Branding through Search: Strategies & Tactics

Savvy search marketers are increasingly leveraging search for branding purposes, and not as an afterthought, but deliberately blending both old and new strategies & tactics.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, February 27-March 2, 2006, New York, NY.

The “Branding & Search” session at featured Cam Balzer of Performics, Jessica Koster of Danskin, Jonathan Mendez of Digital Grit, Ron Belanger of Yahoo Search Marketing, and Rand Fishkin, of SEOMoZ. The panelists spoke of the new branding trends online, and the as yet untapped potential of search marketing to build and strengthen brand recognition.

The Big Ad Agencies Start to Catch On

This year, marked perhaps most publicly on that galavanza of media marketing Super Bowl Sunday, ad agencies show signs of waking up to the power of Search as a branding tool. They’re starting to integrate it with other more traditional media buys. And a few hiccups notwithstanding, they’re seeing some pretty impressive results. This heralds some potentially big changes, and big opportunities for those SEMs who are ready to capitalize on this shift.

As deep pockets open their eyes-and coffers-to search’s potential for branding, they could change the playing field of paid search marketing as we know it today. One panelist described one big brand client’s relationship to capturing the #1 position on the SERP. They were prepared to bid whatever it took, no caps, no limits, and no need to justify the bid costs in relationship to clicks or orders to hold that top spot for the days surrounding their big media drop. Because their intent was brand awareness not sales or clicks.

New demographics are entering different vertical spaces, online. They’re up-and-coming consumers, many in the 18-30 age bracket, who may not have been brought up with the tried and true brands of yesteryear’s advertising media. Ad agencies need to learn how to find these searchers, know what they’re looking for, and test the best messages that will leave a lasting brand impression with them.

Reconfigure Your Goals to Brand (Not Sell) with Search

Rand spoke of 6 basic Search branding goals. Simplistic as they may seem to veteran marketers, these oft-repeated goals are still the pillars of brand awareness:

1. Improve the visibility of your product or company
2. Create brand association with events or product categories
3. Position against competitors in specific market sectors
4. Build buzz for viral marketing
5. Leverage brand awareness to support your natural and paid search campaigns
6. Reach the 18-39 year olds by branding within the online marketplace

Search can support branding. Push marketing from search and other media can be leveraged to send consumers to your online site. Do the obvious, mention the website in your print, television, radio, and other ads.

A mention in major media like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal that includes your URL can send thousands of interested visitors to your site. Make sure you have the online content to support their interests and follow up on the messaging that made them come.

Online directories also work as push branding vehicles. Digg, Slashdot, and Delicious may be big this year, Fishkin predicts, but they’ll rocket over the next year. “We’re looking at the Google in 2000.” Get in early. The advantage of online media for branding is you’ve got an audience predisposed to be interested in what you’ve got to say. That’s why they ended up in your space. So if you can deliver content effectively, you’ve got an easy way to build up brand.

The web lends itself to focus group marketing. Test and test again to see what message sticks. Keyword buys mean niche areas can be targeted. New age groups can be isolated, and penetrated. Event related tie-ins can be pushed for a specific time period. Cross media campaigns can capitalize on new jingles and slogans. And audio and video clips can be worked in to transmit your message on multiple levels. Take your message to the internet to build a bigger brand. It’s achievable. And the success can be phenomenal.

Not only does Search offer tremendous potential, but as Fishkin reminded us and Balzer reiterated, it also offers some of the most direct and immediate metric testing advertising has ever known. Take advantage of the data. Track and mine creatively. Fortify the soft creative of brand advertising with hard stats and response mechanisms. And dig deeper than the metrics currently tested by following 800 call tracking and other new options.

He suggested recalibrating your search tactics for branding goals:

  • Target long tail keyword stretches
  • Broaden your content to cast a wider net
  • Maintain your offline look and feel in your online messaging
  • Appeal to searchers’ needs
  • Catchy titles still work :
  • Work the online space: blog, participate in forums, enter niche directories

Fishikin’s final tip? Get someone who’s passionate about the internet to help you. Someone who lives on the online space. Who eats, drinks, and breathes new tags and user-based directories.

Safeguard Your Brand Name

If you’ve built your brand name over decades, protect your message, look, and feel in the online space. Jessica Koster at Danskin is working to marry their traditional brand with the new online space. As a company that’s built its reputation over 100 years, for loyal customers, Danskin means dance. They get over 30% of their online orders from brand related listings.

So what’s new for a company like Danskin with branding and search? Jessica had a few tips based on her company’s experience.

Branding & Search… the Two Great Aggregators

1. Every message you put out in other media, collides in Search. From a tights ad at a local Danskin reseller to a Danskin triathalon announcement in a runner’s magazine, people will use Search to find out more. Make sure you’re giving them something useful to respond to their needs.

2. Watch out for exclusive deals made with other chains. Customers will look for these sub-brands on your site and won’t know about exclusivity contracts with the resellers. Say it’s a brand line for a low cost chain. Offer an alternate product or suggestion. Give them something to satisfy their queries.

3. In print, you set the spelling. In Search, consumers do. Brand for your obvious alternate spellings. Bring everyone into your official space.

4. Everything you do reflects back on your brand. Make it shine. And make it consistent. From employee demeanor at conferences, to PPC content, work your message and image to boost your brand, always building positive associations in the consumers’ minds.

Know Your Trademark Rights: Where Legal Meets Message

1. Protect your brand from illegal or disparaging use by others.
2. Work internally to devise a clear strategy for the way affiliates can use brand logo, icons, and photographs.
3. Partner with your Legal Team and learn about Trademark laws and Trademark policies in the search engines.

If You Brand It… They Will Come

Mendez took the audience through a case study with one of the master branders SONY. The campaign goal? Build buzz. Not sell product. Build buzz. The product was a new Vaio notebook and all media pointed to the same landing page. An informational page without a single call to action. Not bad if the goal is to increase awareness but still, you had to really work if you actually wanted to buy the product.

Here’s the strategy:

  • Banner ads on online media like Wall Street Journal, CNN, or pointed to the same page
  • General product keywords were targeted to put the Sony brand in consumers’ minds when they looked for generic terms like “Bluetooth laptop”
  • Banner language matched landing page titles and descriptions, almost word for word
  • Spend limits? This big pocket brand set no caps on keyword costs. The target was the #1 space. And the goal, mindshare

Now, in spite of this forward looking campaign using online and search marketing to brand, Sony’s marketing budget still overwhelmingly favored traditional media. A quick look at the figures reveals the bias: 83% spend in traditional media vs. 17% spend in search.

And the misallocation, when you look at the results:

  • 54% of the clicks came from search
  • 88% of the total orders came from search

The final tab: The cost per order for traditional media worked out to be 35 times more than the cost per order for search.

Jonathan breaks it down for us into some basics. As you dissect current campaigns online, and you find-or design-these four elements, you’ll be looking on a solid online branding campaign:

1. Consistent creative messaging
2. One landing page collecting visitors from all media
3. Media or keyword buys in generic product or industry spaces
4. No specifically strong calls to action or promotions

Consolidate Your Message, Work At Higher Levels

Cam Balzer, Director of Search Strategies for Performics, has long been leveraging search for their nationally branded advertisers. Their clients have brand awareness in the public mind. But up until relatively recently, Balzer and colleagues leveraged search for ROI driven goals. That meant they looked for immediate click-through-rates or purchases to measure campaign efficacy.

But as they started to look more broadly at the metrics coming back to them, the behavior patterns indicated by search, and the potentials of this self-selecting medium, they realized Search could easily be used for purposes beyond ROI driven goals. They could extend brands and tap into more of the market and mindshare of the 60 million Americans who use search every single day.

As Cam simply said, “Search is becoming synonymous with being a consumer.” As you go more deeply into analyzing large volume of search behavior, an interesting fact is unearthed. Consumers actually depend on search to build awareness, to learn about a brand or product, more than they use search to buy a product.

As you start analyzing click paths, click to purchase, and behavior around product categories, new strategies for online marketers open up. Two immediate strategies it points to are:

1. Build a consideration set at a category or product level
2. Increase your brand visibility on category level keywords

If you think this means changing keyword bid strategy, you’re right. It does. For this purpose, it’s useful to bid on high volume, high level keywords. Put your brand in the consumer pathway. Not for direct sales, but to set your brand or product in the consumer’s mind as a player in that service field.

You’ll have to reconfigure your thinking and perhaps reeducate management so they understand why the bout face. Just when we’ve all learned generic keywords are bad investments, we’re doing a 180, switching back on ourselves and heading straight in that direction.

Generic keywords like “mp3 player” won’t give you a good return on your investment-if your goal is sales. They simply won’t produce enough sales volume to justify their cost. But they will create brand awareness in a broad category field. Appearing in these important spaces leads to measurable sales lifts for many associated products down the line in the sales pipeline.

Balzer, an analytic at heart, had stats and stats to show, from a variety of angles how this is working. Pointing to an inner labyrinth of insight available by tracking clickstreams and pathways.

He touts Yahoo buzz for its sophisticated metrics that can be teased apart to reveal new marketing avenues. Watch buzz on specific words searched for on specific days. Look for the connections. Search behavior related to ad campaigns. Or generic events like “back to school” or “Valentine’s Day.” Run your campaigns finely targeted by the day or week. Target “laptop computers” before school starts. Target “wifi card” 3 weeks later, after purchasers realize they need this add-on.

Cheat Sheet for Cam’s Branding Strategy

1. Build copy that is brand oriented
2. Design landing pages that meet consumers at that information gathering level of interest
3. Bid on generic keywords
4. Test
5. Watch sales increase
6. Test, test and test again

Work Online Ad Mediums Cooperatively

Ron Belanger of Yahoo Marketing dropped a few nuggets of insight to wrap up the formal presentation of this session.

As a sign of our more accurate appreciation for Search as branding tool , Yahoo has changed the names of its display ads. They used to call the display ads Brand Ads and keyword ads Search Ads. Now, more aptly, Yahoo offers Display and Search ads, working with clients to find the sweet spot where the balance of ad spend in each compliments the other and builds a more robust campaign

Recently Yahoo has seen, through their larger spend clients, a direct commensurate increase in search demand when clients purchase display, in conjunction with search. So next time your search ad rep calls, and tries to sell you more Yahoo display, listen up. It might be more worth your while than you thought.

Amy Edelstein is the founder of Ascent Copywriting and the author of numerous articles about innovations in Search Marketing.

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