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How to get ahead post-Covid: brand building and performance marketing

As the world tentatively feels its way out of lockdown, brands should invest in brand building and performance marketing…

“Brand building is the channel and activity that will over the medium to long term help business grow, it will decrease price sensitivity.”

So said Assean Sheikh, co-founder and CMO at craft beer company Flavourly. He was speaking on a panel of marketing professionals at Campaign’s Performance Marketing 360 and argued that the next 12 months presents brands with a “very good opportunity to invest in brand building, in addition to and alongside performance marketing”.

Sheikh said that today’s post-crisis world resides in a recessionary environment. The signs are there to see, he said: in the last, 2008, recession, the data showed that many brands cut back on brand building.

But many of them were missing a trick.

“[Brand building] it has to be balanced with sales activation, but the interesting thing is that in this type of environment, where companies and marketers pull out of those types of activity, it does two things. One, it increases the available inventories, so the cost for media should decrease. But the secondary, because there’s less competition for customers’ attention, you get a double-whammy effect where you pay a little bit less and get better deals, and there’s also less competition.”

Fast and deep
Sheikh was joined on the virtual stage by Todd Tran, CSO at global digital media platform Teads, and Meghan Wolf, manager, global social business and transformation at IBM.

Tran recalled how at the start of the pandemic, predictably “everyone had to react very fast and we saw a significant cancellation of campaigns”.

But he noted something else.

“Interestingly, across the board – for upper funnel and lower funnel campaigns – we saw an even greater hit on lower funnel,” he said.

“If you look at recessionary times, you wouldn’t see that, you’d see the opposite. But where the crisis hit, we saw an equally bad, if not worse, impact on performance advertising. The reason for that is because there was a lockdown, businesses that were advertising for performance or brand, if they can’t operate they aren’t going to advertise.”

For IBM’s Wolf, the pandemic has led to a change in tack for the tech giant’s marketing.

“During Covid, audience behaviours changed, whether that was on web and media consumption and social-media habits,” she said.

“We recognised that when people were in lockdown they were on the internet more often but their usage wasn’t the same as before. Where we had great success on Twitter previously, we noticed during the height of Covid that people were going to Twitter for breaking news and to join real-time conversations about what was happening in their area.”

This meant that people weren’t interested in brand content, she added.

“So we pulled back a lot of paid campaigns and urged our teams to pull back on organic content and think about what is essential to tell our audience right now. Do we need to be on the platform any given day or week? Sometimes it’s better to pull back and remain silent than be the one in the room talking about a topic no one cares about.”

Great expectations
Even now that lockdown has eased, Wolf argued that it shouldn’t be a reason for brands to revert to type – “audience expectations have changed”.

“There’s this expectation that brands communicate their values, they act responsibly and weigh in on social and ethical issues. We found that in the face of a pandemic or social injustice, such as #BlackLivesMatter in the US, it wasn’t acceptable to remain silent, nor was it acceptable to keep business as normal with social content about our offerings and solutions.”

Flavourly’s Sheikh also insisted that brands should avoid typical recessionary behaviour, post-Covid. Those marketers who invest in brand and performance will be in “really good stead”.

“As you come out of the recessionary environment and as confidence starts to resume, effectively the wider company set will start to reinvest in brand building,” he said. “But at that point they are really only starting to keep pace with generating share of voice. If you’re in a position to – invest in it as soon as you can.”

A return to planning and reinvestment into the mid-to-long term has been a boon for the likes of Teads.

As lockdown eased and people started to leave a short-term crisis mindset, “marketers started planning, and brand and performance advertising started to bounce back”, Tran said, with “performance marketing bouncing back significantly more”.

In spite of the economic malaise, business for Teads has been good. 

“Brands have started to put their money more towards accountable media like performance advertising. We saw year-on-year growth over the past few months, higher year-on-year growth than pre-Covid.”

Teads is the global media platform that distributes advertising to 1.5 billion people every month across the world’s best publishers.

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