Branding is it dead?

Waving the flag of brand-building in an accountable marketplace is akin to saying “you have no idea what you’re doing.” Building a brand is not the end goal of your marketing, so don’t pretend that is how you are spending your money when you can track far beyond that goal.

The epiphany came about because we all had examples of clients who came to us proclaiming “brand, brand, brand” — but we all ended up assigning them interim or proxy metrics that measured interaction in one way or another (in some cases it was click rate, in others it was actions), and used those metrics to translate to customers.

The fact of the matter is that in an era of accountability where digital media can almost always be used to measure some element of response, all marketing is either direct or indirect marketing. All marketing should be and can be accountable, and any marketer that’s still out there proclaiming “brand, brand, brand” hasn’t done their homework to fully understand their consumers — or to fully understand the medium in which we work.

I’m not saying that brand advertising is not necessary, but I am very clearly stating that brand development is a transitional metric. Building a brand is not and never was the end goal of marketing. Building a brand is a transition metric to driving sales or increasing market share — and that is the goal of all marketing. There is not one example of any marketer in the world that spends money with no expectations on ROI, so why should we pretend any differently?

In the old world of marketing and advertising, we used brand building as a metric of success because we lacked the ability to create unique patterns of accountability in media. But media has now progressed to a state where you can almost absolutely attribute performance in your campaign to individual media tracts. The creative is a variable that can be worked with and performance-affected, but simple multivariate testing can be performed and ROI can be increased. Not all marketers are savvy enough to manage all of these variables effectively, but the tools are there; with the correct process and parameters in place, it can be done.

As belts tighten in the next six months, I believe we will see the end of spending against non-accountable media. As Wall Street becomes accountable, so will all the companies that are involved — and marketing as a whole will be forced to embrace the tools and services that prove effectiveness. Of course, many of you will read this and say, “Great — he’s saying that click rates are important.” They are not the primary measure of success. Interaction rates and click stream and repeat visits, as well as consumer interactions with all your marketing components, are what I profess you should be measuring. Isolate the variables and test appropriately across media vehicles, but measure the entire track from exposure to acquisition, and your efforts will be rewarded. Oh — and be sure that you know how much you spent, and what increase or decrease you saw in sales — because that is the most fundamental strategic metric you can measure.

For publishers: You need to start understanding the relationship you have with your audience. You need to start understanding how your site affects, if it does at all, the behaviors and patterns of your audience. Understand how exposure to advertising on your site can affect the business your clients are running.

Brand-building is dead, but marketing is not. You may still measure brand awareness and favorability, but only in their direct correlation to intent and purchase. Those are your true metrics for success, so focus your attention against those, and you will succeed in the coming six months.

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