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Branding through Paid Search?

Some advertisers, including some of our clients, have started to reallocate branding funds from offline marketing efforts to paid search. Why search? The Right Audience – unlike TV spots and print ads, in search you are marketing to folks who are actively looking for your products; you're advertising to the right people at the ideal time. Compare the quality of the audience to TV viewers who may or may not be interested in what you have, who may or may not be interested at the moment, and who may or may not be even in the room. Action Oriented Marketing – Once someone clicks on your paid search ad they end up at your site and – if you’ve taken the time to choose relevant landing pages – the path to conversion is considerably shorter than most offline channels. There is no need to get in the car and drive to the store or search for a customer service phone number to call or even to look for your web address. If the shopper is in the market for your product and is serious about buying - there are very few hurdles in the way. Interactive Advertising – The audience isn't simply reading, watching, or listing to your ad, they're on your website and get a true picture of what you sell and your unique selling proposition. Trackable results – Regardless of what your KPIs for this branding initiative are, interaction with your paid search links (clicks/leads/conversions) is easily tracked and reported upon. Even if your effort isn’t ROI centered, there is still value in know the exact number of visits to your site and the number of orders placed – many different metrics are able to be tracked in a simple and more accurate manner than offline branding efforts.
But is it cost effective as a branding vehicle?
This is an interesting question, and hinges on the answer to another question: in paid search, what constitutes a true marketing impression? Is it:
  1. Seeing a ~95 character text ad that users may or may not actually read, and may or may not even be visible above the fold? If so, the Cost per Thousand Impression might be: $5 - $50 CPM. In the same ball park with print ads, a bit less expensive than TV. Or,
  2. Visiting your site on landing page targeted to their search. If a real impression is actually getting to tour your website, then the costs look more daunting. A CPC of $0.50 translates to a $500 CPM. A $5 click yields a $5,000 CPM. Very targeted audience, high quality interaction, but not cheap.
The point is, depending on how you define what a paid search impression really is; your cost/impression may be viewed as high or low when compared to other channels.

Once you’ve decided that search is the right channel for you to spend these extra marketing dollars, how do your organize the effort? Here are a few pointers on how to get the most bang for your buck.

Choose high volume, relevant keywords – but don't choose the most general terms.  Talbots shouldn't go after "apparel", but maybe "classic apparel".  The keywords you pick should really define how you want your brand to be perceived. Be careful with match typesbroad match We see general terms with aggressive bids on broad being served in place of more targeted ads, resulting in overspending on those user searches, lower CTR and worse conversion rates because the landing page is ill targeted. For example the keyword "classic apparel" being served on a search for "pleated skirts". Refine your ad copy and landing pages – your ads are about to be seen a lot more frequently, make sure you're putting your best foot forward. Wade in slowly - Start by simply loosening your efficiency targets on a specific set of Keywords. You can loosen those targets more as you gain comfort with the branding value of the non-converting traffic and non-visit impressions. Monitor spend carefully - We don’t recommend bidding to position, but if you must for branding purposes be sure to watch your spend carefully. Fighting for the top spot can be ruinously expensive. It’s possible one of your competitors may want to be in a top position as well, and the only one who benefits from a bidding war is Google. Be sure to check phrase level spend daily. Use campaign budgets - In general practice, we believe campaign budgets are a bad idea; however they might turn out to be life savers -- or job savers -- when you launch a branding campaign. Put your branding terms in a separate campaign, away from the direct marketing stuff, and set the spend cap at what you want to spend. You'll want to adjust bids so that the cap isn't controlling the ad service, and that you're getting the best value for the spend available.

Brand advertising does not make sense for every advertiser; there's a reason you don't see LL Bean ads on TV. We hope these tips are helpful for those who want to try it. We'd love to get your feedback on paid search as a branding channel. Is it an ideal channel, or is it cost-prohibitive?
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