Branding in the performance marketing era

In episode 4 of the Performance Marketing Podcast we spend some time talking about building your brand for performance with Kelly Lucente, founder and CEO of re-tool marketing in Minneapolis. Branding may often be overlooked by companies focused on realizing quick results, but our discussion focuses on how brand is a key driver of a successful performance-based marketing strategy.

Branding is a cornerstone of traditional marketing but can be neglected in the modern digital environment. In a marketing era ruled by measurement and attribution, performance marketers are pushed to use channels and tactics that are simple to track, and generate data that easily translates into ROI figures. Paid search and social, display and retargeting, anything that allows you to cookie a user, follow their journey to purchase, and then report it in analytics has an edge when the expectation is that you’re able to deliver a detailed breakdown of dollars spent, dollars earned, and all the activities in between. In short, marketing has become obsessed with the late stages of the marketing funnel.

This often forces marketing leaders to build the optics of a marketing ROI engine as fast as possible and become increasingly focused on tactics, rather than an audience and strategy. For example, they might create and gate content with a catchy headline to collect email addresses, call them MQLs, pass them to sales, and not stop to ask what sort of lasting impression their value proposition and brand message will deliver through that content. They don’t take the necessary steps to build a deep understanding of their audience and curate a strong brand, message, and personality that cuts through the noise. The truth is, a strong brand will maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of all the performance marketing activities that happen downstream.

As marketers, we need to tear down the antiquated assumptions that separate brand marketing and performance marketing. Branding is a key that helps unlock performance. This is where the concept of “performance branding’ comes in.

What is “Performance Branding”

Performance branding applies creative brand thinking throughout the performance marketing process and execution. Where branding traditionally focused on AUDIENCE and VALUE, and performance traditionally focused on DATA and PROFITS, performance branding unifies your marketing effort behind a common goal of growing revenue, without losing sight of the creative elements that are essential to creating a compelling value-focused message for your audience.

The key is our use of performance marketing data in optimizing our messaging and value-focused content creation. The evolution of digital performance marketing provided us with highly targeted distribution channels and sophisticated measurement tools to evaluate campaign performance. Those same channels and tools should be applied to quickly refine creative in our top-of-funnel awareness and demand messaging.

In practice, performance branding is using your performance marketing efforts to collect valuable data-backed brand insights, optimizing your brand and value focused content from those insights, and leveraging the improved content to in turn increase performance.

Resources to get started

If you haven’t spent a lot of time considering your brand strategy and are struggling to get started, there are a number of resources to jump start your process. In our podcast, one of the lessons that Kelly shares for brands is to be authentic and true to yourself. The book Start With Why by Simon Sinek has become a favorite for business leaders since it was first published in 2009 and is a helpful template for organizing your thoughts about your brand and what you want to communicate.

Of course for branding to be successful, the actual product or service you are marketing needs to be remarkable as well. Building your brand attributes into the features of your product/service makes crafting a strong brand identity a much simpler process. A now-classic manifesto on differentiating your brand is Purple Cow by Seth Godin. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions about your business, a great brand strategy won’t make up for other deficiencies.

For brands with a longer history, it can be difficult to get out of your own bubble when it comes to honestly critiquing your brand. This is when turning to a consultant or an agency can be a huge benefit. In this case we’re not talking about logo or website designers. Before you can give those kinds of practitioners adequate direction you may need a high-level, well-articulated strategy developed that brings a cohesive visual and textual summary of what those marketing elements need to convey. Find resources with past examples of work that indicate an understanding of your target market, business size and scope of needs.

Once your foundational brand work is done, you’re ready to apply the basic thinking of performance branding. In doing so, your brand will become something truly meaningful that evolves alongside your industry and audience.