In the world of web publishing, one driven by hard numbers that reflect CTRs (click-through rates) and traffic figures (page views, visits), do intangible aspects like brand building even matter? If brand building does matter, then are publishers doing enough on this front? When it comes to brand building, has measurability become a liability for websites?
We tried to answer these questions during the course of a panel discussion, at the recently concluded Digipub World, a convention for web publishers.
One may argue that in the case of players like Times Internet - a constellation of brands like Cricbuzz, MumbaiMirror, Gaana, ZigWheels, etc., all very different from on another - the mother brand can over-shadow the sub-brands under it. In such a scenario, should brand building include efforts to divorce individual website brands under the mother-ship from the halo brand?
Pratik Mazumder, vice president and head, marketing, Times Internet, said, "We haven't had that problem because the individual brands under Times Internet do have a distinct identity each, something the management has consciously worked towards over the years. It is important for all publisher brands to have a distinct personality."
The creation of IPs under the TOI brand (like Sports Awards or 'Write India', an initiative for aspiring authors), helps. In the case of smaller, niche brands like MensXP, "it's not always about chasing the UVs (unique visitors) and PVs (page views)"; laying down strict editorial guidelines in order to keep the content relevant to the specialised audience the site caters to (18-24 year old male, in this case) is also part of brand building. "A lot of publisher brands fail to sharply define who their consumer is..." Pratik said.
Abilasha Anish, head, brand strategy and promotions, The Hindu Group, said, "Brand building it not just for the sake of getting advertisers onto your site; it begins with user generation. The more we build our brand, the better our audience profile becomes... advertising is the end result of that."
TheHindu.com is the most popular brand within The Hindu Group. Other brands (for instance, YoungWorldClub.com for kids, among others), "are not actually dependent on advertising; we build them as separate products and get users to pay for the content," said Abilasha.
In the case of both the 'legacy brands' that were represented on this panel - The Times of India and The Hindu - efforts to build the print brand may not always rub off on the dot com/s. Also, a lot of youngsters may 'meet' these brands for the first time online.
About focused efforts to build the brand online, Abilasha said, "Many times, readers come from Google and Facebook. No one remembers the name of the dot com they read (a piece of news) on. In that scenario, legacy brands like ours do have a certain advantage, because they are well recognised and get people through direct (traffic) too. But that said, yes, there is a certain effort that needs to go towards building the online brand."
Tara Bartley, senior manager, global industry strategy, Akamai Technologies, said, "Yes, it (brand building) absolutely does matter. We want to make sure the publishers we work with are delivering an excellent user experience. Our recent tests (1,200 individuals participated in this study on branding) revealed that people associate negative words like 'disgust' and 'boring' with poor performing videos. So websites, and the images and videos on them, tie directly with the brand."
Does brand building become particularly crucial during certain stages in the lifecycle of a website? Deepak Agarwal, executive creative director, PointNine Lintas, says, "There is no stage. You need to be focused on brand building all the time," adding in the context of web publishers' brand building efforts, "Websites today are doing too much and too many confusing things."
Times Internet's Pratik, said, "You need to start building the brand once the product stabilises, around three to six or nine months (after the launch). Though it sounds like an expensive marketing investment at such an early stage, it is cost-effective in the long-term."
Abilasha of The Hindu Group added, "Today, every brand acts like a publisher brand... a Coke, for instance, can create its own content and its own channel - that's also publishing. So it's about how well one creates a community and then engages with them. I don't think large, legacy publishers communicate back to their readers online. We need to learn from FMCG brands and start responding to our readers more."