One of the first things I learned when I started working in online marketing, is that there are two very different camps in the advertising/marketing world. On one side we have the brand-based advertisers and on the other we have the direct marketers.
I personally cut my teeth working for an online business, which relied almost exclusively on online direct response campaigns. I was taught the value of conversion tracking and the advantage of trackable online campaigns over traditional offline advertising mediums when it came to calculating ROI. As direct marketers, we usually responded with a certain amount of contempt to claims of "branding value" made by agencies, pointing out the fact that there was no way to accurately measure the effects of any particular branding campaign and therefore any perceived value may as well be magic fairy dust.
In fact, many direct marketers have hailed the digital revolution as the bringer of the final death-blow to traditional brand-based advertising, as more and more advertisers forsake "faith" (believing in the cumulative power of repeatedly presenting their brand to consumers) for "science" (measuring tangible campaign results). On top of that, consumers are thought to be less brand-loyal, as stories emerge of well-known brands being anything but respectable. Nowadays, consumers can rely on different criteria to determine whether or not to trust a certain company.
Sites like Ebay are a good example of such criteria, as it allows buyers to give feedback about their transaction, offering an actual trust count for every seller. In most cases, buyers don't even concern themselves with the name of the company/individual they are buying from, thus all sellers are equal and judged only by merit.
While there is no doubt in most marketers' minds that branding does indeed work, the inability to place specific value on brand-based campaigns, coupled with abuse of trust, means branding is not the most viable form of online advertising.
Search marketing is often seen to be all about direct response. Results appear in the SERPs as a response to a direct query, they are not immediately branded with a logo and getting the user to click through would depend on copy, which can be manipulated to provide the most suitable answer. But does this mean SEO and branding don't mix?
Sure, basing an SEO strategy on brand power is at odds with how search marketing works and would not get you very far, but I don't believe a successful SEO or SEM campaign should entirely avoid using elements of branding. On the contrary, placing your brand within the consumer's decision-making process is a great way to bring branding into the digital marketing landscape.
Users are more likely to search for what they need by keywords or key phrases, rather than by brand name, which is where the direct marketing tactics come in. If your meta title tags and inlink anchor text only have your brand name in them, for example (as I've seen some companies insist on doing), then you are likely to be missing out on valuable traffic. On the other hand, you can integrate branding tactics into your strategy to gain the extra benefits.
Use your brand name as part of your PPC ad mix to associate your brand with particular useful keywords; use branding in social media marketing to establish brand awareness and above all else, make sure your own site is suitably branded throughout so that any linkbait, blogs or other types optimised content pages you have can be used to strengthen your brand over time, even if they don't lead to immediate sales.