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I had an interesting call with a potential client last month. The company was selling a new consumer technology and the CEO wanted to know whether I thought there was an opportunity market their product on PPC. I started to explain how consumer electronics are marketed through AdWords when the CMO joined the call. The CMO, it turned out, was an old-school brand marketer. The conversation went something like this:

David: If you have a ‘new mousetrap’ type of product, you need to think about advertising on the Google Content Network – it’s a great place to engage users before they even know that they need your product. I think of GCN as a “demand creation” platform, whereas Google Search is more of a “demand fulfillment” medium.

CMO: Do you know approximately what percentage of sales comes from direct marketing for manufacturers?

David: I have no idea.

CMO: 7%!

David: OK.

CMO: So the point is, we shouldn’t waste any of our time on PPC because that’s not how you sell products.

David: Do you think you can hit your profit objectives simply through branding?

CMO: Yes, absolutely.

David: OK, go for it.

And that was the end of the conversation. My rule of thumb with new clients is that I never try to “sell” them on the concept of paid search marketing. If they haven’t already bought into the concept, I don’t have the time to educate them on the benefits. And this CMO was clearly part of the flat-earth society when it came to PPC, so there was no point arguing with him.

But the idea that he could actually hit his ROI metrics solely through branding did get me thinking a bit. I’m quite skeptical of most branding campaigns, simply because I suspect that most brand marketers can’t really quantify the ROI of the branding. But this CMO was confident that his branding would be ROI positive, and I can only assume that meant he had some clear metrics in place that would support that thesis.

If that’s the case, its hard to argue with his approach. He knows branding, and he knows how to measure branding, so why should he invest money in a medium he doesn’t understand if he can hit his metrics through his bread and butter approach?

I thought about it a little more, however, and realized that the CMO was missing one other crucial point: PPC can also drive branding and can often be the “last mile” that drives a conversion from branding. Let’s say you spend $1 million on a Super Bowl ad promoting your new “Gizmo Technology.” A day after the Super Bowl, people do a search on Google for your technology and all they see is ads for your competitors. Your branding may have just created a boon for your PPC-savvy competition! I actually saw this phenomenon at work in the mortgage business. When a competitor ran a front page promotion on Yahoo or another huge media buy, we would see an increase in conversions from our paid search!

On top of that, on AdWords and GCN, you can drive millions and often billions of impressions for pennies. I had a client that got more than one billion impressions at a CPM of less than $.10. That’s a lot of eyeballs for a little cost. The next generation is going to spend more time on the computer than they will watching TV or listening to the radio. If you aren’t placing your brand front-and-center on Google and Facebook, you are probably missing the biggest mass medium opportunity there is.

So I’m not against branding per se, and I am impressed by anyone who can measure the impact of their branding dollars. But branders have to meet us direct marketers half-way and acknowledge that PPC can and should be a significant component of their branding campaigns. Relying on branding alone in an Internet age just won’t cut it anymore.