In Branding

In the last two years, as the financial crisis escalated and our economy struggled, clients focused like a laser on their return on investment (ROI). This makes complete sense, as marketing budgets have come under increasing pressure and scrutiny, resulting in the need to measure and evaluate the effect of every marketing dollar spent. And to be honest, this should really be standard practice regardless of the economic environment.

But in tough times, ROI-speak is ubiquitous. And if taken too far, this kind of thinking can advance the idea that brands must choose between generating brand awareness or producing ROI. Often, the decision is, “I don’t need awareness. I want ROI!”

In our view, this kind of thinking is backwards. Because in reality, brand awareness is never at odds with ROI. On the contrary, awareness is actually a primary driver of ROI. Consider the following data from an example hotel’s analytics:

This data shows the property’s top ten site traffic sources, ranked by revenue for a recent 30-day period. What you see here is typical: the bulk of the measured revenue is attributed to organic search and direct site traffic.

Logically, it makes the most sense to try to increase organic and direct traffic. A 10% increase in those referral sources would do more to improve the bottom line than doubling all the other sources combined. So how is that accomplished?

First, you must understand what those sources of traffic represent. Your organic traffic is, quite simply, what your site is optimized for in Google and other search engines. Assuming that these engines do their job well, the traffic you attain organically should come from keywords that describe your property.

While it’s likely that you are receiving good organic traffic from generic search, i.e., “(your city) hotel,” it’s even more likely that your organic search is dominated by brand terms. After all, no keywords describe you better than your brand keywords.

The next greatest source of revenue—direct traffic—comes from users who have either bookmarked your site or entered your URL directly into their browser. This traffic is very similar in quality and qualification to brand search. These are prospects who know you by name and are seeking you out.

What do I do with this information? Is the answer more brand search?

We do believe in the importance of brand search, yet in this story, it is not the cause of success, but rather the result of it. As illustrated above, a large percentage of all the revenue measured by analytics was a result of brand awareness. Strong brands that invested in their brand for years before the economic crisis were better positioned to reap the benefit of that awareness during the crisis.

How do I know if my marketing activities are generating brand awareness?

Generating greater brand awareness means reaching new, uninitiated prospects. Advertising is a prime source for new visitors. This includes non-brand pay-per-click, email and rich media.

Site-usage statistics are key to determining the effectiveness of advertising in creating brand awareness. If a referral source is generating quality visits, then you can be sure prospects are interested in your property and that you’re creating brand awareness.

But brand awareness and brand advertising are not the same thing, and driving brand awareness does not have to be expensive. For instance, social media is an important key. Facebook and other social networks have real potential for increasing brand exposure. While your fans know you, their network may not. Every person connected to your fan page is also connected to people who don’t know you. Pushing quality content and exclusive offers through social networks is a cost-effective way to gain brand awareness. (Click here to read more on managing social media.)

In the end, those with the most brand awareness win. Get your brand terms onto the keyboards of your best prospects. Contact to learn how the right mix of search, email, rich media and social media can create brand awareness.

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