Why all marketing should be performance marketing

Ryan Sullivan / December 2019

If you’re reading this, you’re likely a marketing professional. You’re also a consumer. But we don’t always apply the lessons of our own behaviors as shoppers and consumers to our actions as marketers.

Why do most brands still consign performance expectations to the most transactional and literal channels?

Consider this: Video, text, images, social commentary, reviews, and branded stories all play a role in our personal journeys. So why do most brands still consign performance expectations to the most transactional and literal channels? And why do we endeavor to draw a line between “performance” and “branding,” as if our enterprises were ultimately judged on something other than profitable revenue growth?

Linking brand building and acquisition to performance enables brands to plan, buy, and optimize all media and content while holding it accountable to overall business outcomes, like incremental revenue, customer lifetime value (CLV), and profitable lead conversion.

This approach also takes an undue burden off the lower funnel, which is expected to carry business performance in suboptimal conditions. Enterprises that force money into markets in ill-fated attempts to extract lingering returns only drive up acquisition costs and miss out on more lucrative returns beyond incremental media. They also place more proverbial eggs in the acquisition basket, leaving them exposed to greater risk should their lower funnel programs underperform in the future.

It’s time for brands to step back and evaluate applying performance methods to all aspects of marketing — across the entire business, throughout the entire customer journey, to all levels of the funnel, and all media and content types. Marketers can achieve full-funnel marketing performance by following a few steps.

Unlock intent signals

Unlocking consumer intent signals is the foundation of a full-funnel strategy. These intent signals already exist, ready to be put to use, in both your own data and in the data sets of platforms like Google.

Paid search is much more than a channel; it’s a behavioral insights machine.

Paid search is a good example. For many brands, paid search might be the most effective lower funnel acquisition channel. But paid search is much more than a channel; it’s a behavioral insights machine. Search query language is a predictor of consumer intent. And consumer intent is a predictor of action and, ultimately, sales. If a search query can reveal someone’s mindset, that mindset can be used to influence copy, creative, bids, and landing pages across all channels, even offline.

Simply put, brands can use lower funnel knowledge to create consideration engines, not just acquisition engines.

Rev up your consideration engine

So how do we activate intent signal data across the funnel? A rich first-party data strategy, underpinned by a focused view of your customer, is critical. And when you need to complement your first-party data, consider using in-platform signals to predict when people may be ready to consider your brand. For example, Google Custom Intent Audiences is a powerful option that can be used across search, video (including YouTube), display, and other ad types to group intent thematically using keywords, URLs, and app data. Brands can also use pregenerated, intent-driven segments to cast a wider net, but still remain on message.

Don’t settle for reaching a certain demographic at an “optimal” frequency or tolerate a low to negligible click-through rate.

Remember, the critical difference here is to bring performance thinking to the upper funnel. Don’t settle for reaching a certain demographic at an “optimal” frequency or tolerate a low to negligible click-through rate. Instead, use unique, intent-based insights to trigger the right ads at the right moments, ads that align with constantly changing and evolving consumer mindsets.

Experiment with video (pre-roll, bumpers, etc.), high-impact display, sponsored content, digital out-of-home, and addressable TV to build your brand and stoke the consideration engine. Even direct-response brands can get excited about sponsoring major events (like award shows or sporting events) if consumer intent signals support the investment. Just layer on the right performance lens to be sure you’re getting the most out of these initiatives.

Build your brand for performance

Performance’s legacy role at the end of a consumer journey has been well established for years. Next to traditional channels, digital’s comparable strengths in measurement, targeting, and speed to market helped it grow rapidly over the past decade. However, many brands come to us with challenges in maintaining year-on-year growth within their digital acquisition programs. The common culprit? Declining brand demand.

Sure, disruption from newer digitally native brands can change the rate of decline for a venerable company, but that should only be true if the brand is vulnerable to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, it is still critical to refine your acquisition programs, but that cannot be at the expense of bigger brand-focused marketing powered by performance insight.

If you simply start with your largest acquisition tactics and use advanced measurement to work backward to understand the origins of that demand, you will start to see video, display, audio, and even some forms of print in new light. After all, no one wakes up one morning and just intuits that your brand exists and they need what you sell.

Make performance marketing an organizational responsibility

Lastly, full-funnel performance hinges on bringing performance thinking to your entire organization. If digital advertising alone was the silver bullet, we wouldn’t see massive ad spenders still struggling to produce business outcomes. The burden of customer acquisition can’t sit solely on media and acquisition teams.

Too often, marketing organizations only look to make up performance deficits through refreshed advertising plans or increased marketing investment. Perhaps the performance challenge is in the shopping experience or somewhere deeper in the technical workings of your customer-facing systems. Performance thinking means investigating post-ad engagement and eliminating friction to boost conversion rates. Rich data is hiding everywhere in your organization.

Performance marketing can address digital disruption head on. To drive business outcomes, brands must be there for people at all stages, creating relationships throughout the shopping journey. By applying a performance lens to all media and content, brands can reignite consideration building and streamline conversion processes. Moreover, they can advance to a place where all growth marketing is a pursuit that demands performance.

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