Online Advertising for Branding and Purchase Intent

Recent research supports expanded Internet branding use. Yet some branding experts still doubt online marketing’s effectiveness. They focus instead on the medium’s direct response capabilities (and annoying formats). In addition to overlooking online advertising’s brand outcome, they disregard the Web’s reach, stature as a research tool, and ability to engage consumers.

Online marketing is key for educating and engaging consumers, ultimately leading to stronger branding and increased purchase intent. Tide, the archetypical consumer package goods (CPG) advertiser, now utilizes the Internet for more than direct-to-consumer functionality, such as couponing and sampling. “The Internet was a key element of Tide Coldwater‘s holistic marketing program,” says Tide spokesperson Randall Chinchilla. “We knew that consumers are aware of cold-water washing’s benefits but don’t use it for all of their laundry since they don’t want to compromise on cleaning performance. We were confident that if consumers tried the product, they’d love it. Therefore, we integrated an interactive strategy into the program to engage consumers and demonstrate that by using Tide Coldwater they could get deep cleaning performance and better fabric protection while saving energy and money.”

To date, over 800,000 customers have visited Tide Coldwater’s Web site. It contains information on cold-water washing, a money savings calculator, and sample offers. Tide uses the online promotion to collect information on potential customers by incorporating a survey into the sample-request form. The site’s viral component engages visitors by enabling them to track how they’ve “spread the word.” As a result of its synergistic marketing, Tide extended its reach and the campaign’s life.

Dismissing online advertising as useful only for its direct response benefits underestimates its ability to increase branding and purchase intent. Dynamic Logic’s Q3 2004 “MarketNorms”, based on a 396,544 respondent sample, found online advertising increases brand favorability and purchase intent for five categories of CPG advertisers, including health/over the counter (OTC); consumables; personal care items; household goods; and beauty.

Online advertising’s direct response attributes can help brand-focused companies increase reach. Advertising food products on recipe sites can directly influence purchase. A CPG company can integrate its message in a context to which consumers are receptive. It can aid the process by offering coupons or printable recipes with shopping lists promoting its brand. TV advertising can’t achieve this level of product involvement.

A Dynamic Logic’s “CrossMedia” study isolates the effects of different media. Initial research, based on 10 studies in which TV and online advertising isolated, showed online increases TV’s effect when used synergistically.

Annoying advertising should never be used, regardless of medium. Pop-ups, -unders, unsolicited email, and ads that break out of their units continue to exist because they perform, both for advertisers and media companies. If and when consumers stop responding, it means the ads don’t work. Advertisers won’t use them. The biggest online advertisers constantly track and manage their online media portfolios and quickly drop media and formats that no longer perform.

Mass, brand-oriented advertisers must be where their customers are. The Internet is a mature medium, with over 65 percent penetration in the U.S. Over half are women, the dominant buyers of CPG products. Online advertising enables companies to reach their target audience at times when they aren’t in front of a TV.

Consumers use the Internet to research and gather information. Brand-oriented products must be there, or they won’t be included in the consideration set. This holds particularly true for products consumers seek information about, such as automobiles and pharmaceuticals. Creatively integrate your product into this process with contextually relevant ads, sponsorships, and search.

Online advertising offers a wide range of options for CPG and other brand-oriented advertisers. Among them:

  • Non-intrusive, contextually relevant online advertising

  • Sponsorships, especially those integrated with related content
  • Enhanced online experiences (e.g., Subservient Chicken, BMW Films)
  • Coupons
  • Product information (e.g., recipes)
  • Activities such as games, trivia, and downloads (e.g., Pepsi offers free music)
  • Contests to involve potential customers and develop relationships
  • Viral marketing
  • Paid search that aids branding

Increase the branding effect of your online advertising and, ultimately, sales by integrating it into your overall marketing plan. Adapt offline components to the online medium for maximum results. Test online marketing to determine what works best for your offering. Include an URL at every customer touch point to extend reach, including TV, print, marketing collateral, and product packaging.

Marketing budgets should include a well-designed, easy-to-use Web site. For maximum benefit, the site should be an integral part of the marketing mix that’s owned by marketing, not steered by another area of your organization. It’s a critical tool to support a product offering, extend reach, engage customers, and build valuable assets, such as customer lists.

Product sites can be leveraged to:

  • Supply related information.

  • Gather consumer input, an important component of buzz marketing.
  • Perform focus group or survey research to gather information about new or existing products.
  • Create community around your product.
  • Engage consumers with relevant offerings.
  • Offer coupons.
  • Extend TV reach by posting TV spots on the site. This works best if the ads are adapted to the online medium.

How to measure brand improvement online:

  • Conduct brand surveys. Track trends across different brand attributes.

  • Measure buzz factors. At minimum, monitor customer feedback and press.
  • Track customer involvement online. Depending on your advertising and product, this can include:
    • Site visits (to either a microsite related to the ad or your main product site).

    • Related downloads for coupons or information (such as recipes or checklists)
    • Online usage or viewing, such as video and games
    • Contest participants
    • Customer feedback
    • E-mail registrations (beware of abusing this permission!)

  • Monitor overall response improvement with the addition of another media format. Beyond the directly measurable online factors outlined above, check for any increase in revenue during and following the period when you make a new online advertising push. Such analysis works best when other advertising and promotions are kept status quo.

Brand conscious advertisers can’t afford to ignore online advertising’s value. Progressive CPG firms actively use and test the full range of online marketing opportunities for a reason. Online adverting is where you can reach many of your best customers and prospects. It allows you to intelligently target well-defined niche audiences and to create community and buzz in ways that would be much more difficult and costly in any other channel.

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