Beyond the Click-Through

Search your childhood memories and see if you remember the brands you grew up with. How many of them still exist today? No doubt, whether you use them or not, brands such as Coke, McDonald’s and Tide go back as far as you can remember. That’s no coincidence. It’s the result of dedicated, long-term brand building. And brand building, unlike a marketing campaign, which has a finite beginning and end, takes a long-term commitment — whether you’re marketing on television, in print or on the Web.

In today’s business environment, organizations are pressured to focus on short-term results as well as on growing brand equities that create strong, loyal relationships with consumers over time. And while both are important for a brand to be successful — e.g., promotions that drive traffic to stores for limited-time offers benefit greatly from the goodwill created by brand building — it’s critical that marketers work to integrate these complementary efforts.

As technology has evolved, many believe that the distinction between promotion or direct marketing and brand building has disappeared. Because everything is measurable, the thinking goes, risk and uncertainty have been removed from marketing and advertising. That is, at best, a comforting fiction. While promotion concerns itself with short-term goals, brand building takes a more holistic approach that, in addition to sales lift, includes perceptions, attitudes, awareness, trial, usage and lifetime value.

The distinctions can be seen best online, where marketing has been limited primarily to direct response. For the Web to become a successful branding vehicle not only does more need to be done to advance display and video advertising, but there must be changes in the way we measure an ad’s impact.

For a decade now, click-throughs, thanks to the massiveness of search, have been the default metric for any and all Web campaigns. But they do not give a full picture of the power of online marketing. In fact, DoubleClick’s June 2009 Year-in-Review Benchmarks study reports that click-through rates are just one-tenth of 1 percent and so do not provide a window into other behaviors that factor into a consumer’s purchase decisions. 

Online, as well as off, brand building requires a balance between the desire to know everything immediately and the real-world practicalities of what is measurable. Branding, then, is greater than the sum of its clicks. Successful brand building results from the courage and foresight to broaden measurement thinking and to develop more patient standards for how and when success is judged.

In June, the Online Publishers Association and comScore conducted a study called The Silent Click: Building Brands Online, which suggests that measuring consumer behavior by looking at those exposed to ads along with their post-exposed behavior — such as brand searches, Web site visits and e-commerce spending — provides additional ways to capture ad effectiveness. For example, one in five consumers who took part in the study did a search for the brand after being exposed to its ad, and one in three consumers visited the brand’s site. Additionally, overall e-commerce spending was lifted significantly across all content categories, including gains of 43 percent among visitors to the 50 top news sites and 26 percent for business sites.

Developing patience in judging the success or failure in a campaign is a learned skill. Consider Nike’s “Just do it” campaign. When it first launched, it received mixed reviews. Did Nike close up shop and cancel the campaign? No. It had the patience to evolve the message, the creative, the stories and the voice. Nike is now celebrating the 20th year of the “Just do it” campaign.

It’s important to recognize that a brand’s intangible attributes can drive behaviors such as conducting a search or visiting a Web site — actions that may not take place immediately after exposure. By limiting measurement to clicks, marketers may be missing out on a more holistic picture of their brand strength. Numbers provide important quantitative guidance, but the true measure of success is the achievement of the marketer’s business plan, and that takes a long-term approach.

Pam Horan is president of the Online Publishers Association. She can be reached at