users to regularly come back and engage with the brand, Orbitz Games has its own calendar of new games and promotions. To take promotional advantage of the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament and college students’ spring break pilgrimage to sunny resorts, the team creatively combined the two events into a game called Dunkin Mascots. To date, over 5,500 Dunkin Mascot participants have won a victory dance that enables them to create a dance and send a message to a friend — another opportunity for engagement with a viral element. The promotion additionally involves a sweepstakes with six prize trips to beach locations and a grand prize trip for four to attend this year’s Final Four championship games in Indianapolis. (Note: Victory dances aren’t tied to the sweepstakes.)

As a marketer, you can create a promotional strategy to keep your brand top of mind with customers. The seeds of a promotional program may be hidden in your customer feedback. You just need to look for clues following these steps:

  1. Assess recent surveys, focus groups, and consumer comments. Determine if consumers mention any recurring themes. (This column offers more information regarding engaging customers in a dialogue.)

    If this doesn’t yield any insights that can be converted into an on-going promotion, don’t give up! Instead, consider how you can extend your business’s expertise in a consumer-friendly way. Look for something that distinguishes your product and brand by touching your customers’ lives in a useful way. A country bed and breakfast (B & B) may be known for its unusual breakfast treats, for example. Why not create an on-going email newsletter containing menus and related recipes?

  2. Develop and grow this related offering. Among your options are creating a related Web site, an email newsletter, a blog, or an RSS (define) feed. The aim is to engage prospective customers with something related to your brand. Using the B & B example, you could develop a series of email newsletters or a blog around country cooking.
  3. Create a calendar of promotions. Have fun with this effort by using less obvious holidays and occasions. Be creative with copywriting, and engage users. Consider how to engage customers and get them to interact with you and your product.

Since these promotions aim to engage target customers and keep the brand top of mind when customers aren’t in purchase mode, traditional branding research is less important than measures that reveal user engagement. Track the following indicators:

  • Unique visitors, total visits, and registrations. These indicators show how many people come to your site, want to engage with it, and return. Related measures include the number of visitors who click through to your product’s main site.

  • Time on the site. Far and away, this is the indicator that counts most. When I asked Wagner about her use of branding surveys, she responded, “Consumers spend over 10 minutes on the site engaging with my brand? What other kind of marketing media gives me that experience?”
  • E-mail-a-friend functionality. You should naturally make it easy for visitors to spread the word about your site. Tracking the use of this functionality can yield additional insights. It can help measure the viral quality of your site and show whether word is spread by a few strongly engaged promoters or a larger base of visitors.
  • User feedback. Customer comments can shed light on how your promotion is perceived. They can also provide new ideas to help you keep site content fresh.

The best way to meet your branding challenges isn’t necessarily to try to out-shout the competition with branding ads. Technology gives you multiple new ways to interact with your prospects. Often, you can come up with creative new ways to keep your brand top of mind. All you have to do is listen to your customers.

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