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Brands Still Rule
Online Surveys and Publicity
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May 2009
ADM logoAllergy Season
Yes, May is one of the more beautiful months in the year, but for sufferers of hay fever, rose fever, or grass/pollen allergies, it can be a struggle.
Add to that the scare about Swine Flu, and you may hear what I heard at a bank, this morning. A woman was sneezing and sniffling as she was being served by a teller (yes, a real, live teller). She turned to the people on line and said, "It's just allergies--really!" Another woman piped up: "Yes, me, too--and my daughter!" Imagine that!
I expect to be going to Mexico later this month, so I took the precaution of obtaining Tamiflu (my usual pharmacy was out of Tamiflu and I had to go to another one about 5 miles away!), but I'm fairly confident it won't be necessary.

Brands Still Rule

Identification and Reassurance ProvidedUnbranded 

There is no doubt that the current economic climate is causing people to think and act far more conservatively--eating at home more, spending less on everything, even staying married. Nevertheless, branding continues to hold prominence in the purchase decisions of consumers as well as business buyers.

One of the side effects of the financial melt-down is a lack of trust in ad hoc "information." People want to know the credentials of the source, and brand equity provides that. Brand equity is similar to the equity one builds in a house or condominium. The more a brand can establish its quality and reliability the more it builds value, and that leads to purchases. The dark side of this principle, personified by Bernie Madoff (the Darth Vader of Wall Street), is the exception rather than the rule.
Branding is hardly new. It's as old as communication itself (Julius Caesar was a brand--everyone knew what he stood for). However, new media and communications methods have added new twists to this old story. Ironically, online advertising, which is  less than 20 years old, is old hat now. When it began, I conducted a study of major corporations that were advertising online and developing their first web sites. We asked what their strategies were for their online presence. The most common answer was: "We don't have one. We just know we need to be there."
Marketers today have become a lot more sophisticated. They now use social media like LinkedIn and Twitter to build their brands. Musicians can post audio files to build a following; major consumer brands like Ford, MacDonalds and Bud Light have used social media to gain face time with targeted groups of users and influencers. Some downplay the role of social media because it facilitates reaching only small groups, relative to more traditional media such as television. On the other hand, proponents such as Brian Morrissey of AdWeek point out that these smaller groups are "the right people -- users of social-media services who tend to be bloggers and active online in sharing information and shaping opinions."
Additionally, a recent study by ARAnet showed that old-style online ads and pop-ups are the least likely to get the attention of consumers or customers; and the least likely to promote action. Rather, articles, blogs, and other postings that mention a particular brand have much more influence in building brand equity and shaping consumer behavior.
What I find so interesting is the way fundamentals of marketing are continually being re-discovered and re-engineered, utilizing new techniques and technologies. Brands still rule but they get there by different paths.
Online Surveys And Publicity
Young man textingIs Online Reliable Enough?
A colleague recently told me that the New York Times (among other publications) will no longer publish results of online surveys in the context of a press release or byline article. This seemed rather odd to me considering the vast improvements that online research in general, and panels in particular, have undergone in the past several years. My first reaction was that it was snobbishness on the part of the Times. There may be more to it, however.
  • Quick and Dirty.  This is a phrase that has been around for a long time. It refers to research that is done quickly and cheaply, but not particularly well. It can refer to online research and other methods. These studies tend to use samples that are not representative of anyone other than the people on the list. Speed and efficiency drive the data collection, rather than practices that yield reliable data. Buyers of this type of research want numbers to present to management, whether they are the right numbers or not. Editors tend to take a dim view of such research, and they may connect it more with online research, whether correctly or incorrectly.
  • Sampling.  One of the thorniest issues in survey research is the source of the sample. Telephone research has the option of using high quality random probablility samples, generated from databanks of working residential telephone exchanges (survey research is excluded from "No Call" laws). There is no equivalent for online research. To make matters more complicated, spam laws disallow the use of anything other than opted-in lists. Most of these are far from probabilistic. This is one way in which editors and writers may connect online research with badly done research.
  • Panels. The closest we can get to a representative online sample is a panel, and there are several that are well-designed and maintained. While panel response rates are generally higher than for lists purchased from a publisher or from an organization, they cannot produce the kind of reliable data sets that come from a telephone study using a probability sample. But they come very close. It appears that editors are not persuaded of the reliability of such samples.
  • Questionnaires. Given the availability of Do-It-Yourself survey software, lots of online surveys are written in-house and can contain self-serving or vague questions and answers. This will not increase their appeal to editors for publication.
  • Administration. By biggest pet peeve with online surveys is that they are self-administered, rather than being conducted by trained interviewers. While online survey software has improved dramatically over the years, one cannot achieve the same results--especially from open-ended questions--as one can from a personally administered survey. Now that these surveys can be delivered via Blackberry, iPhone, or other mobile receivers, the quality of responses is sure to drop because respondents' attention is so distracted.

Being a realist, I fully recognize that online surveys are here to stay, and we try to make the best of it. Cost is definitely an issue here--so much the more so these days. But, as I often say: it's never the price, it's always the value. So public relations and communications professionals should ask themselves two questions:

  • What is the value of conducting a publicity-generating survey inexpensively if the results are not found credible to the publications where we want them to appear? 
  • How important is it to have our messages appear in high quality publications--and what do we need to spend to get them there?

As Forrest Gump said: That's all I have to say about that.

Upcoming Events--A Full Schedule
May 13, 11:30am-2:00pm
International Association of Business Communicators-Long Island is featuring "Brave New World of Social Networking: How To Make It Work For You," with Digital Motion Marketing President Andrew Aiello and Brand Specialist Burke Liburt. The meeting is being held at Blackstone Steakhouse on Pinelawn Road and Rte 110 in Melville. For more details and to register, go to  
May 20, 8:00am-10:00am   
Society of Marketing Professional Services-Long Island
is holding its annual meeting at Carlyle On The Green in Bethpage State Park. This event is free for members and a nominal fee for non-members. This is a great opportunity to network with marketers in the A/E/C industry on Long Island. For more information and to register please visit
Two Programs In May
The New York Chapter of the American Marketing Association has scheduled two important programs this month.
  • First, there another healthcare-related program, "The Increase In Diabetes and What That Means For Healthcare Marketers" on May 13th at 6pm, held at the Getty Images Studio, 75 Varick Street in New York.  It features a panel of experts, moderated by Raul Perez of Utilis Research & Consulting.
  • The second program, held at the offices of the New York AMA, 116 E. 27th St., is on "Brand Aid: How To Look, Sound, and Be Your Brand," featuring Diane DiResta of DiResta Communications, Inc. For more information, please go to and look for Upcoming Events on the right-hand side of the home page.

I hope to see you at one of these events.

This practice is dedicated to helping companies become knowledge-driven, rather than assumption driven about strategic and tactical decisions concerning lines of business, branding, communications, and various marketing activities. For more information about how we do this, case studies, frequently asked questions about marketing research, and testimonials, please visit our web site:

Ann Middleman