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Marketers need to balance brand and response marketing for growth

5 minute read | Imran Hirani, VP, Strategic Accounts, Nielsen | October 2021

Marketers are always under pressure to prove the ROI of their campaigns, but the demand for brand growth has only sharpened as companies work to pull themselves out of pandemic-induced strains. Though this demand is more pressing, the question of how to solve it is an age-old one: To grow market share, should brands spend their time on upper-funnel, brand-building efforts or mid- and lower-funnel efforts that will secure quick wins for the business?

Here’s my answer: A balanced marketing approach is key for brand longevity. Let me explain what that looks like in practice.

There’s no denying the allure of securing quick sales. With the ability to provide immediate ROI to their businesses, marketers alleviate some of the pressure of the campaign to deliver results early on with quick wins. However, conversion-oriented marketing alone falls short in supporting future brand success, since a brand’s existing customer base will rarely ever generate enough sales to meet most long-term growth goals.

Instead, marketers need to address brand growth through a balanced marketing strategy that accounts for every part of the funnel. Here’s how:

Develop tactics that take customers from start to finish

If customers are unfamiliar with your brand, they’re unlikely to purchase your product, which is why effort needs to be put into brand awareness and consideration campaigns. Addressing the top of the funnel will sustain a pipeline of future sales by nurturing prospects. It will also make lower-level activations more effective, as those tactics will then be applied to a larger pool of consumers. Recent Nielsen research found that even a one-point gain in brand metrics like awareness and consideration can drive a 1% increase in sales.

Brand awareness techniques do more than encourage new prospects, though. They also encourage previous prospects to return, which prevents loyalty erosion. Some brands may argue that their quality of products or services is enough to win a customer for life, but if their brand isn’t top of mind for the customer at the moment of purchase (or if other market factors such as price point and availability supersede quality), the customer can just as easily opt for another brand that’s more present to them. 

To fine-tune the balance between awareness and activation—as well as the myriad steps in between those stages—you can turn to measurement. In addition to tracking sales, your team should be monitoring and optimizing for KPIs such as brand metrics (e.g., awareness, familiarity, consideration). While sales are influenced by the brand metrics, they are also influenced by other factors such as promotion, price, and availability. Therefore, the optimization of efforts for improved brand metrics will often yield different plans than the optimization of efforts for improved sales will. Balance is all about being able to do both well.

Marketing analytics and measurement tools focused on brand metrics can help in this pursuit. By understanding which marketing tactics are most impactful to awareness or consideration, as well as each tactic’s capacity to drive more growth in awareness and consideration, brands can make choices that help them improve the funnel. The ability to optimize is a critical element of progress; Nielsen research shows that while the marketing channel that has the largest investment is often (70% of the time) the one that produces the greatest brand metric lift, it is almost never (only 4% of the time) the channel that should be prioritized for increased investment.

Match tactics with the right messaging and channel mix to drive growth

Where customers are in their relationship with a brand will also influence which messages resonate. Individuals who are new to a brand won’t connect with a call to action that assumes a history with the company—that’s why it may be helpful to have varied campaigns to engage and grow your varied audiences.

Marketers should consider tailoring campaigns to global macro trends to keep their brand relevant. Think: How does our brand solve for, or relate to, these bigger issues impacting your audiences? For example, these could be challenges posed by the pandemic. Tying messaging to larger issues that are prevalent across the media can create urgency for customers, who will understand why your offerings solve a larger problem they’re currently experiencing.

Nielsen research shows that in spring 2020, 90% of Americans were in favor of companies showing their support for consumers during the pandemic. The thought put into these campaigns may stand out to customers, who’ll respond with increased affinity for your brand.

To ensure your campaigns don’t blur into the white noise of the media, you need to be intentional with the channels you’re running your campaigns on. The channels that are effective in driving awareness with your targets won’t necessarily be the best for locking in sales, so be thoughtful and data-driven in which mediums you’re using for different campaigns. With a marketing analytics platform that captures engagement across channels, you’ll be able to see when and where your campaigns are resonating with audiences, and when they might benefit from a format change.

Nielsen research shows examples where video and offline channels work well to garner awareness since they can be presented to more generalized audiences. The same research suggests non-video and online media better support lower-funnel messaging, since these platforms are more interactive.

Conversion-oriented marketing may look attractive when markets are tough, but the immediate ROI will soon wane as the customer pool runs dry over time. To protect current sales while ensuring future ones, your best bet is to stay balanced, mixing awareness and acquisition tactics with activation ones so customers are engaged at all times.

This article originally appeared on DMCNY.org.

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