We tend to worship brand fidelity above all else, but this can become a detriment to marketing campaigns when success takes a backseat to a mentality of “colouring inside the lines.”
The truth is that brands can’t just fit into a box these days. Not online, anyway. They need to be in the trenches, tackling real problems, and helping your customers with their problems.
Brands don’t poop rainbows anymore.
That’s why it’s important to be pragmatic with your brand. Don’t keep it cooped up in an ivory tower, and don’t sacrifice real business gains to keep it squeaky-clean. Solving real customer problems means rolling up those sleeves.
You know you’re worshiping the brand a little too much when you start noticing these kinds of scenarios.
Leaving High-Converting Traffic on the Table
I once identified a blog that could generate $6,500 per month for a client, based on the conversion rate of its marketing funnel.
However, the company didn’t want to publish it because the topic was identified as “off-brand.”
It actually wasn’t—one of the brand’s pillars was to bring transparency to its industry, which was plagued by mass negative sentiment and deep distrust from the customer base. This blog simply answered a question that hundreds of customers experienced every month. And no one else was talking about this issue.
But the client didn’t want to acknowledge that this scenario happened in the industry, so it shelved the blog indefinitely.
They left $78,000 in sales per year on the table.
Ironically, the client could have positioned itself against this issue, or however they wanted, really—no one else in the industry was willing to say anything about it. It was a real chance to roll up the brand’s proverbial sleeves and build customer trust where it counted.
Ultimately, the client didn’t publish the blog. The fear of touching a difficult topic resulted in leaving what would become a sizable amount of revenue on the table (after the content would have time to rank).
The blog actually did follow brand guidelines both in spirit and letter, but the fear of having to grapple with a difficult topic left a serious amount of money for competitors to claim.
Willingly Paying More for Ads
Another client I worked had a very strict sense of its brand, and wasn’t willing to bend it to earn sales at a very slow time of year.
More specifically, the client didn’t want to identify its brand as “cheap.” Yet the keyword data told me that no less than 50% of the industry’s customers wanted exactly that.
This put the brand in direct opposition to client demand, and the client thought that copy and design alone would set it apart from competitors that had been in business for nearly a century.
That’s a lot of customers to ignore for the sake of brand fidelity.
The brand was actually great—and exactly what the industry needed, even if the customer base didn’t realize it yet. But we couldn’t ignore the tens of thousands of monthly searches for “cheap products,” so we had to grapple with it.
We did that by creating search advertising campaigns (with landing pages, obviously), capitalizing on the relevant keywords. But the ads and the landing pages were nearly scrapped out of hand because the client didn’t want its brand to be associated with anything “cheap.”
In the end, we ran the campaign, but we almost lost the opportunity because the client didn’t want to dilute the brand for sales. We really had to fight for it. It took creative positioning, copywriting, and keyword placement, but we did it—and unlocked another 50% of the industry’s purchase-ready search intent in the process.
And the client still wanted to stop running the campaigns after a while because they didn’t want to take the time to work out which keywords were the most profitable and scalable.
Ignoring a Profitable Channel
One client I worked with wanted to focus entirely on social video views, trying to monetize video as its main source of income.
It sounded like a cutting-edge strategy on the investor pitch deck, but it also ignored the fundamental revenue models that content sites generally need to follow. As it turns out, running display ads on your site via AdSense (or other independent ad exchanges) is one of the most reliable (and few) ways to generate income for content sites—even with the rising number of adblock users.
The client did have that set up on its site, but it didn’t invest in optimized written content to earn more on its advertising. The decision-makers decided that the company’s brand was for social video only rather than written content.
That meant they had to keep paying over and over again just to get exposure to their own Facebook followers, but never built a source of organic traffic.
In truth, the client could have produced written content to build a steady stream of organic search traffic alongside its social videos, but the team just didn’t want to be anything other than a video producer on Facebook. It would have only taken another 30% of their time and resources per video to produce accompanying written content, if that (they had researchers and script writers already). And the written content would have earned traffic on its own, if properly optimized.
Pursuing a multimedia approach for every content story would have allowed it to draw in revenue-earning traffic through SEO that they wouldn’t otherwise have on a monthly basis, letting them earn even more monetized video views by embedding the Facebook videos into the written pages.
That strategy could have worked with either YouTube or Facebook, but Facebook had just introduced its adroll program at the time. It generated money faster and prioritized video at the time, making it the more immediately rewarding choice. However, it also just raised its cost per click. That Facebook algorithm change had actually caused some businesses to shut down, and now the client wanted to follow that exact same strategy.
The client could have formed dual revenue streams per content piece and boosted social video views for an additional fraction of additional effort, but the desire to be a video-only brand caused the company to ignore all of organic search.
Unfortunately, the client didn’t come around to the idea of written content, stunting its revenue stream while also hiring more people and trying to maintain investor funding as well. They nearly folded on more than one occasion after that.
Forging Partnerships Without a Funnel
An altogether different client I worked with wanted to earn partnerships with big brands, and it was willing to spend a lot of money to do it.
But this came at a time when sales were far behind what the client had forecasted a year prior, and there was a mantra that everything had to drive sales. So why did the client spend 10 times more on partnerships with consumer brands instead of bread-and-butter traffic builders, like SEO and paid search?
They wanted to enhance the prestige of their brand because they believed it would give them that extra inch over their competitors in traditional ad media. But those competitors had been entrenched in the industry for decades longer, which meant they had deeper pockets and years of brand exposure.
Playing the competitors’ game was a losing proposition.
Despite that, the client tried all kinds of traditional branding plays that had become part of conventional wisdom prior to the the rise of digital marketing:
- TV spots
- Ads on sport stadium sideboards
- Sports team partnerships and player endorsements
- Charity events
And some of it may have worked, but none of it drove immediate sales in the company’s hour of need. There was certainly no clear way to measure their impact so we’ll never know.
We had actually spent a lot of time developing a conversion funnel that showed early signs of success, but the client chose to fight on its competitors’ home turf: traditional, expensive media. This cost the company so much money that it would make your head spin, and it was only after months without results that SEO and PPC got a fair chance to prove themselves.
And those digital channels worked where brand partnerships failed because they formed the foundation of the conversion funnel that the brand partnerships needed to work in the first place. Traffic increased a lot after that, and so did the conversions.
Does Branding Get Priority in Digital Marketing, Then?
In short, branding still plays a big part in digital marketing, but it’s not the same as 20 years ago. Brands need to tap into those one-on-one conversations, to follow a vision, and to be willing to solve customers’ problems without asking for much in return.
Branding just can’t exist in a glass case anymore.
Digital branding can be so much more than a bizarre or clever TV ads because it can speak even louder than clever ads through actions rather than words. Those actions could include:
- Responsive customer service on social media, fulfilling a brand promise to look after buyers no matter what.
- Genuinely informative and helpful content, showing that the company is here to help, not just to sell.
- Email campaigns that provide actual insights instead of just a hard sell, making an effort to keep buyers informed instead of obfuscating the industry.
- Advertising that meets specific intent instead of interrupting media consumption, making the brand a welcome assistant instead of an obtuse interruption.
It isn’t about broadcasting a pristine wordmark with so-safe-they’re-bad taglines. People don’t believe in picturesque brands anymore, either. Look at Wal-Mart’s twitter page and you’ll see how tone-deaf those brands in glass cases can be.
Today’s brands are in the trenches to build tribes and solving problems for their customers. That’s where brand loyalty is forged today.