The Difference Between Brand And Performance Marketing? Time.

Say you’re a founder, CEO, or a new CMO tasked with setting the strategy for your company’s marketing. Do you invest more heavily in brand marketing or performance?

Peter Fields and Les Binet define performance, or sales activation marketing as “Any activity that aims to get an immediate response: usually a piece of information, an offer, or a performance claim capable of delivering a cost-effective response.” (The link I’ve shared will take you to a Binet and Fields’ must-read, “The Five Principles of Growth in B2B Marketing.” In addition to being a gift to marketers, it also will help CEOs engage their heads of marketing on strategy and, by extension, tactics and staffing.)

I’ll answer the branding vs. performance question, but before I do, I offer an obvious acknowledgement: both branding and performance are important and each requires a unique approach, as Binet and Fields argue.

  • Performance/sales activation means maximizing reach and conversion of people who are actively in market to buy.
  • For these customers, rational messaging is most effective. Assume they are comparison shopping and want to know features and benefits, pricing and offers, and availability.
  • Relative to the total audience for your brand, the number of those who are actively looking to buy is smaller than the number who are not ready to buy today but may become buyers in the future.
  • For the majority of potential customers who aren’t going to buy today, features, benefits and price aren’t as relevant. To capture their attention, marketers should play to their emotions. Humor, drama, action, fear – these emotions, when associated with a brand, create mental shortcuts that make recall easier when these customers do decide it’s time to buy.

The answer to the question depends to a great extent on time.

If you need this month’s marketing budget to produce enough sales to fund next month’s marketing budget, then investing in performance marketing to reach more customers who will buy today may be a necessity.

The challenge, as Binet and Fields illustrate mathematically, comes when brands exhaust the number of customers who are ready to buy today. Their features, pricing, and availability-messaging hasn’t captured the attention of out-of-market customers. This translates to growth plateauing and customer acquisition costs increasing over time.

The antidote? Blending performance and brand to harvest customers ready to buy now and to prospect for new customers who probably won’t buy today but might buy someday.

I’ve been a technology marketer at both massive companies and start-ups. I’ve done business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) marketing, and I’ve worked on branding and performance/sales activation campaigns. I’ve worked on branding projects that have had an unambiguous, measurable impact on sales, and I’ve seen performance marketing impact brand metrics.

While both are important, remember that they are different and therefore require unique approaches. Performance should harvest as many in-market customers as possible with rational creative and messaging. Brand marketing should focus on maximizing the reach of the entire target audience with more emotional creative and messaging. Measure both based on their impact on the entire funnel, e.g. store and website visitors, app usage, product page visits, sales, and reorders. Aim to increase share of voice and market share over time. In this way, marketers can harmonize their brand and performance marketing to capture sales today and in the future.

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