I was asked to provide a 2nd opinion regarding the digital brand strategy of a well-known global brand (which made it into the BrandFinance Top 100). This organization had a 3rd party run a rebranding campaign running on tv, radio, billboards, and online media. The agency had a solid reputation, and they crafted compelling ads with the help of a respected national celebrity. They had extensive tracking in place, with a large variety of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

However, despite the significant ad spend, they didn’t see any substantial increase in demand, leads, or website interaction. All that money they pumped into both on- and offline advertising didn’t seem to yield brand uplift or business results.

What had gone wrong? In this article we’ll look at the following details:

Digital Brand Strategy: A Case Study

  1. Results from the traditional and digital brand strategy
  2. What caused this brand strategy to fail?
  3. Why traditional brand strategies don’t work online
  4. Signs of a bad digital brand strategy
  5. Effective media for digital branding
  6. Recap: brand strategies have evolved


Results from the traditional and digital brand strategy

Delving into the big data from three bi-monthly flights, two very important facts emerged:

  1. Brand uplift was temporary
  2. The majority of ad impressions was wasted

It turned out that brand recognition rose sharply during the branding campaign, but DROPPED SIGNIFICANTLY BETWEEN FLIGHTS. As soon as the campaign stopped, many people forgot about the brand and the campaign lost its impact. This is caused by advertising saturation: people see so many ads every day, that they only tend to remember ads that are relevant to them. In short, the impact of the branding campaigns didn’t last.

“Brand recognition rose sharply during the branding campaign, but dropped significantly as soon as the branding campaign was paused.”

Although advertising saturation occurred both for offline- and online ads, their online brand advertising campaign also had another problem:

The branding campaigns yielded a very high amount of impressions, as the agency was buying ad impressions at a very low CPM (Cost-Per-Million impressions). They agency reported that judging by impressions and the number of citizens, everyone in the country saw the ad 8 times a day. However, an analysis showed that - although true - this statement was misleading.

Due to the low CPM, the vast majority of the advertisements were shown on bad placements, such as:

  • Beneath the fold (invisible without scrolling)
  • On websites for kids (definitely not a target group)
  • On pages with generic or even criminal content (import brides, Torrent sites, etc.)
  • On annoying pop-ups and pop-unders
  • On gaming and gambling websites
  • In between the buttons within apps

Clearly, the ads lacked prime visibility, were shown to the wrong target group or were even shown in places where it would hurt the brand rather than help it.

What caused this digital brand strategy to fail?

There were several reasons for the rebranding strategy to fail:

  • Wrong KPIs: the campaign was aimed at low-quality KPIS that did not attribute to business goals (in this case: cheap impressions);
  • Wrong audience: in digital marketing, demographics are usually far less important than intent and relevance. In the world of digital marketing there are only very few scenarios where it makes sense to focus on demographics;
  • Low-quality thresholds: the campaign met the quality criteria that were agreed upon by the agency, but they were meaningless as they were much too low (for example, the target minimum click rate was 0.02%).

Unfortunately, I see such failed brand promotion campaigns quite often. It’s a direct result of offline branding tactics applied in the field of offline marketing.

Why traditional brand strategies don’t work online

The underlying problem is that many traditional brand consultants and agencies don’t see the elephant in the room. Quite often brand managers don’t realize that their campaigns are failing, as they look at the wrong numbers.

Their online branding strategy isn’t questioned, as it is the same as they’ve been doing for decades. Instead of fixing their brand promotion campaigns, they go back to the drawing board and revisit their messaging and design. It’s what they’re used to doing.

Instead, brand marketers need to realize that the internet allows brand marketers to measure (and report on) a lot of metrics that are not available in offline marketing. The advertisers that can channel this valuable information can sculpt their audience and deliver a much more powerful message to potential customers.

Online media (such as SEM, display advertising, and especially remarketing/retargeting) are extremely cost-effective branding media, because of their advanced opportunities to sculpt and target a qualified audience.

Signs of a bad digital brand strategy

How can you tell that a digital brand strategy might not be as effective as it could be? Here are some tell-tale signs:

A brand strategy is set up to fail when…

  • Campaigns focus on impressions, low CPM, or other high-level KPIs
  • Audience targeting sacrifices relevancy over reach
  • The brand is changed without just cause (not based on proper research using user personas or focus groups)
  • There is no business case provided
  • Brand promotion focuses on offline media only

Recommended reading: Brand Advertising: Are You Wasting Your Money?

These reasons for brand strategy failures are explained below:


1. The campaign’s aim is to generate a lot of impressions

Low CPM means that you’re aiming for impressions with the lowest quality. It also means that your ads will be seen on places that are avoided by other advertisers. Expect the ads to be seen at the bottom of pages, around questionable content, and on annoying pop-ups or pop-unders. You probably don’t want your brand to be associated with such negative content, or to pay for ad space that few people actually see. If your competitors optimize their campaigns, but you don’t, chances are you’ll be left with the scraps.


2. Relevancy is sacrificed over reach

Chances are that your products or services are not suitable for everyone. Most people don’t need a bankruptcy trustee, insomnia medication, or divorce lawyer, and you won’t be able to convince them to buy your services – no matter how many ads these people see.

Note: an exception to the rule are products or services that are enjoyed by a large part of the population, such as FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods). That is why enterprises such as Proctor & Gamble or Unilever can afford to focus on very generic advertising, as they promote products among a very large and broad target audience, and can generate their own demand.

Other examples of product categories that thrive on generic, low CPM advertising are: affordable fashion, mobile phones, food, travel and seasonal products.


3. There is no justified cause for rebranding

A corporate rebrand can be a very effective strategy, but usually requires a large amount of effort and investments. Some organizations rebrand themselves because they remained unchanged for a number of years, and were advised top ‘update their brand’. Although a brand refresh can be a very valid and powerful strategy, rebranding just for the purpose of change can be a big waste of money and even diminish the brand as a whole.

Ensure that there is a valid reason for rebranding, for instance after changing your product line, services, target audience of your brand was tarnished (the reason why Andersen Consulting rebranded to Accenture). Test your new brand ideas properly with focus groups and get enough data to be sure.


4. The branding strategy lacks a business case

As any marketing effort, a brand strategy should have a proper business case. What is the main goal? What will be the desired effect? How can that effect be achieved and measured? Any strategy or campaign without a business case - even a rudimentary one - should be re-investigated so the desired effect is clear and probable impact and results will be in line with expected business results.


5. The branding campaigns lack a conversion attribution model

Any marketing activity – including traditional and digital branding strategies - should have a KPI and some sort of conversion tracking. These can be very generic or highly sophisticated but should tie in with how the rebranding campaign strengthens the organization.

Examples of branding KPIs to measure the effect of your brand strategy are:

  • Uplift in online brand demand (e.g. from SEM, SEO and direct traffic)
  • Visibility among target audience (based on GRP)
  • Audience shift in new website traffic (e.g. based on interest, behavior or demographics)
  • Conversion rates of branded traffic
  • Interaction with an app or website
  • Non-bounce rate

KPIs that your branding strategy should avoid are:

  • Impressions
  • CPM (Cost-Per-Million impressions)
  • CPC (Cost-Per-Click)
  • Any KPI that focuses on a generic, non-target group audience

Tip: How to choose the right marketing KPI

Effective media for digital branding

Brand strategies are traditionally focused on offline marketing. Billboards, television and glossy magazines often are a great way to load a brand and increase brand recognition and demand. However, certain online marketing tactics have proven to be extremely efficient in branding:

  • Remarketing greatly increases brand exposure among a qualified audience, for a fraction of the cost (Tip: 10 Remarketing Strategies)
  • Search engine advertising (SEM) is an important component of any brand protection strategy, as well as providing cross- and upsells
  • Affiliate marketing can greatly increase the reach of brand advertising, while only having to pay for results.
  • Programmatic advertising can be extremely well targeted, including elements of behavioral targeting, content, intent, and previous brand experiences.

Recap: Brand Strategies Have Evolved

Effective branding strategies have evolved substantially in recent years, as traditional branding campaigns based on demographics and offline media alone are usually very inefficient. Make sure that your branding strategy focuses on KPIs that relate to business success, that these KPIs are properly tracked, and that you target a qualified audience, based on a combination of intent, interest, behavior, and demographics.

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