There’s no shortage of evidence and industry opinion to suggest that digital advertising is killing the art of brand building. Whether it’s Binet and Field’s superb work for the IPA or Simon White’s article in AdAge, the consensus is clear; the expansion of digital has generated greater efficiency in sales conversion, at the expense of long-term brand growth.
Rewind a decade and digital basically consisted of banners, intrusive pop-ups and paid search, optimised and evaluated on click-through. Arguably the emergence of programmatic made matters worse, making digital a more cost-effective way of reaching those on the cusp of a purchase, but an inefficient and cumbersome way to reach all category buyers. Recently though there have been some green shoots for brand building. We’re seeing massive growth of digital video and all sorts of other highly engaging and creative advertising formats, that have a far better chance of directing attention and influencing brand associations, to deliver longer-term returns. We are also seeing more high-quality inventory being offered for programmatic buying.
However, some key problems remain. Digital audiences still mostly consist of those likely to buy now, and digital performance measurement and optimisation are still firmly rooted in sales conversion and other short-term measures. Perhaps more importantly the structure of marketing teams in most organisations makes the situation worse. The brand and insight teams, who are tasked with planning and monitoring the long-term health of the brand, rarely have any control or understanding of the digital activation and performance measurement and optimisation. As long as this disconnect persists, how can we hope for digital to contribute to long-term equity, health and growth of brands?
The last month has brought some hope. We are finally seeing appetite and technology emerge that will allow digital activity to be optimised against long-term brand health, rather than just short-term conversion. One example of this is a partnership between Kantar and Alibaba that was announced last month at the Cannes festival . With this initiative we made the modest claim of “redefining brand building”. Maybe this single initiative won’t redefine brand building on its own but I really hope and believe that this is the start of a new wave of digital marketing solutions. Solutions that seek to put long-term brand building objectives at the heart of defining the audiences and channels for digital, and providing performance measures that arrive instantly, but are proven to relate to long-term brand growth. In the case of the Alibaba and Kantar partnership, we have been able to prove relationships between Alibaba’s new metrics, and established long-term brand building KPIs, such as brand awareness, brand equity and annual purchase penetration (both on and offline). This means digital activity can be reliably planned, activated, measured and optimised towards long-term brand building objectives.
I really hope this is a watershed moment, where digital truly comes of age and can start to deliver the step change in brand building effectiveness that it has long delivered for sales conversion efficiency! Do you agree this is a watershed moment for digital?