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 / Third Quarter 2002 / Issue 28(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Internet as Integrator — Fast Brand Building in Slow-Growth Markets

  • Amplification. The Internet can add continuity and depth to single-channel marketing programs; the goal is to increase the engagement of existing and potential customers. The Internet can also provide a critical market-sensing test, providing marketers with metrics that help them decide whether to scale up or cut back programs in other media.
  • Differentiation. The Internet can support a feature or service that will differentiate the brand, by augmenting a firm’s services or products with information, entertainment, or other added values.
  • Integration. The Internet can help integrate multiple brand-building approaches by being a common component and a forum where they can appear together, thus demonstrating synergy and consistency.

Behind all three concepts lies a single force: involvement. Absent its consideration, it is easy to dismiss the Internet as an insignificant brand-building tool. With click-through rates averaging around 0.2 percent, it’s clear that most banner advertising doesn’t work. The meltdown of so many e-commerce and e-content concepts (recall and has shown that early assumptions about the Internet, such as that first-time visitors not only return again and again, but also respond to banner ads, were simply wrong.

Looking at the smoldering ruin that was digital mania, it is tempting to conclude that the Internet was overrated and oversold, and that its appropriate place is at the margins of a company’s brand building, tucked somewhere between the catalog division and point-of-purchase display design.

But the medium’s growth alone indicates that something powerful — and powerfully different — is at work in the online world. There are more than 75 million active users each month in the United States and 260 million worldwide, according to Nielsen//NetRatings Inc., which projects growth for at least five more years. Yahoo and AOL each get more than 100 million visitors a month worldwide.

Moreover, the time consumers spend on the medium continues to grow. The average at-home user in the U.S. now spends more than 10 hours per week on the Web, a figure that has increased markedly for at least the last three years. For AOL members, the number is much higher, as it is for workplace users. This involvement in the medium — for consumption of the Internet is, by definition, active, requiring a continuing series of decisions and actions, which distinguishes it from the more passive consumption of conventional media — adds a dimension to communications between the brand and consumer that is potentially even greater than the engagement difference of radio over newspapers, or television over radio.

The involvement power of a medium is of central importance to marketers. The strength of a brand depends on customer–brand relationships. Such relationships are defined by the quality, intensity, and quantity of the experiences that link the brand with its customers or potential customers. Relationships can translate into loyalty, which, even if weak, can help drive crucial incremental sales and share gains. The Internet provides the opportunity to create additional experiences, experiences that are potentially positive and meaningful, even when they are not intense.

Leverage and Amplify
Brand-building programs can be rendered more effective when the online presence is used to amplify such offline programs as customer promotions, sponsorships, guerrilla marketing, retail experience, and even advertising. Offline programs can do the same for online branding.

Sometimes online support can mean the difference between failure and success for a customer promotion. For example, from August to December 2000, PepsiCo Inc. ran a joint promotion with Yahoo Inc. in which 1.5 billion bottles of Pepsi and Mountain Dew branded soft drinks had caps containing codes that could be converted to “Pepsistuff points” on the or sites. Consumers could accumulate points they could then use to obtain prizes or as currency for shopping and auctions on Yahoo. The promotion attracted 3.5 million participants and boosted sales of both beverages by a total of 5 percent, especially impressive in the context of an industry experiencing almost no growth. Pepsi had held a similar version of that promotion offline three years earlier, with results so disappointing it abandoned the project. The Web support, however, turned it into a significant success.

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  1. David A. Aaker, “Tactical Blunders in Internet Advertising,” s+b, Second Quarter 2000; Click here.
  2. Horacio D. Rozanski, Gerry Bollman, and Martin Lipman, “Seize the Occasion! The Seven-Segment System for Online Marketing,” s+b, Third Quarter 2001; Click here.
  3. David A. Aaker, Building Strong Brands (Simon & Schuster Inc., Free Press, 1995)
  4. David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler, Brand Leadership: Building Assets in an Information Economy (Simon & Schuster Inc., Free Press, 2000)
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