The dichotomy between Brand vs Performance marketing is a false one and needs to be dissolved says Michael Lorenzos, Head of Ecommerce Growth at Bleach London. CMOs can help by aligning incentives and encouraging synergies between brand marketers and performance marketers and rewarding them for delivering on those synergies.
Brand marketing vs performance marketing. One of the classic contests of our industry; a debate that causes heated exchanges and biased arguments.
Recently, the prevailing sentiment has been anti-performance. Especially after iOS14, the Facebook outage, and reports that behemoths like Uber and Airbnb switched off a big chunk of performance spend with zero to little impact, performance marketing’s impact is being questioned. The great Rand Fishkin went as far as to wonder whether it’s an “analytics scam”.
It wasn’t always like this. Performance used to be the darling of marketers, especially during the golden era of lower CPMs and less competition in Paid Search. Marketers would flood LinkedIn with posts mocking the “old way” of doing marketing without measurement and make lists of why performance/growth marketing is superior.
This article isn’t about finding a middle ground between the two approaches. It’s making a case that the dichotomy shouldn’t even exist in the first place.
Why the dichotomy exists and the view from the two marketer perspectives
Ultimately, the dichotomy between brand and performance exists because the day-to-day work and the mindset of a marketer that’s focused on each practice differs:
The brand marketer will see performance activity as “cheap”, short-term, and compromising to the brand. They’ll be annoyed by the performance marketer’s testing mindset, and will look to impose constraints on what can be tested. They will care more about delivering a consistent message and developing the brand for the long-term than meeting short-term targets.
The performance marketer will see brand marketing as fluff and not impactful enough. They’ll struggle with the priorities being set by them, and will also be annoyed by the fact that brand marketers impose constraints on what they can or cannot test.
Why it’s a false dichotomy
At its core, it’s a false dichotomy because it’s not supported by your audience. People buy from brands, and performance advertising is one of the marketing activities that enable a brand to reach and engage with their audience.
The truth is, a brand drives performance and performance marketing informs brand perception.
My advice to the brand marketer and the performance marketer
Even though I come from a performance marketing background, my academic background is in marketing too – I first learned about marketing the “classic” way. For that reason, I’ve always seen performance marketing as part of the promotion mix for a marketing plan, and not a transformation to marketing itself. This notion has been supported by my experience so far.
My advice to both parties starts from the same principle for both parties: understand that what you are doing is a means to an end, not an end itself. Your jobs are part of the same assembly line and ultimately deliver against the same target.
To the brand marketer:
1. Your role is also a commercial role and must be tied to the business’ bottom line
The fact that you’re not measured by immediate impact shouldn’t divert your focus from your end goal. You are not building a brand for the sake of building a brand, you are building a value-generating asset.
Building a brand is a commercial outcome. There’s a reason why brand equity exists and is measured in dollars: a brand is a moat, an asset and it means that people are willing to pay a premium for your product or that they are likely to pick it among alternatives precisely because of the brand. While it’s not a short-term endeavour, the nature of branding is commercial.
2. When it comes to your relationship with performance advertising, shifting your mindset from an abstract “what’s good for the brand” to “how can I build a brand while enabling performance marketing to do their best work in a brand enhancing way” will only make you a stronger brand marketer.
For example, when the performance marketer asks for more freedom to test things, place your constraints in a way that does allow for significant tests to take place.
Especially with paid social, you want to avoid being “too polished” and rigid and understand that certain paid social formats work because they actually look native to the platform. You should 100% adjust those formats to how you think your brand should be communicated, but bear in mind that you are advertising fleeting content that’s going to be consumed on a mobile screen, and can be skipped with the flick of a finger. Not everything your brand puts out needs to be polished as if it’s a billboard in Times Square!
Furthermore, what you have on your mind as “best for the brand” isn’t necessarily true – performance advertising can help uncover that. Also, looking at short-term effects of your activity, albeit not your guiding light, can provide solid indication on whether you delivered a message that connects with your target audience.
If you are running a bigger above the line campaign, you should be using learnings from your performance marketing campaigns to fail-proof your investment.
If your budgets are smaller and don’t run any long-term Branding/Above The Line campaigns, that means that your branding is mostly going to be consumed through the performance channels. Adapt your tone of voice to the medium you serve while staying true to your tone of voice.
To conclude: don’t delve into short-termism, but don’t discount short-term either.
And nope, Performance Marketing isn’t a scam (sorry, Rand).
To the performance marketer:
1. Nope, Brand Marketing is not fluff nor ineffectual just because you don’t see a large uptick in purchases after a brand activation. Keep in mind that the characteristics of the brand (or lack thereof) are impacting your performance metrics, whether you realise it by looking at your daily dashboards or not.
2. Let go of your ego! You are not more valuable than a brand marketer because you can report on sales after a successful performance marketing campaign. Your campaign is successful only because the brand enables it to be!
3. Nope, brand constraints on your performance advertising are not nonsensical – your performance marketing activity is a core component in brand building and you’ll have to connect the dots to the end goal. The end goal isn’t seeing beautiful numbers in Facebook Ads, it’s contributing to the company’s revenue. Yes, a creative test that goes off-brand might drive sales up for a period of time, but this will come at a cost to the long-term goal of building a successful brand.
Heck, it will even make your performance marketing less effective over time! Like Babak Azad has said in his Ecommerce Playbook (a must read!), all marketing activity must be done in a brand-enhancing way, exactly to avoid this risk.
To the CMO:
1. If you can only focus on one thing, focus on the alignment of incentives. It’s more frequent than I thought possible that the two teams sit in their own little silos, without communicating enough with each other or working towards the same overall goal. It’s even more frequent that the way the two teams are measured makes them compete with each other! Audit your team’s incentives and understand whether there are any conflicts of interest with the current setup.
2. Put your marketing plan on a single page and define priorities for every quarter to increase visibility across everyone’s activity.
3. Encourage synergies between the brand marketers and performance marketers and reward them for actually delivering on those synergies.
This article first appeared on Substack.