Deep Impact

Does branding work online? Of course it does. It’s a silly question when you think about it.

Online advertising totaled some $7 billion in 2000, and while no one has it completely figured out, the largest advertisers and agencies in the world continue to utilize digital-marketing platforms to build brands and drive results. Even if branding isn’t the primary goal of a digital campaign, the industry wouldn’t spend that much if it weren’t having a positive impact on brand equity.

Seven years after Wired’s Hot Wired site ran its first banner ad, the medium has half a billion global users; annual e-commerce transactions (business-to-consumer and business-to-business) run into the hundreds of billions of dollars; and the Web and its digital cousins such as e-mail and instant messaging have fundamentally changed the way we communicate.

This is the power behind the Net and the primary reason digital-marketing platforms will increasingly become core components of marketing strategies. The issue is not whether Web advertising can establish emotional connections; it’s whether it can impact consumer behavior. The answer is clearly yes.

Television and other traditional media will remain powerful tools. But the true goal of marketing, and advertising, is to impact behavior and sell more products and services. Interactivity, by definition, impacts behavior. And interactivity is part of every digital platform’s DNA.

Digital platforms are leveraged to drive brands via experiences. If a client has a specific product to move—and needs to impact the behavior of a specific group—digital platforms can contribute to a solid, results-oriented plan. Do you ignore TV? Of course not. But TV is best for emotional impact. For immediate impact on behavior and sales, I’ll take digital platforms any day of the week.

I believe there needs to be a new debate about how brands are built and brand equity maintained and enhanced. In our view, a brand is increasingly being driven by fragmented media (TV, radio, print and outdoor with its myriad incarnations), banners, sponsorships, broadband, e-mail, instant messaging sponsorships, mobile advertising, and more. Brands are everywhere. It boggles my mind that some people still want to have the branding debate of yesteryear.

Also, there is the more cognitive issue of “brand impact.” When I am watching TV, I am typically six to eight feet away, in a “passive” mode. I may also flip around once the ad comes on. Online, I am two to three feet away and actively engaged. TV can “capture” the viewer, although with new digital recording technologies, that ability may be eroding.

Brands will increasingly be defined by the brand experience—whether it happens online, via street promotions or interactive TV. Clients must factor in the likelihood of their target consumers proactively engaging with their specific product or service online. (For example, it may be less likely for consumer packaged-goods companies but more likely for retailers or financial services firms.)

If it is likely that they will, the company’s overall communications strategy must engage and compliment this shift in behavior.