Only Fools Trust Their Brand Building To The Web Alone

Since the arrival of the “dot coms,” there’s been turbulence about the efficacy of the tried and true tenants of BtoB marketing communications. Some would have us think the old ways are dead. Without doubt, the web has changed the landscape but it is far from all things to all people. While it is another strong arrow in the Marcom quiver, it’s an arrow that can only fly so far and only so high. To build a national brand it takes some core elements in an integrated Marcom plan. If those elements are all “web centric” in nature, you’ll be leaving a lot on the table and likely missing the boat entirely. As unpopular as it may seem today, traditional elements of advertising and public relations must be key ingredients in any successful national brand planning.

Setting the brand message itself aside for a moment, the issue is really one of media and reach. The web is a directional media (somewhat like a directory), one goes to it with a specific intention or product/brand in mind, there is little or no serendipity on the web. Certainly, there is search and billions will be invested in controlling search but that is fairly far down the line of actions that a prospect must take before engaging a brand, your brand. Optimization has become so important as of late because the search action is so exhaustive for the prospect in the first place.

Primary media such as print and advertising, television, radio and direct mail come to the prospect or are serendipitously placed in front of the prospect with little action required on the prospects’ part. This is an often overlooked concept but nonetheless an essential one in the selection of media for national brand Marcom planning. Gardner Publications recently did some research that showed 58% of all new BtoB prospects engaged the company brand first through print advertising.

The brand strategists must lay it out there for the audience in primary media like print, broadcast and direct mail. Great brands weren’t built on support media like billboards, transit advertising, postcards, ad specialties and other tactical media. The long-standing stalwart has been advertising, and with good reason. The brand must present a brand message, a USP or point of difference in order to register with the audience and penetrate. This is best accomplished in traditional advertising media. It usually takes several words to get the point across because the best of all brand messages position, differentiate and persuade all at once. A brand name alone is not a message. It’s the fool who spends his budget on awareness with no message.

We all are aware of countless brand names that we’ll never purchase or never recommend. The fact is that while persuasive selling propositions can’t be stuffed into a web banner nor can they be pieced back together by combining disparate comments in chat rooms. The human mind needs to comprehend these brand messages in well constructed parcels where the brand name, the message and appropriate visuals all appear together on a repeated basis. Yes, it can vary and there can be longer and shorter versions but it needs the momentum of primary media so that supportive media can finish and round out the job. To date, no major company has launched, nurtured and grown a major brand through the web alone. Yet, budgets are turning up web top heavy all the time. While web usage numbers keep escalating toward 80%, foolish advertisers seem lured away from the boring choices of traditional media. It’s the siren call of what’s new. This is not to say that the web is without promise, far from it.

There’s much more to learn about the web and other new forms before they are crafted properly into well rounded integrated Marcom planning. For instance, it’s an urban myth that it’s difficult to read long text on the web. Traditional print mediums seem to hold the edge here. To date, this myth has not been researched but it is merely one of the many areas where we need to learn more about the web. It is not enough to decry the influence of the web alone. When the “dot coms” ran all those useless TV spots on the Superbowl a few years back at million dollar price tags for one spot, we knew that the younger advertising generation was petulant and foolish. What is really required and helpful to learn is that there is no easy way to shortcut the system of brand building. Companies like FedEx with its tagline “When it absolutely, positively has to get there,” Avis with its memorable “We try harder” and John Deere with its landmark slogan line “Nothing runs like a Deere” are all notable national examples of durable Marcom programs that effectively have used integrated traditional and new methods to promote their brands to BtoB audiences. There are legions of others who have done it as well in market segments and niches.

It takes thoughtful balance to plan it and do it well. There is no quick fix. The human mind hasn’t materially changed in the last few hundred years. Humans integrate thought in the same ways now as they did before the web. Yes, the web is a new useful medium but only a fool would look past what we all know really works. It’s a piece of the puzzle but only a piece. Trust your brand future to integrated marketing communications.