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Brand Control: The Next Stage for Digital

Social and Digital Marketing are two of the fastest growing, and arguably the most important, pieces of branding today.

According to eMarketer, 2017 digital marketing expenditures will account for 38.4% of total ad spending and are projected to be almost 45% by 2020. This is double what they were just a few years ago and growth doesn't seem to be slowing down.

While this exponential shift in marketing has allowed companies like Airbnb, Uber and Dollar Shave Club to disrupt traditional markets seemingly overnight, the high demand for paid digital marketing inventory has also come with ever-increasing cost and challenges to traditional brands.

Not only can digital ad spending often feel like throwing money into a black hole, but the industry is still looking for sufficient accountability and standard measurements. From Proctor and Gamble's CMO putting the industry on notice at IAB's annual conference to Google opening up YouTube and ad platforms for a measurement audit, the good news is that a strong desire to create a better experience exists from all sides — publishers, advertisers and agencies.

This pursuit of a better experience is more important than ever, as brands and small businesses continue to encounter expensive obstacles (such as competition for their own keywords in search) and learning curves (with new channels such as programmatic native). Additionally, there is limited analytical data on the navigation of customers inside walled gardens such as Facebook and Instagram, which create a blind side of marketing that is hard to quantify and difficult to plan for.

Positive change will happen, but it will take time, and for many brands these measurement standards are not the only problem.

The Shift to Branded Property and Enhanced User Experience

As the internet grows, so does the responsibility of brand managers to keep control of their brand online. For some brands, this means investing heavily to own all of their digital landscape. For others, it's a focus on optimizing the user experience. Some will do both.

The signs of this shift are subtle for the moment, but are starting to show everywhere. For example:

  • Amazon recently announced the launch of a new video conferencing and work collaboration service on one of their branded extensions, Chime.aws.
  • Brands are opting to revert back to advertising their own URLs instead of hashtags or social handles. Marketing Land reported that hashtag usage in Super Bowl ads for Super Bowl LI dropped by almost 50% from just three years ago.
  • Over 400 brands now have delegated branded domain name extensions, such as Nike (.nike), Adidas (.adidas) and BMW (.bmw).
  • Barclays and Canon have (presumably) already invested millions to rebrand from .com.
  • Branded URL shorteners are showing higher ROI data than traditional third-party URLs.

Brands who realize the greatest future ROIs may be those that focus on branding every piece of their digital footprint and further focus on stronger user engagement measures, like the…

...Bounce-Back Rate (BBR)

The BBR is the percentage of people who visit your site, cannot find what they need, leave your site, go back to Google, search again and come back to your site.

Similarly, what percentage of your customers saw your recent TV commercial but thought that using Google was the best way to connect with the promotion or product you've just spent millions of dollars telling them about?

This is not a real measurement, nor is it likely trackable, but it should be something every brand considers. It's very different than the one-way bounce rate, and much more important.

It's also quite ironic, really. Brands spend money on people who manage search ads. They, in turn, spend money on search publishers, who then monetize search space for partners. Much of the entire digital marketing ecosystem comes down to search ads. Yet many brands never engage the power of site search to keep customers once they arrive.

Somewhere along the way, many brands forgot about enhancing their own user experience. Again, it's the ultimate irony: Brands spend millions on placing in search results every month, but often pay no attention to the search results on their own site.

Unfortunately, for many brands, job security and compensation are often based primarily on ROI performance for ads, and ad managers often fall into comfort zones simply measuring ad spend and sales. Website and UI development are often another department's responsibility. And therein lays the challenge. Somewhere along the way, many brands simply forgot about enhancing their own user experience.

A user's experience is often the single most successful path to profit.

Google and Amazon have dedicated teams building search, yet many brands place the responsibility of site search with IT. They couldn't be more wrong.

In fact, it's so obvious that it's painful at times.

For Example, a visit to the Barclay's home page will see the company has shifted to a branded .barclays domain name extension for a fully branded experience. A move which not only provides Barclay's much more brand control for marketing, but also for delegation of new domains and reducing the need for aftermarket domain name acquisitions.

However, the user experience needs work. For consumers who use the search box to search for "credit cards", outdated press releases from 2010 comprise the Top 3 results. No top result suggests applying for a credit card or even helps you understand what card options are available.

How about suggestions for related products?


What will a customer do?

Many will go back to Google and search for credit cards, giving an opportunity for many competitors to grab their attention.

And Barclays is not the only one.

Let's try another key brand: General Motors.

A visit to GM.com is hopeful, but as soon as you start typing, you'll notice there is no suggestive search and you now have to think about what you're looking for. Say that you (finally) figure that out and want to search for "GMC Terrain" — the actual search results are reminiscent of a 1940's classified newspaper listing (not to mention the first two results are duplicates).

Viewing search results on many brand websites is almost like opening a version of the Yellow Pages — except before the Yellow Pages were yellow and before they were alphabetical and in groups. In fact, it's nothing like the Yellow Pages. The Yellow Pages seems like a futuristic space rocket compared to the way many brands treat their own site search.

Some brands do get it.

Home Depot and Lowes, for example, are incredibly refreshing sites to visit. They not only include suggested search (which should be mandatory for any consumer brand at this point), but also incorporate images into the results.

We not only live in a one-click world, but also in a world where people share things that look nice. And people leave sites when they can't find something, or go back to Google and search — giving your competitors a second chance to snag that customer you just spent money on.

Think about this again:

Brands spend millions to attract consumers. But then, when the consumer lands on the brand's page and cannot find quick answers to their questions, they literally leave the brand's site, go back to Google and are shown competitor's ads again. This is after you paid for the click, and already had them on your site. Can this Bounce-Back Rate (BBR) be measured?

Yep. That's how many brands operate today.

In fact, it gets even more obvious when you think about it.

How many of your own employees use Google to find stuff on your company site? Imagine how customers feel?

The future of branding may be branded extensions, however, if anyone is interested in ROI it might just be worth securing a team who understands the user experience before diving in.

By Alan Dunn, Managing Director

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Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet


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