In a world where tools like Google Analytics let you track the conversion rate of each page of your website, and platforms like Facebook Ads and Google AdWords let you bid for leads and sales, it’s understandable that many marketers forget about the value of branding.
Branding is the oft-ignored side of digital marketing -- a strategy that produces real results over the course of months, years and decades instead of minutes, hours and days. It’s slow, traditional and long-term -- three characteristics that make it a digital outlier.
While branding doesn’t produce the immediate results of a PPC campaign, it’s one of the most valuable marketing assets around. An established, trusted brand can bring new customers into your business in huge numbers, propelling you to the top of your industry.
Luckily, taking the first steps towards building a trusted brand for your business isn’t as difficult as it might seem. Below, we’ve listed seven tips to help you establish, expand and strengthen your digital brand presence as a B2B or B2C company.
One of the most effective ways to establish and strengthen your brand is through content.
Whether it’s blog or video content, the most well-known brands tend to be the ones with lots of engaging, authoritative content. Content is a great way to define your brand as one that’s interested in helping and teaching people at no cost.
In B2B, brands like Moz have defined themselves as authoritative sources of information using blog content. Moz’s blog reaches hundreds of thousands of readers every month, increasing its presence and reach:
In B2C, brands like Red Bull use video content to generate millions of impressions, all of which have a positive effect on brand recognition. Red Bull’s top YouTube videos have reached tens of millions of people -- reach that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars using paid media:
Since 2006, Red Bull has used video content to generate almost 1.5 billion impressions across its total library of videos:
Each of these impressions is an advertisement for Red Bull’s brand -- one that viewers are very unlikely to forget. Whenever someone reads your blog post, views your video, or listens to you on a podcast, they’ll develop a stronger impression of your company.
While Red Bull’s videos are spectacular, content doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive to be effective. An engaging, interesting blog post can generate tens of thousands of impressions, all at a very low cost.
Content also has a complementary effect on SEO, with engaging content attracting links as well as pageviews. This makes it a great long-term strategy for brand strengthening while also improving your website’s search visibility.
Creating great content is a great way to strengthen and expand your brand presence, but it will produce few results if no-one can find it.
Platforms like Facebook Ads and Twitter Ads are invaluable tools for content promotion. Both allow you to reach a large, highly targeted audience of people likely to respond positively to your brand.
Using Facebook Ads, you can target people who like similar products and companies to your own, helping you reach a highly responsive audience. Twitter’s ad platform even lets you target the audiences of specific brands and people:
This means that you can promote your content to an extremely specific audience, limiting your reach to the people most likely to read and respond to your content. In effect, you can add to your brand without ever reaching people who are unlikely to become customers.
While Facebook Ads and Twitter require some testing, both can be extremely cost-effective brand development channels once your campaign is “dialed in.” If you’ve never advertised on Twitter, our guide to Twitter ads for startups and small businesses is a great place to begin.
For brands with a clearly defined audience, guest blogging is one of the best ways to put your content (and company) in front of responsive, interested readers.
Digital marketing guru Neil Patel has one of the strongest brands in the online marketing world, largely because he has guest posted on hundreds of authoritative marketing blogs over the last few years, from Entrepreneur and Search Engine Land to Social Media Examiner and Hubspot.
“Prosumer” brand WP Curve, which has a target audience of entrepreneurs and freelancers in need of WordPress help, built its brand by guest blogging on entrepreneurship blogs and digital strategy websites.
If you have a clearly defined target customer audience, guest posting is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to strengthen your brand. It’s 100% free, and the only real cost involved is the time required to think up content ideas and write posts.
Since people are more likely to respond to content than a banner ad, you’ll have an advantage over your competitors that rely on paid media. Through guest blogging, you’ll likely generate a large amount of conversions and new customers while you establish your brand.
Arguably the biggest advantage of guest blogging is that it lets you tap into the authority of an existing website. Reach the right audience through the right blog and you could win over tens of thousands of readers with a single blog post.
Great branding relies on your message being consistent with your brand image. Red Bull uses video so effectively because the subject matter it focuses on -- extreme sports and pushing the limits of adventure -- match its brand image.
If a brand like Xerox created a YouTube channel and started releasing extreme sports videos, would it get the same results as Red Bull? Unlikely.
It’s important that your content matches your brand image in tone, feel and subject matter. If it doesn’t, it’s unlikely to create any type of meaningful connection with your audience.
An example of a branding campaign that failed because of inconsistency is Microsoft’s 2008 ad campaign featuring Jerry Seinfeld:
While the ad is funny, it doesn’t have any real connection with the brand or product that’s being promoted. People enjoyed the ad, but at the end of the day it didn’t produce a meaningful boost to Microsoft’s brand recognition or trust.
Branding works best when it’s authentic. Instead of appealing to the widest possible audience with a generic, broad message, focus on reaching the audience that’s most valuable using an engaging and genuine message.
Online, it’s extremely easy to track the exact response rate and profitability of an advertisement, right down to the top-performing placements and demographics. This makes it tempting to focus on conversion rate and short-term ROI as the barometer of a campaign’s effectiveness.
The end result of this is that many marketers launch social, search and display campaigns with branding in mind, only to compromise them by optimizing for direct response metrics like ROAS (Return On Ad Spend) and conversion rate.
Branding works best when there’s no pushiness or sense of urgency. The world’s most effective branding campaigns don’t push you to buy a certain product or take action -- instead, they focus entirely on associating a specific feeling with a certain brand.
Nike’s famous Just Do It commercials don’t end with a call to action -- they end with a flash of the Nike logo. Old Spice’s brilliant The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign didn’t encourage people to buy anything - instead, it made a boring and outdated brand into something fun.
Since the goals of a branding campaign are somewhat opposite to those of direct response, it’s best to keep branding and direct response separate. View conversions from branding as a lucky free extra, as the real value of branding is only visible over the long term.
Over the last five years, rising CPM rates for display advertising have made it a less appealing channel for branding. Despite this, display (or banner) advertising can still be a highly effective way to expand your reach and improve your presence.
The key to effective branding through display advertising is to find websites that attract a highly relevant, interested audience. If the people viewing your ads are likely to become customers or evangelists for your brand, they’re a fantastic audience for a display campaign.
A great example of this is by the performance advertising platform Marin Software which advertised its 2016 report (presenting the brand as digital advertising authority) on Search Engine Journal, a website read by digital marketers:
When you discover a website that’s a perfect match for your brand and guest blogging just isn’t possible, display advertising is a great way to get the exposure you want at a reasonable cost.
In addition, platforms like Google AdWords let you access most large websites as an advertiser. Many of the world’s largest publishers also sell their remnant inventory at a discount through real-time bidding marketplaces like SiteScout and platforms like BuySellAds.
Branding is like a wave - what begins as a small ripple grows into something much larger and more powerful as it picks up momentum. Pull the plug on your branding efforts too early and it will never reach its full potential.
Most branding campaigns produce very few results in their early stages, but grow into valuable marketing assets over time. It’s important to think long-term when you start developing a brand for your business, as results are never immediate.
Start small and grow your branding efforts over time, publishing new content and releasing new ads, videos and marketing messages on a steady schedule. As your target audience becomes more familiar with your brand, you’ll start to see results in direct website traffic and conversions.
Branding requires constant upkeep and attention in order to be effective. Treat branding like a short-term campaign and you’ll fail to make measurable progress. View it as a steady, ongoing process and you’ll eventually develop an extremely valuable marketing asset.
Branding is all too often neglected by digital marketers, largely because it’s easier to track the results and performance of a PPC or SEO campaign than a deliberate branding effort. This is unfortunate, since a strong brand is a powerful asset for any business.
If your business has focused on direct response and neglected branding, try using the seven tips listed above to establish and strengthen your brand over the next year.
Develop a detailed understanding of key social media specialisms including content marketing, and platforms on which you can promote your content.