Is Branding Dead?

Posted on March 14, 2008 by Tony Uphoff

Starting in 2003 we started to see the growth in spending of below the line marketing outpace above the line marketing. In basic terms think of below the line as direct marketing and above the line as branding and traditional advertising. Today direct marketing continues to grow while brand advertising is stagnant. There are many theories about why this is happening but most of them revolve around the impact and growth of the web.

Web 2.0 created a truly read/write web experience. This unleashed a whole series of new direct, conversational and metric based marketing capabilities. No need for brand awareness and impact studies as click through rates, lead conversion and direct feedback from customers on the web let you know immediately how your marketing was doing. The one to one marketing dynamic that web based technology provided created an enormous shift to outcome based marketing. By another more basic name lead generation. Nothing new about lead gen, but boy was the web providing powerful new avenues and applications to drive leads.

In the last few years this trend has driven some flavor of performance marketing to the forefront in virtually every marketing plan and shoved aside the “B” word. Branding has not only become less of a focus in some circles it’s became downright unpopular. So the question is in a web centric world is branding as we knew it dead? Has it become irrelevant? Or as one marketing VP said to me not long ago, “we’re not looking for brand awareness we’re looking for customers”. I’ve had several déjà vu all over again moments as marketers tell me about all of the phenomenal leads we generate, across all of our brands and platforms. They often pull out a spread sheet to show me the numbers and titles. The reality is though many marketers are managing to simple lead metrics not to conversion to revenue metrics. Nor are many really weighting any other factors other than an online engagement. In other words there isn’t any way to tell what other marketing factors may have driven the buyer to download information and register, becoming a lead.

Trends are always fascinating. Sometimes they thrill you; sometimes they make you want to crawl under your desk in a fetal position and sob. Well as my friends in venture capital like to say, “Make the trend your friend”. So where is this trend going? If what we are witnessing is a trend line we will see the continued and accelerating erosion of brand marketing in many business to business markets. On the other hand if what we are experiencing is a trend pendulum we may see a swing back to a more balanced approach.

My sense is that the Web has forever changed marketing and we’re not going back. It’s like the music business. The move from analog to digital has irrevocably changed music. The same is true in marketing. Does this mean brand is dead? No. Not any more than saying music is dead. But how to brand has changed radically. Today most marketers are really driving towards branded accountability. Bill Herr of Unica calls this Branded Response. The same fundaments of brand personality, awareness, relationship still matter. I would argue they matter more than ever but that’s another blog post. How you market a brand today is more direct, more conversational and more transparent however. The web has become the center piece for this type of marketing. At the same time media resarch shows that the ultimate brand/awarness-preference-sale continuum is best driven by integrated media. Buyers aren’t mono media in their information habits and never have been. There is a new center of gravity to be sure and it’s the web. That being said branded accountability today is driven by integrated marketing and the new web 2.0 tools and applications provide marketers with natural links for integration that provide powerful results. What are your thoughts? If you are a b2b marketer is it time to be thrilled or time to crawl underneath your desk and sob?,

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