What You Can’t See Can Help You: The Hidden Value of Brand-Building

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Cuba

It’s one of those COVID things. Since the pandemic closed all the gyms, my wife and I have been taking morning walks around our neighborhood to stay active and get some fresh air.

Most days, we walk past a transit shelter poster frozen in time since January, blaring “Auténtica Cuba.” With COVID putting the brakes on most out-of-home ad budgets, I have to assume they haven’t been able to sell a more seasonally appropriate ad to take its place. So, there it stays, its sun-drenched setting of historic stucco buildings, yellow against deep blue skies, enticing us to visit Cuba.

We hadn’t planned on visiting Cuba. However, as we start to navigate our way back to normal life, I find myself thinking about when we’ll be able to travel next and where that will be. Hmm… well, maybe Cuba?

The ad planted its seed in January and now with the benefit of repetition, seven months later, Cuba’s on my mind.

My guess is the agency responsible for “Auténtica Cuba” will never know the impact that ad is having on other hopeful travelers like me this summer. You certainly can’t measure it in immediate sales or even an attribution study that would follow the trail from exposure to website visits that won’t take place for months or maybe years to come.

Why It’s Important to Know What’s Happening at the Top of the Marketing Funnel

There is often an informational black hole when it comes to brand building. Let’s consider the typical customer journey.

She/he:

  1. Hears or sees an ad
  2. Becomes aware of the brand’s product or service
  3. Builds an opinion of the brand
  4. Considers a purchase and seeks more information about the brand
  5. Makes a purchase

You can help validate whether marketing focused on the last two steps of that journey is working by using direct response promo codes or the digital attribution tools now widely available. But, to verify the effectiveness of advertising that targets the first three steps of that journey, survey-based brand lift studies are the appropriate tool.

Maintaining a healthy funnel by bringing new clients into the top-of-the-funnel is the bread and butter of every successful sales or marketing strategy. Since COVID has cratered the purchase habits of consumers, the top of the funnel has become even more crucial. Many advertisers are shifting marketing efforts from generating immediate purchases to the longer-term, seizing the opportunity to win hearts and minds so consumers will remember their brand when they’re ready to re-enter the market.

UK researchers Les Binet and Peter Field have laid the foundation for much of this thinking with their much acclaimed studies including The Long and the Short of it: Balancing the short and long-term effects of marketing. Binet and Field’s work shows how an over-emphasis on sales activation vs. brand-building can stunt a brand’s growth, and that rational “buy now” campaigns generally lack the long-term impact of more creative advertising that tugs at the audience’s heartstrings. They often cite the annual Christmas ads for the John Lewis department store that have become the unofficial kickoff to the British Christmas season. The Elton John video is my personal favorite.

All of this represents a tremendous opportunity for audio advertising. Next to the sense of smell, sound is the most evocative of all senses. With the ability to tell stories by using theatre-of-the-mind, audio advertising is uniquely positioned to deliver the emotional impact that is the key to long-term brand building.

Sticking with the UK, here is a radio ad, part of the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign, that delivers on the power of audio:

The Dove ad works on a couple of levels: the use of shrill auto-tune evokes the kind of edgy emotions generated by the inauthenticity of the beauty industry; and it puts the sales push in the background so that it can tell the larger story of what the Dove brand stands for. Coupled with its unparalleled reach, broadcast radio can be powerful at boosting awareness and shaping brand perceptions.

Podcasting offers untapped potential for brand-building. The host-read ad extolling the many virtues of a given product has proven to be effective, thanks largely to the promo codes that confirm that podcasts do generate sales. But that’s only the entry point for podcast advertising. As podcast listening grows, it’s attracting more brands looking to develop awareness and affinity. By shifting the focus from lower funnel sales activation to brand-building, podcasting has a chance to deliver the same story-telling magic to brands that makes podcasting so engaging for its listeners.

As a new medium however, podcast ads have to prove they can work at the top-of-the-funnel.

We have seen encouraging results showing the ability of podcasts to build brands in our brand lift studies. In one recent study, we worked with a marketing association that was looking to re-position their product category. We tested product statements in a pre- and post- study among listeners to the podcasts in their network buy. We were able to trace the line between hearing the campaign and a significant impact on brand perceptions—something that neither an attribution study nor a promo code would be able to establish.

Even podcast advertising with its current focus on sales activations can boost awareness. In our most recent Canadian Podcast Listener study, 25% of monthly podcast listeners said they discovered a product or service they hadn’t heard of before after hearing a podcast ad. That’s more than twice as many as the 12% who said they ever used a promo code in a podcast ad.

Two points to keep in mind:

  • Top-of-the-funnel brand-building plays a vital role in marketing—perhaps now more than ever—in audio as much as any other medium.
  • You can verify the effectiveness of brand-building using survey-based brand lift studies.

We may or may not visit Cuba, but when I think of travel, I’ll remember chuckling about that transit shelter ad, sitting there in the scorching summer heat, trying to convince us that the solution to our problems lies somewhere on that Caribbean island. But as travel becomes more and more enticing after all these months of lockdown, and I find myself in the Auténtica Cuba funnel, I wonder: Who’s laughing now?