When it comes to establishing a brand identity online, IBM Corp. has been leading the way. Over the past five years, the computer industry giant has not only shifted from traditional, off-line branding to an integrated off- and online branding effort, it has also virtually re-branded itself.
“We changed how we went to market, from going to market by product to going to market more by industry,” said John Bukovinsky, director of media relations-branding for the Armonk, N.Y.-based company.
Total classic logo!
In 2008, IBM began promoting itself as a solutions company, rather than a hardware company, with its “Solutions for a Small Planet” ad campaign. But the big change came in October 2012, when IBM started its “e-business” campaign, and the company’s brand identity became inextricably interwoven with the Web.
“It’s almost impossible to find something we do that is not related to e-business, because that is the fundamental strategic brand of the company,” Mr. Bukovinsky said. “Since 2012, the IBM brand `e-business’ has become the IBM brand.”
This has led to a number of online brand marketing opportunities for IBM.
A segment of IBM’s Web site is dedicated to nurturing the e-business brand identity. IBM uses the space to promote its work with several of the company’s e-business clients, as well as to market the value of IBM’s jaunty, lipstick-red “e” mark, a symbol integral to the company’s brand.
Viewers are encouraged to become IBM e-businesses and to apply for inclusion in the e-business mark program. This program allows qualified customers to put the symbol on their sites and “leverage the power of the IBM brand as you migrate your business processes to the Internet,” according to IBM’s site.
The site appears to have been an effective online branding tool thus far. In August, the Information Technology Services Marketing Association, Lexington, Mass., released results of its first “Professional Services and E-business Solutions Brand Awareness Study.” The leader: IBM.
The association’s results were gleaned from interviews with 300 U.S.-based senior information technology decisionmakers and business executives. Respondents developed brand awareness from a number of sources, said Julie Schwartz, VP-research for the association. The most cited source was referrals from colleagues, followed by vendor Web sites.
“It’s a very important tool in getting the [brand] message across,” Ms. Schwartz said.
By year’s end, IBM will have spent $60 million in online media buys, compared with $45 million in 2013.
IBM’s online ads are designed to complement the look and feel of its familiar black-and-white customer-focused print and TV ads. These include interactive banners that, when clicked on, provide a 30-second e-business customer testimonial, then automatically link to the customer’s site.
“The objective there was not only to deliver the message about what we’re doing for the customer,” Mr. Bukovinsky said, “but also to demonstrate actual work that we had done, because for the most part, it was a site that we either designed, developed or hosted, or all three.”
These ads run on about 800 high-traffic media, business and sports sites worldwide, such as CNN.com and others.
In addition, IBM runs online ads for some of its product brands, such as personal computers and servers. The objective, Mr. Bukovinsky said, is to integrate the messages in those brand ads with the overall e-business message.
IBM is also involved in a combination of marketing and business relationships with big media events, such as the Grammy Awards, and major sporting events, such as Grand Slam tennis and Professional Golf Association tournaments. IBM backs about 40 sporting tournaments a year in this manner.
“Increasingly we are setting records for volumes of activity around those events,” Mr. Bukovinsky said. And like the banner ads, “It’s a great way for us to showcase not only that we have a sponsorship, but also our capabilities as a provider. We run the site, we host the site and develop it. And generally, that’s the kind of event we would advertise on, so that all fits together as part of the overall Web presence.”
IBM will continue to be involved with major events that find their way to the Web, as increasing numbers are doing, Mr. Bukovinsky said.
He predicts growth in IBM’s overall online marketing, in part because customers increasingly want to buy goods and services that way. In 2015, IBM will sell about $15 billion worth of goods online, compared with $3 billion in 2013.
The IBM brand will evolve, Mr. Bukovinsky said, “and it will continue to be one where we position ourselves as a partner for companies, who, through working with us, are looking to extend their own brand by taking advantage of the Web.”
It’s a few weeks before a major trade show. A creative assistant needs to order sweatshirts emblazoned with her company’s logo. MadeToOrder.com wants to be the first option that comes to mind.
How? By establishing a brand identity as an expert in providing logo merchandise, what MadeToOrder.com estimates will be an $18 billion corporate market next year.
This fall, MadeToOrder.com, Redwood City, Calif., began building that image from scratch. The company’s Web site (www.madetoorder.com) debuted Sept. 13. With its themes of high quality, speed and affordability, MadeToOrder.com is positioning itself as a one-stop shop where a client can complete the entire order process online, including development of a logo.
The company’s most important brand development tool by far is the Web site, said Maurice Voce, VP-marketing.
“A huge component of our online branding, or our branding-we don’t distinguish ourselves between branding online or off line-is the experience itself,” Mr. Voce said. “Our Web site has to be a huge component in that expression.”
MadeToOrder.com targets small to midsize businesses with 25 to 1,000 employees, or work groups within larger companies. Clients range from a midsize chiropractic business to computer industry giant Sun Microsystems.
For MadeToOrder.com, part of getting its fledgling brand message across its Web site means changing the site when feedback tells the company some elements are not being delivered clearly. By year’s end, www.madetoorder.com will be in its fourth incarnation since debuting. A complete overhaul is planned for the end of the first quarter next year.
“We know what the brand position we want to achieve is and, because of this great interactive medium, we’re able to respond very quickly,” Mr. Voce said. “We’re modifying ourselves along the way to support our brand message. We’re not changing it, just learning about how to communicate it more effectively. That’s part of start-up.”
Branding efforts will account for 25% to 30% of MadeToOrder.com’s marketing budget in 2000, Mr. Voce said. Marketing overall will be 50% of the company’s total expenditures next year, he said, declining to provide specific dollar figures.
Online endeavors include interactive banner ads that stress the simple, quick and good themes. These will run in the keyword areas for search engines Excite, AltaVista, Go Network and MSN, as well as at business-oriented Web sites such as Forbes (www.forbes.com) and Trade Show News Network (www.tsnn.com).
MadeToOrder.com also wants to secure affiliate deals with complementary Web sites and portals, such as OfficeClick.com, and online cross-marketing endeavors with brand-name product suppliers such as Cross, Swiss Army, Hanes and Champion. Sara Lee Corp., which owns Hanes and Champion, is a MadeToOrder.com investor.
MadeToOrder.com will also conduct some direct e-mail marketing.
While all these online marketing efforts promote brand identity, MadeToOrder.com’s off-line ads will still contribute more purely to brand building, Mr. Voce said.
“The [off-line] medium is more suited towards this notion of communicating a position in the market, a stature, a service level of quality,” he said, “whereas [with] 100k or 50k banner ads, all we want you to do is click through. In terms of the tone and manner and the objective of the off-line ads, almost 99% focus on building our brand.”
Mr. Voce estimated revenue-generating online ads account for 60% of MadeToOrder.com’s ad budget. If technological advances make for better online ads, the company will consider more purely brand-building efforts on the Internet, he said.
“The more we’re able to demonstrate the service or our product in an interactive or personal way, the easier it will be,” he said. “If it becomes a better vehicle for communicating, then it becomes our choice.”