Why Internet Execs Underestimate the Power of Brand, But Shouldn’t

Why Internet Execs Underestimate the Power of Brand, But Shouldn’t

When a company is young and in its startup phase, there’s often a focus on marketing to figure out product market fit and to generate revenue (i.e., enough revenue to keep the lights on and the devs caffeinated), and sometimes scale to a large business

But while digital marketing can build an amazing business and create a huge amount of revenue, for a company to continue to grow expanding the scope of marketing efforts and engaging in long term strategic thinking about the company, it’s mission and reason for being, is critical.

What they need to be thinking about is, in a word, “brand”.

Digital and Direct Response Can Get You Far – But They Don’t Accomplish Longevity

Marketing a product online is relatively cheap and easy, and it’s incredibly effective. In ZipRecruiter’s first phase, for example, digital and direct response marketing was the cornerstone of our explosive growth.

We built an extremely efficient and cost-effective marketing machine which kept our numbers moving up and to the right (revenue, active subscribers, engagement) at an impressive rate. Those strong results kept us massively profitable and bootstrapped;

  • Driving over 325,000 employers to register on our site in 2014
  • Growth rate of 331% year over year
  • This stellar growth helped us land $63 million Series A round in August of last year


An example our digital display ads

The keys to that growth? Science + Speed:

  • Testing – we obsessively A/B test messaging, site behavior, and user experience to find the optimal approach
  • Optimization – we take those learnings and quickly optimize variables to maximize the result
  • Profitably increasing our SEM spend – by optimizing for certain keywords and queries, we use data analysis to push the envelope on our SEM spend
  • Expansion into new channels – This  level of precisions helped us move from SEM into Direct Mail, Radio, and on to Television. We’ve replicated our science-based approach as we profitably launched in one new channel after the other
  • Revenue extraction – By using testing and optimization to discern user intent, along with new product launches and pricing strategy, we’ve moved to decrease churn, increase customer satisfaction and increase revenue per customer. Hand and Hand.

As we moved into this year, we started looking at ways to build upon that success, and began to look beyond core marketing and into brand building for the long term. To be clear, brand building develops multiple ways

  • Word of mouth
  • Delivering a quality product
  • Obsessing over customer satisfaction

All of which we have always focused on. But we decided we’d reached a perfect triangle of critical mass, market penetration, and product robustness to move to the next level, we knew we had to look to T.V.

Easing into Television

To many executives in the tech space, T.V. is a no-go. It’s seen as expensive and tough to break into, and reporting is perceived as unreliable, especially compared to the analytic insights to be found within the data generated by digital marketing efforts.

Most of those fears are rooted in truth. By being methodical in our approach, not using brute force but relying on the data (and developing a sophisticated attribution methodology that I lead the team to build in-house), we were able to ease ourselves into television.

That original spot gave us a springboard into our current T.V. campaign featuring a spot that speaks directly to our brand story, which is a crucial part of our growth strategy.

Your Story is Your Differentiator

So why is brand so important to us, and why should it be important to you?

Because a product without a strong brand behind it is just another offering in the marketplace, without a track record to support it, or a narrative to put it into context. Take look at Apple’s latest consumer tech offering, the iWatch. Does anyone really need an iWatch? More importantly, 5 years from now will Jony Ive-designed timepieces be on the wrists of as many folks as have an iPhone in their pocket?

Maybe. No one knows for sure – the market is relatively new, and no other smartwatch has gained widespread adoption as of yet. On the other hand, no other smartwatch has the Apple brand behind it, and we all know what that brand represents:

  • Quality
  • Innovation
  • Superior design
  • Forward thinking

The reason we’re willing to accept the iWatch as a product is because of Apple’s brand. We’ve bought into the fact that Apple knows what we need before we do. We accept that they add value, even before we know we need value added.

Even though Apple is not first to market with a smart watch, their track record of producing game-changing products has given the marketing team in Cupertino a lead in mindshare over their competitors. That brand equity, painstakingly built over the past 15 years, immediately makes them the market leader.

They’ve differentiated themselves through their brand story. That’s invaluable.

Telling Your Story is Explaining Your Why

The best brands don’t just tell people what they do, they tell them why they do it, and that “why” resonates with consumers. What’s powerful about that resonance is that when you establish that emotional connection with consumers, they will remember you.

Whether they are customers, former customers, or future customers, by helping them to identify with your brand with greater depth than with fictional product features, you are positioning yourself in their minds as “the best” – whatever it is you do. That perception can be so ingrained that it persists across generations, and it solves for that deeper level goal. For ZipRecruiter, that’s finding the right hire for your business.

If your mom used Tide while you were growing up and you now associate that bright orange bottle with your childhood, chances are good that you will reach reflexively for it next time you need laundry detergent.

Tide’s brand story – their “why” – connected with your mother at some point in the past, and now that story is tied up in the story of your childhood, connecting you with the brand. That’s powerful.

Our new campaign incorporates pieces of this lesson. We have a spot that outlines what we do, and it’s a great summation of our product and value prop

But for the first time we layer in one that will solidify our market position: we believe in small businesses and understand “why” hiring is important to them.

You Can Measure Brand ROI

At this point, a lot of marketers will be saying “Sounds awesome in theory, but how do you measure success?”

We’re sympathetic to that, because at ZipRecruiter everything is measured, and ROI on branding is definitely no exception – Yes it is difficult, but we do it.

To measure the success of our branding efforts, we’ve taken our scientific digital marketing approach as mentioned earlier and applied it to the following metrics:

  • Retention
  • Engagement
  • Revenue

Whether it’s through T.V. and radio, or digital channels like social media and content, our branding efforts are integral to our growth, and will be the platform on which we elevate our brand.

By sharing our story, and by presenting it in an emotionally compelling way, we’ll connect with our current customers, and build awareness of ZipRecruiter among employers who will one day need to hire.

It’s an aggressive step for any start-up stepping into brand maturity – But we think time and results will prove, though aggressive, it was a necessary and worth-while one.

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