No Longer a Future State: The Union of Brand and Performance Has Arrived

By Dalton Dorné, CMO, Tinuiti

Like most runners, long runs are where I do most of my thinking. It’s a rare gift of white space in our always-on world. But when I hit that wall, I often think of the red-faced kid chugging along in the Nike “Find Your Greatness” campaign, and it gets me to push through.

Great brand campaigns are like that. You may forget the words or even the images, but the feeling stays with you. And that’s the essence of good brand marketing—it wins over the hearts of consumers.

Our ecommerce-first world and advances in martech have made all marketing digital, which means it’s measurable, which means it’s accountable. It’s tempting to drink from the instant gratification Kool-Aid and focus on short-term performance over long-term brand. That’s something that marketers do at their own peril.

It’s time to stop thinking about brand and performance as separate entities within our marketing organizations. We often want black-and-white clarity for one clear path. But the truth is two options can be simultaneously right, and marketers should get comfortable in the grey space.

The fallacy of Separating Brand and Performance

Brand and performance have always been entwined even though marketers haven’t treated them that way. The reason marketers have drawn artificial lines between the two is not only because they are measured differently, but the brand is much harder to measure than performance.

You can think of brand marketing as planting the seed. You may not be able to see what a seed is doing after you plant it. But something that is not immediately observable and measurable in the short term is happening nevertheless—the creation of emotional connection and awareness with your consumers. Performance marketing is what comes after, akin to harvesting the crop that springs from the seed.

Brand marketing without performance marketing is like planting the seeds and walking away without tending to them. Performance marketing without brand marketing is like trying to harvest a dry, barren field. You need both to work in service of one another.

If a brand is about emotional messaging, performance relies on a more rational approach. Any advanced marketer worth her salt understands the value of both. That’s the reason digitally-native DTC brands are investing more in brand marketing and why established brands are becoming increasingly invested in performance marketing.

The Short Game vs. the Long Game

Without tending to brand, companies risk running out of steam with their audience in the long run. This is why the CMO needs to be given permission to play the long game. CMOs have such high turnover rates in part because everyone in the C-Suite is looking for instant gratification.

A company can easily bring someone in to recognize and execute short wins, getting the CEO hooked on instant gratification. But, trust me, without a long-term playbook, the short-term wins will dry up fast. Given the average CMO tenure has dipped below 40 months, they’ll likely run out tricks to pull out of their sleeves in the period before they are exited from the company.

Efficiencies and optimizations are not enough to return lasting business results on their own. Once we earn the consumer’s heart, we need to maintain that emotional connection throughout the course of their journey. That means every touchpoint matters since performance tactics can reinforce the brand itself.

The most effective, sustainable campaigns we see have a brand-building gene with a digital-first approach.

The Funnel Sweet Spot

These days, Nike connects with me in so many new ways beyond the TV ad because my world is different—from my smartwatch to social media to influencers. But they have never taken their eye off-brand marketing, despite now delivering it in a digital-first way. They haven’t diluted their brand marketing simply because their marketing can be held more accountable.

My pet peeve? Creating TV spots and then trying to shove them online – it’s like trying to choke a brand campaign down to the bottom of the funnel. Digital-first marketing is about building dynamic creative based on data and insights, and you can do that within your brand campaign. Have a brand marketer’s mentality with a digital-first playbook.

If you’ve yet to shift your attribution model last-touch to multi-touch or customer lifetime value, this will be critical in bringing your brand and performance teams together aligned around the greater goals that each ladder up to: or as we call it, brand performance.

Once you’ve adopted brand performance, keep these lessons in mind:

  1. Play the short- AND the long-game: It’s OK to get quick wins but it’s critical to communicate what the long play is so you can keep stakeholder focus on the big picture, importantly being clear if short term impacts are required for long term success (hint, a clear understanding of anticipated impact can make your CFO your greatest ally in effecting change)
  2. Forget ‘set it and forget it’: Brand performance is constantly testing and evolving while still being part of the campaign. Not all assets perform the same.
  3. Digital-first mindset: If you’re following an old playbook of brand campaign development (looking at you Madison Ave), challenge your team to take a digital-first mindset. This means not being afraid to change the internal process for progress.
  4. CMO + CFO = Dream Team: CMOs, your CFO is your best friend and your secret weapon wrapped into one. At some point, they will have the stage in talking about financial investments and you won’t be in the room. If the CFO has bought into your plan, you don’t have to
  5. Be patient: CEOs and Boards, give your CMO time—understand short term impact and long term gain and align on what matters most for the future of the business

Doing this will help CMOs win hearts and minds and also drive lasting shareholder value.