This is a question that many CMO’s think about. If you were to hear it from many traditional advertising firms you’d think that SEO is somewhere along the lines of an afterthought. If you were to hear it from a PPC firm, you would think that SEO is a bunch of tricks that can’t ensure a steady ROI as it constantly is moving up and down. However, if you were to hear it from an SEO firm, the warcry is that SEO has the ability to deliver the highest ROI of all forms of marketing. All these are true and not true at the same time. All the views are valid. But the one that never sticks out, yet is the most positive about it is that SEO is a valid branding strategy.
In all honesty there is no such thing as a digital campaign without including and prioritizing SEO as one of the keystones. SEO is a branding strategy. When someone searches for X and sees your brand, then they search for a variation on X and still sees your brand the client is being exposed to a “self inflicted” branding campaign. As far as the end user knows Google is “suggesting” your site as valid for that search query.
If the potential client is exposed to your brand in several searches, eventually the potential client remembers that your brand is associated with that search. You’ve launched a rudimentary branding campaign with only SEO as the tool.
Many marketing managers don’t think about this, but Wikipedia was nearly fully branded by SEO. Without SEO Wikipedia would never have achieved the same level of traffic and reliance as it has today.
So when someone says “SEO isn’t branding” ask them how it’s not branding every time someone searches for the generic version of your product, and your name appears.