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Does Brand Marketing Still Matter in the Digital Age?

Digital Marketing

Does Brand Marketing Still Matter in the Digital Age? image 2765981920 61f81eb8be m

Photo credit: DavidErickson

Most of you know that Biznology is all about digital marketing, which is a nice hot topic to cover. And you’ll be forgiven if you think that all this focus on shiny new marketing techniques leave little room for the tried and true. But you’d be wrong. Digital marketing, in fact, is way more about marketing than about digital. Even though there are many things that are changing, the basic still stay the same. One of those basics is brand marketing. Far from becoming unimportant, brand marketing is becoming more important to more companies every day.

Digital marketers (including me) have criticized the old “brand awareness” game, where that was the only measurement we focused on to show that our marketing is any good. I’ve often tried to get companies to focus on actual direct marketing metrics and conversions, reasoning that if they buy from you then at some point they probably became aware of you.

But don’t let that focus on measurement lead you to the conclusion that brand marketing itself is unimportant. Sure, we want metrics focused on sales, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need a strong brand. What’s really true is that brand is more important than ever for the simple reason that digital marketing makes marketing important to more companies than ever.

In the old days, B2B companies had no marketing more elaborate than, “What should we put in this year’s brochure to bring to the trade show?” Small businesses had even fewer marketing decisions to make: “Half page or full page ad in the Yellow Book this year?” But digital marketing means that you can affordably reach even the smallest group, so suddenly your brand matters a great deal more than ever before.

Every business must think in terms of digital branding that reflects who they are as a company. Your newsletter, your website, your social media presence, and many other marketing tactics now make sense for any type of business, and with that, your brand matters more than ever before.

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What do you stand for? How does that image start with the first digital touchpoints and carry through in every interaction with your company? Digital marketing means that you are competing with companies far and wide that you never had to worry about before. How do you differentiate when being the one down the street no longer matters?

These are big questions that every business must face in the digital age, but we do want to help you solve them. We’ve launched a series of Biznology Jumpstart Workshops to help you navigate these new challenges in marketing, and Denise Lee Yohn and I are pleased to offer a Brand Marketing Jumpstart Workshop on-site for your business to introduce or revitalize your company’s brand.

But whether that makes sense for you or not, don’t be caught puttering along with the same old marketing playbook as the world changes around you. If you market online, you have a digital brand. If you have a business, you have a brand. If your brand is literally selling your company short, you need to do something about it.

Comments on this Article: 28

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  1. Nancy Riley says:

    Branding is important if you want people to remember you. It must be relevant to your product or service. Purpose is to distinguish your specialty from others.

  2. People can’t buy your product or service if they do not know your company or brand still exist. My company is a prime example of that. We launched our brand in 2002 received lots of attention for two years and the management chose to concentrate on OEM business and ignore the brand even though our products received many accolades from the trade magazines starting in 2003 through 2005. At that time upper management stopped advertising, press releases on new products developed for OEM clients and they only placed those products in catalogs and concentrated on the marketing of their top selling products not the accessory products developed by the research and product development department in our company. Our brand and sales suffered the consequences, every year I ask our president why he chose to drop a very successful marketing in 2005 to only rely on distributors of our brand products and OEM sales? In the third quarter of 2012 he finally agreed we should return to what was a very successful marketing program. We are now in the process of relaunching our brand and many new products that were developed for OEM customers and they chose to ignore them as they weren’t on their priority list, even though their new product departments had them in their possession for years it was like developing great products to only throw them into the trash! So now those products will be launched under our brand and fully use every method including social media to relaunch the brand name ENAMELITE!

  3. I certainly endorse the premise of your post, Mike – a digital component to your brand is a given, whether you like it or not. Indeed, if a firm chooses to ignore digital, that says something about its brand in itself (not necessarily a bad thing, although I’d class it as high risk!)
    However, using terms like “biznology” does not help. Contrary to the opening line of your blog, I don’t think it’s widely used. Most people don’t know it’s about digital marketing because most people have never heard of it!
    As practitioners, if we want to spread the word about the value of digital marketing, we need to focus on plain English to get the message across.

  4. Mike Moran says:

    Totally agree with you, Rick, and I always use plain English. This article was reprinted from my Biznology blog, where I expected the readers to know what the site is about. So, I wasn’t using “Biznology” as a well-known term, but as the name of the site that they were reading the post on. The reprint kind of loses that in the translation, so I will be careful to craft my posts for better reprintability (is that an English word?) in the future. Thanks for taking the time to let me know about this, because I hadn’t considered it before.

  5. Shamoyita says:

    I agree that digital marketing is very important for companies now. I also believe that it is yet another tool to increase brand awareness of a company. So, i think brand awareness programs are all going to be required and digital marketing is going to only add to that value and give another channel to the companies to reach out to their customers or potential customers.

  6. karen ticktin says:

    Mike, great points. I would argue that branding is more important than ever before. With the seismic shift in power to consumers, it is essential that brands distinguish themselves and their values. A brand’s essence and voice need to be consistent and authentic before a consumer will even consider aligning themselves with them. Branding is what drives the relationship.

  7. Maria HK says:

    Your brand is the most important factor no matter what marketing is planned. It should be instantly recognisable to consumers no matter where they view it.

  8. One reason ‘brand awareness’ is such a popular measure of the success of a marketing venture is because it is such an easy quantity to get an accurate picture of. The ease of extracting this data makes this methodology very attractive to those seeking accountability in their marketing strategies. Perhaps digital technology will update this paradigm. The old strategies of measuring ad success through brand awareness are obsolete. Digital marketing makes this so by allowing the same accountability through more complex methods like tracking and sampling meta data. Digital technology makes these methods fiscally viable options for any business.

  9. Right on Rick! Branding is how someone would dress, talk and act, it is the DNA of a product or service and the Company that stands behind it. funny how anyone in a business meeting understands this when we use big brand as examples, but to often fail to relate that strategic approach to their own brand.

  10. Ludwe says:

    The fact is if you don’t constantly create awareness about your brand it becomes ubsolete!

  11. windfery says:

    A typical business does not need dedicated digital roles. traditional organisational structures can remain but serious up-skilling is required by many positions, including brand managers.

  12. James says:

    Brands and Brand Value will continue to matter. Our view is that more and more brand conscious consumers will actually be focused on branding engines rather than search engine in the future. The digital onslaught will force people to become more and more selctive even allowing for more sophisticated serach tools. Marketers will be able to focus on developing and enhancing brand value to specific sectors of the market.
    Good brand management should embrace digital as another channel and gain huge benefits from real time campaign modelling and management.

  13. Brand marketing should be part of your marketing mix, digital or otherwise, but in my opinion, it needs to be part of your overall strategy. That should drive how much you do, and which channels.

    I think, though, the distinction needs to be clarified between brand marketing and brand advertising, because they take very different forms, yet are still confused.

    Your brand needs to be expressed in all your channels, appropriate to the target each serves, but still consistent with your core ideals.

  14. Lisa says:

    Branding is hard to justify when you’re a small organization, particularly in a crowed market. It also has more value or weight in B2C than B2B, unless you’re a large company. Often for smaller companies it makes more sense to focus on referrals and keeping your current clients happy and coming back. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a social media presence. It just means it should probably be more modest in nature until you can justify the ROI, which you may never!

  15. Brand marketing still definitely matters, but it highly depends on your goals and services offered. The more people see my name and content, the more likely I am to bring in new advertisers and followers. However, in an opposite example… Pepsi is Pepsi, there really is no need for them to continue to spend money on advertising as they are already a house hold name and product we all use. Yet at the same time, who am I to say they are wrong for spending money on more branding, as they are one of the biggest and best in the world.

  16. Ami says:

    Lots of talk about “brand” but not much in perspective. I see most small businesses in need of more basic marketing. Essentially developing a brand is nice, but a good site with real content useful to make a buying decision is more important. The same goes for good videos or product demos. The same goes for a mailing list or a social media “page” / “group” / “blog” … etc… Selling “brand” without sales support or collateral (digital or traditional paper) is not enough to grow a business. It is not enough to get attention and to serve a message. It is not enough to support sales and other customer needs (support, follow up, etc.) Brand is something that seems to be easy to articulate and teach. Seems like every freshly minted MBA around the globe spews out “brand” stuff yet is not able to see what direct marketing or other money bringing techniques work in a certain market with a certain product. But it’s nice to see that people like this stuff. Now, how do you show brand ROI? (try going against a Google AdWords campaign with “brand” development).

    • Mike Moran says:

      Hi Ami,

      I think you are constraining the definition of brand to merely “getting attention,” but it’s so much more–it encomapsses all the things that you rightly point out are so important for small businesses (and any-sized business, really).

      Your brand is a definition in the buyer’s mind of what you stand for. Your points that marketing must encompass great service and deep information are critical to most brands–because most companies need to be thought of as reliable and as experts in the customer’s problem.

      I totally agree with you on direct marketing–both of my books walk people through direct marketing principles so that they can prove ROI. I guess my bottom line is that all of your points are valid, but they aren’t good criticisms of branding–just of people who have a too-small idea of what branding is.

      Great comments!

  17. KKB says:

    I agree with the article. Brand marketing is critical in the world today. How your customers and the world view you is important…..

  18. Robin says:

    Am I the only one getting confused? Branding. Brand marketing. Brand image. Brand awareness. Brand identity. Experts often enjoy creating complexity so that they can step in to resolve the resulting confusion.

  19. Mike Moran says:

    Oh, Robin, let me try to untangle it all for you. Branding is the old-fashioned word for brand marketing–anything you do to make your brand image or brand identity (what people think of you) better. Brand awareness is whether they know about you–good or bad. Hope that helps.

  20. Depends what you call brand marketing. In my view all marketing should come from a strategic brand perspective, and brand strategy comes from the essential nature of the product or service. So the whole thing is built on a really firm foundation and is consistently applied. It’s called bottom up branding, and you can read about it here tinyurl.com/bottomupbranding

  21. Carl Olson says:

    One of the things we forgot is that digital marketing is just a piece of the entire marketing “pie”. It is a tool and should be treated as one part of your overall marketing strategy. Yes, it needs to enhance the brand, but the brand is what you do, why you do it and what makes you better than anyone else at delivering it. When you have identified this, you have a brand statement to make and it should then be carried over into everything you do, including digital marketing.

    But in marketing it is also easy to get tied up in marketing and advertising for the sole purpose of spreading the news about your brand, and this is why so many are divided on the concept of brand vs direct response. Without direct responses expected branding success and awareness is hard to measure…and that leads to wasted advertising and marketing dollars. Create the brand message, let is permeate direct response and you’ll be able to measure how both are doing. It’s all part of a good marketing strategy; digital or otherwise.

  22. The question in the headline here “Does Brand Marketing Still Matter in the Digital Age?” Should never have existed, Mike’s points were all very relevant and is absolutely right. Of course brand marketing is even more vital in the digital world than ever before, forget this at your peril.

  23. Ami says:

    OK, it seems like there is a big elephant in the room. He is pink and most people are feeling just a part of him. To some it looks like a snake, to some a wall and to others a pole… I think of branding as NOT direct marketing (of any kind, span and NOT) and not advertising (direct or broad). If you talk to the “new” (modern) direct marketers (SEO, PPC, newsletter, landing pages) they will not talk much about branding as much about lists, areas of interest and now social media sites. The “branding” comes as “before” the direct marketers. They really don’t care what goes in the banner and who chose the logo colors. They care about statistics and other things that bring clicks and action. This has been true in the old days of direct marketing through the mail (especially in catalogs). There is a whole world out there which probably the “branding” marketers are either now aware of, or simply ignore because it does not seem relevant to them (which is probably not true). I meet direct marketers of all kind of color and creed with all kind of products and services. Again, they don’t seem that concerned about branding. They will give you clicks if you are a unique and well branded product or if you are an affiliate selling a “me-too” service like games or Forex or laptop batteries. That was my only comment, and I see lots of businesses that branding is actually secondary. They need clicks, they don’t need to differentiate on a first cut. They can make sales without branding — believe it, no matter how much your brand and how nice your package is and … well, enough said… actually, too much said :-)

  24. Mike Moran says:

    Not sure that I agree, Ami. It almost sounds like you are saying that LL Bean never had any brand image when it was just mailing catalogs. To me, the brand is everything that you stand for in the mind of the customer–that includes the experience they have with every aspect of your marketing, product, customer service, and more. Direct marketing principles just give you new ways of measuring your success.

  25. Ami says:

    LL Bean had water proof boots selling from hand drawn catalogs long before they had “brand image”. Their reputation among hunters goes back generations. They also will fix anything that breaks even if your son sends it in (I sent in a bag and they only asked if I want the thread white or green, they fixed it). Google had a reputation for a simple and accurate search engine long before they had their own site (Yahoo used Google as a search engine embedded in their site with a little Google logo). All I am saying is that you need to have something, a good product, a unique or better feature, a demonstrable prototype, before you go adding a logo and telling the world you are a “brand”. Even Nike had sales from a trunk of a car before they bought the logo (interesting story and they could not afford a name in the logo so they only got the swoosh). Direct marketing gives you sales. Not just “measures”. If they were just for measurements, Google and LL Bean would not be spending so much effort and money, and they would not be profiting from direct marketing. I just brought up the observation, that selling “branding” ahead of direct marketing can be a mistake for some companies. They want sales but they think that that will come with a logo and a tag line and a nice site. They forget to offer discounts and to build a real market tactical capability with target audience and mailing lists and all the things people do in direct mail to sell. OK, enough is enough. I guess the branding guys will ignore the (brute force) direct mailers, that has been the story for a long time… and more on that… later :-)

  26. Mike Moran says:

    Hi Ami,

    What I am saying is that LL Bean’s reputation for utter reliability and quality products IS their brand image. Advertising and other marketing is just one way (and not the best way) to fix a reputation for your brand in the customer’s mind. I actually think we are in violent agreement that advertising and other marketing is no substitute for the experience that your brand provides to your customers. I just think of “branding” as a large concept encompassing everything that sets customer expectations, while you think of it as just the marketing stuff.

  27. Olaf Pijl says:

    Every company with an established brand should have a digital branding strategy. This will enable you to protect your brand and provide a better experience to your (potential) customers. If you don’t, your competitor will reel in those valuable prospects and lure them away. Digital marketing offers more advanced branding techniques than ever!

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