April 13, 2010
 

ad:tech Presents: Brand Strategy and the Roll of Digital Marketing.

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By Paul McEnany, Director of Content, Levenson & Hill.

The internet has been touted as a place where knowledge is power, data is everything, and where advertising will finally be proven past Wanamaker's 50/50 proposition. ROI will reign supreme. Finally every dollar will be accountable for an immediate return.

Of course, much of this is true. We can know more about each interaction than any other media, and we should use all the information we can to prove and improve our efforts. But brand strategists are understanding the need to recognize all factors that cause a purchase. Not only those that move people to purchase, but also towards purchase. It's a subtle difference, I know, but an important one as perceived accountability can overtake the need to increase consumer identification with your brand. The yet-to-die pop up is enough proof of that.

In this performance market where metrics reign supreme, it can become increasingly difficult to move beyond the click, beyond the ultimate conversion even, and to realize it's not necessarily about the last touch point, but the culmination of all touch points, controlled and uncontrolled, permitted or not, to move a customer to purchase.

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And in a tomorrow when the banner crutch is removed by increasingly pervasive ad blocking technology, meaning will be king. Relevancy will be what matters. We stop just saying that "we are the low price leader" or "we have the best selection" and move on to "we are the brand that people like you buy."

Richard Huntington, Director of Strategy at Saatchi & Saatchi London, said, "It is vital to be interesting. It is merely important to be right."

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And nowhere is this more profound than here, the most difficult place to expose your brand. In this place where you don't matter, where no one is forced to spend time with you. It's an economy where money is less important and the more you force interaction, the more the audience may pull away. Interesting and good are more important qualities than anything else, and here, the quest for the immediate return can sometimes harm your chances for long term profitability.

The golden promise of ROI-focused banner buys is that we will move people at the bottom of the funnel, the mini-minority ready to buy, through to the purchase, discounting the brand metrics that may have been moved by each previous interaction between the brand and the purchaser.

It is in this place that the brand strategist can truly shine.

With more tools than ever before, she can more easily know what the marketplace believes, what it says when it thinks no one is paying attention, where the trends are, and what things are the most important. And while all these tools definitely make the job easier, it's begun to redefine what branding really means.

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A good steward of the brand in the traditional world might mean someone who keeps the messaging "on brand." It's someone who looks at things like price, promotion, place, people and product to define what it is exactly. In this new world of marketing, brand strategists will be advocates for the brand in different ways. She may stand up for these brand ideals, but more by becoming conversationalists than stalwarts of a singular position. She must work harder to listen and encourage other conversation, as well. A brand is built not just by the things that you are, but how you act in this marketplace. It's a much more intimate skill.

"Smart marketers will start to measure how many fans their business page has and how many users their Facebook application has, for example. They will also get their entire executive team onto Facebook. Smart marketers will use Facebook ads, events, groups, business pages and applications to find and communicate with their best future customers." Mike Volpe, Hubspot

Even so, we increasingly see how brand strategy can directly affect these ROI metrics. For instance, building a blog or creating a social media strategy can not only push those branding measurements, it can also improve simple conversion metrics by strengthening organic search placements.

"In the US, roughly 80% of internet use (excluding e-mail) begins with a search. And a majority of business purchasers use the internet for research before a purchase is made. Blogging gives a company a lot of content containing a lot of keywords, and, with a lot of incoming and outbound links, that's SEO gold." Kevin Tomzak Power Up

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New media tools can be used to expand not only relevancy, but bring the brand closer to people in many different places, and in the ways they feel most comfortable. Sure, the brand may not always look exactly the same, or say the exact same things, but if these tools are to be effective in humanizing a brand, they most certainly can't. Engaging people and interesting brands are formed on the back of layered stories and the element of surprise. Consistent and dependable are needed attributes to have, but lack what it takes to make a customer HAVE to take the risk of telling their friends about their experience.

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Just look at what LOST, Heroes or even the Office has created in their own ways. While the majority of the audience will only engage with the television show, these networks have also armed their biggest fans with the tools to watch and re-watch shows online, get to know the characters better and differently, and understand more deeply the totality of the story. It doesn't necessarily hurt any of these shows if the viewer is not all the way involved, but it provides these brand fans a much tighter connection to the show and community it spurred, as well as keeps the conversation going not only while the show is running, but in the slow months. Believe me, it's a valuable opportunity for these networks.

"The Long Tail audience expects to be communicated with appropriately based on the tools of the hour. And they'll want to participate, mash-up and be a part of the conversation. Be prepared to shorten approval processes, let go of production standards, and press record." Darryl Ohrt, Brand Flakes for Breakfast

Obviously the entertainment industry plays nicely into the practice of brand-building on the internet, but many companies seem relegated to the fact that they are not a charismatic brand. A brand could decide that they only sell tissues, or soda, or some other product that's less likely to inflame the passions of the target audience.

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But there's the opportunity for us in this new web. And by us, I mean all advertisers, large and small, now inherently interesting or not. We have to become content creators on the web with the intent of not only drawing our customers closer to us, but by going to where they are to become closer to them. With so many tools, we have more opportunity than ever before to be branded as real, authentic, emotional, and above all else, interesting. To be anything less is to not exist in this, the populist web.

Editors Note: For many of our readers Paul needs no introduction. His voice has been heard and read now here for more than two years. What's new, among other things, is that Mr. McEnany will be covering ad:tech SF with us later this month! Check out this and more on "Meet Paul!" to see what else he's been up to!

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