“Our efficiency is unparalleled, our ROI is fantastic, and we’ll be out of business in five years.”
That was the feedback that Les Binet, Head of Effectiveness at advertising agency Adam & Eve DDB, got from one member of the management team when he walked into the UK’s largest breakdown firm, The AA.
It might seem like a contradictory statement - surely an efficient business with great ROI is onto a winner? Well, in the short-term, perhaps. The problem with The AA was that they diverted 100% of their brand marketing budget into short-term, performance marketing efforts for eight years.
The clear and present danger was that, without brand recognition, The AA would become irrelevant - competing at price points set by comparison sites and cheap competitors because people were searching online for ‘breakdown cover’ and not ‘The AA’. There’s nothing wrong with performance marketing - PPC and paid social media are still effective - but without the investment in brand, even a company as large as The AA can find themselves in trouble. In a medium-sized enterprise, the lack of brand focus can be the difference between scaling fast or sinking quick.
So, what is brand marketing, where should you invest and how can you measure its impact?
Brand marketing and sales activation
Marketing campaigns come in two distinct flavours - brand marketing efforts concerned with raising brand awareness or equity, and sales activations designed to get a customer to act in some way - sign up to something or buy something. The two aren’t mutually exclusive - sales campaigns still impact the brand - but, generally, the goals of any given campaign fall into one of those categories.
With all the reporting data at our disposal, particularly in the digital space, sales activation campaigns are compelling for business owners. Run a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign, for instance, and you can see the numbers ticking upwards; the increase in traffic or return on your investment in black and white on a dashboard as it happens.
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Brand marketing is often a tougher sell. It’s concerned with the long-term, designed to raise the profile of the business and to create positive associations with the brand. It requires consistent investment, so you need to have the resources available, and the real results are felt over time - not the immediate dopamine hit of a well-liked social media post or well-clicked newsletter.
In B2B where your product or service is often high-ticket and the decision-making process slow, however, brand building is crucial. Classic brand marketing tactics include channels predominantly dominated by large companies, such as TV, outdoor advertising and national print and radio ads, but also more accessible channels including PR, local sponsorship, CSR activities, local print and radio ads, and content marketing, and the goal of all this is to build reach, emotion and memorability. So, how do you measure that?
Measuring the results of brand marketing
While sales activation campaigns might only report on a few week’s activity, brand marketing focuses on years, not months. With that in mind, you need to look at results over at least a twelve month period to accurately judge whether brand building activity has been successful.
So what are these long-term metrics of brand marketing success?
Cost per acquisition - No-one ever got fired for hiring IBM as the old adage goes. A strong brand is a safe pair of hands and will spend less to attract new customers.
Lifetime value - Strong brands inspire loyalty. The lifetime value of your customers will increase with an investment in brand marketing.
Pricing - A great brand can charge a premium for its services. If you can increase prices without losing customers, you know you’ve built a brand that matters.
Market share - Brand awareness and market share go hand in hand. The more of the market you own, the more people know about you. The more people know about you, the more customers you will acquire.
Profit - Simply, is the business growing?
Twelve months or more to ascertain whether a brand marketing campaign has worked is a worrying prospect for business leaders who often want to see results immediately. The overall impact might be long-term, but that doesn’t mean you can’t monitor brand work on a campaign by campaign basis. It’s always helpful to know whether the ship is sailing in the right direction, so how do you do that?
Ongoing brand metrics to measure
You can effectively monitor the ongoing success of brand marketing campaigns by following a three-step approach:
Set goals for your chosen activity
Set meaningful metrics against those goals
Monitor your metrics on an ongoing basis, and make adjustments accordingly
If you use PR to raise brand awareness, for instance, you can count the number of articles placed, media impressions or mentions on social media. As with all marketing tactics, you should set goals at the start and measure success against those goals.
Market research provides quantifiable measures of brand recognition and brand perception and can be repeated at regular intervals.
To survey a particular target audience, commission a regular brand monitor. If you want to ask a small number of questions to a representative sample of the wider population, use an established omnibus survey.
Social listening provides feedback more quickly – and simply means monitoring social media to pick up mentions of your brand or product and service, and analysing the sentiment behind those mentions.
Examples of the power of brand are everywhere. The three biggest selling beers in the UK - Stella Artois, Budvar and Heineken - are indistinguishable in blind taste tests. Consumers’ choice is driven purely by the brand.
Cosmetics company Lush has such a strong brand that they don’t have to spend anything on advertising. “We don’t spend money on TV campaigns or celebrity endorsements”, says Natasha Ritz, Lush brand communications manager for Australia and New Zealand. “We don’t promote social media posts. Everything we do is organic. Every Facebook post is organic. We have no budget to push behind it.” Last year they posted record turnover and pre-tax profits, bucking the trend of struggling high street stores.
Closer to home, our brand marketing efforts for chartered accountants, Menzies resulted in a huge profit bump and the British Accountancy Awards’ National Firm of the Year 2016.
The value of brand spend goes far beyond clicks, likes and web traffic - the results happen in the mind of your consumer. If they need a product or service like yours, great brand marketing means you will be the first company that springs to mind. Or at least that you make the list.
Growth = brand and sales
The key thing for all this advice is balance. Brand marketing is invaluable to business growth, but just as sales activation campaigns won’t work alone, the best route to growth is to split your marketing spend between the two.
Good brand marketing provides the air-cover into which you can launch sales activations more successfully and efficiently. The best growth comes with the two campaigns working hand-in-hand.
It’s easy to be short-sighted in business. Quarterly targets lead to short-termism, and in marketing that means a focus on the activities that can show immediate return. But to solely focus on that is a mistake. The AA, for instance, spent so long staring at their speedometer that they failed to notice the twenty car pile-up in the distance, and almost drove straight into the middle of it.
You might not see the dividends immediately, but investment in your brand marketing will have the biggest impact in the long-term, both on business growth and business value. So keep your eyes on the road.
To justify your marketing spend, you must be able to measure its impact on your bottom line. Find out how with The Marketing Centre’s free ebook on Making Marketing ROI Work For Your Business.