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Myths and Realities of Online Branding

What’s a brand? It’s really a promise to consumers: “Tide gets whites whiter”. It’s about loyalty. It’s a call to action. It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room. There’s an emotional connection and it builds one-to-one relationships. That’s the key: one-to one relationships, and it’s why I call the medium “interactive”. What turned me on about the internet early on was the ability to have a dialogue with consumers, to interact with them. It’s the reason why the internet is perfect for brands.

In conversation after conversation with marketers at companies like Johnson & Johnson, Diageo, Amex, Estée Lauder, Colgate, I’ve heard a lot of things about online branding. What I’ve found is that perception often doesn’t match reality. Let’s look at some myths and realities...

Myth #1: It’s “online branding”
Reality: There is no online branding, there’s just branding. Online is a fantastic communications channel, it’s unique because you can establish a two-way dialogue. To be most effective, it has to be fully integrated into your marketing mix. Many traditional agencies don’t understand that. Many digital agencies don’t either.

Myth #2: Companies state that they are “embracing online”
Reality: In company after company I’ve spoken with, online is 10% of the marketing budget. Granted, that’s a lot more than it was a few years ago. I don’t exactly call that “embracing online”.

Myth #3: Social media is the answer.
Reality: Ted McConnell, one of the interactive gurus at P&G once said “Nobody wants to be friends with a laundry detergent”. When you go to Facebook, you really want to interact with your friends, not with brands. You might engage with a brand if it’s delivering interesting content, but that doesn’t always happen. In the most successful social media campaigns, the user generated content is generated AND submitted on a website you own-- not on an open platform like Facebook-- Facebook and Twitter are used as traffic drivers. All the action takes place on the marketer’s website: you own the visitors, you own the data. On Facebook, they own the data, you don’t own anything.

Myth #4: Management supports it
Reality: Upper management of most companies go to conferences where everyone talks about “the importance of online”. They go back to their companies and deliver a mandate to their marketers to engage in online marketing. The junior marketing people-- the Assistant Brand Managers out there, are all of the generation that grew up with the web and embrace it. But the actual Brand Marketers, the Brand Managers, Category Managers and Marketing Directors who are the decisionmakers, are getting squeezed. They have P&L responsibility and must deliver sales and profits. If they mess up, they lose their jobs. So what do they do? They inevitably stick with traditional-- and online remains 10% of the marketing budget.

Myth #5: Marketers and agencies are embracing interactive.
Reality: The interactive team is the last invited to the table. Blue Iceberg has done a lot of work with advertising agencies, and I can’t tell you how many times we’re asked to join the discussion as an afterthought. “OK, let’s bring the interactive guys in now”. It’s simply the wrong approach. You wouldn’t bring the TV guys or the print guys in at the very end, would you? Interactive needs to be part of the discussion, the planning and strategy-- right from the start.

So what to do? Every case is different, but here are some initial thoughts...

First, marketers need to get real management buy-in.
Real buy-in means that management allows for experimentation-- and failure. In the offline world we do test markets, we run ad tests. If they don’t work, it’s OK, we’ve learned something. We need the same attitude toward interactive initiatives.

Second, marketers need to exploit the synergies between media.
Integrated cross-media branding is more effective than single channel. Market researchers can now measure cross-media effectiveness by tracking key ad metrics (recall, branding, messaging, likability, purchase intent) for consumers who have seen ads on TV only, web only, and TV + web. Their data shows that two ads on TV or two ads on the web are more effective than one. What’s even more effective is one ad on TV and one on the web. Targeting and relevance make it even more powerful.

Finally, marketers need to talk about and plan interactive right from the start.
The interactive specialists need to be brought to the table right from the beginning. Not just strategists or creatives, but people who are strategists and creatives and know how to plan and build. Failing to do so often results in ill-conceived campaigns that end up wasting opportunities to engage a marketer’s audience. We’ve been in a number of situations where decisions were made that turned out to be less than ideal-- and more expensive than necessary-- and could have been avoided had we been brought in right at the beginning.

Interested in hearing more? I’d be happy to continue the discussion. Email me at .