Branding & Search: Your Best Defense Against Losing Ground to Competitors

I’m convinced that it’s human nature to resist accepting and acting on what we know to be true. Take exercise for example. How many times have you heard doctors, and the whole medical community for that matter, proclaim the benefits of exercise, and recommend it as a key component to staying healthy? Yet despite the evidence that supports their claim, some choose to ignore the facts, and in doing so, inadvertently put themselves at risk. They figure they will get around to it eventually, but for now they have other priorities. Naturally, by the time they finally take action, they’ve already lost valuable ground and will pay dearly for their delay. It’s a situation that reminds me of search and branding.

Branding is essential to the overall health of an organization—on that we can all agree. Moreover, search plays an important role in branding today. In fact, the impact of search on brand is widely documented by various research studies. Yet many marketers—especially during times of economic uncertainty—continue to place greater emphasis on acquisitions rather than building a long-term brand strategy. Unfortunately, this is a mistake. By choosing to ignore the facts, they take on unnecessary risk, and will mostly likely pay a hefty price for it.

The opportunity

From the day the first banner ad was placed on a website, online marketing was touted as a “trackable” medium where click-through rates and conversions could be counted. This new measurability was applauded by marketers, especially those who were spending the majority of their budgets on television for branding campaigns that were largely immeasurable. Gradually marketers started to embrace online marketing as an option. But as the amount of time people spent online increased dramatically—and specifically, the amount of time people spent looking for information on search engines—advertising on search engines morphed from a mere option to an absolute necessity. And as searchers continue to spend more and more time online and less time with traditional media, where will marketers build brand awareness?

With over 11 billion online searches being conducted per month, it is easy to see why marketers ought to be running brand focused campaigns online. Not surprisingly, the Forrester US Interactive Marketing Forecast 2007-2012 says it’s time marketers started to synch their spend with users’ media behavior.

Losing ground

Yet despite the branding opportunity search presents, some marketers still continue to focus solely on acquisitions. However, failing to leverage the power of search to help build brand could be costing them a lot more than they figured. Think of it this way: If your competitors are already building their brand awareness through search—and you are not—you could lose valuable ground to them, and you could be looking at significant time and money to gain it back, if it’s even possible. After all, the customer you miss out on today may never come back if they find another suitable brand in your category.

I imagine that’s exactly what happened for a number of companies in the beauty and personal care industry when a key player launched a major online branding campaign with video content. By leveraging the power of search to build their brand, they experienced a 600% increase in brand awareness. Surely their competitors now have a lot of ground to make up.

Marketers should also remember that when a search is conducted for a product or service for example, the searcher expects that the best brands show up close to the top in the organic or natural search listings. In fact, research has shown that online search users actually attribute brand equity to the brands that appear in the top results. Given that, marketers might want to consider what type of brand impression they are making on a potential customer when they are a leading brand but fail to show-up on the first page of organic search results.

But don’t take my word for it, Randy Peterson, Proctor & Gamble’s Digital Innovation Manager, knows a thing or two about the branding power of search and user expectations: “Seventy-one percent of consumers expect us to be there in the search results page. If you’re not there, it’s like not being on the shelf at the store. They think if you’re not there, you’re not a leading brand.”

However, even if you are not a leading brand, search presents an incredible opportunity for you to make a favorable brand impression on someone who may not be aware of your company and the products/services that you offer. By appearing in the top results, it creates a “halo effect” for your brand, where users will ascribe brand equity to your brand because of its top placement in the search results. This halo effect can lead to a new customer now or in the future due to the favorable brand impression that you have made.

The bottom line is that branding is essential to the overall health of an organization, and today search plays an important role in effective branding. As people continue to spend more and more time online and less time with traditional media, search presents considerable branding opportunity. Given that, smart marketers won’t ignore the facts. Instead, they’ll take action today, and leverage the power of search to build their brand, and in the process avoid losing valuable ground to the competition.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Brand Aid | Channel: Strategy

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