Brand Advertising: Why do we need it?

Every marketing plan that is actioned is to fulfill a certain goal or purpose. Mostly, it is for the business to generate revenue or to make a profit, which is the case of most businesses, however ‘performance’ driven activities are not the only way to make a business successful.

To explain better, a ‘performance’ activity, is along the line of a tactical campaign, i.e. to generate more business through lead generation, or online purchases via e-commerce. But not all marketing activities can be purely performance based, while it is the primary objective, as a marketing professional, it is important to keep in mind the marketing funnel.

At the start, the first objective should always be about generating brand awareness. Of course there are certain brands who are quite fortunate that they have considerable awareness and aspiration attached to them, such as Apple & Samsung in the mobile phone industry, but not everyone is so lucky, and even if people are familiar with the brand, it is not guarantee that the brand will make it to the consideration set of the consumer, which is dependent on the consumer’s budget, convenience, and other internal values and preferences.

So what is the best way to work with this?

Firstly, it is important to keep promoting the brand as well as the offers. This is essential because a brand is a lot more than it’s offer, and more importantly by promoting the brand regularly, you keep it in the mind of the consumer, which is beneficial especially if they are thinking of, shopping around to purchase your business’ product. But even if they are not, regular brand awareness activities keeps overall marketing costs down in the long run, as less effort and spend is then required to generate brand awareness before a major offer or promotion period coming up.

Secondly, brand awareness activities are also dependent on the actual product. Specifically the life cycle of the product, purchase cycle or frequency of purchase as well as the overall product cost. Products which have a high purchase point, require the additional spend for brand awareness. This is because, due to the high investment required, consumers need to be convinced not only about the offer but also about the actual product and the brand. This usually takes the form of a rational or emotional connection to the brand, which is essential and part of the product they are purchasing. Consumers need to be convinced about the value of the product and of the brand. The cost for brand awareness in these cases is often justified by the high returns through sales.
Products which have a predictable purchase cycle, make it easier to pin-point times of high sales. This can be determined by evaluating sales history to predict key periods. In between these sales cycles, the time can be equally divided between promoting the brand, followed by the promotion of any offer leading up to the high sale periods. This ensures that the brand along with the offer are promoted in time. By sticking to these sales cycles, more efficient use of budgets can be made maximizing on key periods only. For products who have short life cycles or whose key sales periods cannot be identified, it may be necessary to promote the brand throughout the year in small controlled amounts. This keeps the brand in the mind of the consumer without big pushes in key periods.

Third, it is important to consider what will be the message, or what exactly is to be promoted in a ‘brand campaign’. A promotional message, will feature the offer, what’s included in the offer etc. while a brand message, in essence talks about the brand. This includes the brand values, what are its main selling points, or unique identifiers, and what are the brand touch-points. These messages are important, as it is this message that emotionally connects to the consumer and justifies the brand value. Without a brand message, the consumer only buys into the actual product which can impact on overall loyalty in the long run. Consumers who tend to only purchase based on offers, are more interested in short term deals and will most likely switch to another offer or deal, unlike those who are invested with the brand.

But finally, for any marketing activity to be successful it is essential to have a combination of brand as well as offers, however this is dependent on the budget and the level of management support in the company. In cases where there is a restricted budget and / or management requires you to do more performance based activities, all hope is not lost. There are other channels to be used for brand related promotion, two such being PR & social media. Both these channels are excellent for story telling, and brand stories, and also are good and engaging channels through which to connect to the consumer. While normally these should ideally be part of the marketing mix, the usage levels would change as part of your overall strategy.

So all in all, it is important to run brand as well as performance activities for a successful marketing campaign.

Campaign: A definition

If you’re in marketing, there is a term which is, thrown about quite often and quite loosely and that is ‘campaign’. Everyone in Marketing & Communications seem to be constantly running campaigns, however I feel that it is better to take a step back and first understand what a campaign really is.

According to Merrim – Webster, a campaign is defined as “a series of activities designed to produce a particular result”; as such it compromises of a series of actions or steps that implements your tactics that have come about in support of your overall marketing strategy.

So to further clarify, this is how it would be:

Example:
You are launching a new product on the market; therefore:

Business Objective: Increase Brand Awareness by X%

Strategy: Establish social presence for new product

Tactics: Set up Social media accounts and grow followers by x% and engagement by x%

Campaign 1: Run Social Media Competition

Campaign 2: Social Media advertising – Promoted Page

Campaign 3: Social Media offer

 

So from the above example it can be understood that a campaign is a specific activity, designed to achieve a set result. There can be one or multiple campaigns all to support a specific strategy tactic, however the main difference to note is that a campaign is to achieve a set goal, so it has fixed KPI’s associated to it, and runs for a set time frame.

Now if I was to take another example, for many Digital Marketers, search marketing is one of the first channels we turn to for advertising, more often SEM rather than SEO. It is always good practice to keep Google Ads on-going especially if it relates to the brand or generic level searches. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘brand campaign’, while it does support the overall brand, it is not necessarily a campaign as it is firstly on-going , usually throughout the year, and secondly there are no specific actions associated with it besides constant optimisation. The same goes for SEO, can it be defined as a campaign? Well…. while SEO can be done as a tactic (for a specific offer or promotion), usually keeping in mind the length of time it takes to optimise and see the results it is not always advisable, also the results of an SEO campaign is long reaching, so once optimisation stops, the results take some time to disappear from Google, therefore I would not define SEO as a campaign.

To clarify a campaign does not necessarily mean a short term activity, it is not the term but having a defined term which makes the difference. A campaign also does not focus on only channel but can also be multiple channels, offline and online, as long as each channel has a specific role to play and at the end there are specific KPI’s determined.

While I hope this post clarifies the use of the term,  the main purpose was to discourage the use of jargon when more simplified communication not only makes the activity easier to understand, but can deliver better results when they have more specific meanings.

What other words have you heard being used often and without a specific meaning?

 

 

Evaluating an Agency: A checklist

Now that you have selected an agency and started working together, how do you evaluate them and their overall performance.

Of course the most obvious one is their performance and delivery. An agency who does not perform and cannot deliver against set KPI’s would not be around for long. But there are other factors as well to consider.

But Performance does not just mean the achievement of KPI’s, you also have to look at end to end service delivery, or what I have put together as the 3 C’s.

  1. Consistency – or ‘Reliability’
    This refers to how trustworthy the agency is, and not only in their performance but whether they perform well regularly, or is it more unpredictable? There are other factors which can affect performance including the market, targeting, budgets etc. however this factor is purely on the agency.
    – How quick are they to action points?
    – Do they need detailed instructions? or can they be trusted to look after your best interests?
    – Is their performance regular? or do they have moments of peak performance followed by low performance sporadically?An agency should be consistent in their performance and if not it should be backed up by good reason. They should look after their clients interests and not be afraid to disagree or question plans. They should be pro-active to suggest new and innovative ideas and if left to their own devices can deliver results consistently.
  2. Communication – or ‘frequency’
    This refers to how easy and more importantly how often do they communicate with you. Is it just that weekly call to go over reports or is it more frequent where you’ll can discuss new happenings and strategy?
    – Who makes the first step in communicating?
    – Do they communicate only if there is something to report? or do they check in with you more frequently?
    – Do they follow up with you on any action points? os is it you doing the following up?It is vital that the agency communicates frequently and of items of value. They should not hesitate in providing updates, even if it is unsolicited. They should also be easy to get in touch, and get back to you within a reasonable timeframe. That being said, the onus is not only on the agency but also on the client. Communication needs to work both ways. You should keep the agency updated on any new happenings or events within the company, which can affect the strategy or can inspire new ideas. You should be easy to get in touch with and also follow up with the agency and get regular updates. Interest needs to be shown by both parties for effective communication.
  3. Clarity – or  Transparency
    This to me is one of the most important points. One of the most frustrating aspects I face in dealing with agencies is when they are vague in their communications. There is no clear indication given for what they are working on, or how they are working on your account. How is the budget being used and how do they account for the time spent by their executives?
    – Can they explain what they are doing and how they are doing it?
    – Are they vague or give ‘blanket’ explanations such as ‘we are working on it’?
    – Can they justify their actions or the steps taken?It is very important that the agency is honest in their communication. While of course they may be certain trade secrets they do not wish to share or a certain method to their madness, if a client requests for information this should not be withheld or for agencies to act superior in their knowledge. That does not mean that the client is always right either, or that an agency knows better. Both parties have important information and a different style of working so it is important to work together.

So this is just a small checklist of what I believe to be the most important factors (besides performance) in evaluating an agency. Of course no agency is perfect, or will fit all criteria. There will always be some limitations in either size, budgets, or expertise, but this should give you a general idea on what to look out for in a good agency.

Do you have any other items to add to the list? Or what is your evaluation criteria?

How to choose the ‘right’ digital agency

Choosing a suitable agency can be a highly daunting task. There are a multitude of qualified agencies all promising to be the best in their respective fields; how do you find these agencies? do you choose a full service agency or a more specialized one? I’ve put together a few tips from my experience of trying to find a good agency.

  1. Full – Service or Specialized?
    Firstly, it all depends on what’s the reason for getting an agency. Is it to handle all digital services or for a specific activity such as social media, search marketing etc. If it is for all digital services, then a full serviced agency would be more beneficial. This is not only because they have a wide variety of skills which could benefit the company, the more investment larger agencies receive, the better discounts and services they will provide. If you are looking for a specialized service then usually smaller boutique agencies are preferable. This is because they are more focused on a specific activity and can provide dedicated services, for a smaller budget.
  2. Local or International?
    If the target market is located within the UAE, then a local agency would be essential, but what if the market is global or in another country? Is it better to have one agency handle all markets or find a local agency within that market. Again this is dependent on the overall business strategy of the company. Most agencies find it more cost effective to go with one global multinational agency who have localized agencies in other countries, it makes it easier to deal with and they provide an integrated strategy, but if it is only one or two other markets then perhaps it is better to invest with a local agency there.
  3. Locating Agencies
    The next step would be putting together a list of agencies based on your requirements. Ideally the best place is to look for them is on Google (and being digital agencies I would expect them to have a strong presence online). Full serviced agencies can be found by looking for ‘digital agencies’ or ‘digital marketing agencies’. It is important to keep in mind that most traditional brand / creative / media buying agencies have also entered this space and offer complete digital services, so you can find agencies using those search terms as well. In the search results (SERPs), you can find out more about about each agency through their meta title, or their PPC results. In each of the ads, agencies specify if they specialize in a particular activity such as ‘SEO’ or they are complete ‘digital marketing’ agencies. I also prefer using third party sites such as: https://digitalagencynetwork.com/agencies/ or using organizations such as eConsultancy and their preferred lists which provide recommendations.
    It is important to consider the location of these agencies.
  4. Selecting & Shortlisting Agencies
    Once an agency list has been created, it is important to narrow them down. This is one of the more daunting tasks that need to be done. It is important to look for the following: Clients, Experience, Awards, Case Studies.
    Most agencies will have a client list on their site, but it is important to understand what work has been done for their clients. If they work on social, then check out the social pages and see how they are being managed, if they are handling search, review their SEO or check out their PPC ads to see how they are set up. Most agencies also have multiple case studies to support their claims. But it is not enough to say what work is being done but what are the results that have been achieved. Finally, it is also useful to look at what awards (if any) have been won by the agency and for any specific work.
  5. Deciding on the agency
    Once a shortlist has been put together the next stage would be to either send a Request for Proposal (RFP) or ask them to send across a proposal based on your needs. An RFP is a structured document with a list of requirements, however it is also possible to contact them and ask for a proposal. It is up to your discretion to provide a budget for the activity or not. In most cases businesses are not sure what the budget should be, so they ask the agency to advise which is quite normal, however it is important to consider how the agency costs. Is it a percentage of media spend or a flat fee, this would affect how much is taken by the agency and what’s left for the actual spend, so the final decision would be based on overall budget.

Is there anything else to consider, that I may have missed out?

Marketing: In-house vs Outsourcing? Finding the Balance

When it comes to marketing does it make sense to have in-house talent or would it be better to outsource to a specialized agency?

Most companies fall somewhere in the middle of this broad spectrum, where in-house marketing strategy is supported by agency execution, of course this also depends on the type of marketing activity which is being performed.

Most Brand marketing, is usually done in-house, where agencies are used to support specific tasks such as creative concepts and execution for a marketing campaign. Campaigns can be short or long term, with multiple agencies working on a similar project.

For Digital marketing, decisions have to be made on an activity level as different channels need varying levels of expertise. The decision is also dependent on the number of projects or brands that need to be worked on. Digital Marketing channels include:

  • Social Media
    This is the most common and ‘go to’ channel for digital needs, however there are a lot of factors to consider before deciding to outsource. Firstly social media takes a lot of time to manage, develop and engage. Many businesses choose to employ a dedicated executive to handle social media accounts especially if there are multiple channels, multiple brands, or the company is involved in a lot of events and live activations. Having an in-house resource means they are more familiar with the brand, the target market and language style to ensure a seamless experiences across other advertising channels. However outsourcing to an agency has its own merits. Agencies have more experience but care has to be taken they don’t do similar work with competitors, agencies also charge by the number of channels they need to manage, how often they post and the number of events they are expected to cover. Also social posting needs someone who can create a brand story, and most agencies are not well connected to the brand or to the target market to understand their needs and what they respond do. Of course this is not to say that agencies cannot do a good job, they can as long as there is a good understanding. So this decision needs to be made on a business level and looking at the cost / benefits of either option. If the business has the resource then social is an activity which should be kept in house and close to the brand.
  • Paid Media
    This activity refers to digital advertising across multiple channels such as social, Google Adwords, Display etc. Media buying is usually an agency led activity. There are a few businesses who do it in-house, but this is dependent on the the number of products or the overall size of the business. If it is a small company with one or two products it is relatively easy to manage this activity in house either by a marketing exec or direct by business owner; however if this is on a larger scale, then it is more profitable to outsource this to an agency. Most agencies work on operating margins, therefore while they conduct media buying they can work across multiple accounts to get better deals. Advertising optimization is also a time consuming and specialized activity which requires professionals with experience or managing campaigns can be an expensive affair. They are also more in tune with the different ad formats available and which would best for the media activity. But most agencies usually charge either a minimum spend or % of overall media spend which may work out better depending on the number of campaigns that are being run. Possibly one solution to this is to let agencies manage the media buying and optimizing while having in house expertise to manage the campaign strategy, channel selection and overall plan.
  • Organic Search
    A highly specialized and often technical activity, organic search is a long term investment and requires a high level of expertise and connections with media and bloggers for link building, and an understanding of website architecture to review technical SEO. Most businesses outsource this to agencies, who work on a retainer basis and conduct a set amount of optimization activity per month. However it is strongly recommended to have in-house SEO expertise who can set SEO strategy according to overall business strategy, cater to business objectives and review agency activity.

There is no easy decision when it comes to in-house vs. outsourcing of marketing activity, the best option is to review the below factors before making a decisions:

  1. Size of Business / Level of Activity
  2. Cost & Marketing Budgets
  3. Digital Expertise required

While there is no ‘one’ overall solution digital marketing requires a combination of in-house brand management and digital know how combined with the execution expertise, industry experience and media buying power of agencies. Usually a merger of experts from both sides of the business proves to be overall beneficial for the business; it’s all about finding the right balance.

So, how does it work in your company?

 

 

Social Media – PR or Marketing?

Social Media has traditionally been the forte of a digital marketer, but lately there is a growing trend of this channel being handled by the PR department instead of marketing. Social Media in essence is a digital communication tool and is one of the most important channels in the arsenal of a digital marketer. It is used for most marketing objectives, from brand awareness to advertising and sales and forms a big part of a consumer’s attribution journey while driving traffic to the website, but it is also a communication tool which is usually handled by PR. So while both have very good reasons how would a company decide what their direction should be?

First let’s have a look on how PR has changed of recent:
Public Relations has always been viewed in two extremes, a lot of ‘media relations’ and socializing with the other extreme of lots of writing of press releases and their distribution. But in the last few years PR has changed quite drastically and has earned its place at the digital table. About a few years ago, as more people turned to online sources and social media as a source for their news (if it’s not on Twitter it didn’t happen), PR professionals realized that a press release just wont cut it any more. Even if there’s huge brand power behind it, in today’s overly cluttered world of content creation traditional media sources were just not effective in distributing news and building relations. So PR has had to adapt and change and like marketing has shifted to digital to stay relevant. So let’s look at these changes and why as digital marketers we should pay attention to them.

The death of the press release.
No one reads press releases any more. Yes it’s still done because its a corporate statement and needs to be sent to media and published online, but the bottom line is no one reads them. PR has had to change their strategy by changing the way they create and distribute content. Instead of releases they started focusing on stories (sound familiar?) which was then distributed on social media channels by marketing. Content for these stories was usually sourced from consumer & employee experiences and their reviews (UGC). PR started relying more on social media for their content as well as for distribution which meant working closely with marketing. To do this they also had to adapt their overall tone of voice from corporate to social. Tone of voice and language is usually set by Brand marketing which is a big change for PR and to measure the success of PR activities, most have subscribed to a media monitoring service which picks up brand mentions online & offline on media channels. But as more stories are being published on social, traditional media monitoring is only half the story. Any good social media marketer would also have a social media monitoring service set up which can be shared with PR. So you would have two teams trying to come up with original story content to share, relying on similar sources and doubling the expense on monitoring services.

Bloggers & Influencers – the new media
Besides relying on traditional media sources such as magazines and newspapers, PR have turned to sourcing bloggers and social media influencers to also promote the brand. At various media events nearly 25% to even 50% of attendees are prominent bloggers and influencers who are encouraged to actively tweet, instagram and create live content while hastagging and tagging the brand channels.  This comes at a cost where PR can no longer control the actual content, the style in which it is written and the exact terminology but this is how social media works where content is not scripted but natural. Through this PR usually contribute and support overall digital marketing growth and engagement. This has also resulted in a shift in PR audience from media to actual consumers. Usually PR undergo training on how to talk to media. They also train other employees and colleagues on do’s and don’ts and how to speak to media and answer questions. But as marketers we deal directly with end consumers and we never receive such training, which is unusual as consumers are the final decision makers and therefore anyone dealing with them should be taught how, just as anyone in customer service undergoes a certain level of training as well. Instead many social media channels are handled by junior staff or outsourced to agencies who are not familiar with the brand and overall style which is not ideal to overall brand management.

So in the end between PR & Marketing who should actually manage social media?
The answer is both. PR have the experience, the knowhow and the ability to write and create content. They are trained on how to talk to consumers and media and spend considerable time sourcing and dealing with bloggers and influencers. They should be responsible for content creation and community management, but of course with support from marketing. Based on events, offers and overall end goals, marketing can suggest and recommend content and broad topics which PR can then use and work towards. But it will still be the responsibility of marketing to manage KPI’s, drive traffic and fulfill digital marketing strategy. It would be marketing who would advertise on social media and plan campaigns, suggest which posts would be promoted and the targeting of these.

So in conclusion PR & Marketing would handle different aspects of social media and would have to work together to fulfill overall business objectives.

How does it work in your company?