Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Search Insider: Why Do We Keep Saying 'Or' Instead Of 'And'? The Debate Between Direct Response And Branding

Why Do We Keep Saying 'Or' Instead Of 'And'? The Debate Between Direct Response And Branding

THERE'S A MARKETING DEBATE that just won't go away. And I wish it would. It's the direct response versus branding debate. Personally, I am holding the first-ever promotional coupon accountable for its inception* -- yet the Internet propelled the debate into a different stratosphere. With the advent of the Web, the distinction between direct response and branding went beyond merely being a call to action in the creative message of an advert. When www was born, so was a direct-response media metric -- performance-based pricing.

It's a debate that baffles me. As marketers, we are trained to get into the minds of our audience -- to understand their needs and how our brands can serve that need state. Yet, I'm pretty certain that the average person does not look at an ad and say "There's a phone number on this ad, which means it's a direct response message" or "This ad is making me feel something about this product -- it must be part of a brand campaign." The reality is that our audience doesn't think in terms of direct response versus branding and as marketers, neither should we. Why aren't we using the word "and" instead of "or" when we talk about direct response and branding?

Search marketing has long been heralded the bastion of direct response ad placement, yet nowhere, in my opinion, is there a stronger call to replace the word "or" with "and" than in this ad medium. According to JupiterResearch, nearly 40% of searchers believe that the companies whose Web sites are at the top of the search results are the top brands in their field. In addition, search has long been used as an information and research source, as well as a lead generation tool for e-commerce sites -- just look at the number of dollars car brands spend on search marketing. And if you're concerned about managing your brand's reputation online, then managing the headlines that appear about your brand on a search engine results page is critical. 

 So let me come out and say it loud and proud -- search is a branding and a direct response medium. Certain developments in the search world are making this fact more of an accepted reality. On a tactical level, Google is in beta with "automatic matching." In the words of the Big G, "Automatic Matching automatically extends your campaign's reach by using surplus budget to serve your ads on relevant search queries that are not already triggered by your keyword lists... while maintaining your current CTRs and CPCs." Why would an advertiser do this? To increase the audience it can have exposure too - increase of audience share is typically a branding metric.  Why is Google doing this? To tap into those "brand" budgets.

Another much more prominent development is the rise of universal or blended search. As we are already seeing, the search results page of tomorrow is be more visual. Video and image sit alongside text. The newly launched Cuil.com is following in the footsteps of Espotting**, the first paid search engine to place a company's logo or image next to text-based search listings.  While the sole presence of a logo is rudimentary, it is the beginning. Information comes in many forms and the more visual a search results page is, the easier its correlation with branding will become. I'm excited about this. The time to realize search's branding as well as its direct response effect is finally arriving.

*I am also holding finance directors of companies accountable too :-)

**Full disclosure: I was a founding member of Espotting.

Chrysi Philalithes is launch managing director at Steak, a search-inspired communications agency with offices in New York City, London and Melbourne. Steak was named 2007 Interactive Media Agency of the Year by the Interactive Marketing and Advertising Awards. Contact her at hello@steakdigital.com

Search Insider for Tuesday, August 5, 2008:

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