‘Invisible’ risk a branding lesson from history

Mar 27, 2024 at 10:00 am by admin

Globe & Mail content studio head Sean Stanleigh has a message for marketers tempted to the false economy of cutting brand awareness campaigns: Don’t do it.

In an INMA Innovative Advertising Solutions blog, he warns that a strict adherence to conversion could leave brands behind.

Brand awareness was once top of the food chain, “not just top of the funnel,” he says, nurturing the biggest, most creative marketing executions, and the heart and soul of effective campaigns.

But as billboards, print advertising, television commercials, in-store displays, and radio spots were joined by websites, digital video, social media posts, and podcast sponsorships as distribution platforms, a brand needed to be active across multiple channels to eventually influence a new customer’s purchasing funnel.

“Or so the story went, for decades,” says the Toronto-based content chief.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut the world down, most buyers retreated to their homes and began to live online. They got much more comfortable with e-commerce, but to get them there, brands had to work hard to attract them. With changes in behaviours came changes to marketing. Awareness remained a key tactic, but it almost completely shifted to the digital space.

“Content marketing effectively primed consideration. Conversion reaped the benefits. The system was working.”

But Stanleigh says, “then came inflation and high interest rates.

“Buyers got nervous about the state of the economy and their own finances. Companies began to tighten their belts. Layoff notices were swift and extensive.”

When times are tough, marketing is typically one of the first budgets to be trimmed because businesses become blind to the value of spending that doesn’t generate clear, direct returns.

“This is code for cutting brand awareness,” he says.

But with the primary focus on driving digital conversion tactics, he echoes an old saying: ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’.

“It’s appropriate here because a strict adherence to a single tactic has historically proven to be a short-term solution,” he says, quoting former Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios boss Shawn Layden that ‘doing more of the shit we’re doing now’ wasn’t going to attract previously non-console people into console gaming.

And if 95 per cent of the world doesn’t want to play the most popular console games, making more of them “is not going to get you anybody else”.

Says Stanleigh, “You need awareness in market alongside consideration to prime the pump to ‘anybody else’.

“The traditional marketing funnel is no longer a funnel; maybe it’s linear, or even circular. The three principles of marketing – awareness, consideration, and conversion – need to operate at the same time, in harmony, for maximum effect. “The movie title ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ comes to mind.”

Stanleigh says the challenge for marketers who have set brand awareness aside – whether intentionally or due to budget cuts – is that they won’t recognise the mistake until it’s too late. “In today’s jump-up-and-down-to-stand-out society, the mantra has to be ‘always on’. Otherwise, you’re giving potential customers time to be exposed to competitors while you stay silent.

“You risk being invisible.

“You need to continuously keep your target market engaged and informed, no matter the state of the economy. You don’t have to stop making them offers, but those become part of a larger campaign strategy. The new marketing requires test and tries, measurement, and doubling down on what works to keep customers loyal while attracting new ones.

“When you’ve chased a customer base specifically to pry open their wallets for too long, you’ll exhaust their spends, and one day you’ll turn around and realise you don’t have a pool of new clients to lure. You’ll also have no loyalty. It could take months, or longer, to ramp back up to a point where awareness starts to have impact.

“Play the long game,” he says. “You don’t have time to waste.”


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