There’s proof that digital is a branding medium

Feb 27, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the Joel Rubinson on Marketing Research Consulting blog.

Google recently announced a partnership with comScore to better measure digital ad effects in real time.

According to USA Today, "The combination will let advertisers and publishers track online ads in near real time. … The addition of vCE [Validated Campaign Essentials] will also help Google share more data with advertisers about what types of people see their ads and what their interests are."

What underlies this is yet another way of trying to disprove the belief that digital is not a brand-building medium. Frankly, I never quite understood the debate. Of course, we remember great commercials even from 40 years ago and can’t recall a great display ad to save our lives. However, that does not equate to digital not being a branding medium.

First, a counter argument and then evidence.

The counter-argument: display advertising and paid search often leads to visiting a brand website or a shopping comparison/offers site. Certainly these sites contain brand messaging. Furthermore, if digital advertising leads to increased purchase, consumers are increasing experiences with brands via usage. Ultimately product usage, reinforced by packaging communications, is the most powerful form of creating brand meaning — consumers decide in their minds what the brand means to them.

For evidence, an AOL study I participated in with InsightsNow shows that half or more of internet users "digitally window shop" daily. Moreover, those who do are 40 percent more likely to know what brand they will buy before they shop vs. those who browse online less than once a month. That is quite a lift in the importance of brands at driving shopping outcomes, and it all comes from a digital, always-on lifestyle.

Why might this be? My inference is that users are absorbing tremendous brand knowledge even if browsing without a specific shopping purpose in mind and motivated by killing time, feeding curiosity, and finding it fun.

The marketing implications are clear. Users decide if, when, and how they will seek out information online. Brands need to be always available and prominent by showing up on the first page of search results for important key words and having a strong social media presence. Websites must offer compelling content that’s relevant and aligned to the lifestyle attributes sought with the brand. Brands need to take advantage of precision targeting where it is now possible to predict if a given user is shopping and target a paid ad impression.

The 30-second TV commercial isn’t unimportant, but without a strong digital presence, it will increasingly make the sound of one hand clapping.

How do you see digital advertising working as a brand-building mechanism? How does digital work toward engagement vs. traditional direct response methods? What steps should brands be taking now to position themselves to capitalize on digital’s reach?

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4 Comments on "There’s proof that digital is a branding medium"

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Mark Heckman
8 years 2 months ago
As the shopping masses continue to embrace internet search, online advertising, and social media as measurable steps towards a purchase, all parties involved, (retailer, brand, media agents) will continuously need to target, invent new engagement methods, and be in position to measure and refine. Keeping in my the “brand-building” ultimately should be measured in terms of incremental sales and marketshare growth, it is the ability to engage the shopper at or near the moment of the purchase decision. Google and ComScore have already embarked on this process for the online process, but bringing the same precepts of digital marketing to bricks and mortar stores is equally as important and arguably much more difficult to execute. Digitally-based systems and platforms (digital displays, mobile apps, etc.) that can replicate the online experience in-store, at the shelf, where products and services can be seen, felt and viscerally evaluated will truly change the shopping experience and in some respects keep physical stores more competitive with new online alternatives. Also, in doing so will provide “brand” managers immediate validation of… Read more »
Matt Schmitt
8 years 2 months ago

The entire advertising world has been subjected to rapid (and disorienting) metamorphosis for some time now. There is a lot of confusion and an evolving understanding around the whole idea of “traditional” advertising versus “digital” advertising. Looking through a lens that sees silos such as TV broadcast spots versus online activity is part of the issue.

Regardless of platform and channel, everything is now “digital” and the real question is how are brands reaching consumers? Are brands increasingly adapting to tactics that engage the consumer, reinforce brand affinity and encourage transactions?

Display ads, search, video, social, and TV can all be tagged as advertising. Whether these platforms create engagement comes down to the strategy the brands employ. Some are focused on defining a new approach of content marketing or brand media.

Ultimately, I think the power of the message (i.e. the content) aligned with each medium (the channel) will determine engagement.

Ralph Jacobson
8 years 2 months ago
Some innovative brands are doing very well in reaching their shoppers in a seemingly individual way. The brands are gaining true loyalty by capturing the mind share of their audience with more than just discount offers. Consumers expect personalization and want a one-on-one relationship with your brand. Brands need to harness the vast amounts of shopper data available to create a single view of each customer, find patterns and deliver more relevant promotions – both online and in-store. Tying both presences, online and offline, together also helps drive digital advertising and marketing effectiveness. Digital efforts really enhance shopper engagement. Macy’s launched My Macy’s, which aggregates shopping and personal data to provide a 360-degree view of customers. Leveraging real-time information at the customer level helps enable Macy’s to develop more targeted – and more profitable – pricing and promotional programs. Subsequently, Macy’s is laying the groundwork for customized content arbitration as well as more granular pricing and market strategies that increase margin all via digital technologies. This way, the brand can focus on each individual, while… Read more »
Dan Frechtling
8 years 2 months ago

Branding and memorability go hand-in-hand. Traditional media such as print or broadcast are nearly always interruptive and occasionally relevant. They need to entertain or concern to get noticed and remembered.

The best examples of entertainment have often come from snacks and beverages. The most enduring examples of concern have been created in pharma.

With digital, you have a choice of being interruptive, contextual or even relevant.

Interruptive ads were the first; remember the flood of impressions before Facebook came along. Alas, because interruption can work, we still see low-brow pop-ups and fake anti-virus alarms.

Contextual ads are more legitimate. They began with content targeting borrowed from conventional offline publications. They’ve become effective even for local advertisers, such as Realtors on home appraisal sites.

Relevant ads have become an artform. Search ads are demand fulfillment, not demand generation. Viral ads like Jeff Gordon’s Pepsi Max pranks have reached new heights.

Digital engages when it’s interruptive, contextual, and/or relevant. It can be more than one. Because it’s trackable, it opens new methods for testing and learning, as Joel has identified.


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