Every day in our practice, we see our clients struggle with achieving the right balance between activation - delivering immediate sales impact - and brand building.

The pandemic led many brands to cut their marketing efforts to preserve budgets and profits, and also to avoid the risk of sounding tone deaf in messaging during a crisis. Now that we are emerging from the crisis and coming back to a new normal, businesses need to resist the urge to over-focus on marketing designed to deliver conversions at the expense of marketing designed to build brand.

Conversion marketing, sometimes referred to as performance marketing, is attractive because it delivers immediate results. It's easy to see how marketers can be misled into believing that "the last click" can be completely attributed to specific promotional or conversion action. The pressure for attribution and ROI on marketing expenditures demanded by some CEOs and Finance leaders, combined by the short-term focus created by decreasing CMO tenures,  encourages decisions to focus on this kind of marketing, sometimes exclusively.

Under-estimating the importance of a balanced marketing strategy is a recipe for failure.

That’s because conversion tactics are only effective with consumers who are already fairly far along the buyer's journey. They have already recognized their unmet need, and are motivated to resolve it. Further, the brand must already be in their consideration set of acceptable brands for conversion marketing to be effective. And it must have a perceived "difference that makes a difference" that helps the consumer choose it from among the others. Unless your brand owns significant category share, that can be a fairly narrow band of consumers. Hence the need for top-of-funnel marketing, to increase the success of the bottom-of-funnel marketing efforts.

Brand-building's role is to build awareness, consideration and interest, affecting the impact of conversion efforts

Take the example of a confection brand with excellent in-store and online distribution and in a growing segment. Despite investing in marketing, sales weren’t growing. Custom research revealed that aided awareness of the brand was extremely low. Most consumers in our study had never heard of it.  But many of those same people, once exposed to the brand proposition, expressed extremely high purchase intent, and ranked it higher than their current brands in preference. In this instance, the lack of brand-building marketing had hurt the brand by keeping the vast majority of consumers in the category out of the purchase funnel entirely.

Conversion tactics are only effective with consumers who are already fairly far along the buyer's journey.

The efforts that you make to build awareness, consideration and interest make the bottom-of-funnel, conversion-driving performance marketing efforts more effective and efficient. There are many ways to think of why this is so. Here are some top reasons:

Brand building accelerates growth in several ways

  1. Increase the size of the audience for whom conversion tactics are appropriate and effective. Brings in new customers. Your brand must be highly relevant for it to be considered and top-of-funnel marketing activities builds relevance for your brand.
  2. Elevate the competitive decision criteria above price and features to benefits that only your brand can deliver.
  3. Avoid the cheapening of your brand. When deals are all consumers see, they begin to expect them and rely on them, down-adjusting their expectation of price and holding off purchase until the next promotional offer. Even if conversion-marketing efforts are not deal-based, consumers recognize attempts to create a transaction, and that doesn’t bode well for building the kind of relationship every brand wishes to have with the consumer. The brands we buy and use say something about us and about our values – if the brand relationship is overly transactional that meaning can be lost.
  4. Increase profitability over the long run. Effective brand building attracts consumers to a brand who truly value it, and don’t require frequent dealing to remain customers.
  5. While conversion marketing is only effective when presented to consumers who are in a position to buy at a single point-in-time, the effects brand marketing exposures on awareness, perception and intent are long-lasting.

This argument for brand building marketing efforts is convincing. But there's a little more to it - It’s not enough just to invest appropriately in getting the brand out in front of consumers. If you are going to amplify your brand, first be sure that you are amplifying the right messages. Brand purpose, expression, and communication must be carefully designed to achieve business objectives.

Wondering if your brand is ready to be amplified?

  • The target for the brand is well-defined in terms of attitudes, practices, habits and beliefs. It is sizeable and reachable.
  • The brand is built on a real insight, ideally including an emotional one. A strong insight is observable, and there is enough tension between the current state and the ideal state, that the consumer wants to resolve it.
  • There is one (1) single benefit that directly answers the problem set up by the insight.
  • The message includes compelling reasons to believe the benefit could be delivered.
  • It is unique, either in the benefit it delivers, who it delivers it for, or how it delivers it.  It has “the difference that makes a difference”.
  • The brand expresses the proposition well (its name, how it looks, sounds, talks and acts). It is consistently and cohesively applied and recognizable across every touchpoint.

In a parting thought, we know how critical it is to have the buy-in of the stakeholders of your organization. It’s up to marketing leaders to educate c-suite colleagues and finance leaders about more realistic ways of measuring the ROI of marketing spend: not tactic-by-tactic, but as an integrated plan. It’s misguided to attribute conversion only to what happened just before the purchase or “last click”, and forget about the customer journey that led to it.  Top-of-funnel marketing, and the non-working investment in positioning and brand strategy plays an outsized and yet almost immeasurable role in short term – and longer term – success of your business.

Lisa Brookins

Lisa is a marketing and brand strategist with a deep experience creating, launching, and generating demand for CPG products in Canada and the U.S. She has been with Compass Marketing since its founding in 2009.

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