The Secret Ingredients to Long-Term Brand Growth

By Imran Hirani, VP, Strategic Accounts, Nielsen

Organizations across every industry were forced to rethink operations in 2020, including how to save costs wherever possible. As a result, marketing budgets were often slashed, and brand awareness efforts took a backseat to other priorities that would garner faster ROI. Companies rationalized this strategy by assuming that their resources would stretch farther if they were focused on conversion-oriented tactics.

At face value, this strategy seems intuitive. Conversion-oriented marketing—when marketers focus on the lower funnel—inspires immediate action from consumers, like a quick sale, which then translates to immediate ROI that marketers can report back to leadership. In comparison, it can take time for a company to fully realize the sales impact of brand awareness marketing, which focuses on the upper funnel.

Brands must focus on all parts of the marketing funnel in order to grow their business. Effective brand building requires marketers to engage with current, loyal customers while simultaneously launching campaigns designed to acquire new ones to maintain a healthy pipeline of sales.

As marketers recalibrate from the pandemic to address the new reality and pave the way for brand growth, here’s how they should operate a balanced marketing strategy.

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Focus on the entire customer journey.

It’s simple: if a consumer has never heard of a brand, they cannot engage with it. That’s why marketers must embark on brand awareness initiatives to target prospects and build a pipeline for future sales. At the same time, marketers must nurture existing customers and prospects already acquainted with the brand to remind them to engage and meet a certain conversion (whether that’s a sale, content download, or another KPI). Customers have more choice on which products they’ll buy than ever before, so it’s essential for brands to stay top-of-mind and nurture existing relationships when a sale is on the line.

These efforts work best when used in conjunction with one another. Nielsen research found that a 1-point gain in brand metrics, like awareness, drives a 1% increase in sales. That’s because awareness efforts make lower-funnel marketing more fruitful: as more prospects are pulled into the marketing journey, lower-funnel efforts are applied to a larger group of targets, which means there’s more opportunity for conversions.

Brands may contend this strategy, saying their priority is maintenance—not growth—due to the strains caused by the pandemic. However, even brands’ most loyal customers who have had great brand experiences still need reminders to return.

Use data to educate business leaders on the importance of brand awareness campaigns.

Business leaders want to see results of how marketing is driving sales. It’s true that lower-funnel activities can secure quick sales that executives like to see, but these tactics are largely ineffective at driving future sales unless consumers have a real reason to return. By consequence, over-reliance on conversion-oriented marketing will soon cause sales and brand growth to fade away.

Marketers must educate leadership that lower-funnel activity alone cannot sustain a brand, and remind them that sales is not the only metric to gauge marketing success. When considering the entire funnel, a conversion could be a sale, but it can also be a prospect signing up for a newsletter, downloading a whitepaper, listening to a webinar, or adding items to their cart.

If business leaders are hesitant to dedicate a larger portion of marketing spend to upper-funnel activities, marketers can leverage data-based evidence of brand-building’s impact on driving latent sales. They can do so by measuring long-term sales and/or brand equity effects of upper-funnel marketing and reminding leadership to remain patient for sales results. Although upper-funnel marketing is less effective in showing immediate ROI, Nielsen research found that it still can contribute to short-term sales in addition to fostering prospects for future sales.

Marketers can use measurement platforms to capture how their efforts are hitting certain KPIs, like brand metrics (e.g., familiarity, awareness, consideration). Importantly, since lower- and upper-funnel activations have different goals, each should be assessed differently. For example, upper-funnel messages should boost brand metrics like consideration and awareness, while lower-funnel messages should boost sales. Combining the two into a single measurement could depress the aggregate impact of both. By evaluating these campaign components separately, marketers can optimize each component of the funnel over time to continually grow the business.

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Know which messages and channels will resonate with prospects.

Marketers know that it’s critical to target audiences with the right message, at the right time, on the right channel to capture attention and drive sales—but this must be taken a step further to win over modern audiences.

First, brands must be aware of the personal needs of each individual they’re targeting, and the broader influences people are facing in the world. This way brands can better position how their product or service can solve each individual’s challenges or meet their needs.

Secondly, the messages presented to audiences at the top of the funnel must be different than those presented to audiences in the lower funnel. For example, for top-of-funnel engagements, a reasonable goal could be encouraging audiences to consider the brand and continue learning about the brand; for lower-funnel engagements, a message may be a call-to-action encouraging an individual who has been to the website to revisit and check out items saved in their cart.

Similarly, the channels that are best at driving awareness are not always the same that are best for conversion-oriented marketing. Nielsen recently studied how an insurance brand’s campaign performed on nine different channels and found that most channels that drove short-term sales were not effective in raising brand awareness and consideration. In fact, the channel with the most spend behind it (30% of the campaign budget) lifted awareness and consideration 56% less than would be expected for the cost of the engagement.

The quick wins of conversion-oriented marketing cannot sustain long-term brand growth. Marketers must have a balanced approach to the entire marketing funnel to stay ahead of the competition.

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