Many in-house brand marketers face resistance from their digital, performance marketing, or e-commerce teams when it comes to running top-of-the-funnel branding and storytelling campaigns. To a data-driven digital specialist used to optimizing bottom-of-the-funnel key performance indicators (KPIs) such as Cost per Action, it seems like blasphemy to run lofty branding campaigns designed to inspire potential customers. That is because it can be hard to quantify the impact of branding campaigns and delivering a “Mad Men style” pitch just won’t cut it any more.

Thus, picking a branding campaign apart is often no real challenge for a performance marketing specialist. Armed with “hard-to-argue-with” numbers that demonstrate a direct impact on sales, it’s easy to sway decisions on budget allocation towards bottom-of-the-funnel activities, such as paid search. To counter this argument, a brand marketer needs to look at the situation through the lens of a performance marketer: What budget and resource allocation will actually deliver the maximum impact? Bottom-of-the-funnel activities and tactical digital campaigns tend to deliver results right away. Branding campaigns, on the other hand, play an important role in delivering sustainable growth. So, it’s really not a case of doing one or the other – but senior management might see it that way. A key question to ask is: “What meaningful KPIs can be measured to demonstrate the impact of brand-building campaigns?”

Meaningful KPIs Consist of Quantity and Quality Components

When setting KPIs for a branding campaign, it’s important to steer away from vanity metrics. Many brand marketers fail at this first step. For example, more website traffic sounds great, but it really only is great if those extra visitors stay for longer than just a few seconds (assuming that you are targeting prospects unlikely to convert). So never set “website traffic” as your only KPI. Instead combine it with a quality indicator such as “maximise sessions with >10 sec session duration.” That way, you are aiming to drive visitors who actually consume your content and, therefore, may have a higher likelihood of converting later on. The same “quantity + quality” approach can be applied to other digital channels, as well. Video views, for instance, only matter if they are completed by humans spending more than a few seconds on your footage. So, do not only focus on views (the quantity metric) on YouTube, but rather combine it with a quality metric, such as Average Percentage Viewed. No matter what channel or format you are looking at, you will always be able to identify both quantity and quality components. Thus, when running a branding campaign that cannot easily be linked to conversions, focus on defining custom “quantity + quality” KPIs, instead. This will show that you have thought things through, have a basis for measuring success, and are able to test and iterate to improve campaign performance.

Reiterate the Strategic Necessity to Run Branding Campaigns

Simply setting KPIs won’t be enough to get you what you want. You also need to show that running branding campaigns makes strategic sense. In doing this, you can also address a weakness often associated with tactical digital campaigns: in order to maintain CPA targets (or ROAS targets, or whatever KPI is being measured), while also achieving growth goals, digital marketers are often forced to run incentivised, tactical campaigns. An example for that is an e-commerce website sending Electronic Direct Mails on a weekly basis just to announce yet another sale (if you have heard of the brand Zalora, then you know what I’m talking about). This approach may be part of an elaborate strategy, but sometimes it’s only done to chase short-term goals. The risk of this approach is that customers get used to never actually paying the full price and start ignoring a brand unless a promotion is running. As a result brand equity is destroyed and eventually a competitor with an even more aggressive pricing strategy (or stronger branding) will take over. There is a reason why luxury brands do exactly the opposite and create scarcity, even if it means destroying products rather than selling them at a discount. So carefully monitor the frequency and aggressiveness of the campaigns your digital team is running and weave that into your own line of argument.

The Final Step: Push the Envelope by Drilling into Details

Even with all the best-defined metrics, you might still find it difficult to compete with the dazzling results that bottom-of-funnel performance specialists can present. You will have to do some dissecting. Evaluate the incremental CPA of bottom-of-the-funnel campaigns. The idea behind this is that acquisition costs (or cost per click, or whatever KPI is being tracked) for bottom-of-the-funnel activities sometimes look strong only because they are reported as averages. Let’s do a sample calculation: Let’s assume that a given campaign generated 500 unit sales at a spend of 100 USD. The campaign CPA is 0.2 USD (100/500). Let’s now assume that the budget for this campaign is increased to 110 USD and the total sales grow to 505 units. It seems that efficiency decreased a bit as the new average CPA is now 0.22 USD (110/505). Not much worse than the original CPA. But actually the incremental CPA, so the CPA of the additional 10 USD spend that generated only 5 additional sales looks dreadful: 2 USD (10/5)! Many decision makers fail to consider this and judge campaigns on the basis of averages. This can be a huge mistake as in many cases incremental metrics can tell a very different (and more accurate) story. An incremental benefit analysis can thus help justify budget shifts to upper funnel activities such as branding campaigns.

Ultimately, to be Successful, Brand Marketers Need to Build Bridges

Brand marketers will often have to employ all of the above described steps to get heard and to present a strong case. But it’s equally important to realise that brand and digital or performance marketers really want to achieve the same thing: grow the business. The difference is their perspective on time as branding takes a longer time to show results than a tactical, seasonal sales campaign. However, if executed well, branding campaigns can grow the most desirable form of traffic: direct traffic and branded search. For those not familiar with it, the term branded search refers to a user searching for your brand (or product) name on Google. This type of traffic tends to convert well, while also being inexpensive (low CPCs).

In the end, it is much less about competing for the same budget, but more about making informed decisions that fuel sustainable growth.

Cover image: Gustavo Naharro