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Three Ways to Build Brand Awareness


With over a trillion pages indexed by Google the odds of your site getting found by the right prospect are astronomically stacked against you. If you’d like to increase those odds, stay tuned because today we’re going to explore the pros and cons of the different tactics you can use to get your brand found online. My objective is to help you achieve a more balanced approach so that you can develop a sustainable awareness-building program for your brand.


Imagine your perfect prospect sitting at home in front of her computer. She’s never heard of your brand. How is she going to find your website, how is she going to find your online store, your blog, your social media sites, or the online contest you’re hosting? Of course, if you knew who she was you could find her through outreach activities on social media or with email. But right now let’s focus on the inbound challenge of being found by prospects online.


I don’t think any online marketer needs to be convinced of the importance of building and maintaining awareness for their brand. But optimizing your web pages and waiting for Google to deliver prospects is only part of the answer. There is a lot more you could do to build brand awareness. But with so many ways to be found online the question becomes which one is best for your brand? Well, I’ve got good news on two counts. First, you don’t need to choose and second there are actually only three ways that prospects can find you online anyhow.  I’d like to look at the pros and cons of each to help you build a more effective and sustainable online awareness program for your brand.


The first way for prospects to find you online is through paid promotion. This means paying someone money to access their audience. Adwords is the most popular form of online paid promotion. With Adwords you pay Google to gain access to the 1.2 billion people who use their search engine each month. But there are many variations on this theme such as Facebook ads, LinkedIn post promotion, banner ads and native content. In all cases you’re paying a gatekeeper to gain access to a third party’s proprietary audience.


In the case of paid search, the key concepts are clickthrough rate and conversion rate. Clickthrough rate refers to the percentage of people who click on your link when it is served up in their search results. The average clickthrough rate for paid search is about 3 and a half percent. So for every 10 thousand people who are shown your link you can expect 350 visitors to your site.


Conversion rate refers to the percentage of those visitors who perform the desired action, that usually means buying something. The average conversion rate for paid search is around 5 percent. So from your 350 visitors you could expect to get 18 purchases.  How much Google charges per click depends on how many other people want to advertise with that word.  So although the average cost per click is about 40 cents, words that are highly sought after can cost over forty dollars per click. Which means your 18 buyers could cost you anywhere from 140 to 14,000 dollars or between 8 and 8,000 dollars per sale.


The biggest upside of paid promotion is that you get immediate results. And over time these results can become predictable. So you can calculate the anticipated return on your investment with regard to traffic and conversions with a fair degree of accuracy. Since everything about this investment is measurable it’s easy to show cause & effect and to explain the investment to superiors. Pay-per-click scheme also comes with a potent feel-good factor because in theory you only pay for results.


On the down side, the public trust factor in this type of exposure is low since it’s essentially the brand recommending itself, so visitors arriving through paid links may be more skeptical.  Paid promotion can also be expensive if it’s your sole means of driving traffic and conversion. Especially as competition for your desired keyword increases. Budget allocated to paid promotion often displaces investment in developing the brand’s website in ways that would attract organic awareness and traffic. And as the website becomes less able to attract visitors on its own, brands can find themselves completely dependent on paid promotion to maintain their sales.


The second way to get found online is through organic search.  For many people, the web is the first stop for solving problems, answering questions, and making purchases. And in each of those scenarios, a search engine like Google is likely to be their gateway. The word “Organic” refers to showing up prominently in search results without paying the search company for the privilege. Pages that rank well in organic search earn placement on the merits of their content and how relevant it is.


The biggest factor in the success of this approach is the value of the content you create for your target audience. A close second is how well the content has been optimized for search.  You’ll need both these to get on page one of Google search results which is the only page that matters since about 95% of searchers never make it to page two. But just because you rank well doesn’t mean the prospect will click through. They still need to find your entry interesting enough to click on. On average though being ranked #1 will give you a click though rate of 18%, #2 averages 10% and #3 provides 7%. Once you drop below the middle of the page you’re down in the 1% range.  With regard to paid search it’s interesting to note that on average, people who use search engines will click on organic search results 90% of the time and only 10% of the time will they click on an ad. Yet if you look at search engine marketing spend, 90% of the budget is spent on paid search with only 10% invested in bolstering the brands organic results.


The upside of organic search is that after the initial investment of creating and optimizing the content, it continues to deliver traffic indefinitely at no additional cost. Just as important, content that is well optimized can attract and build an online following who share content and will return for more. Good content can also help position and differentiate the brand while building interest and trust. And while product information may be used to attract people who are actively shopping, other types of content can be used to preempt the buying process altogether and establish relationships with prospects even before they are in buying mode. And finally, since organic results are earned, people tend to trust them more than paid results.


On the down side, the quality standard for content keeps escalating and with it the cost of producing premium content. And even with a good strategy, it still takes time to gain search rank and attract an audience. So the effect is more cumulative than immediate.


The third way to get found online is through organic third party mentions. If there is a Holy Grail of online marketing, “going viral” is it, and that’s driven by third party mentions. This can be a like, a share, a recommendation, a tweet, a blog post or a review as long as it’s third party mentions that you didn’t pay for. Now, there are many things brands can do to encourage online mentions, such as posting content that fits the sharing profile of their audience, rewarding shares with recognition or requiring shares as part of an online contest. Mentions can also be arranged in the form of cooperation with other brands. Two non-competing brands that serve the same target audience, like a peanut butter brand and a grape jelly brand, can join forces to provide exposure and access to each other’s audience. In any case, third party mentions typically are made by people or brands who do not charge for exposure to their audience, but benefit in some other way. This precludes the need to pay a gatekeeper.


The advantage of third party mentions comes in terms of trust. People trust recommendations from people they trust more than any other factor.  If you recall our brand equity cycle, a paid search result may get your prospect from inertia to awareness. But the right mention can bring a prospect from inertia to awareness, understanding, interest and all the way up to trust with one tweet. That’s extremely efficient and powerful. Also, since peers tend to share similar needs and product preferences compared to the general public, mentions deliver the message to an audience that is already pre-qualified.


On the downside, mentions can be negative as well as positive. This risk should be mitigated with an active monitoring and rapid response program. Compared to tactics like online advertising, results are less predictable. Over time, however, you should be able to identify predictable patterns of mentions and encourage them. The bar continues to be raised in terms of what is remarkable enough to warrant mention. This means devoting greater creativity and/or cash to make a splash.


Marketers often have a tendency to favor one of these three approaches over the others. You have probably run across one or two such people like the AdWords addict, the Facebook fanatic, the content king, or his crazy cousin the SEO zealot. They tend to focus a disproportionate amount of their attention on one area at the expense of the other two. I think this is a mistake. We’ve found they’re the most useful when used in combination.


So find the right balance for your brand. We’ve found that allocating time and budget to all three, in proportion to your marketing goals, works best to drive awareness over time. However, there is no golden ratio that I know of. How you use these tactics to build your brand’s awareness online will depend on your specific situation and objectives. The only rule of thumb we do have, is that we never want to wind up in the position where we are dependent on paid promotion, like AdWords, to drive traffic online. Over time, we believe paid promotion should support brand awareness efforts but not drive them. Of course there are exceptions, most notably sites looking for high-volume, one-off transactions. But in the majority of cases, over-dependence on paid awareness and traffic can mask deeper problems with the brand that hinder organic or earned traffic.


So to sum up, there are only three ways that new prospects are going to find you online: paid search, organic search and third party mentions.


For sure, each of the three brand awareness tactics has its strengths for particular marketing purposes. But are any one of these tactics any better or worse than another? Like your heart, lungs, and spleen they all serve different purposes and all are important to overall health. So as you create your brand awareness development plan, consider using tactics from all three families to forge your brand’s fame in proportion with your budget and marketing objectives.


That’s it for now. And remember: use it or lose it. If you don’t put this to work within 48 hours, it will self destruct.

Good luck.

Like this post? You'll find more marketing insights in my new book: International Brand Strategy: A guide to achieving global brand growth, now available from booksellers globally. Order your copy here.