Search Engine Market (SEM) has a branding problem, actually two, and big ones I may add.
The first one is that companies don’t spend the significant amount of money in SEM for branding purposes. Even though everyone can agree on the fundamental principle that users go through a “search funnel” when making a purchase (i.e. broad generic searches at first to learn more about the product category, followed by specific ones to conclude the purchase), very few digital marketers would be willing to spend money in “upper funnel” clicks ; this because it is harder to quantify their contribution to the final transaction, but really easy to see their (high) contribution to cost.
The second one is that no one in this space is willing to pay for what they cannot measure directly. Since the dawn of SEM, every company, technologist, and professionals in the space, based their pitch on the fact that they could finally offer to the ultimate form of trackable marketing: “the TV era is over, now you can understand and track your real contribution of your marketing dollars to the cent“. And marketers started believing it, to the point that no one would give SEM any credit for its brand value: everyone know is there, but since you can’t measure it, no one is willing to pay for it.
And while companies are desperate to find ways to spend additional money to move the needle marginally in one of the key constituents of branding (awareness, recall, consideration, intent), SEM is getting none of that budget. Not only that no one can accurately measure the correlation between awareness lift and sales lift, but in many cases the branding impact is given on faith. Don’t you believe me? Let me know if the following sentence sounds familiar: “This is the year of mobile, you want to reach teens, but they are leaving Facebook in droves, teens spend an enormous amount of time on mobile devices, you need to buy mobile ads.” And you do, regardless of the fact that tracking mobile ads is still very hard, surveying teens is often not allowed, and registering a lift at 90% confidence level requires volumes that very few networks offer. Since the value is there in theory, it becomes acceptable to invest. It’s the most classic example of deductive fallacy.
Why have marketers no problem accepting a high degree of uncertainty with ‘brand marketing’, but pretend absolute measurability when buying SEM?
It’s like two brain hemispheres:
- The left one, where SEM lives together with scientists and mathematicians, can’t conceive a world that cannot be measured, analyzed, and studied in all its components;
- The right one, where Branding lives with artists and free spirits, things are done because they ‘feel right’, and questioning this logic means not belonging there in the first place.
Put the two together and you will have the perfect picture of the schizophrenic brain of today’s marketer.