Don’t call it Performance Marketing

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“Performance marketing” vs. “Brand marketing”

There is this weird distinction in the advertising industry between “performance marketing” and “brand marketing”, where the former usually refers to the highly-trackable, data-driven spend, where the other is awareness-creation, emotions-driving, hard-to-measure-impact kind of spend: the most obvious example of the two are SEM and TV advertising.

Performance Marketing
Brand and performance marketing

Because of the limited trackability and sophistication of TV advertising (representing the pinnacle of brand advertising), it is now common knowledge in the industry that brand advertising can somehow survive without full accountability. This is the reason why many of the brand marketing channels are still sold on metrics like CPM and GRPs: they live on the assumption that reach and frequency are synonyms of effectiveness; but while they are fundamental drivers for any brand marketing goals, they don’t guarantee results on their own.

The fascinating dystopia of the advertising industry is that while performance marketing is put under the microscope, few people measure the true impact of brand advertising on revenue, and it seems like delivery is all it matters.

Good marketing and bad marketing

There shouldn’t be a distinction between performance and brand marketing: all marketing should be performance-based, no matter if the performance is measured with lift in awareness, consideration, intent, sign-up, or sales. Under this lens, everything is performance marketing, and the only meaningful distinction made is between real-time measurement (i.e. direct-response) and delayed measurement (i.e. survey-based brand read).

While direct-response marketing channels have embraced this performance-driven monetization of their inventory, brand-focused channels are still very far behind: a few brave publishers and networks are starting to play with “brand lift guarantees”, but they are still very few.

This level of accountability is unprecedented in a space where many still struggle to provide granular reporting metrics, or won’t allow third-party measurement and validation tools. Many networks and publishers still see programmatic buying as a threat: although they swear by the quality of their audience, they are afraid of allowing buyers to measure and bid on their inventory based on the perceived value for the advertiser.

The reason why so much money is still on “brand marketing”, while “performance marketing” is still a smaller and unsexy share of the pie, is because many decision-makers in the advertising industry are nor held accountable for the return on spend. But publically listed brands and companies cannot afford to be so irrational for much longer, and things are going to change.

If it’s true that Marketing is “a mix of art and science”, using a double-standard takes the science away from it, and then it’s not Marketing anymore. So please, don’t call it “performance marketing”… just call it “good marketing.”


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Author: Paolo

Economist by education, digital marketer by profession, coffee roaster by hobby.