Can online media build a brand?

I decided to report here, for my and your records, slices of the thread that has followed my post on LinkedIn about online media being overrated as a brand building channel. Contributions include Les Binet and Dr. Koen Pauwels, among others.

Les Binet, Adam&EveDDB

Online media can be used for brand building, and there are some very strong brands such as Google, Amazon and Uber that were initially built primarily through online media. Rather, I think it’s fairer to say that a) the brand building potential of online has not always been well understood or well used, and b) for most brands, online media are not enough on their own.

Part of the problem is not the online media themselves, but how they are evaluated. Les Binet believes that it is the focus on short term metrics (eg clicks) that has led to short-termism, rather than the media themselves. Short-termism in turn discourages brand building. This problem is not unique to online media – you see it in offline marketing whenever the focus is on direct response metrics.

Another part of the problem is how the media are used. Social media marketing does not have to focus on “fans”. You can buy ads on Facebook that talk to a much wider audience, and use frequency capping to build reach. We at adam&eveDDB have successfully used this to sell mass market products.

But big brands often find that they reach a point when online media are not enough. That’s why Amazon now spend £75m a year on TV ads in the UK alone.

In the end, the smart approach is not either online or offline, it’s both online and offline. That’s how we work for John Lewis, for instance. TV is the main brand builder for JL, but online video plays an important role in brand building too. Together they give a profit ROI of over 10:1.

But which platform (or combination of platforms) can offer a place where 1) brands can find a proper distribution of category buyers to sustain growth – and I’m mainly referring to Prof. Sharp’s study about FB’s reverse distribution – and 2) buyers can consume emotional content in a proper format? The answer will vary from brand to brand, and will change as a brand grows. And there’s no single platform that’s right. If I was running a small online business, I probably wouldn’t start with TV advertising! But if I had grown it into a billion dollar business, I might be mad not to add TV into the mix. I do actually run a small business. Main advertising media are books, articles and social media posts.

Dr. Koen Pauwels, Northeastern University

The published version of the MSI summary you mentioned indeed states ‘within-online synergy is higher than online–offline synergy for both familiar brands but not for both unfamiliar brands. Managers of unfamiliar brands may obtain substantial synergy from offline marketing spending, even though its direct elasticity pales in comparison with that of online media while managers of familiar brands can generate more synergy by investing in different online media.’

The studied brand ‘B’ for ‘unfamiliar brand in a service category’ is B2B, an office furniture seller. We find strong cross-media synergy, to the extent that the optimal allocation changes from 91% online/9% offline spending (without accounting for synergy) to 44% online/ 56% offline spending with accounting for synergy.

Question: while social media fans indeed not represent a brand’s consumer base, and especially not its light buyers, how about retail platforms such as Amazon? They are both online AND have a lot of light buyers for a given product, don’t they? Amazon might represent a good medium in term of buyer distribution. Yet, is it the right place for emotional advertising? It depends on the ad format: Sponsored Brand Stores offer the opportunity to showcase your brand and stir emotions

Michael Follet, Lumen Research

I think it’s perfectly possible to build brands on line, but you have to remember the attention levels that ads on different platforms generate. Research from Yan Liu at TVision suggests that your average 30” TV ad gets around 14” of actual, eyes-on Attention; our data at Lumen suggests that the average 15” YouTube ad will get 7-9” of attention on desktop and 3-4” on mobile; whereas a video ad in Facebook will get 1-2”.

What this suggests to me is that there are different ‘shapes of Attention’. Some media, like TV, cinema and desktop YouTube are good for telling stories; other media, like most print ads, OOH, mobile YouTube and pretty much all of Facebook, are good to act a reminders and building salience. Both ‘shapes’ are useful in brand building – but only if the message is isomorphic with the media.

Rupen Shah, Thinkbox

From research conducted by us at Thinkbox, we’ve seen that for smaller brands, the benefits of “demand harvesting” channels like PPC and affiliates are greater during early phases of growth, however for growing businesses to move to the next level of growth when saturation occurs and diminishing returns start to kick in, “demand generating” channels like TV and OOH deliver cost effective scale and reach, bringing greater potential for growth. Have a look at our slides on this specific research here.

Furthermore, from our “Demand Generation” research, we know that most channels boost the efficiency of others, but the scale and consistency of the effect differs significantly – you can find this slide here.

Shane O’Leary, Accenture

The idea that ‘online media fails with brand building because of their inner nature’ is just wrong.

Point 1 – The *way* we’ve used online media has contributed to short termism. But just because it’s used for performance doesn’t mean it can’t be used for brand as Les has said above. There are plenty of useful digital vehicles for brand building.

Point 2 – Facebook fans tend to be heavy buyers and loyalists of a brand, so pretty useless for brand growth. But paid social, digital video, YouTube etc can offer huge cheap reach and be an effective way to drive penetration (in tandem with other media).

Not sure what point 3 is about to be honest, I’m unfamiliar with the research. The idea that online media can’t build reputation is clearly a misnomer though. To summarise, what you’re saying is that the way brands are using digital isn’t optimum for building a brand. But clearly with the right approach (broad reach in higher quality channels, particularly video, used in tandem with other media).

I could just as easily say that online video for example is hugely powerful and delivers mass reach. Fan distribution on Facebook is a complete moot point by the way. No smart brand relies on organic social and will be supporting every piece of content with paid to reach a wide audience. In fact that’s what Facebook itself recommends.

The LinkedIn post can be found here.

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