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Considering the volumes that have been written on the subject, you have to come to the conclusion that branding and the World Wide Web go hand in hand. Of course, there are still some die-hard offline marketers who believe that the Web is useless for branding projects, but they seem to be very much in the minority. And if you spend a lot of your business time online, then you almost never hear from them.
In addition, if you know anything at all about the online culture and the online business world, then you have to know that branding is a must, required to be included on your short list of things to do to get your e-commerce venture up and running. The reason for this is pretty obvious. The Web is, just like its name implies, worldwide. There are millions upon millions of web sites. A lot of those web sites are businesses. The long and the short of it is that there are just too many of everything — too many businesses, products, practically identical commodities — to skip the chore of developing a distinctive company and personal brand.
So branding is a thing we all know we should execute. Few of us are experts in this area of marketing, but that’s okay. There’s a ton of information on the subject. Experts have written reports, books, newsletters and articles to give us all the how-to information we may need. We have masses of branding “secrets”, strategies, tips and tools around, for every marketing style from the traditional to the guerilla.
Among all that information on branding, there is one bit of information that is — curiously, I think — missing. None of the experts imparts ways to discover if your branding campaign is getting results – to measure brand performance. As a matter of fact, one expert told me that there is no way to find out what your brand reputation is if you are the owner of a business. You have to hire somebody to do that for you, he told me, because there is no way to be able to tell from the inside.
Of course, this guy — and I consider him to be one of my favorite business acquaintances, who would likely be my very good friend under other circumstances — is himself a branding consultant. It could be argued that it would not be in his best interests to tell people how to do what he charges hefty fees for. I’m not even maligning him by suggesting that he wouldn’t want to give away the whole enchilada among the branding information he provides to the rest of us. After all, he does himself out of work that way.
That’s one of the fallacies of the web, by the way. Because the original purpose of the Internet was for purposes of sharing ideas and information among academics and researchers, all the rest of us are supposed to be willing to give away everything we know how to do for free — even if that means we impart so much information that people don’t need our services anymore and our families starve. Those Internet purists are smart people but they have their blind spots.
But that’s another article, isn’t it?
But surely, if an online small business owner embarks on a brand marketing campaign, there must be some way to measure its effectiveness without having to hire consultants we can’t afford?
Of course there is, says Robin Fisher Roffer, author of Make A Name For Yourself. “The number one way to see whether your branding campaign is simple,” she says. “Are you getting more business?”
When you stop to think about it, that is one fairly good, accurate measurement of how your brand message is playing in Peoria. If you track your marketing efforts at all — and if you don’t, then you should — you’ll be able to see what sorts of placements and ploys are working.
While you are checking your web site statistics to see where your visitors are coming from, make sure you check which ads they are responding to as well. Look at where they go once they arrive at your site, if your stats package provides that kind of information. Tracking the path of visitors can let you deduce certain things about what they were looking for, which will in turn perhaps provide insights to what your brand message is conveying.
Of course, the essence of testing to see how your brand message is coming across to the general public is to ask people. Ask your friends. Ask your customers. Take a random sample from your mailing list, and ask them. If you belong to any business organizations outside your normal network, ask them if they’ve ever heard of you and if they know what you do.
Those are the two questions you have to ask people in order to assess the results of your branding campaign. You want to know if they are aware of the business and/or the name. And you want to find out if they are aware of what, exactly, you do. If a large enough percentage of your target market can answer those questions in a way that lets you know your message is getting across, you have acquired what is called brand equity.
As to how you put a numerical value to brand equity, that brings us back to the original idea: are you getting more business? “A brand should increase revenues versus the company’s peer group, or permit it to get higher fees than its peer group,” says Ray Sheeler, principal of Business Valuation Services. “If branding does any of these, than value can be quantified via the income and market approaches to valuation.”
If the number one way to tell whether your brand message is getting across is to see if you are getting more business, is it possible to successfully brand your business and still not be making any money? Yes, it is, says Ms. Roffer. “That goes back to branding. It’s about creating value in your expertise, value that goes beyond your name. You have to look at how people are treating you, how they respond to you.” In short, you have to make your business and yourself larger than they are in everyday life.
Of course, having brand recognition without the increase in revenues is of questionable value. “Xerox is a highly recognized brand,” Sheeler points out, “yet the firm may soon file bankruptcy as the firm is getting neither share nor margin nor cost savings.”
After a fashion, figuring out if your branding campaign is working is a little like the way you tried to figure out what your classmates in high school used to say about you when you weren’t there. But if you pay attention, you’ll be able to see people respond to the image you create. If you discover that your target market knows and understands your brand but isn’t beating a path to your door, then you know that some tweaking is in order.
The bottom line about branding is that it is a marketing task that is supposed to help the bottom line. If your brand isn’t pulling in larger revenues along with the recognition, perhaps you need to re-think your brand message and the way it tells your target market that they should — or should not — be buying from you.