United Airlines brand and reputation value

hotel-brand-theftOften working with corporate communications, our team is asked to review current examples of corporate reputation taken over.

When dealing with organizations that are dealing with digital communication changes, one of the most revealing points is to compare multiple data sources and review how A leads to B leads to C.

In the case of United Airlines we collected a snapshot of material on 10/01/09 and created a simple one page questions and answers sheet that served as a thought catalyst.

There are several concepts that need to be addressed (From left to right)

In 2008, the pilot union of United Airlines created the GlennTilton blog, directly targeting the CEO’s name in an effort to spotlight their request to have Glenn Tilton fired. Through-out most of 2009, the site was averaging two to four thousand visitors a month.

In the center column, brand advocates and disgruntled consumers participated in (a letter play on United) – which averaged 8500 visitors a month.

On the right column, Guitarist Dave Carroll created the smash-hit video “United Breaks Guitars” and had nearly five million viewers (as of today: 7.2 million)

Across the center row, we can see the numbers related to estimated search traffic that was exposed and redirected from brand keyword searches. The true box of importance is highlighted (to right) , placing on-going brand damages at $25k a month and higher.

Some other items of note:

Wikipedia has an entry that scores on the third search result of the search phrase “United Airlines.” That Wikipedia resource page was viewed 66595 times in December 2009. (resulting in an additional potential loss of $150k a month)

That brand/marketing damage is not simply about mass audience appeal, but industry investor impact. As a direct connection to poor stock performance and bad reputation, BloggingStochs editor Jamie Dlugosc wrote “Stock to avoid #7 – United Airlines” where the United Breaks Guitar video was highlighted for the investment audience.

To leave on a more comical note:
“Hitler finds out United Breaks Guitars”

[pro-player width=’530′ height=’340′ type=’video’][/pro-player]

Search Engine Conquesting, brand and reputation

Many professionals have come to the conclusion of ranking for a specific keyword on Google is good for them. In some instances the keyword happens to be a brand name, a professionals name, or simply an associated trademark.

If we put our shoes in the brand of NIKE: we rank on Google result one for the keyword “Nike”, wouldn’t it be great if we could rank for multiple results on page one and keep all the valuable brand traffic we have created? From a marketing and public relations perspective, the answer should be a resounding “YES!” – as roughly 16% of NIKE’s 2.4 million monthly unique visitors are visiting the site with the keyword “NIKE”

That means that every single result on the Google homepage for the keyword “NIKE” is worth 50K+ monthly visitors looking for the brand.

So what is conquesting and why should I care?

When most people think of the word “conquesting” they probably think of roman soldiers claiming Europe or Celtic barbarians ravaging peasant villages. While the term may invoke memories of epic stories, it is also beginning to see a revival in the online marketplace.

Conquesting in regards to marketing is when a competitor purposely places advertising and brand message side by side with similar businesses. In the real world conquesting has been around for years in grocery stores where like-minded products are side by side or in retail malls where cell phone booths are packed within arms reach of one another. In print media conquesting often took the form of advertisers purposely buying strip ads near larger competitive ads in an attempt to leverage the competitors larger ad.

The online world has given conquesting entirely new life.

Popular search engines have enabled pay per click campaigns where competitive ads are displayed when someone searches for a competitor’s name (even when it is a trademark). As online technology has become more precise, conquesting has become more and more prevalent providing side by side advertising… and in actually having the ability to completely replace a competitors presence with targeted advertising. Rather than just sitting side by side, newer versions of online conquesting make finding the original content almost impossible.

The “Google Culture” of the past five years has assisted this trend by training the consumer audience to accept competitive ads when searching and it has also created seasoned marketing veterans who actively focus advertising on competitive brands rather than their own. This has created a trend where the pay per click system has seen increasing cost as businesses bid on terms that reflect their own company’s own brand; and it has slowly evolved into a situation where savvy marketers have realized the benefit of not only controlling company brand, but competitors branding as well.

Organic and natural search results have also seen plenty of conquesting strategies where white papers, professional reviews, and customer opinions are purposely indexed under the names of competitive businesses. The purpose of such articles is to present consumers with competitive marketing information to compare Product A to Product B, to present skillfully crafted and biased articles trying to trigger a consumer response, or to simply derail a competitors ability to have meaningful information found.

Outside of the search engine world the effects of online conquesting can also be seen through social community sites where public personalities have written articles that are conquested by competitors purposely commenting on articles or discussions to lure away readers. Individual blogging platform have allowed companies, employees, critics, and peers to utilize the conquesting tactic to dominate the online realm.

Understanding How It Affects You

The most critical element of conquesting is realizing that it exists as a valid marketing tactic. It may be something your business may implement in its own marketing strategy or it may be utilized to better understand how to defend your brand against competitive conquesting. There are many tactics in understanding how consumers find your business through search terms and it is more effective understanding how your brand is established online and understanding how well your competitors brands are also established.

The Dark Side of Conquesting – Brand Squatting

For every company or professional that has properly taken control of their presence online, talented search engine marketing experts have figured out ways of using the same methodology against them: ranking competitive sites for another company’s brand terms. This is often where reputation management becomes a significant consideration for a company, when a competitor or negative piece of information is brand squatting on important keywords that represent valuable consumers, current clients, employees, investors, and journalists.

Does ‘Conquesting’ Work?

Marketing through conquesting techniques can have huge return on investment. It also risks alienating the marketplace if the attempt is too flagrant or poorly implemented. Consumers love to have choice, so there is merit and even sound strategy in helping prospects find useful information that assists them in making an educated decision to conduct business. When done skillfully- leveraging marketing budget through conquesting can be compared to buying larger advertising campaigns for pennies on the dollar.

In the battle for prime audiences on Google, conquesting online is becoming a significant factor in maximizing online superiority.