Slowly but surely, the realisation is dawning that performance marketing and brand building are both essential. Are there experts with access to a model that provides insight into when to focus on sales and when to build your brand?
It continues to be the most important discussion in your world; in today's marketplace, is it still necessary to build your brand or can you achieve the growth you want simply by turning the right digital dials? For years, it seemed like growth was everyone's primary concern; it didn't really matter how a business achieved that growth, but brand building appears to be undergoing a revival of sorts. A survey conducted among CMOs even revealed that they deemed the brand strategy to be the most crucial aspect of 2020.
In recent years, this discussion has become so heated that a gap has begun to form between the digital experts and the brand builders. The first group loves to bring up the examples of Tesla and Amazon; brands that achieved their greatness entirely online (for the sake of the argument, let's ignore all the PR they did). Meanwhile, the "brand builders" remind everyone that there is a reason why Amazon is one of the world's largest advertisers. Perhaps more interesting are the "rational thinkers" who point to the fact that companies like Amazon and the Dutch Coolblue shifted their focus to their emotional brand values (e.g. via TV adverts) once their initial period of rapid growth was over. Marketing strategist Han Roode of M2Media explains this by comparing these companies to sponges. They have undergone enormous growth, but eventually reach a point at which it becomes difficult to find people on a purely functional basis. The solution is to show a bit more of themselves.
Strong digital brands
In his book Sterk Digitaal Merk (Strong Digital Brand, BH), brand strategist and lecturer Ingmar de Lange explains why brands do indeed serve a function in the digital era. He presents six conditions under which brands are still relevant:
1. In cases of strong engagement with a new purchase. After all, you will engage more strongly with a new car than with a new glass of beer;
2. In cases of uncertainty, where a brand can inspire a feeling of quality;
3. In cases of expressive value, where a brand says something about who you are;
4. In cases where you have a wide selection of similar products to choose from;
5. Google is more likely to select major brands because they have a stronger presence (i.e. more money);
6. When making repeat purchases
Can you remember the discussion about the long tail, which the wonderful Anita Elberse wrote a book about? She used a number of concrete examples to admonish the person who had come up with the concept of the long tail by pointing out that brands like Disney continue to achieve the greatest successes and that there is no such thing as the internet giving everyone the opportunity to create a bestseller. De Lange, who is a true member of the digital movement, views brand building as a kind of protection mechanism for when times are tough. He advocates the use of both the tactical possibilities of Google and Meta as well as the experience of brand builders. If you should decide to stop investing in your brand and focus exclusively on gaining ground with the help of tactical stimuli, it will be tough to compete with parties who are doing both.
For numerical insight into the importance of brands - especially during a crisis situation like the one we currently find ourselves in - we can look at Kantar's annual list of the top 100 international brands. The #1 position is held by Apple, with a value of $947 billion. The combined value of the Top 100 has increased by 23% compared to the year before. "A strong brand affinity supports consumers' willingness to pay. It is more important now than ever before for businesses looking to cope with the rising inflation," said Martin Guerrieria, head of Kantar BrandZ. "This year's results illustrate the value and the importance of continuous investments in brand and marketing capacities as means to maximise returns, regardless of market conditions."
The interesting thing about this report is that the researchers - purely by looking at the numerical data - also shed light on the building blocks of brand growth:
1. Meaning: this can refer to a functional meaning such as dry-cleaning your clothing, but there should also be an emotional meaning that leads to the connection between a brand and consumers;
2. Difference: a brand should offer something that competitors don't have;
3. Salience: this is the sum total of "meaning" and "difference" which leads to growth.
It is also interesting to look at what Kantar's Myles George has to say in their report on brand archetypes. In line with Kantar's findings, he says that a brand's main challenge is to be different from everyone else. He cites Harley Davidson as an example. They have managed to inextricably link their adventurous and rebellious nature to their brand, which indeed gives them a kind of salience that ensures they have the most well-known and distinct character out of all brands.
Can't have one with the other
Inevitably, someone will ask what the ideal model is. Of course, there is the 60-40 model of performance versus brand that Les Binet and Peter Field developed, but that doesn't tell you much about what you should focus on at what point in time. Mark Ritson has written a lot about this, but he also focuses mainly on the fact that you should use both tactics, rather than explaining how to do that. Last year, Marc Paulenic, the head of marketing agency Hart, wrote a good article about this in Forbes. "We need to engage them at the early stage of the funnel so, when they reach the decision-making stage, we've already established a positive brand association and shifted their perceptions of quality. Whether it's a social issue, a unique challenge or a shared experience, meet your consumers where they are to develop that trust early on. When it comes to long-term brand building and short-term performance marketing, you can't have one without the other. It's not just about having the tools in place to understand your consumers; it's about creating and standing by your brand messages. This gives you the opportunity to show consumers exactly where you stand and what you're about, moving them past the category of consumer targets and turning them into consumer allies."