Go back 20 years and ask a marketer how they monitored the impact of their work, and you’d likely hear about customer surveys and Mintel reports and all the things that tell you how ‘well known’ a brand is – but not necessarily what that awareness is doing to your bottom line.

Skip forward to 2018 and we’ve got more marketing data than we could ever have hoped for. And, as a proudly data-driven agency, we make use of that data to inform all of our marketing decisions, which itself leads to more effective campaigns and much stronger ROIs.

But as the SERPs continue to change and the potential value of a position 1 ranking evolves amidst new SERP features and technologies, the marketing community as a whole is starting to reconsider those metrics which might – rightly or not – have become devalued in the digital world.

So how can you, as a strategic marketer, ensure your monitoring everything you should be, and that you’re using that to inform more effective decisions?

What do we mean by ‘brand’?

The traditional measure of a ‘brand’ is two-fold:

  • Awareness
  • Demand

If we consider how this looks in terms of the conversion funnel, those with a traditional marketing background will recognise the framework below:

conversion funnel impression

Here, we see how the ‘funnel’ is originally fed by ‘awareness’ (where we make as many people as possible aware of our brand) and the final step before conversion (i.e. buying our product or enquiring about our service) is ‘desire’ (where we make people want what we have). Typically, marketers would look at the power of their brand to grow awareness and inspire action as their core measures of value.

This was measured, then, in two main ways:

  1. Awareness: this usually involved surveys, where participants were asked to identify brands they were aware of from a list, list brands they’re aware of in a particular category, or identify a brand based on its logo
  2. Desire: this usually involved looking at conversion rate impact following a campaign – so if a leaflet drop had been done, you’d want to see improved conversion rates if the brand had been positioned well

Extending beyond ‘brand’

The evolution of this approach came in response to the questionable premise upon which brand marketing was built, this being the idea that:

‘no one can buy from you if they don’t know you exist’

Of course, in today’s digital world, it’s easy to see how this is inherently untrue. The whole basis of organic search is that you can rank for a wide array of keywords which represent your brand’s offering and, providing you rank well, stand a decent chance of attracting those sales.

Let’s consider the Impression brand as an example of this. When we first started out, there was a period where word of mouth was the primary driver of our growth – which is closely tied to the idea of ‘brand awareness’. Our ‘brand’ was strong amongst that relatively small pool of prospects that heard of us as a recommendation from a trusted source, but beyond that, no one knew who we were or considered us as a supplier of their marketing or web services.

Our subsequent growth therefore had to come from non-brand campaigns. Investing in our own website, for example, meant communicating all of the services we can offer to prospects and optimising those pages to rank for relevant terms. The combination of technical excellence, quality content and a growing backlink profile meant our brand moved to the top of the SERPs for some of the less-competitive terms like “SEO Nottingham”, “PPC Nottingham” and so on.

As a starting point, those businesses just setting out on their digital journey will almost certainly be tapping into the less competitive, long tail style queries and achieving good visibility regardless of brand.

Modern marketing and the power of brand equity

As a business grows, though, so too does the need to invest more into that brand equity building that has recently been reserved for the more traditional marketers amongst us. Essentially, we need to take what is a linear visualisation of brand at one end and keywords at the other, and bend it round to create a circle where each thing both informs and supports the other.

If we take the Impression example again, we can see this in practice. While our rankings for less competitive terms were strong and were absolutely essential in our growth (enabling us to attract new clients and build our portfolio), we were never going to reach the big leagues without investing in our brand again. That’s where activity like awards, events, public speaking, growing our blog, networking, documentation, design and so on come into play.

Today, we know our brand is strong because we can quantifiably measure:

  • Search rankings for much more competitive terms (e.g. “SEO agency” and “PPC agency”)
  • The breadth of our lead sources – where there are times where our website is the last thing people see as they actually hear of our brand through other sources, such as our awards
  • Our conversion rate – we convert at a very high rate on the back of our ‘proof points’ like awards and testimonials

There are a couple of other less quantifiable metrics, that also show the strength of brand, such as the brands we come up against – it’s very rare these days that we come up against smaller local agencies in pitches, and far more common to be pitching against well known, well established, massive players on our field. We can also look at what Google suggests as alternatives to searches for “impression digital” and see how well it now understands our brand and sees its semantic relevance to other key terms:

impression google suggest

There’s been a lot of talk about brand equity at events in our industry this year, too. Take, for example, the talk that Rand Fishkin (founder of Moz and now of Sparktoro) gave, exploring the potential power of brand (here on the Distilled U site or slides only here).

In this talk, Rand shares the famous example from Etsy where, in spite of plummeting rankings for their core products, the business was thriving on the back of growing brand search, driven by the investment the company had made in its brand and positioning it against its rivals like Amazon and eBay. The value of their brand was so much that they were able to continue to grow even when other factors were decimating their keyword visibility.

Making your brand the search result of choice

Savvy marketers will recognise that neither a brand nor a keyword approach alone will produce the best results. In fact, it’s only when we use a combination of the two that we can see real impact (which is why we so often work alongside in-house marketing teams and brand departments when setting our marketing or web strategies).

This boils down in my mind to one core ambition: to make ours the search result of choice. And so often, that comes down to brand.

Let’s say you’ve performed a search for something like ‘red shoes’. You see a list of results that includes:

  • A well known brand like Clarks, which has been around forever and has strong connotations of quality and tradition
  • A new brand you’ve never heard of but which sounds pretty cool and which has a compelling CTA
  • A website like Amazon where you know you’ll get lots of choice but have no real affinity to a specific product yet

I’d argue that, regardless of ranking position (these are all top 3 for this example, let’s say), the choice the user makes is based on so much more than just where on the page your result sits. It’s actually based in great part of the value of your brand.

Using the example above, let’s say I’m looking for red shoes and I’m a mum who needs those shoes for my child to wear to school. I want the shoes to last, I want the quality to be the best it can be and actually, I’m not afraid to spend a little more to get that. Now, given the work Clarks have done on their brand over the years, it’s likely, I’d say, that I’d choose that option from the three above, given my circumstances and aspirations.

Now, consider I’m searching for red shoes but I’m maybe a younger demographic and I’m much more driven by finding something a bit different to my friends, perhaps uncovering a new brand. Now let’s say option 2 in that list above has a really compelling message about how their brand is new and different and unique… even though I’ve never heard of them before, I’d say the chances are I’d be willing to take a punt and click on them based on that brand messaging alone.

It’s something I’ve been discussing with a client of mine recently. They are a manufacturer of a number of home improvement products and as well as selling direct, they also have a network of dealers who sell their product, too. The fact is that the dealer’s sites will be targeting very similar keywords to the main brand, especially for core product terms, so they’re definitely going to be competing in that sense.

With that said, the strategy we have discussed is around how to differentiate those brands – and, in fact, they’ve been doing a lot of work in-house around their core brand values and messaging. Using this, one of the first things we’ll be doing is testing title tags and meta descriptions (those elements most prominent in the SERPs) to see how changes affect CTRs and the quality of leads, too. We’ll be looking at conversion rates as a core metric, and brand cannibalisation as a second – i.e. the propensity of their audience to enquire with multiple of our brands. In this sense, we’ll be taking the early steps toward a very brand-centric SEO strategy.

Takeaways for modern marketers

When it comes to marketing your business online, there’s really no substitute for a fully integrated approach that takes keywords and brand into account. We need to invest in the full spectrum and make each element of that strategy quantifiable as a result. That means recognising not just the value of ranking for certain terms, but also of driving stronger CTRs and conversion rates through the power of our brand.

In practical terms, here are some things you can be doing to build your brand equity now:

  1. Review your website. Does it represent your brand as well as it could? (Teaser: we’re going through a bit of a rebrand now, and will be sharing the step by step journey of that soon…).
  2. Invest in an awesome blog to showcase your brand expertise and differentiate from your competition.
  3. Consider how PPC can aid brand awareness. If we can use PPC to align our own brand with other well respected brands in our industry, we have the potential to improve brand awareness and impact our wider marketing activity as a result.
  4. Review your title tags and meta descriptions. How compelling is your search result compared to those around it? Measure with CTRs from Search Console too.
  5. Recognise the circles in which your brand moves. In terms of the keywords for which you rank, who else is occupying that space and is that representative of how you want to be known? (Note: we love STAT for its Competitive Landscape feature to show us this).
  6. Start measuring branded searches – are these increasing overtime in line with your marketing efforts?
  7. Consider how an investment in digital PR can aid brand power – a strong digital PR strategy will produce not just links, but help build your brand and create awareness in key areas, too.

And if you’d like any help, let us know! Get in touch, or check out some of the services that can help you build your brand here:

  • Website Services: Our expert team includes user-experience architects, designs and top-class developers to build a web experience that benefits your brand and its users.
  • Strategy Services: Let our multi-award winning team of marketers guide your strategy and help you find the best route to brand success.
  • Marketing Services: Find out more about our range of strategic, data-driven marketing services, including SEO, PPC and digital PR.

Are you investing in your brand? Let me know how in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Laura Hampton

Head of Marketing & PR

Head of Marketing at @impressiontalk specialising in user-centred SEO, PR, content marketing and digital strategy. In my spare time, I jump out of planes.

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