Did the decline of old school brands start a performance marketing revolution?
A look at how brands are evolving, and how you can keep up
To say that Digital Marketing moves fast would be an understatement. In the last decade alone, we’ve seen rapid movement in the advancement of technology, automation and AI, bringing with it a change in how fast we’re able to connect with our potential customer. Businesses are constantly adapting and evolving in order to keep up with consumers, and arguably the biggest development in marketing is our ability to leverage large scale data about them. Surprisingly though — most of our marketing efforts are still not accurately measured. Why are we still measuring on metrics that don’t provide a return on our investment like viewability, reach and clicks. By doing so we are ignoring real time response from different audiences. The new brands that evolved in the last decade have pioneered performance-based marketing techniques that generated some of the most solid and PR fires bullet-proof brands.
The leap from logic to emotion
Back in the 1940’s, a bigtime American Ad Executive, Rosser Reeves, coined the phrase ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ (USP), putting a name to a new strategy of marketing a product or service. Simply defined — your ‘unique selling proposition’ is the reason the market is more likely to buy your product over your competitors. It’s the thing that sets you apart. That quality you’re known for. Let’s take a quick look at smoothies as an example. Milkshakes, smoothies, juices. They’ve all been around for a long time. Juice has been a household staple since the milkman dropped a bottle of OJ outside your front door. So why did Innocent Smoothies suddenly appear and dominate the market? Their USP would arguably be that their product is made of 100% real fruit. Hence the ‘innocence’. They’re natural and unblemished. No artificiality. No preservatives.
But did fresh fruit alone turn a small business into a multimillion-dollars success?
The conception of the unique selling point in the 40’s has sent marketing teams and agencies on a chase ever since. No doubt, the first thing you’re expected to know when you’re employed as a marketer is your brand’s unique selling point. It has been widely regarded as the seed from which all good marketing is grown. But the USP only serves logic… of course we all want a smoothie made of natural ingredients it will make sense to choose the natural product over the product packed with preservatives. That’s rational, isn’t it? What it doesn’t necessarily answer to, is your emotions.
Because, in reality, if we all knew what was good for us, supermarkets would be running out of fruit. But we still buy the energy drinks, the Haribo and the donuts. When was the last time you bought a Big Mac?
This is where the concept of the ESP comes in. The Emotional Selling Proposition. We now know that people buy based on emotion, and then back their buyer decision with logic. Buyer psychology has shown us that we make purchasing decisions based on what we feel, or what we want to feel. You might remember Innocent catching your eye in the early nineties as the brand that spoke your language. Their copy was conversational. It welcomed you in as if you were chatting with a mate. Innocent focused on being relatable, and then they followed with a huge charity campaign so that you could give back to the community. 10% of their business profits on your naturally delicious products would go to charity.
Not only did you feel like you could relate to this company, but you also had the opportunity to feel like you were doing something impactful. You were one link in their ‘chain of good’. Acceptance, group mentality, and the hero complex — three major emotional human drivers.
The more crowded your market is with copy-cats and me-too brands the less you could rely on USP and the shift to emotions was inevitable. But with the rapid development of internet and multi-channels media and the drop of our attention span below the goldfish level, creating those emotional connections became expensive requiring very high reach and frequency of exposure to the message and most start-ups and disruptors could not afford doing it at scale.
How does emotion change a ‘brand’ and its outlook?
Interestingly, Innocent eventually sold to Coca Cola. Seems surprising, when the brand based its foundation in natural ingredients. But really, when you delve deep, it’s not surprising at all. Since its creation, Coca Cola has evolved from a medicinal concoction thrown together by a pharmacist, to a well-loved worldwide phenomenon. Coca cola don’t need to tell you exactly what is in their famous recipe, because they’ve spent centuries building a bond with you. They’ve run numerous heartwarming campaigns, targeting the vibrancy of youth, the generosity of friendship, an ethos of sharing joy. They’ve been the name attached to our favorite sports. They’ve even attached our own names to their bottles! Don’t forget, they single-handedly changed Christmas in the West forever, by making Santa Claus the man in the red suit. Coca Cola have nurtured you over a lifetime in the hopes that you’d think of no other brand when it came to you purchasing decision. Many companies have followed the path of emotional brand building led by companies like Coca Cola, investing a large chunk of their marketing budget into the ethos, the purpose and the meaning behind the product. Into nurturing you with familiarity, with loyalty as the bottom line. If you look well in their reports, you might see that this effect has limited success these days.
But times have changed, and brand marketing is changing too
All that being said, in the last decade, we’ve seen rapid growth in digital companies leaving brand marketing behind in favour of a more direct approach. You only have to look at the big names today — Facebook, Google, Uber, AirBnb, Snapchat. How many Christmas adverts have you seen them run? An interesting example I’d like to pick is booking.com. The Booking brand, though having to really peacock in the travel market, competing with the likes of the big hotel chains, and innovative accommodation mogul AirBnB, have seen rapid growth. And largely without investment in Brand Marketing. Interestingly, their investment in brand has been but a drop in the ocean of their budget compared to the investment they have put into a data driven approach, ploughing the money into Google and Facebook ads, and the pursuit of immediate ROI. Booking have been smart about innovation, constantly keeping an eye on consumer behavior to improve on their service. Tapping into the millennial use of mobile phones, Booking.com have tested the use of push notifications, targeting a generation who use smartphone to give them travel information in real time, on the go. The marketers at booking.com have placed an importance on gaining real customer feedback and behavioral signals based on 3rd party platforms as much as on their own, instead of using impressions and increased likes to hazard a good guess.
Companies are taking this change back home
The problem with hazarding a good guess, is that the question of return on investment (ROI) is always hanging over the company’s head. For traditional campaigns, a fee is usually expected upfront. Money is paid into a campaign regardless of whether it gets the results expected (or hoped for). Performance marketing campaigns are far easier to budget for, as marketers have to identify the cost per action based on the desired outcome first. Whatever your goal is — Purchases, installs, clicks or leads — you set the cost, and you only optimize per achieved action in a far shorter time frame.
As discussed, advanced algorithms relying on big data allows this to be an almost accurate science that requires a unique set of skills to tame.
This means that a lot of businesses are dragging their marketing back indoors, despite the rise in branding agencies over the last few years. The fear is that once the budget is outsourced, control over how it is spent is lost. In-house performance marketing allows for real time tracking and analyzing. It means that the feedback gained from a direct response approach can be instantly put into action. Tweaks can always be made so that the campaigns and even the product evolves based on the consumer’s needs with superb agility.
Quantum Brands like this are popping up everywhere
We call the Booking.com, Uber and Airbnb of the world Quantum Brands. I.e. the brands that are constantly evolving in real time, in response to test and experimentation. Brands that have evolved largely under their own nose, without long term marketing strategy. Because really, yearly strategy kind of becomes defunct in this environment, as the focus is in-motion optimization and adaptation. It’s a constantly moving wheel of change.
The name itself comes from Quantum Mechanics, and the concept of wave particle duality… bear with me, I won’t go deep into the science. One of the basic principles of quantum mechanics, the wave particle duality, refers to the fact that matter and light exhibit behaviors of both waves and particles. Same goes for quantum brands, they exhibit behavior of both performance marketers and huge traditional brands.
And these Quantum brands are chameleons
If the wheel of change is always in motion in response to the audience — performance marketing can’t exist in the traditional framework of picking and sticking when it comes to a target audience. Quantum brands are truly audience first. Adaptation in response to paid performance opens up more multi-channel opportunities and means more opportunity to catch on to new sources of demand fast. Being able to create and test different audiences on platforms like Facebook and Google for example, will enable to you quickly test, learn and adapt, in very much an agile marketing manor. It’ll spread the net wider.
It may also put the traditional design agency on the backbench, as more investment backs trending digital design — Instagram stories and Snapchat are a prime example. Art directors may be moved out of the way for UX designers, influencers and even media buyers in order to adapt to consumer behavior. Though moving with the trends isn’t exactly new, Quantum brands aren’t just falling for the fad. It’s not an ‘all the kids are on
Instagram these days’ narrative. It’s the brand becoming a chameleon and taking on the color of an audience based on the analyzed trends in that market.
Much like wave particle duality, as discussed previously, your brand doesn’t have to separate or choose a side — you can adopt brand marketing, nurture your audience and grow brand loyalty, and be a Performance Marketer. It’s no longer ‘one size fits all’. What works for one audience may not work for other groups you’re trying to reach out to.
So, how can you become a Quantum Brand?
Here are some quick questions to ask yourself, to get you thinking about some changes you can make to enable more direct response.
● Can you close the loop? — Is your marketing team getting the sales and business signals the quickest they can? Can they optimize with agility based on those signals?
● Do you put all of your focus into performance? — Find out what’s working by getting quick signals back from your consumer. Test, track and adapt.
● Are you trapped in a 1 size fits all mentality? — There is no single answer or way to do marketing. Change everything from core features to fonts and design. If you find a “goldmine” stick to it but keep testing new things to find new audiences.
● Are you being benefit-centric? — Communicate one benefit at a time but try all of them in parallel, Each one will appeal to and “fish” a different audience.
● Do they know where to come back to when it’s relevant? Keep some consistency — Keep some element consistent to help consumers find you when the intent arises.