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Advertising for Branding Versus Advertising for Sales

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.


Retailing pioneer John Wanamaker is famous for saying that he thought only half of his advertising worked, but that he didn't know which half. This accurately expresses the frustrations with advertising of small business owners and big corporate executives alike.

With today’s performance-based advertising programs such as Facebook Ads and Google AdWords, you would think that this frustration should have been completely eliminated, right? Unfortunately, it’s only become more frustrating.

What Advertisers Get Wrong All the Time

The problem stems from confusion between advertising for branding versus advertising for sales. And advertisers get it wrong all the time.

For many years, I sold advertising in a trade newspaper that was mailed monthly to contractors. My advertiser clients were suppliers to contractors. These advertisers were people who believed in tangible results: Buy $1 of advertising, get at least $1 of sales that could be directly attributable to the ad.

But my publication was a public relations tool that included local industry news. The contractor readers might casually look at the newspaper during their off hours to see what their industry colleagues were doing. It was a total branding, name recognition play.

Some of my advertisers were insistent on trying to measure their ad results with “mention this ad” type of tracking. I just had to shake my head. First, “mention this ad” tracking for the advertisers’ busy, distracted, always-on-the-road contractor customers was unrealistic. A supplier’s ad would be the last thing on their minds. Plus, contractors might send their workers, who wouldn’t have seen or cared about the ad, to pick up orders from an advertiser’s warehouse.

It’s been some years since I was actively selling to these suppliers. Today, I would probably advise that if detailed tracking was their concern, they should probably spend their money on PPC (pay per click) advertising on Google AdWords instead of with me.

Finding Versus Feeding With PPC Advertising

Here’s where advertisers are getting even more messed up these days. Google AdWords or other search engine advertising is Pay Per Click (PPC). Social media advertising is also PPC. But the two can deliver different results.

Finding. Search engine advertising is fueled by search. People have entered their intent with keywords. They are actively looking for information and solutions for their needs. So when they click on an ad they find during their search activities, they are self selecting as potential buyers. Ads delivered to help users find what they're looking for are ads for sales. Any branding that occurs is a bonus.

Feeding. Social media advertising is fed by the social network based on what they believe are users’ interests. Ads are integrated into users’ news feeds. Users have not actively demonstrated intent to find products, services, or information for a particular need. Many of these ads could be given minimal attention, or may even be ignored, since users are really looking for news on their friends, family, and other things they care about. If they actually see advertising, they'll probably only remember the advertiser's name. Ads that are fed are primarily branding plays since users have not actively expressed or demonstrated their intent to buy. Any sales may be coincidental or impulse buys.

Know which objective you’re trying to accomplish—sales or branding—so that you use the right channel for the job.

What About Facebook Pixel for Measuring Sales From Facebook Ads?

Facebook offers advertisers what’s called a “pixel,” a bit of tracking code that is placed on a website page or sales page for the ad that’s being run. This helps advertisers track the sales lead from initial contact through sale. It can often be integrated into ecommerce systems such as Shopify. Other social platforms might have similar pixel type tracking available, too.

So is this the solution for getting a handle on how much your social media and branding advertising is doing for sales? Yes, with one very notable exception.

The Amazon Problem

If you’re selling your products or books on Amazon, no pixels are allowed on the product or book sales pages. We can only hope that one day that might change. But I’m not holding my breath waiting since Amazon is itself an advertising platform.

Facebook ads have often been touted as being an advertising medium for self-published authors’ books. But without the advantage of a tracking system such as a pixel, it can be challenging to get exact results. One way to help evaluate Facebook ad effectiveness for books might be to track clicks generated by a Facebook ad for your book and compare with book sales made on Amazon during the period. It’s better than nothing.

However, carefully consider if going directly for the sale from social media is what you want to do. You might be better served by using social media, organically or with advertising, to build your author platform so that when you do have a book to promote, you already have a pool of potential buyers lined up.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Heidi Thorne

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Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 14, 2019:

Noted, please and thanks.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 14, 2019:

Dianna, from all I've been reading and hearing in the marketing sphere, branding is even going to be more crucial as the Internet and devices (like Alexa) move to voice search. For example, if you're a cookie seller and you have top of mind awareness with your prospective customers, they won't just ask for, say, cookies. They'll ask for YOUR cookies.

Thanks for joining the conversation and have a great day!

Dianna Mendez on April 13, 2019:

I appreciate your advise on branding. It seems to be how people are getting their product or name out there these days.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 12, 2019:

Bill, you are your brand for sure! So many writers switch off when they start using social media, thinking that there is some magical formula. Just be yourself!

It's been hot and cold, literally, the past week or two here in Chicago. And we missed those blizzards! But we'll have a high of 38 on Sunday. Just the way it is here.

Thanks for stopping by and have a terrific weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 12, 2019:

Liz, in all I'm reading on marketing for the future, branding is the key. And, yes, it is tough for small business, particularly since ads for branding are not a direct route to income. Thanks for adding that to the conversation! Have a lovely weekend!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 10, 2019:

Hi, Heidi, your comment is useful. A beautiful day to you likewise.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 10, 2019:

Great information, Heidi! I was thinking while reading this. . . I am my own branding in a way. As I navigate social media daily, I am actually advertising myself in everything I do and say in interaction with others. Being the person I am dictates, in a very real sense, how my book sales will go.

Sorry about the snow....spring must be out there somewhere for you folks.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 10, 2019:

Thanks for unravelling a little of the complexity around advertising. In my view, a strong brand counts for a lot. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done for small businesses.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 10, 2019:

Flourish, lots of people--including people who pay a ton of money for advertising--don't understand the difference. And, yes, the pixel is tricky, but helpful for advertisers desperate to figure out if their ad investments are working.

Thanks for chiming in and have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 10, 2019:

You're welcome, Miebakagh! Have a wonderful day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 10, 2019:

I’ve never thought about the difference between these two types of advertising but it makes a lot of sense. I had no idea about the pixel tracking. Tricky, tricky.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 09, 2019:

Hello, Heidi, thanks for sharing.

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