The Slow but Powerful ROI of Online Branding

Online Branding

Tracking ROI
A sad comment often heard within the marketing community is, “I know that at least half of my marketing worked last year. I just don’t know which half.”  The good news is that online marketing efforts are fairly easy to track. Just make sure you are taking those extra steps to benefit from that data. Every single lead should be asked how they heard about you (if that information is not already evident to you). Phoned-in leads are often the warmest leads of all. Confirm that your sales people are asking every fresh prospect, “How did you first hear about us?”  If they wait till later in the sales cycle to ask this, the prospect may easily forget by then.

Also, take the time to look at the Top Conversion Path option within Google Analytics.  It’s very possible a lead may be marked as coming in through an ‘organic search’ path, but this helpful tab/option within Google Analytics might reveal that they FIRST learned about (and visited) your website three days earlier through a ‘paid search’ entry. In that case, paid search should get the credit for that lead.

‘Cost per lead’ and ‘cost per sale’ (per marketing channel/investment) is a fairly simple and great place to start when tracking your marketing ROI. Beyond that you can also measure the cost of goods sold, your gross profit margin, the estimated lifetime value of a new customer, etc.

What is Branding?
It’s more than just marketing. The famous advertising expert David Ogilvy once defined a brand as “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” With the growing emergence of review sites such as Angie’s List and the power of social media platforms, reputation has become increasingly more important. If you leave a customer extremely unsatisfied, there is a good chance their friends will soon hear about it on Facebook and Twitter. Jeff Bezos once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

As a Marketing Director in the 1990’s, I remember once feeling nervous when I showed the owner of the company how a few of our print ads and tradeshow efforts had failed to produce a positive ROI. His encouraging response has always stuck with me. He said, “Well at least we got some good branding out of it.” I have since learned to appreciate the truth of what he said that day. Consistent and quality advertising efforts (both offline and online) can often plant seeds that bear fruit years later.

Sure, there is no guarantee that branding efforts today will produce an ROI in your future, but I would guess you could name off a few businesses in your area that heavily advertise on your local radio stations, maybe a furniture store or a lawyer or a realtor?  You remember those company names (i.e. brands) because consistent advertising works. And whether or not those ads drive you crazy, I would guess that a majority of those advertisers are doing quite well right now. Imagine how much more so you could benefit from online branding now that internet marketing results have soared past traditional forms of advertising such as radio, TV and direct mail.

The Benefits of Online Branding
Improving your brand will increase your recognition, it can improve the perception of your company, it increases the word of mouth about your company, your reputation and even the ability to attract better employees. Your customers begin to feel more assured of your stability and begin taking pride in using a ‘popular’ brand. Some will even end up becoming huge fans and brand advocates. Consider Apple who has built such an impressive brand that they can literally receive MILLIONS of pre-orders within the first 24 hours of announcing a new iPhone.

Are you Successfully Branding Online?
How dominant is your website within the search engine results for search terms relating to your products and services? How do those rankings compare to your competitors? Just about every niche industry has a few ‘vertical’ websites that offer news, updates and sometimes a forum about your industry. Is your brand getting mentioned on those websites?  …hopefully in a positive way? Are your press releases (announcing new products, services or major changes within your business) getting picked up by local and/or national news websites? Are your customers (or potential customers) talking about your company on social media …in a positive way?  Is the number of your social media followers, blog subscribers and email opt-in subscribers growing every year?

The Benefits of Online Branding Efforts
Increasing your exposure online allows you to capture some of the highest qualified leads imaginable and that is people who are searching specifically for YOUR products or services at this very moment. It also provides you opportunity to ‘A/B test’ different ad messages with virtually instant feedback. And best of all, online marketing (especially through social media) allows you to have two-way conversations, versus the one-way conversation that comes with traditional advertising.

The benefits of consistent content marketing and social media efforts are as follows:

  • Receiving highly valuable, unsolicited inbound links
  • Getting talked about and mentioned on other websites (i.e. brand mentions)
  • Getting secondary exposure that comes from receiving likes, shares & comments (i.e. social signals)

In addition to on-page SEO efforts and inbound links, Google looks at a lot of other indicators to determine who should rank above whom. These indicators include brand mentions and social signals mentioned above. And in fact, if you’ve been guilty of trying to manipulate your inbound link building, while ignoring basic “good business principles” (such as consistent blogging and consistent social media efforts), you will end up with an unnatural ratio between inbound links and online brand mentions. There is evidence that Google can easily recognize this unconventional ratio and choose to penalize your website resulting in a dramatic drop in your search engine rankings.

Ways to Improve your Online Branding
A quality website is your first foundational step. First impressions are crucial. Ask yourself:

  • Does my website look fresh? Or does it look a little stale and maybe look like it was designed 5 to 10 years ago?
  • Can first time visitors immediately tell within a few seconds what my core business is about?
  • Can they easily find the information they are looking for?
  • Is my contact information easily accessible?

Internal SEO efforts is your next step and the investment to do this is extremely cost effective. The benefits of properly optimizing your website can yield YEARS of increased traffic. On average, a small to medium sized website can be properly optimized within a month or two for a one-time fee of a few thousand dollars at the most (depending on how many pages you have and how much additional copywriting might be required). Beware of cheap SEO companies who claim they need to re-optimize your website month-after-month.

Consistent content marketing efforts and consistent social media efforts are both extremely important. Both forms of marketing are considered ‘good business practice’ because they show that you not only care enough to engage with your customers on social media, but you also take the time to become a trusted ‘industry expert’ by consistently offering helpful, interesting and fresh information on your website (Google hates stale websites and will begin to wonder if you are even still in business). In my opinion content marketing and social media efforts should work hand-in-hand. Why not use your social media posts to promote that latest and greatest piece of content (blog post, article, infographic, etc) you just added to your website? This results in converting your social media followers into website visitors, which will increase your chances of then converting those new visitors into leads and leads into customers.

Paid media efforts can have a huge impact on branding. Common options include Google AdWords (text ads, display ads, shopping campaigns, etc), third-party ad networks and social media channels. Social media ads can be an excellent investment, especially if your strategy is to boost a well written social media post that in turn is promoting a well-written blog post back on your website.

I would warn you though that pay-per-click can become addicting because of the instant results. Make sure you are truly tracking the ROI on your PPC efforts. The addiction and the downside of PPC is that this traffic is like a faucet. Turn off the money and the traffic immediately stops with it. Whereas content marketing might generate slower results, but it will continue to produce traffic for years to come, and from our experience, it ends up generating a far better ROI in the long run. Check out our 3-year study we did on PPC versus Content Marketing.

Measuring the ROI of Branding
In the past, Google Analytics would tell us which keywords are website was mostly being found for, including ‘branded’ keywords relating to our company name or URL. However, around October of 2011, measuring keyword data has become far more difficult as Google now hides that information. However, there are still many other ways to measure online branding efforts. At the very least I recommend taking annual snapshots of the following metrics and if time allows, track them on a monthly basis and compare them to a handful of your competitors.

  • Do an “exact” search on Google (by adding quotation marks around your search term) for your company name, URL and key employees and then begin tracking the number of results found.
  • Begin taking more note of your “direct” traffic currently being tracked through Google analytics.
  • Become familiar with Google Trends and Google’s Keyword Planner tools and begin tracking how often your company name, URL and key employees are being searched for on an average monthly basis.
  • Begin setting up Google Alerts for anytime your company name, URL or key employees are being mentioned online. This may also alert you to a potentially harmful/negative comment (reputation issue) that can possibly be addressed and corrected.
  • If you are not already, begin tracking your customer retention/renewal/re-order rates (customer satisfaction is obviously a key element to improving your brand).
  • Begin tracking the number of inbound links you have by using and checking Google’s Search Console.
  • Begin using a good social media listening tool (there are plenty out there) and track your monthly followers as well as the number of engagements you had (likes, retweets, shares, comments).

To sum things up:

  • Instant ROI doesn’t always equal the best ROI.
  • Keep your website looking fresh!
  • Foundational (internal) SEO efforts should be a no-brainer investment.
  • Stay active with consistent blogging and social media efforts, because it’s not only ‘good business practice’ but it can generate an incredible long-term ROI for your business.

We help brands (from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies) by managing their online marketing efforts, including content marketing and social media marketing. And the results have been incredible. If you like to receive a free custom proposal for your online marketing needs, click here.

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Kurt Noer

Kurt Noer is the CEO and founder of Customer Magnetism. Kurt has a passion to help other business owners grow their business.
  • Hey Kurt Noer, Nice to read. Branding is the process of shaping the identity of a company. People will pay attention to it and will remember it for the right reasons!