When times are tough, what makes more sense: to market to those who are interested in what you're selling or to anyone and everyone in hopes of breaking through?
You are never going to catch me arguing that there is not both a power and need for mass media branding (there is). It works. If you don't believe me, do yourself a favour and read Rob Walker's excellent book, Buying In. But, in a day and age when budgets and people are being slashed and Marketers are being asked to do more with less to get even better results, where are the real efforts being placed?
Put all of your money into Search (both organic and paid).
Think about it this way: traditional advertising is a "hope and a prayer" (must we really trot out the infamous quote from John Wanamaker: "I know that half of my advertising doesn't work. The problem is, I don't know which half.") Brands take out ads in hopes that people see them, remember them, and then (either at that moment or at some point later in time) act on them. Some of the best ads have a conversion rate of 5% (meaning 95% of the people who saw it did nothing). On the other hand, if you think about the context of search, we have individuals who are actively raising their hands and looking for something specific. It could be your product or service or they could be creating search queries that have enough keyword relevance that you could be in front of them. On top of that, you don't pay for that ad, unless they click on it.
The truth is that most Marketers are not putting the right dollars against the real ROI.
It's not just search. I've been in countless meetings where mid-level Marketers say that if given the dollars for their Direct Marketing initiatives they could practically guarantee more revenue and sales. The truth is, it's simply not as sexy to show-off a search engine marketing report as it is to put an ad on the rink board of some NHL franchise. Let's be honest too: there's zero chance that we can make these reports any sexier to those who write the cheques (reports will never be as sexy as billboards in Times Square). Marketers simply don't get excited about Marketing optimization or using tools like Web Analytics to help them sell more. Sure, there are some who are catching the drift, but the majority are simply uninterested.
Marketers are being irresponsible.
If you haven't maximized all of the money you can spend on Search and then used whatever is left over for your more general branding campaigns, what you're really saying is that you are less interested in those who are actively either looking for you or have a need/problem that your brand fulfills, and that you are more interested in potentially attracting a very small percentage of the mass public who might actually act on some of your more generic mass media advertising campaigns.
Does this make any sense to you?