Economic conditions being what they are, my agency partners have begun asking, "How can we justify branding budgets to our clients?" I generally answer their question with a question: How do you define "branding?" If their answer doesn't include short-term response metrics, I tell them they need to get a new definition of branding.
I have always defined a brand as the embodiment of a promise from company to consumer that a product or service will fulfill a need or desire in a certain way. The promise can be explicit or implicit, and the need or desire can be conscious or subconscious. I define branding as the communication of that promise through advertising, promotion, packaging and experience such that consumers want to buy.
For product categories and media channels in which consumers can transact directly, this desire to buy gets fulfilled and measured as direct response. But in other categories, where the desire cannot be as easily tied to a sale or an immediate response, brand marketers tend to default to survey-based metrics such as awareness, attributes and intent. Unfortunately, these metrics do not readily tie to ROI, and they do not provide a feedback loop for campaign optimization. In digital marketing, we can do much better.
Back in 1997, Kraft launched one of the most successful online performance branding campaigns ever. It was based on research they had done on recipe clipping, which identified a percentage of consumers who saved printed recipes and tracked their behavior around trying out those recipes, and ultimately their adoption of some of them into their regular meal routines.
Based on this research and some reasonable assumptions about the use of Kraft products, Kraft calibrated an estimated value for a downloaded recipe and built an roi-based branding campaign around it. The campaign was optimized to meet an allowable cost-per-recipe accessed, which was eventually expanded to include many other interactions, including shopping lists, email registrations and magazine sign-ups.
To this day online, Kraft demonstrates the underlying promise that "for busy moms, Kraft makes nutritious meals easy."
Not everyone has the research on hand that Kraft did, so finding the right interactions and calibrating them to sales can be tricky. But there are a few simple measures to start with.
>>Audience delivery: Demand that your brand campaign report on the geo-demographics of the audience reached. You
can't brand effectively if you're talking to the wrong people. Then demand a reach and frequency distribution analysis so you can be sure you're not hitting the same people over and over with wasted
>>Web site traffic, clicks and view-throughs: An effective brand campaign will almost always result in increased traffic to your Web site. Even if you don't define the campaign as direct response, you should still track clicks and view-throughs as a barometer of consumer interest in your message. Beyond clicks, are people being influenced by exposure to your ads to visit your Web site? Analyze Web site traffic against impressions over time to understand the impact.
>>Branded searches and direct URL inputs: Plot your online ad-campaign impressions against the number of branded searches and direct url inputs. These are indications of the ability of your ads to influence consumers, creating awareness and interest in your brand.
>>Paid search velocity: Obviously, you have done some work to determine the value of your search terms. Given an assumed average bid for your non-branded keywords that you have determined is roi-positive, how many search clicks are you getting per day? Per week? Has this increased markedly during your campaign?
These simple measures, along with more specific interactions on your Web site, can be used to make a branding campaign more effective and accountable. Assign weights to each measure and create an online branding scorecard that justifies your branding budget. Even in difficult economic times, companies will invest in marketing they believe will acquire customers and result in sales. Use smart metrics and optimization to give management reasons to believe.