There has been a constant war over the years between the concepts of branding and direct response marketing. Many Clients and Agencies think it virtually impossible to do the two things at the same time, and it has to be said that many tests and attempts to do the two things together have indeed failed to deliver on either account. My contention is though that these are either the failure of the ideas behind the campaigns to deliver or the failure of the metrics used to judge success, as opposed to the impossibility of driving sales and creating a brand that people remember and want to be associated with.
The most basic fact is that great brands sell products, and the better the brand quite often the more products they sell. The previous “failures” of brand response campaigns Call to action fall squarely into three camps:
1. Those that succeeded and either by luck or judgement hit the hard measures set for both elements - well done to all concerned pat on back all round
2. Those that were just rubbish ideas and plain didn’t work
3. Those that failed to appreciate the complexity of the consumers buying process and just could not measure the effect different elements of the campaign had overall.
It is this final element that digital can have the biggest effect on.
Bad ideas and poorly executed campaigns are doomed to failure no mater what media or channel they are executed in (digital just has a nasty habit of showing it up more). Where digital is really beginning to make an impact is on enabling good ideas to truly demonstrate their impact on the bottom line. The internet has now become the default response device for most companies. If you want to truly know how many people are interested in your brand or your products look at how many times they have been googled or their site visited. At its most basic this means that launch of an above the line campaign off line can see its impact within days online through additional searches and website visitors. Even the ultimate forms of brand advertising, such as glossy magazine press ads for Armani featuring the Beckhams (see below), are beginning to have clear calls to online action. [Continued below].
The current recession is forcing all companies to focus on their bottom line and to show clear ROI for their marketing money. This discipline is forcing the development of new marketing metrics for the fast developing world of pure online branding. The idea of purely using digital media to grow and develop brand awareness is still in its infancy and the actual delivery of brand messages online is one of the areas of fastest development and innovation.
Digital media properties are quickly evolving the methods of delivering rich media and particularly video content. One big indicator of this movement is the appointment of Ashley Highfield to the role of UK MD for Microsoft. This follows his stint at BBC and Kangaroo making long-form TV content (entire TV programs rather than “You Tube” style snippets) a reality. This can be seen to be a clear marker in this direction of taking TV thinking online at MSN. This becomes even more important when taken alongside the development of video formats and package deals from Google and Yahoo. The faster options can move away from the traditional banner inventory which so rarely demonstrates cut through towards engaging content that provides relevant placements the better for online branding.
Brands themselves are experimenting in other ways with online branding using viral marketing and microsites to put out their brand message. Companies like Orange have been leading the way in this through use of their “Balloon Race” and “Glastonbury Spot the Bull” concepts. However these are not cheap executions and few brands can indulge in this type of activity when they are spending several pounds per microsite visitor and no clear direct ROI at the end of it. And this brings us back round to the importance digital has in deciphering influence and making clear relationships between online brand awareness and direct response.
Modern tracking is evolving very quickly and the investment behind it by Microsoft and Google through their analytics arms Atlas and Doubleclick is forcing the pace. However the nature of the Internet builds in unavoidable inaccuracy that marketers have to learn to understand. People using multiple computers, clearing their cookies, using the new privacy modes on browsers and responding through different channels naturally means that the ideal customer journey map of every consumer brand interaction online will never be delivered. But there is more than enough data online to produce statistically robust models of how different brand interactions influence consumer models.
The challenge to marketers both within clients and agencies is actually to capture and use the data properly. There is a massive skills gap within most marketing departments on true understanding of what is possible with the latest tracking technology and the know how and hardware to analyse the vast swathes of data being produced is usually buried in overstretched IT departments far away from the marketers who can ask the right questions to understand the influence that brand campaign elements have on the more response led ones.
It is my belief that the harsh commercial pressures of the next few months/years are going to force three key changes that will make online brand response the hero media of the economic recovery that will follow:
1. Development of truly engaging online branding formats that can be deployed at sensible price points
2. Clear standard tracking models and metrics that help explain relationships of different elements of the online communication mix to the final response that delivered value enabling the move away from last click attribution
3. The development of data tools and skill sets within marketing departments and agencies who actually work on the media and creative day in day out making sure that learnings from these tracking models can be quickly challenged interpreted and the results fed into the ongoing optimisation of campaigns.