Performance can boost sales but by itself can't save a brand

It's time to remind ourselves what marketing can do. It has never been more important to connect with the confused and anxious consumer.

The world has turned upside down. Not for a century have we seen such a pandemic and it has huge implications for individuals, employers, society and governments the world over.

The crisis brings massive implications for marketers, who must strike a balance between maintaining brands for when "business as usual" becomes "usual" again and reaching consumers who need information and reassurance.

As many businesses battle to remain afloat during these tumultuous times, it is no surprise they have either turned off the marketing budget or directed it to performance activity only.

However, this would be a mistake. While performance can help in the short term by providing a super-boost for sales, by itself it can’t save a brand. 

Refocus on the basics

In fact, the current crisis has only hastened an existing trend, a blunt focus on performance that is blindsiding marketers to the very principles on which successful marketing has always been built, the four Ps.

These are uncertain times – nobody quite knows what the world will look like when we come out of lockdown. Harsh though it might sound, this is also the perfect time to re-evaluate what our marketing efforts have focused on, where they need to be now, and where they might be in the future.

So, where to start? Having spoken to numerous chief marketing officers in recent weeks – both before and after coronavirus took hold – it is clear marketing must change.

Indeed, at a recent CMO roundtable we hosted, Sherpa CMO Patrick Muir summed up the rush to performance as "a watering down of the CMO role to one where in many, many companies it’s a little more than lead generation".

Businesses everywhere need to wake up to what actually drives real, sustainable growth and in these times of crisis, what will keep a business alive. Despite myths to the contrary, this is not through ever-increasing ad budgets alone. 

Marketing communications have never worked the way the industry wants to believe – there is scant evidence that advertising is the sole cause and sales are the effect.

Brand purpose and growth

The temptation right now when we are focused on overly short-term goals, is to drive all of our efforts into performance. Performance matters but only in conjunction with marketing’s traditional four Ps: price, product, promotion and place. 

As marketers, we must show our customers what we truly are in everything we do – what we sell, how we sell it, how much we sell it for, how we structure our business to make a positive contribution to human society and the planet – as well as the language and approach we use to express all that.

The marketing industry must wake up to the realisation that there are so many levers they can pull: it is not only performance or only advertising. Simply, it is a lot more nuanced than that. 

It is time for marketing to return to those four Ps – to ensure that the business has an integrated and holistic view of how it grows and the different opportunities available – and to refocus on marketing’s real role by taking a lateral approach to business thinking and growth.  

At a time that marketing is slipping down the C-suite agenda, it’s time to remind ourselves of what marketing can do. Has it ever been more important to connect with the confused and anxious consumer?

A time for brave leaders

Marketers must remind the C-suite that they are generally the only ones who connect directly with consumers. One marketer I spoke to recently said her wish was for "braver leadership". It’s marketers’ duty to educate the board about how important the customer is, how the world is changing and how consumers actually perceive the company or brand. To be brave about what propositions we put forward. 

Wise words, said before UK lockdown took hold, but now more relevant than ever.

Performance marketing has a place – an important place – and works in the short term, at least. But we need to think of it not as a strategy but a tool, a way of putting the accelerator on – or taking the break off – activity.

In isolation it is nothing but as part of a nuanced, flexible marketing strategy, performance marketing can be invaluable.

Ben Little is the founder and director of Fearlessly Frank

 

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