Do you need a strong brand for successful performance marketing?

Andre Kempe, Founder at performance marketing agency Admiral Media on performance versus brand marketing and how to measure brand impact.

Brand versus performance marketing – it’s an endless debate. As a performance marketer, you dont look after your brand too often, but you should never dismiss it. Without going too deep into definitions, generally speaking, brand marketing is about building awareness and a positive image while performance is metrics-driven, with a clear focus on driving customer acquisition and revenue.

Some companies don’t understand the need for brand investment, while others view everything through the brand lens and question performance marketing effectiveness. After all, Airbnb is cutting performance budgets to focus on brand, right? However, Airbnb spent millions of dollars over the past years and grew its customer base enough to be able to afford this move. One of the main reasons is that they achieved an incredible brand perception. When people think or talk about renting an apartment, Airbnb became the word for it, just like Google. The product became the main term of any conversation about the product. Let me google it. Let me rent an Airbnb. If your brand achieved this status, you may think of pausing performance campaigns for a moment.

As Eric Seufert points out, for digital products, brand marketing is usually not the main driver of growth, direct response marketing is. One reason is in the user flow: apps aren’t waiting on a shelf for customers to pick them when they visit the store. Instead, advertising for apps happens where users are spending their time and offers them an immediate opportunity to start engaging with the product using direct response performance marketing. For marketers, direct response means they can see results right away and track where performance happens.

Hence, marketers with a strong performance background often don’t prioritize or rate brand building because it’s a ‘soft metric’, very difficult to detect and quantify. It also takes unusual amounts of time to build a brand and recognize the value of it.

From our perspective as a performance marketing agency, performance-driven marketing is one piece of the puzzle in the marketing mix and follows certain metrics and KPIs. We tend to congratulate ourselves on how measurable everything is, but ultimately all the marketing dollars we invest into performance marketing buy the same eyeballs we would buy with brand marketing, just maybe a little more efficiently. Its mind-boggling how performance marketers ignore this simple part and refuse to invest time with their brand marketing colleagues to find the best creative strategy and messaging. Performance marketing and brand marketing shall not only co-exist, they should work hand in hand, and maybe we can even agree to Eric’s take that brand marketing is a tactic that can sit within the performance marketing category.

Not every app can be Airbnb, but building a strong brand is essential, and that’s especially true on mobile. Contrary to the web-first ways of internet marketing, and partly due to apps’ limited capacity of linking, word-of-mouth is a major part of app discovery. People talk about apps they love and recommend them to their friends all the time.

This is underscored when looking at ASO search terms, where brand searches always dominate. Users rarely use exploratory terms; they search for apps they know or have heard about.

Even in direct response marketing, with no primary brand objectives, users are more likely to convert if they know and trust an app or service. Building brand awareness can drive up sales and give advertisers more bang for their buck. Investing into your brand early will pay off over time and save money down the road.

So how do you define and measure a digital brand?
But is building a brand just launching a big-budget video view campaign on Facebook or YouTube or even TV? Or maybe its that Facebook brand lift campaign that your Facebook representative keeps talking about? And how do you measure it?

Defining the goal starts by answering some of the following questions:

  • Do consumers know who you are?
  • How do they perceive your brand?
  • Have you built perceived value and is your brand part of most consumers’ consideration set?
  • Does your messaging at each touchpoint match the customer intent?
  • Are your campaigns driving conversions? What is the ROAS

To get to the answers, these are the key metrics to measure the brands penetration.

Market share: its a good measure to understand your brand position relative to your competitors, as it’s a zero-sum game. You gain share, they lose it.

Brand awareness and recall: This answers if your customers are aware of what you do and how difficult it is to recall your brand when they face a problem youre fixing.

Brand usage: Metrics such as frequency of purchase, how customers purchase, purchase quantity over amount, etc. help you understand consumer behavior.

Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): both are methods to quantify customer satisfaction and track improvements in customer experience.

Brand loyalty: its a brand tracking measure that often relies on purchase intent data to qualitatively measure brand associations and perceived quality.

How do you track these metrics?
Its difficult to establish and measure these metrics, and not every brand will be able to do so.  With this in mind, here are the steps you need:

  1. Set your goals and baseline: What are you trying to achieve from this measurement? Are you looking to boost your reach? Are you worried about retention and engagement? Or are you trying to hook users in the top funnel? Once you establish a goal, you need to determine the key metrics you need to measure success.
  2. Test targeting audiences and segments: You should understand how your brand resonates as a whole, but also by segment, and here youre trying to understand what every audience segment thinks about your brand and values it.
  3. Choose competitors to test against: Whether your goal is to gain share from your competitor or something else, you can choose one brand thats directly competing with you and test against. You can measure against market data as well.
  4. Pick data collection methods: Generic consumer research surveys, online sentiment analysis (such as brand lift experiments on social media platforms), and survey-based brand trackers are a few options to collect data.
  5. Run your tests and analyze the results: After running your test and collecting your data, youre trying to understand how do the results stack up against the goals you established? How does that measure against your competitor or market data?

The steps above will help you understand your brands value and penetration to take the necessary actions and reach your goal. You’ll want to repeat the process each quarter, so you can find your brand direction.

Brand tracking studies can help you determine how your customers view your brand. By tracking the direction of your brand over time, you will be able to develop an in-depth understanding of how your company is perceived. They are crucial because they allow you to gain greater insights into why customer preferences change so quickly, and they give you insights into whether your brand marketing efforts are paying off.

Use the data collected in your brand tracking studies to draw insights into customer sentiment and brand performance. Then you can use these findings to create effective ad campaigns that also drive brand growth.