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Building client brands online

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If an ad appears on an Internet site but no one clicks on it, does it have an impact? This question continues to challenge b-to-b online publishers, even though research going back to the late 1990s indicates that online banners, buttons and towers can improve branding metrics even if viewers don't click.

Still, many advertisers view online advertising units only as direct response mechanisms. This thinking may rob advertisers of the opportunity to improve brand awareness, purchase intent and other brand metrics with a target audience that is increasingly moving online, and it keeps b-to-b publishers from making more money from bread-and-butter, run-of-site advertising.

But, at least two b-to-b online publishing companies are taking their confidence in online advertising to the market in creative ways, leading reluctant advertisers to prove to themselves that they can build their brands with targeted online advertising.

Two and a half years ago, Forbes.com addressed the direct-response-versus-branding debate head-on with its Brand Increase Guarantee. It offered to use a third-party research firm to study brand awareness, purchase intent, brand favorability, message association and advertising recall for viewers of a client's online advertising in comparison to a control group that had not seen the ads. If the difference was not statistically significant, Forbes.com promised to return the advertiser's money.

Since the program was introduced, more than 80 advertisers have taken Forbes.com up on the offer, said Jim Spanfeller, president-CEO of Forbes.com, who added he has never had to refund any ad dollars. Today, advertisers are conducting their own studies, using independent research companies such as InsightExpress and Dynamic Logic to continually improve the effectiveness of their online advertising, Spanfeller said, adding that 30 to 50 different advertising tests are running on the Forbes.com site at any given time.

Spanfeller said he believes that some b-to-b publishers are still reluctant to encourage advertisers to use the Internet for branding campaigns, fearing they will drain revenue from their print products. "The fact is, though, that advertisers themselves will start doing more of the measuring and experimenting. They will push those media companies along," he said.

After conducting beta tests showing that online advertising produced measurable increases in branding metrics, TechTarget—which has had a seemingly single-minded desire to generate leads for its advertisers over the past few years—decided in late September to launch its own branding program, called TargetROI: Brand, adding to existing programs that enable advertisers to determine advertising ROI. "With TargetROI: Brand," said TechTarget CEO Greg Strakosch, "we've extended this commitment to branding campaigns, where performance data have historically been difficult to capture or quantify."

The company seeks to prove that branding works, said Karen Lefkowitz, TechTarget's director of East Coast client consulting. Furthermore, she added, "We have proof that branding programs measured by TargetROI: Brand lead to increases in lead generation." Based on those metrics, TechTarget will be rolling out a program in the near future that encompasses both branding and lead generation.

TechTarget is using Dynamic Logic's MarketNorms database, a planning and benchmarking tool for online advertising, to conduct its third-party research. 

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