Why Branding is more important in the era of the search bar

The search bar is the most ubiquitous, functional control mechanism used in computer programs.  In the digital age, not a day passes that tech savvy consumers, belonging to multiple generations from boomers to Gen X, millennials, GenZs, and the youngest alpha generation, ever fail to access the search bar.

The Upside of Search Bars

On the Internet, the search bar located in a browser allows the user to look up data, images and information without restricted access. With websites, the search bar found on the home page can speed up the process of browsing web content. On android phones, Google’s search icon provides mobile access.

E-commerce platforms and social networking sites thrive because of the search bar. Statista posits that retail e-commerce sales worldwide amounted to USD 4.2 Trillion 2020 and is expected to rise to USD6.3Bn in 2024 on ecommerce platforms. This does not include online shopping that goes around in social networking sites, also with its proprietary search engines and browsers like Facebook Marketplace, Instagram, etc.

The Downside of Search Bars

The search bar becomes a level playing field for millions of unbranded commodity products and services. Organic search happens only when a consumer is familiar with brand and all its attributes, then he keys in the brand name into the search bar.

If retail brick and mortar spaces provide a lot of competition, so it is a million times more in the World Wide Web and the Internet space. Products and services as well as structured ecommerce platforms and social networking sites deluge consumers.

The Importance of Branding

The battle for the consumers’ mind and pocket power must begin outside the digital world.

Not all products or services are classified as brands. A product or service becomes a brand only when a large number of consumers are able to recall the product or service unaided, soon as the category comes to mind.

With a strong brand recall, consumers are likely to key in the brand they are most familiar with in the search bar or scroll for flagship stores in structured ecommerce platforms bypassing commodity products. This is when the search becomes organic. Some brand owners complement organic searches with search engine optimization (SEO) to ascertain that the brand comes out first or on top in a category search. Some put in ad boosting investments.

Branding On and off digital space

Establish a clear and focused brand narrative.  With much of digital ad videos reduced to 6 seconds, not to mention a plethora of digital ads, brands are challenged to tell the story succinctly in a very short time. That is why use of omni-media channels or multiple platforms on and off the digital space are important to drive the message. Today’s consumers have multiple interests and multiple touch points. Having a single-minded story on and off digital reinforces brand knowledge. Brand stories do not come by chance or by whim. It is the result of a long tedious process of brand strategy work that includes consumer insighting, developing a brand story that resonates well with the consumers sufficient enough to convert the new category users or make the current users buy more of the product or service; and communicating these in online and off-line, over the top media channels meant to reach out to target consumers.

Tap user generated content (UGC) that matches your brands narrative. UGC can be by popular, fee based key opinion leaders (KOLs) or by organic, real people communities who happen to be brand users. These KOLs and organic community must help build strong, positive associations about the brand. For example, Apple’s Shot On iPhone campaign is a social media marketing campaign complemented by online and offline ads. Iphone harnessed its community by challenging its users to come up with best shots on Instagram and the selected shots were used on billboards, apple retail stores and online. The hashtag #ShotOniPhone has generated over 12 million posts.

Beauty soap Dove’s extensive use of social media began in 2004 on top of traditional media, with its all inclusive, positive body image and natural beauty campaign #RealBeauty aimed at building self-confidence among women and young children regardless of their appearance. Dove’s latest campaign 17 years later, #NoDigitalDistortionMark aptly challenges the world of digital where filters, airbrushing and editing apps proliferate, aptly distorting the concept of real beauty and setting up new beauty standards devoid of reality. This time the #NoDigitalDistortion campaign celebrates user generated content on Tiktok.

Branding is a multimedia platform exercise.  Having a brand narrative is one and communicating it is another. A business owner may have a great product and brand story to tell but if this is not communicated in relevant communications channels and kept merely for posterity or by word of mouth, then the likelihood of becoming a major brand is small.

The search bar, indeed is both a test and reminder to determine whether a product or service is a commodity or brand. The more organic searches there are in comparison to competitors, the greater is the likelihood that a product or service is a brand, likely a dominant brand.

The writer is Chief Brand Strategist of MKS Marketing Consulting and is an alumna of Oxford University’s SAID Graduate School of Business Strategic Leadership and Strategic Marketing Executive Education Program and Stanford Graduate School of Business Strategic Marketing Executive Education. De Asis is also an alumna of the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and a PhD graduate of the De La Salle Graduate School, Taft Campus. Reach the author who is also a member of the Global Strategic Consulting Network at karenvdeasis@gmail.com