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.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members offers insights on recalibrating your search efforts to support your branding goals, tips on protecting your brand’s use by other search marketers, bugeting and measuring results for branding rather than traditional metrics, and more. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members offers insights on recalibrating your search efforts to support your branding goals, tips on protecting your brand’s use by other search marketers, bugeting and measuring results for branding rather than traditional metrics, and more. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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