Despite the key role it plays in B2B purchasing, branding seems to move further and further down the list of corporate priorities. In the drive to generate revenue in today’s ROI-driven world, don’t ignore the influence of corporate branding on B2B sales or focus search marketing solely on product offerings. In B2B, corporate branding drives customer acquisition, and search can be branding’s best friend.
Despite this, SEMPO’s State of Search Marketing, shows direct sales edging out branding as the primary objective of search marketers. In BtoB Magazine’s survey, 2007 Marketing Plans and Priorities, marketers were asked to indicate their top priority for 2007. Sixty-two percent cited customer acquisition, followed by brand awareness (20%) and customer retention (11%). Why the discrepancies?
Falling out of favor
One of the reasons branding seems to be falling out of favor is because of lack of ability to demonstrate linkage between investment and return. To be sure, the success or failure of most branding campaigns is hard to measure. What did we gain from an increase in awareness or recall? What was the impact on sales? Did sales go up because of the branding campaign or the promotional advertising we did?
More and more statistics confirm the trend of increasing scrutiny on the ROI of marketing expenditures. Much like public companies are hyper-focused on next quarter’s earnings, so too are marketers increasingly driven to create sales today, not tomorrow.
At face value, there’s nothing wrong with that; everyone wants sales as soon as possible, and everyone wants a good return on investment. However, in the B2B world, customer acquisition is directly related to branding, a longer-term initiative.
In B2B, most brands are really corporate brands. Even though there may be branded products or services, it’s the reputation of the company behind it that carries the weight. That’s because B2B purchasers’ brand associations generally relate more to the company and the relationships they have with it, than to the company’s product or service lines. After all, fear of making the wrong decision is a primary motivator in B2B supplier selection. The wrong choice can have long-lasting business and career implications. The product itself is just part of the equation; in many cases the company behind the product is far more influential in purchase decisions.
However, while the corporate brand may ultimately swing the deal, for the average B2B marketer, getting known in the first place is the most formidable hurdle.
Branding’s best friend
Brand leaders are, by definition, well known. Yet, most B2B marketers sell products and services to customers in numerous industries. For many, using traditional media to drive brand awareness (let alone brand preference) across multiple industries is simply cost-prohibitive. Search marketing represents perhaps the only common platform to reach diverse prospects in a cost-efficient manner.
In addition, search marketing cuts through the clutter. Many B2B branding campaigns go unnoticed by their intended targets because the campaigns aren’t relevant to the prospect at the time of exposure. They merely become background noise to the more important business issues of the day. Search marketing, on the other hand, only hits those who have a current, stated interest; and they state that interest via the search terms they use, making search one of the most efficient ways to drive brand awareness.
In B2B search marketing, the key to driving brand awareness and perceptions of brand leadership is to be everywhere your prospects turn. Rather than narrowly focusing on the promotion of a few chosen, profitable products, most B2B marketers would do better to create a broad catch basin not only for the company’s products, but also for issues related to its customers’ industries. Doing so not only guarantees more brand impressions, but it also positions the company as an ever-present recognized authority in the customer’s industry, further establishing trust, credibility, and expertise.
Use the right mix of SEO and PPC
Ideally, brand leadership is evidenced by high organic rankings. Sure, you can pay money for top sponsored links, but searchers are becoming very savvy about the anatomy of the results page. They know anyone can buy an ad—all you need is money. Just like a good editorial article about your firm in the right magazine is interpreted as much more credible than an ad in the same magazine, high-ranking organic search engine results are like good PR. The organic results are the editorial, and the sponsored links are, well, the ads. If you rank high in the search results the search engine is, in effect, endorsing you—and that credibility helps bolster trust in the corporate brand.
But realistically, achieving high organic rankings for a broad range of multi-industry search terms is a daunting, expensive task. It takes both time and money to create a compelling, content-rich site. Start small and stay focused. Develop web-evident expertise one area at a time. Use paid search to jumpstart the process, and to fill in the gaps where your site is presently lean on content and where your organic results are weak.
Getting found is just the beginning
Search marketing can dramatically accelerate brand awareness, but getting exposure in the search results is just the beginning. Assuming B2B searchers find your company, your ability to establish confidence and credibility by writing intelligently and persuasively about your product and your company—and your ability to clearly articulate complex selling propositions—will determine whether you continue to be considered as a potential supplier throughout the buying cycle. Therefore, not only do landing pages need to be compelling, but every other page on your site as well.
And while high-ranking search results may drive click-through, you should be reviewing landing pages. You can control landing pages with PPC, but you should also be managing organic landing pages. Do some searches. Click on your links, and see where they go. All too often, even large, sophisticated companies have high-ranking organic results that lead to lousy landing pages. If your site doesn’t deliver on the searcher’s expectations after they click on a search result, they may quickly abandon your site or, worse, begin to form negative perceptions about your company and your brand.
In the drive to generate revenue in today’s ROI-driven world, don’t ignore the influence of corporate branding on B2B sales or focus search marketing solely on product offerings. In B2B, corporate branding drives customer acquisition, and search can be branding’s best friend.