The false dichotomy of brand versus peformance

A blue and an orange pencil on contrasting backgrounds

There are two types of people in this world. People who think in false dichotomies, and llamas. It’s a bad joke, but one which I hope helps to make an important point – that dichotomies are, more often than not, false. “Both” often could, and should, be the answer.

Our brains are hardwired to generalise; to think in simple categories so we can make quick decisions without costly, conscious contemplation. It’s a necessary heuristic that has doubtlessly been of great historic evolutionary help, but now takes centre stage in most conflicts, big and small.

Such a false dichotomy hovers like a pesky poltergeist at the heart of marketing departments causing distraction, disruption and misdirection for brands and agencies alike.


I am of course talking about ‘performance vs. brand’

Great operating models bring cognitively diverse thinkers together to solve challenges. Instead, by dividing ‘performance’ and’ ‘brand’, we’ve arbitrarily siloed analytical, data-oriented, deductive thinkers from creative, inductive artists.

Great storytelling appeals to both hearts and minds. Instead, we’ve arbitrarily rendered it an ‘either or’ decision, generally applying creative emotion-led storytelling to ‘brand’ marketing only.

Great marketing campaigns can inspire sales tomorrow and brand growth overtime. Instead, we’ve arbitrarily decided it’s ‘top of funnel’ or ‘bottom of funnel’ activity.

With the help of the likes of Binet and Field’s now infamous “The Long and the Short of It”, we’ve shown that brand does categorically drive performance. And with the help of ‘growth hackers’ fuelling the rapid expansion of many tech start-ups, we’ve shown that sales overnight can also grow brands over time.

So surely now is the time to join the two worlds under one roof? Where we treat the balancing act less like a tug of war, and more like a tandem bike. Where we create an operating model that causes powerful tensions between different thinkers which fuels creativity and rational thinking simultaneously. Where energy is spent not on shifting budget between performance and brand, but on working out how brand marketing can drive performance, and vice versa.

Agencies and brands that are setup this way are performance brands. Performance brands are able to increase spend on driving sales overnight whilst simultaneously helping the brand grow overtime. They put their vision, mission and values at the heart of everything they do, including ‘performance marketing’, and don’t settle for nebulous brand building, but they measure its short-term and long-term impact.


So, how do you set yourself up to become a performance brand?

  • Follow a ‘4C’ strategy

An effective marketing strategy starts with ‘customers’. Who are we speaking to and how can we affect a behavioural change?

This allows us to understand the right channel mix to interact with these customers; the right creative to resonate; and the right company strategy (yes, including price and product).

By starting with customer rather than channel, you shift the first conversation from being ‘performance or brand’ to ‘how do we change behaviour’ through every medium available. We all know we should start with customer, but rarely does a customer-centric brief sit at the centre of a marketing department; it’s often already been siloed into separate performance and brand segments long before a coherent strategy is developed.

  • Get rid of ‘either-or’ OKRs

Set long-term KPIs against sales-driving activity, and short-term KPIs against brand activity

A frequently asked question is “how long will it take for this brand activity to result in sales”? In high-frequency industries, or for very large brands, the tangible answer could be ‘immediately’. At an extreme, a super-bowl ad can have an immediate impact on sales of relatively low-frequency products like shoes, whilst increasing ‘brand metrics’ like awareness immediately.

The challenge is caused by either-or OKRs. That ATL ad? We’ll measure unprompted awareness, ad recall, and impressions. That Facebook ad? We’ll measure CAC, ROAS and CPC.

An ad that drives short-term revenue but diminishes brand value over-time is not a high-performing ad, and shouldn’t be measured as such.

  • Underpin marketing decisions with data and human and creative intelligence

There’s a claim from many marketing ‘thought-leaders’ that we’ve become obsessed with ‘historical’ data, blinding us to potential new, unproven, creative solutions.

The reality is that by being obsessed with the truth that data provides, we free up creativity to become more brave in the knowledge that we are operating in a lower-risk environment.

Data doesn’t hinder the judgement of those who understand data well. It hinders the judgement of those who struggle to interpret it.

It’s a bit like saying ‘our strong sense of taste is hindering our sense of smell’. Both just provide signals to the brain to tell us more information – it’s up to our brains to use that information to work our whether it’s mud or chocolate in front of us.

If you create positive tension between people who think about the world differently, you’ll quickly see an increase in conceptual creativity, and higher performing content emerge.

So the answer isn’t to be less obsessed with data. It’s to be more obsessed with humans – how we think and feel – and creativity. Both of which, funnily enough, can be understood better using data. Creating agile, cross-functional teams with diverse cognitive backgrounds rather than discipline-led operating models will facilitate this.


Helicopter creative reviews with a heavy focus on performance

Review creative through a variety of lenses. Not (just) in terms of results it generates, but test for criteria such as consistency, cut-through and coverage across the right customers.

Full creative reviews across all channels are conducted far too rarely. An exercise as simple as printing off all of your creative, sticking it on a wall, and taking 20 steps back to review consistency with the overarching vision, mission and values can be an evolutionary step in the right direction.

The key is assessing ‘performance creative’ with the same creative lens as brand-building creative.

Your brand is the culmination of how people feel when they interact with you, across all mediums, at all times. It shouldn’t be siloed to specific channels or mediums. Performance is applicable to so-called brand marketing as it is to so-called performance marketing. It’s time for these two worlds to collide.


Originally published on PerformanceIn.