Is brand marketing becoming the forgotten hero? Many direct-to-consumer brands today have begun to develop an obsession with performance marketing while placing branding in the proverbial back burner. However, prioritizing one strategy over the other can result in significant ramifications.
Brand marketing was the foundation of my career. Identifying authentic consumer insights and using that as a basis to develop inspiring creative briefs and ultimately communicate with consumers for major brands was my specialty. The opportunity to harness both brand and performance marketing became evident to me when social media went mainstream. And after my partnership with MSN to launch the first-ever branded online game, I became hooked on how exciting it was to be able to measure engagement. I went on to found a marketing technology company that used a company's first-party data to apply customer intelligence to marketing across performance-marketing channels in real-time.
My experience made clear to me that finding a balance between brand marketing and performance marketing is essential for organizational growth and long-term success.
Brand marketing defines a company's reputation, its values, the quality of its offerings, its trustworthiness, and more. It seeks to enhance credibility, prompt an emotional response from the consumer, increase customer loyalty, and motivate buyers. Performance marketing, on the other hand, deals with the realm of concrete data, such as lead generation and conversions (e.g., email sign-ups and number of purchases).
Many marketers are masters of either brand or performance marketing, but very few excel at both simultaneously. It is challenging to go deep into both.
However, the best marketers must and do understand both the art and science of marketing and are able to bring forward foundational brand elements into communication with the consumer across every channel.
The Inadequacies of a Skewed Focus
Brand marketing and performance marketing are becoming increasingly interdependent in a world where personalization and building relationships with your consumers are of paramount importance.
We've all seen what happens when the focus is too brand-heavy. Some luxury retailers, for example, maintain a strong focus on aesthetics and art, and fail to give the same attention to measurable growth-marketing strategies and tactics. We've seen the gorgeous websites with beautiful editorial-style pictures, long page-load speeds, a lack of content that fosters organic traffic, and impossible-to-navigate webpages.
The idea is that by wowing the consumer with aesthetic and creative approaches, one can stand out from the crowd and make an impact.
However, that alone is not a recipe for success in a modern age where reach is largely determined by ad spend and organic traffic searches. Without strong SEO, user experience, or PPC strategies, those gorgeous campaigns end up like the Prada store in Marfa, Texas—a beautiful piece of art that draws attraction here and there but is largely confined to a desolate landscape.
We've also seen what happens when marketers go too far on the other side of the spectrum. Content is heavily optimized with a strong focus on performance and little regard for branding or image. It is dry, robotic, or too salesy—more like the byproduct of a content farm than a brand looking to make a strong and lasting impression on its audience.
It's a short-term strategy founded on the principle that when one focuses on the methodical aspects of marketing—the concrete numbers, every single conversion and data point—then an emotional connection or a strong brand image and voice almost become moot.
However, brand-driven insight is your truth—the WHY behind all that you do. The performance marketing is your plan put into action—the HOW and WHAT of manifesting that truth. You can be optimized to a T and your performance channels can be solid, but without leveraging brand learnings your organization will not achieve the growth and success that it can when those two realms are combined.
A Recipe for Success
Needless to say, there are serious costs when a company is focused too heavily either on branding or on performance. Top-of-funnel branding efforts with no clear path to purchase can impact conversion; solely focusing on the bottom of the funnel will impact your ability to grow your business over the long term.
The solution entails finding the right, delicate balance between the two in order to achieve the highest level of effectiveness and growth.
That means making sure brand marketers understand the more concrete and measurable realm of performance marketing, and performance marketers understand that every moment is an opportunity to tell your story and connect with audiences on a more personalized and deeper level.
Moreover, brand channels are now more measurable than ever before. Capabilities such as programmatic advertising and performance media can be optimized for branding through tactics like sequential storytelling.
To facilitate more effective results, teams of all backgrounds must learn to leverage the insight that data from omnichannel consumer behavior can provide. Clear objectives must be established for every single channel, and they should all fit seamlessly within the overall business strategy (especially considering the need for executive buy-in).
Laura Joukovski, president of TechStyle Fashion Group, has embraced this philosophy: "We don't think of marketing as brand vs. performance. We believe a brand is built on advertising, experience with the website, and the merchandise. Our strategy is comprehensive and nuanced based on the needs of the channel to ensure we deliver content of interest to our consumers. Ultimately, all advertising is evaluated on a performance basis."
The goal is to combine the worlds of brand marketing and performance marketing and use that amalgamation to deliver a holistic presence across multiple distribution channels—a presence that marries common principles of the two. But that cannot happen without cooperation and a strong focus on a long-term strategy of unification, versus one crafted siloed schools of thought for short-term gain.
If you're looking to remain competitive in today's landscape, the synthesis of these two realms is essential if companies are to truly achieve the growth and success needed to make a substantial and lasting impact.
At the end of the day, it's all about driving business results; increasing market share; and, most important, over-delivering on consumer expectations by crafting a strong brand that connects, incites action, and instills long-term loyalty in customers.
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