If you follow me on twitter, you know I’m a big proponent of brand marketing, done properly. It’s a pretty controversial topic amongst DTC folks that skew performance oriented. I come from a very performance oriented background. Actually, worse than that. I came up through a true direct response background. Some of my favorite people I learned from in that space are Dan Kennedy, Gary Halbert, Todd Brown, Russel Brunson, Frank Kern, and John Carlton. Ask these guys about branding, and you’ll get thrown our of the room.
Ironically, when I learn about brand, it’s much more similar to what I’ve learned from these true direct response guys than anything. What gives?
First, let’s start this one with some working definitions. It’s especially important when talking about brand. My Twitter friend Alex (@heyitsalexP on Twitter) recently wrote an amazing newsletter on “The B-Word” and discussed the difference between visual and brand identity. I think a lot of times when I talk about brand on Twitter, people assume I’m talking about visual identity. Brand marketers often get a bad reputation for sitting around a room discussing colors and trying to be funny and I’m sure some of that exists. But guess what? There are many terrible terrible performance marketers, and there are some amazing brand marketers I know.
Please know that when I’m talking about brand here, I’m talking about brand identity, or brand strategy. Visuals are just one tiny component of that, but it’s not at all what I mean by branding. To me, the simplest way to think about brand is, “What are you known for?"
First, you have to be known. That’s the brand awareness aspect that most think of when it comes to brand. Then it’s “for.”
What are you known for? What do people say about you? Your personal brand is what people say about you when they bring you up in conversation or once you leave the room. It should fit in 1 sentence. Your brand’s brand is no different. What do people say about you when they bring you up in conversation?
Logos, fonts, and color. These are all ways to influence how people feel about you. They help support how people feel about you. They’re a part of a part of the thing, but they’re not the thing.
Ok ,now that we have the working definitions out of the way, let’s get into it. I truly think there’s a false dichotomy, and I think the best brands and marketers do a really good job of respecting both sides of marketing and having them both work together nicely. However, most marketers are way too myopic and don’t understand both sides of the coin, to their own detriment.
We need one more disclaimer though. Yes I’m aware you can build a 9 figure company without any brand marketing, and I won’t argue that. I just think it’s not as common, and it’s not the game I’m trying to play. I’m trying to use all the tools at my disposal to reach a goal. Brand marketing is one of them, and so is performance marketing. I want to play the game on easy mode, not hard mode because DTC is already hard enough.
Let’s go back to the direct response marketing roots. I think some of these guys, and old school direct response copywriters are actually genius marketers, who have a lot more in common with great brand marketers than performance marketers and media buyers do. Whether they’re running direct mail pieces or trying to sell from an infomercial, they put an incredible amount of thought and attention into everything they do. There’s an overarching concept called The Unique Mechanism that is super important in direct response. The Unique Mechanism is essentially an idea that helps customers understand why they may have not succeeded in the past, and what they would need to succeed to fix a problem or achieve a goal. Here’s a good piece from Todd Brown on Unique Mechanisms.
Perhaps the best example of a unique mechanism is the P90X offer. I don’t know the numbers, but P90X was one of the hottest offers of all time at one point. Their unique mechanism was muscle confusion. Essentially, the reason most people haven’t lost weight is not because of their genes, their diet, and it’s not because they’re lazy. It’s because they were missing one super simple thing, and once they understood it they were golden. That thing was a silly concept called muscle confusion. As someone with an exercise science background and a former strength and conditioning coach, I can say that muscle confusion is complete BS. But it helped a ton of people get in really good shape because it got them to believe they could do it.
(Now here’s a quick caveat. Persuasion is power, and it’s not always used by good people. I am not at all advocating for making up things to trick people, or selling BS products. But I have learned a ton about marketing and persuasion from people who I don’t agree with or think are good people, and I suggest you stay open to it too.)
A real direct response marketer would NEVER run traffic to any offer without a great unique mechanism. They might argue that it’s the primary thing that determines the success of a marketing funnel or not. In DTC, no one really talks about a unique mechanism, but we do talk about differentiation and having a truly unique value proposition.
Put simply, the unique mechanism helps a prospect envision success with your product and helps them very clearly understand how your product is different from every other competitor of yours. Yet so many DTC brands, especially the ones who say they’re really struggling post iOS, have no differentiation and storytelling. They’re just another skincare or vitamin brand, and they run static ads that look like ads and add zero value to the user other than a discount. No wonder they’re struggling.
You might be wondering what this has to do with brand marketing. When I was reading Emily Heyward’s amazing book Obsessed, it hit me that her and Todd Brown were talking about the same exact thing. Who would of thunk it, the brand experts had more in common with sleazy direct response marketers than performance marketers do.
She doesn’t use the phrase unique mechanism, but talks about several very similar principles. Brand strategy is all about helping the customer choose you over all of your competitors. The differentiation really should start at the product level, but it can extend into the brand strategy as well. Most people knock brand marketers for just caring about logos and spending money with no regard for outcomes, but good brand marketers know how to sell stuff better than most performance marketers or media buyers.
What’s all of this have to do with the death of performance marketing as we know it? I promised myself I wouldn’t use the word arbitrage in here, but how else do I explain the last 5 to 10 years of DTC? Up until Tim Cook waived his magic wand, storytelling and brand strategy were not all that important. Facebooks targeting and algorithm were so good that a brand, paired with a skilled analytical media buyer, could literally media buy and hack their way to 8 figures pretty easily. They could get away with mediocre creative, a not so compelling product, and very little focus on brand storytelling and still grow profitably. The most important position in an organization was a skilled media buyer. I’d argue that that’s far less important now.
There’s only so much effect a great media buyer can have on a business that doesn’t have the foundation in place. Now before you come after me, I’m not saying media buying is completely dead. But I am saying that it’s far less important than it used to be. If I had the budget to get 1 A player and 1 B player on my team, I’d choose to get an A player brand marketer and a B player media buyer. With the lack of data and as a result lack of confidence in the data, our intuition and gut feeling is going to become much more important than the previous decade. No longer can growth marketers be trained robots who only act on numbers. We need to be thoughtful, well rounded, and do a better job of storytelling and using psychology to market, not just numbers. We all need a little more David Ogilvy in us.
Brand first performance marketing. It’s not new, but it’s not as popular as it should be. If you are a media buyer who works on a really large team that has a good brand team, you can focus on media buying but you need to respect your brand team and learn as much from them as possible. I guarantee you’ll get ad angles and concept from them if you’re open to it. Or you can just say they know nothing about marketing and run the same static, 20% off ads with a .5 CTR and blame Tim Cook.
If you’re a media buyer on a smaller team, and you don’t have a brand marketing team to bounce ideas off, you need to play both sides of the ball. I highly recommend reading Emily Heyward’s book, as well as some David Ogilivy and make some dan Kennedy. I also suggest you drop the media buyer title and accept a new one: Marketer.
Yep, I truly think in the future that there won’t be brand marketers or performance marketers, there will just be marketer. The more you can play both sides of the ball, the better off you and your company will be. Performance marketers need to understand everything outside of the numbers more, and brand marketers need to use data to back up or test their intuition more. What does this tactically look like?
The DTC Guy Nik Sharma calls it Performance Branding, which he says is “building brand equity on top of working performance media dollars.” Brand First Performance marketing is the same exact thing.
I’m going to tell Facebook that I want to optimize for Purchases, and I do need to get some purchases on Day 1 to at least break even or slightly cash flow positive. But I know the real path to wealth is in building brand equity, so I’m going to optimize my ad creative and landing pages to build brand equity.
How? I’m going to use education, entertainment, and storytelling to differentiate us and provide true value to the user because I want them to fall in love with the brand, know our brand pillars, talk about us to their friends, and eventually buy from us. When they do buy AFTER going through all of those valuable experiences with us, they’ll continue to buy again and again.
A few brands that I think do a really good job of this are Athletic Greens, Magic Spoon, Harry’s, and Caraway.
Paid media is just amplification what’s already working and amplifying our messages. I think the biggest value from it lies in the awareness and affinity built from the millions of impressions, not the purchases on day 1. I just need those, as a bootstrapped business, to have the cash flow to continue running my ads. So I’m not going to optimize my ads for views or reach on Facebook; I’m going to tell Facebook I want it to find me people who will purchase. But when I’m making my creative and landing pages, I’m going to place a huge emphasis on the brand aspects, because I know that only 1% to 3% of people who will see my ads will buy right now, and I want to create lasting relationships with the 97% of people who will buy from me eventually.
Here at Triple Whale, we sit happily at the intersection of brand marketing and performance marketing. Want deep insight into how your brand marketing efforts are impacting business performance? Take a free spin through our software.
Supercharge your growth with a purpose-built ecomOS for brands and agencies.