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Jared Hamilton
From: Jared Hamilton
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Lindsey Auguste and Dennis Galbraith

Lindsey Auguste and Dennis Galbraith Investigative Reporters

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Is Branding Necessary?

Our friend, Ed Brooks, turned us onto an article released today in Forbes.  The article points out that a store receiving a great deal of its site traffic from generic searches is an indication that the store does not have a very good branding campaign. If people in your community really understand and buy into your unique selling proposition, then you will receive a great deal of direct traffic to your site as well as traffic through search terms that include the name of your store. Most stores receive well over half their traffic this way. Some can be 70% or more. But this may be the sign of a strong branding campaign or a weak search campaign.

Of course, it would be nice to achieve a huge amount of site traffic from both the brand image and unbranded search terms. Either one done in excess can take the store deep into diminishing returns. However, there is a strong regional variation. In some markets, a strong branding campaign is prohibitively expensive. The price of radio, TV, print, and outdoor may be sky high. Even banner ads can be more expensive in some markets than others. Search, on the other hand, varies in cost from market to market but not to the same degree as branding advertising.

So can a dealership obtain enough direct traffic from search, listings, and leads to avoid branding altogether? The article, written for a wide range of businesses suggests the answer is no. For some dealers, we insist the answer is yes. That doesn't mean branding does not work or cannot be done cost effectively, it does and it can. The question is, "Is branding necessary?"

Brady Irvine
I'm sure there are valid arguments on the pro branding side, but most businesses that focus on their "brand" do so at the expense of taking the focus off of the customer. It's like the realtor that puts their face on the billboard for everyone to see because they are "building their personal brand" when they could spend less money (and be WAY more effective) targeting people who are actually in the market to buy or sell a home.
Joey Abna
Just like everything else you can't just put all your eggs in one basket. Branding is important but is is also not the only way to acquire and keep customers. If you have your website analytics set up to track customers and leads acquired by sources and keywords you will probably find that branded search traffic converts really well. But I wouldn't just throw away the additional business you can harvest from non branded traffic unless you don't really care about long term success.
Jim Bell
Ed will hate me saying this, but it does go to ZMOT. The stimulus is the commercial, billboard, or radio and then the customer does a search for the dealership online. Hmmm... Yes, I do feel that it is necessary to do branding and keep it fresh. We just started a branding campaign and I am going to be watching our website traffic very closely. Can we credit a sale to a commercial or radio? It is way too hard to track, but if you are in the customer's face more, they will remember you when it is time for them to buy.
Larry Schlagheck
I believe this all boils down to defining and knowing your audience. How does your audience want to engage with you, not the other way around. If branding-type advertising is what works for your audience, then, great. But, if you're Jones Soda, there are better ways to engage your target audience as they've proven. There is a place for branding - even for Jones Soda - but researching your audience will tell you a lot.
Ed Brooks
Jim - I could NEVER hate you! You have struck on one of the major shortcomings of the ZMOT model however. Branding doesn't fit into a neat ZMOT category. Branding is about awareness, perception and building purchase intent - not about what anyone in the marketing business would define as 'Stimulus'. Now let me ask you this, with customers only visiting 1.3 dealerships (avg.), in person, before making a purchase, do you think it more or less likely that they will visit a dealership with a strong local brand image? I'll contend that the dealership with the strong brand image (both online and offline) will get more opportunities than the guy who only shows up on a Google search. That said, poor reviews or the lack of the right car at the right price could easily knock that well-branded store out of contention, but they still have a distinct advantage.

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