Branding Steers Search Beyond Direct Response

By Matt Spiegel, CEO
Appeared in Search Engine Watch

Classical conditioning can snow CMOs. Turn on the TV: brand marketers drool. Click on a mouse: brand marketers run like rodents. Too often, media mavens are quick to label various media as either direct response or brand building.

Search is stamped by media experts as a direct-response vehicle; broadcast television, as a branding tool. There’s no value in viewing media in black and white. The result? An "either or" scenario (branding vs. direct response) helps old advertising dogs avoid learning new tricks.

In search advertising, that dog won't hunt.

The Always-On Initiative

As we work with our clients, there's no doubt we first identify the response-driven portion of the campaign. We look to understand the immediate response potential, the associated measurement metrics (or multiple actions), and the specific metric defining success (cost-per-order, cost-per-lead, visitors-to-a-product-page, etc.). After all, we have a proactive person (the consumer) choosing to interact with our advertising. If we can get that person to act now, why wouldn’t we? I like to think of this portion of the campaign as the always-on, or baseline initiative.

Search has been labeled a direct-response medium because for so many categories, this always-on (response-driven) campaign can be quite expansive. Even more significant: with a large spend, marketers can directly track sales equaling anywhere from two times to well over ten times the amount of money spent on advertising. However, just because it's easy to drive response from search campaigns doesn’t mean we should not -- and cannot -- impact brand-building initiatives.

Unless I'm Crazy

To understand whether search advertising can also be a branding tool, define the ways its impact on people can be measured. I can’t argue that reading a text listing causes an emotional response. However, I can quite easily support the notion that search is a key component of increasing purchase intent. Plus, it’s a key element of exceeding consumer expectations. Unless I’m crazy, that’s what building a brand is all about.

Take any original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Imagine this OEM makes tools (saws, drills, etc.) and only sells them through retailers (online and offline). Imagine that a keyword listing for a specific drill directs visitors to a detailed product description with product options and links for “where to buy.” By measuring time spent on page and click-throughs to “where to buy” links, it is easy to track the amount of purchase intent generated.

Think of any scenario where a frequent, but not yet brand-loyal, shopper searches for a specific product made by a host of different companies. That paid-search listing is both reinforcing the brand value and providing an immediate opportunity to purchase. Without this listing, it's likely people won’t even consider this brand as part of their consideration set for this query.

The Science of Sleep Clicking

The reality is for every click a campaign receives, there have been many more impressions. And for every order, there have been many more clicks. To automatically remove all value from these impressions and clicks is to suggest a person is sleep clicking until he or she hits the buy button.

Does it really matter that value is slightly more difficult to measure? Of course not, but we have trained ourselves to show value from hard conversion data. The marketers controlling this spend are traditionally rewarded based on direct-response criteria, so we dismiss (or unconsciously ignore) the future value our campaign has generated.

Wake Up to Brand Building

Instead of dismissing future value, we need to leverage it. Integrating search advertising is a constant theme within the industry and one I absolutely support. Why, then, don’t we read more about marketers using search advertising to activate and extend their seasonal/promotional campaigns in a manner that builds a brand? I’ll tackle that question next week.


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