Branding Optimization through Search
The words optimization and branding have rarely been seen together in a sentence on search engine marketing. I’m out to change that (in fact I just did).
Let’s start this conversation by understanding that Search marketers are finding a number of ways to measure branding impact in search. Myself, and others have presented research that impression volumes can go up on brand or product-centric keywords in direct correlation to an online or offline media campaign. So one easy way to optimize your branding initiatives through search by being smart with your keywords, or even just having search as part of your media plan.
Yet, it amazes me that search still does not have a seat at the media plan table. Let’s look at two new online branding initiatives. They are UGC plays looking to engage users and submerse them in some branding. One is for 3M’s Post-it® Notes. The other is for P&G’s Secret Deodorant. Both companies have spent a lot of money with agencies to craft these experiences. Neither though has invested in a search campaign to buttress these initiatives. A quick look on Alexa shows a nice bump in traffic to secret.com since the launch of “share” and Google trends shows enough queries for Post-it Notes that it registers a trend over the past three years. This tells me that there are many marketers out there that still don’t understand the value of branding through search.
But let’s take it a step further. Effective branding no longer needs to be determined by a focus group or a guy in a boardroom with cool glasses and black turtleneck. Who says that one of the 10 ideas left on the boardroom floor wouldn’t end up being the idea that resonates with consumers? Take all the ideas and put the users in control. Of course Search is the perfect vehicle to test, tweak and optimize branding. By its very nature Search provides a pathway to your brand. It also allows you to optimize this path by tailoring branding to the tastes and goals of the different segments that are interested in your brand…in effect making it more relevant to the lives and tastes of the market.
Timberland is a company that succeeds with this. A search for “Timberland” on Google yields an ad that brings attention to the official site, some promotional messaging around free shipping and returns and leads to the homepage where users can self segment further by their interest. There is of course another really large segment of users that engage with the Timberland brand in a different manner and understandably Timberland desires to have a different brand “conversation” with them. This is generally a more urban audience. Among this audience that brand is often referred to as “Tims.” Sure enough Timberland has bought the keyword “Tims.” This ad messages boots, clothing online exclusives and the always important “newest styles.” These landing pages make sure users know that Timberland is “Tough Enough to Hang Anywhere.” A much different branding message than the homepages, “Stripes, About as Dressed Up as Summer Gets.”
Timberland clearly gets it. Your brand does not have to be everything to all people. That thinking is antiquated. Your brand is most effective when it delivers relevant and engaging experiences by segment. After all, each segment likely will be engaging and experiencing your brand in different ways.
Here are my basic rules for optimizing your brand through search.
Messaging: Understand that contrary to what some believe brand is not just about images. Choose your words carefully. Search is the pathway to users furthering their experience with your brand. First impressions are meaningful.
Segmentation: You can’t be all things to all people. What makes your brand resonate in the minds of your customers? Most likely it will resonate differently to different segments.
Visibility: Your brand can either be very visible in the SERP or invisible. If you are not willing to make the investment to get in the Top Sponsor results than you shouldn’t be trying to brand through search.
Testing: Testing is at the core of optimization. What titles and descriptions attract clicks on the ads? What messages and images on the landing page get users engaged in the experience? Are these different based on segment?
When all is said and done it is not your agency that will define your branding. It will be your customers. Businesses that can embrace this fundamental shift in control will achieve branding success not only in search but across all media.
I’ll be speaking on Branding and Search at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose on August 7th. Come by and say hello.