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In the digital era, marketers have access to a treasure trove of data that can be used to guide decision making. By taking an evidence-based approach to what works and what doesn’t, it is possible to identify the key levers that drive business success and tailor our marketing strategies around proof rather than promises.
On the surface, this may seem like a great thing. And it is. However, the abundance of available data has resulted in a large scale shift towards conversion-focused rational advertising offers that are short-term in nature, and less resources being allocated to brand building for long term success.
“Strategies that deliver the strongest short-term sales effects are more or less the opposite of the strategies that are best for long-term growth.” — Source
In Peter Field’s latest book, “Why Aren’t We Doing This? How long term brand building drives profitability”, he takes a detailed look at how the requirement for short-term results is being achieved at the detriment of long-term brand value. By drawing upon a vast amount of evidence, the book advocates for the importance of taking a balanced approach to advertising and marketing activities.
Through developing Hypergiant, a results driven digital marketing agency, we have successfully implemented a range of balanced strategies for our clients that combine conversion-focused PPC advertising and retargeting with brand-building to get the best of both worlds.
This article takes a closer look at our experience with balancing short and long-term strategies, and how our experiences reflect the suggestions put forth in Peter Field’s latest book.
Tunnel vision versus broad reach
“Paid search is a useful short-term sales tool but not effective, on its own, in driving profitable long-term growth; it needs to work alongside brand building.” Source
There is an erroneous belief amongst many marketers that piling short term results on top of each other will result in long-term brand growth. Unfortunately, this profit-centric approach defies the realities of the market: it doesn’t work (on its own) for sustained periods.
However, by combining conversion-oriented advertising with strategic brand-building activities, we have been able to deliver both higher profit margins and better ad performance for our clients. To grow the brand presence and mental availability, we employ a combination of the following:
- Search engine optimization to ensure that our clients brands are the first offerings to appear at each stage of the customer’s buying journey.
- Content creation which embodies the principles of storytelling in a way that highlights what makes our clients brands distinctive and helps to dominate search engine rankings.
- Social media management to build a community of advocates and develop a warm audience for targeting with conversion-oriented remarketing and custom offers.
- Demonstrating social proof through PR hacking and integrating testimonials into brand collateral at the right moments.
We have found that by starting with what makes the brand distinctive in the market, and implementing paid advertising campaigns from this base, our sales-focused activities are much more effective as a result.
Growing a hotel brand
Hotel 115 is a boutique hotel in the heart of central Christchurch. Their clientele is mostly made up of international tourists and travellers, so we developed a content strategy that focuses on creating valuable resources and guides for visitors to the city.
By providing useful and relevant content, we were able to rank near the top of Google for high intent keywords and encourage more people to book directly rather than through expensive aggregator websites.
To complement our content strategy, we also used location-based geo targeting to reach people in the area that were ready to make a purchasing decision.
“We achieved this through dialing up a combination of offering proximity deals to local tourists through Facebook & Google.” — Source
- 28% increase in direct bookings.
- 20% overall growth in annual revenue.
- 4x increase in organic search traffic.
- 15:1 return on ad spend.
By using custom offers and PPC retargeting as a component of a wider brand-driven strategy, we were able to achieve great results at a much lower advertising cost.
Standing out from the crowd
It should always start with the strategy. All too often, marketers have a tendency to jump into action without necessarily considering the long-term picture. Many businesses want to see immediate results, which doesn’t allow their agencies enough time to build mental availability within the minds of potential customers. This normally leads to an unbalanced focus towards selling and converting existing prospects rather than growing the audience.
With the granular data that is available, the allure of developing rational ‘offer-based’ advertising at the expense of creative campaigns is very tempting. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t build any recognizable brand collateral. When customers are ready to reorder the same product, evidence indicates that they are more likely to purchase whatever is on offer rather than seeking the brand in question.
The solution: balance sales activation with the development of distinctive brand assets that can be used to build mental availability.
“The biggest thing that drives engagement is the quality of the creative.” — Source
Growing an event brand
As New Zealand’s leading paint and wine event, Paintvine is a company that hosts art classes in bars throughout the country. As we launched into new cities, we created compelling video anchor content to wrap our Facebook and display campaigns around. We then used these brand assets (and photos from the events) to encourage people to tag their friends in our posts.
The campaign went viral and attracted an abundance of free web traffic. Social media platforms reward high performing content with more effective ad spend and exposure to a much wider audience. We then leveraged this success by getting content placements in leading event publications and working with influencers to reach their networks. This wouldn’t have been possible without the use of creative content that engages the emotions.
- Over $500,000 revenue in less than 9 months.
- Zero to 10,000 instagram followers within 5 months.
- 50:1 return on ad spend.
- 43% increase in converting visitors to customers.
Starting with emotionally engaging, creative brand assets and designing a viral ad campaign around this base content was what allowed Paintvine to achieve such a phenomenal return on ad spend.
Focus on the quality of leads and web traffic
“The main way in which brands grow is by selling to more people. So the main way in which marketing communications drive growth is by increasing penetration, and the biggest gains come from customer acquisition.” — Source
There is a common fallacy in the world of marketing that bigger is better. People often believe that more web traffic means more customers, a larger base of followers means more legitimate prospects and more backlinks necessarily results in better search engine rankings.
Whilst there is some truth in this notion, and the value of reaching new customers cannot be understated, it is important to focus on generating high quality, relevant leads. When you expand the reach of your marketing activities, make sure that you’re targeting the right people at every step along the way.
Growing a SaaS company
A2X is a rapidly growing e-commerce accounting integration that helps Amazon sellers to import marketplace transactions into their cloud accounting system in a way that always reconciles with ease.
A key cornerstone of our strategy to reach new audiences has been to create distinctive brand assets that act as lead magnets to build trust within our target market and guest post high value content to leading blogs where our prospects spend their time. In practice, this means using our brand assets as the basis for content that we guest post to leading industry blogs. The main benefits of this strategy include:
- Attracting high quality inbound leads.
- Positioning A2X as an expert in the Amazon seller/e-commerce accounting space.
- Builds valuable backlinks that improve our domain authority and naturally attracts organic search traffic.
- Makes potential customers more inclined to want our offering in advance of making a purchase.
We have also been attending important industry events such as the Prosper Show to exhibit the A2X offering to high volume Amazon sellers. This has helped to build mental availability for our brand and opened up many opportunities to collaborate with larger market players.
“Brand building and sales activation spend should be approximately 60:40.” Source
Of course, guest blogging and industry outreach is only one side of the coin. To convert leads into paying customers and make the most of our inbound web traffic, we adopted a healthy balance of brand building and sales activation.
The key sales-based activities included marketing automation targeting users with different messaging at each step along the way, custom built landing pages for specific groups of clients and detailed PPC targeting and remarketing campaigns.
- 300% increase in monthly trials.
- 500% increase in trial to paid conversion rate.
- 25% decrease in monthly customer churn.
- 200% increase in organic search traffic.
Following on from a spectacular year of growth due in part to effective marketing activities, A2X has now launched a new integration for Shopify stores that is set to deliver even better performance over the coming 12 months.
You can have your cake and eat it too
“It is the timescale observations that are so vital here, because it transpires that what works best in the short term is pretty much the opposite of what works best in the long term. It is dangerous to focus on only one timescale, especially the short term; the most successful businesses balance short-term and long-term activity and this means brand building” — Source
By viewing brands through the lenses of both short term sales objectives and long-term growth potential, it is possible to get the best of both worlds and avoid placing too much emphasis on ‘selling’.
Here are the seven rules for effectively building brands:
- Focus on building mental availability for your brand — this will require investment in brand-building advertising that primes consumers to want to choose it in advance of purchase.
- Use advertising to create distinctive assets for your brand — this will help you build mental availability.
- Get emotional — emotional advertising primes behaviour more powerfully and over longer periods of time.
- Get creative — original advertising is more distinctive and more likely to get talked about: both boost mental availability.
- Be consistent — but allow for innovation around a consistent theme. Develop fluent devices that will help you achieve this.
- Reach wide with advertising — do not be seduced by the idea that it is wasteful to talk to people who are not about to buy. It is vital to do so.
- Balance media — brand building and sales activation should be approximately 60:40. Choose the media best suited to each role.
Peter Field’s free eBook can be found on the communications council website, here.