How can you balance performance and brand to achieve full funnel efficacy?
My guest Christian Jones is the SVP of Marketing and Client Development at Hawthorne Advertising.
He has over 20 years of proven success in marketing, creative, business development and technology.
In this episode, he’ll cover the crossover between brand and performance, including:
- Keeping customers engaged with your brand (beyond your product)
- Balancing the rational and emotional to create impact
- How to ensure ROI on your marketing
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host Steffen Horst.
The topic for today’s episode is balancing performance and brand to achieve full funnel efficacy. Here to speak with me is Christian Jones who is the SVP of marketing and client development at Hawthorne Advertising, a full service agency with 30 plus years of proven success, launching and growing brands. Christian has over 20 years of proven success in marketing, creative, business development and technology.
His work has been nominated for the Webby and Grammy Awards. He has managed teams worldwide from Los Angeles to London to Lagos and has a proven track record of developing successful campaigns for brand partners including Coca Cola, National Geographic, Airtel Wireless, Ford Motors and Heineken. Christian, welcome to the show.
Christian Jones: Thanks, Steffen. Thanks for having me. Much appreciated.
Steffen: Christian, before we start talking about, you know why balancing our performance and brand is important or how it should be done, tell us a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career and what led you to becoming the SVP of marketing and client development at Hawthorne Advertising?
Christian: Yeah, of course. So, you know, I started, geez, I actually co-founded a music streaming company back in the late 90s, during the first internet boom. And I got started in marketing, because what we did was we started developing branded channels for brands. And so we were kind of putting a musical soundtrack to these different brands. And we were pitching them and launching them and kind of getting them into this very new at that time channel to kind of find some new audiences, but also create some awareness.
So that’s how I started and transitioned into different creative or different strategic forays across different channels, including radio, podcasting, social, digital, etc. And eventually ended up with Hawthorne Performance Advertising Agency and been there for about four years now coming on five. So it’s been a journey through different aspects of it. But that’s kind of how I arrived at where we are now.
Steffen: Interesting. Now, talking about today’s topic, what do you mean by balancing brand and performance in media?
Christian: So when we think about brand media versus performance media, and there’s always kind of been a bifurcation of that, right, which is useful, but not often, as useful as it should be. So generally speaking, we talked about brand media, we’re talking about media and the messaging within that media that’s intended to create an emotional connection with that brand, and to communicate the values of that brand.
Not necessarily the features and benefits of the product itself. But an emotional value that the brand is like putting forth into the world, and the consumers are to absorb that, ingest it emotionally, and then hopefully hold it near their hearts and create that brand affinity and then eventually, get the brand into the consideration set.
So that’s kind of the brand aspect of it. And you see that a lot with brands like Nike and Coca Cola. Nike is not telling you what the new line of shoes are. They’re selling the brand, right? Clearly. When we talk about performance marketing, we start to talk about how do we measure the results of the media that we’re driving. So that’s going to be getting a little lower into the funnel. So now you’re talking about, you know, consideration and conversion, middle and low funnel.
And really, that’s where you’re driving, the aspects of features, benefits, pricing, offer configuration, and those aspects that really drive the purchase action by the consumer. And that’s the performance aspect. So balancing those is really critical. And every brand’s balance needs to be a little bit different depending on where they are in terms of their stage of business or lifecycle, for example.
Steffen: That makes sense. Now, obviously, you know, building out a brand, so if you have a new company, building out the brand awareness, obviously is quite important. Because if you skip on that, soon, there will be other companies out there that have the same product, and then you have nothing to differentiate yourself from those companies.
Christian: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, creating that awareness upon launch is, of course, it’s critical. And you know, what we’re seeing more and more of, I think, is, if you look at some of the play books of some of the direct to consumer brands that have kind of come into play in the last say seven to 10 years. What you do see is a really interesting balance of introducing the brand and creating that awareness, while simultaneously kind of creating the triggers that go back to performance marketing.
So if you go and you look at some consumer brands, you’re gonna hit their site, we’re gonna see a very branded experience. You’re gonna see aspects of talking about the brand values. And they talk about the founder’s story and talk about what they stand for and the authenticity behind it, which is creating that emotional connection. But you’re also gonna see a pop up that says 10% off your first purchase, sign up for this.
So they’re balancing it really well from the jump, really. We’re starting to see more and more of that. It’s hard to come out of the box and just do brand awareness. Because you may not have enough runway to get to the point where you’re actually creating that flywheel that you’ll need.
Steffen: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. You mentioned this. Depending on where a company is. So if it is a company that is completely new to the market, how does the balance look like for them? I would assume there’s a high investment on the brand side and probably a much smaller investment on the performance side. Is that about right?
Christian: Well, yeah, I mean, but that’s going to be relatively brief, right. Because once again, it really depends on the level of investment that you have. So if you have a relatively modest investment to make, you can’t spend too much time just investing in brand media, because you’re going to be required to show some sort of return on that other than just unaided awareness or aided awareness or impressions, because those are really soft metrics.
So I would say in the beginning, yeah, you want to lean more heavily into the brand aspect of it, but you need to have a plan to start to integrate your performance marketing, lower funnel, harvesting, essentially. And it really depends on again, what your runway is, and what your budget is. So you brought up earlier, I think, in one of our prior conversations, Steffen about Airbnb, saying they’re gonna abolish their performance marketing allocations, which is interesting. Right? So I’m curious if you have any thoughts on that, before we dive into that.
Steffen: Yeah. I thought about that. And I believe that, you know, Airbnb has by now such a strong brand. When you will go and look for a vacation rental, right? How many players are there really in the US market that immediately come to mind, right? It’s Airbnb and VRBO. So customers have two major choices where they can go to. And I think what you said earlier about, you know, creating that emotional connection, that’s what they’re basically doing from a brand perspective.
They have to go to their site anyway, to find if there is inventory available at the location where someone wants to go to. So therefore, they’re really putting an effort on this connection. Creating something special from a messaging perspective. I still think there’s elements of performance marketing, whether they label it performance marketing or not, it’s probably something else. But I think that’s kind of how I look at what Airbnb does. I don’t think they completely abolished performance marketing.
Christian: Well, it certainly plays nice in PR to say that. And I would agree with you. I think that they really, bear in mind, this brand has been around for quite a while now. I don’t have it in front of me. But it has to be at least 10 plus years, perhaps more. But they’ve really grown into that space to your point where they become synonymous with just like a Kleenex or a band aid, right. The name of the brand indicates, you know, a housing rental, that you can get a vacation rental.
And I think they can spin away from their performance marketing allocations a bit more, because they’ve taken the time to build the brand. And they’ve actually gone through a series of steps that shows that they’ve matured to that level with a logo redesign, with a site redesign. And with kind of this really interesting positioning of these really unique experiences, where it becomes not just about a vacation rental, but more about creating a life experience for you.
They have these, what you can rent a cave, or you can rent some really funky, weird UFO thing out in the middle of like, you know, Joshua Tree, or whatever it might be. So they’ve done it. And now they can just kind of really rely primarily on brand and create that bond with the consumers. I think, where you’ll probably see continued investment from them.
Well, there’ll be some performance aspects, of course, but I think you’ll start to see a lot more kind of post purchase, not only retention, but kind of creating those customer touch points. Where Airbnb is always top of mind when you’re thinking, if you’re thinking about a vacation, you’re gonna think Airbnb, you know at first. First and foremost. But yeah.
Steffen: That makes sense. Now, going back to allocation, how do you manage the allocation from kind of being an early or a company that needs to invest more on brand in the beginning then over time, obviously, as awareness increases, and people start moving down the funnel. If you just think about a funnel and linear way.
I think we both understand that the funnel is not linear, right, but from an explanation perspective, it makes much more sense to talk about that way. They’re moving down from awareness consideration to some point of action, how do you balance out the spend between those two areas, brand and performance? And are there indicators that help you to shift your budget?
Christian: Yes, yes, by all means. So, if we start to think of, I’m trying to think of this for a use case. So if the goal, let’s say the goal of the campaign is to generate leads, that’s kind of the first step. So it’s a lead generation, let’s say it’s a form fill for example. And then the second step of that conversion process would be, let’s say, setting an appointment, right. So setting an appointment with someone who’s going to come to your house to provide you a service as an example.
And then the third aspect of that is going to be actually making that conversion, that sale. So if you start to think about how that looks as well, if you’re generating the amount of leads that you need, with your, with your brand awareness drivers, right, you’re getting people to come to the site, so you’re measuring cost per visit. And then you’re measuring cost per lead. How many of those folks are actually hitting the site, and then filling out the form that you need.
So now you know what your cost per lead is. As you start to follow those things down, if you’re generating enough leads, rather, I should say, Steffen, once you’ve optimized the visit to form fill process as best you can, you need to ensure that those appointments are being met. So now you’ve generated a lead, you need to make sure that the secondary stages are going to be driving that awareness of I need to set the appointment.
And from there actually make the conversion, make the sale. So you’re going to want to hit the individuals that are coming to the site as an example, that don’t fill out the lead form, you’re going to want to use some retargeting there. So that’s going to be an aspect of your performance budget, right. Because they’ve shown some interest, considering but they’re not quite there. So that’s one aspect where you’re gonna start investing more heavily into it.
And then obviously, you’re capturing email address in the post appointment setting, then you’re going to be able to actually use email marketing to kind of keep those people and see if you can get them to convert. So as they’re moving further down the funnel, you’re introducing new tactics which then introduces new spends and new allocations they’re in. Does that make sense?
Steffen: Yeah, totally. But when we talk about budget, right, and maybe we talk about it in percentages. So in the beginning, you might have 80% of your budget in brand, because you need to get people or you need to first build that awareness, you know, who you are, or the products that you’re selling. So you spend a lot on the top part 80% and 20%, because there might be already some demand for the product service that you offer on the bottom, and you kind of want to get that off the market. You want to convert.
But as you are building your awareness, then it’s not only the paid media part that drives the awareness, it’s kind of the word of mouth and other activities that you potentially don’t even control that creates that level of awareness. Which means you might no longer need 80% in awareness, you might actually at some point, flip it completely, and you spend 20% on brand, and 80% on the bottom.
Because the demand has grown so strong, that you literally want to just scoop it up on the bottom. How do you identify the point when you should do that? How do you identify when you should start moving budget out of brand and moving it more into performance? Are there any indicators that your team usually uses to identify that situation or those situations?
Christian: Yeah, it’s really based, Steffen, it’s really based on each campaign and the KPIs therein. So again, it depends on the goals. So, yes, you’ll start with a heavier allocation in brand, and it’s going to shift over time. But eventually, what you want to find is, and of course, this makes sense, you want to find a balance, wherein you’re filling the top of the funnel, and you’re actually converting at the highest point that you can.
Now then the question becomes how efficient is the brand media in filling the top of the funnel, right. And that always gets, this gets a little bit harder to measure, right? Because you can measure a cost per visit, or you can measure unaided awareness or aided awareness, or impressions or things like that.
But ultimately, you know, the messaging and the creative that’s going to drive that brand awareness is going to be even more critical than where you’re placing that media. So it’s not really just a matter of like, where the media is being placed or how you’re allocating for it. It’s also what is the messaging that’s in place that’s going to drive the action that you’re seeking to cause with your consumer.
Now, that being said, this is interesting, because we’re talking a lot about either brand or its performance, and that’s where I think there’s a bit of a misnomer. I think that there’s a lot of crossover. And that crossover can happen with your creative. You can create some brand affinity, you can create an emotional connection with a consumer if you’re creative. You can also in the same fell swoop, you can introduce some of the features and benefits of the brand.
You can try to communicate within that context, what problems you’re solving for that consumer, or what pain you’re taking away from them. You can do that. And if you can do both of those simultaneously, that’s really where you find that sweet spot. So now you’re, you’re addressing both ends of that funnel with one piece of creative that you can then allocate in different parts, in different media channels.
So I’m trying to think of an example that would be particularly relevant. But I think you see that I mean. You really have to strive to do both. If you’re in that position. Again, if you’re a Nike or an Apple, you can just do brand, you don’t have to talk about the new MacBook Pro.
Steffen: I mean, I think which channel seems for me to be about what you just said. There’s kind of a mixture between brand and performance is kind of paid search, right? When you have brand searches, that is, they know what your brand is. It is not a branding advertising, you’re kind of scooping it out to convert them.
But if you go on generic terms, for example, where you compete with other companies that offer the same product or service, then the messaging tells you, that makes you click on the ad, unless you’re someone that just randomly start clicking on ads, right. But that message basically will make you decide, yep, I want to look at company ABC, or I don’t want to look at company ABC.
That message might be shipping information, it might be something as like the biggest provider of XYZ, something that that message tells you makes you take action. And it’s not necessarily so much of a performance message. I would say that’s where the mixture, for me at least, comes in.
Christian: Yeah, 100%. Yeah, at Hawthorne, one of the things we talk about when we think about our creative is we talk about balancing the emotional and the rational to create the impact that you’re seeking. Because you want to be pulled in, you want to believe at this point, particularly especially, you know, you start to get into kind of Gen Z and Millennial consumers, they want to believe in the brand.
They want to have a belief in that brand is doing something that’s going to be impactful, it’s going to be, you know, course corrective for our world, whatever it might be. So there’s an emotional aspect there. But you also need to communicate the rational aspects where you’re going to make purchase decisions based on, you know, is this the product I need? Are the features there? Is the price, right? To your point, is it free shipping? Do they donate a portion of the proceeds to a charity that I believe in? Whatever it might be?
If you can communicate those things simultaneously, you can create the impact. So that’s one of the things again, that we really think about when we think about creative at Hawthorne. How do we balance both. And, to your point, this also applies to the creative as it would to the media. Sometimes you’re balancing heavily, you’re more heavily on the brand side then the creative. Or you’re really just kind of leaning into the emotional.
And then sometimes you’re leaning more into the performance aspect of the creative, where you’re leaning into the rational aspects of it. So that balance where you are in the spectrum, is what kind of allows you to strategically address your audience, depending on where your lifecycle is as a business.
Steffen: That makes sense. Now, where I see problems quite often when I want to talk to clients. And we talk about we need to invest in brand, they’re hesitant to actually invest in something because they don’t necessarily see a dollar amount immediately coming out of that investment.
What I mean, there’s no revenue nest there generated, which kind of leads me to the next point is, how do you measure the brand awareness investment and connect it with the performance part, so that the client actually sees the value in it. Because when we do performance, we optimize towards cost per sale, or revenue or return on advertising spend, or whatever that hard KPI is that we use.
But when we do brand, it’s like always, the question is like, are we looking at time on site? Bounce rate? You know, impressions, CTR, and then I’m throwing things out that companies or clients want to look at which don’t make sense. But how do you talk to your clients when you have to say, you know, what, we need to invest in brand to help us push the bottom, you know?
Christian: Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting question. It’s a tricky one to answer. You know, it’s funny, I just, I just spoke with a global digital marketing director of a very large and unnamed consumer electronics brand. And they were having the same questions. How do we justify the spend on brand, when I can’t effectively prove out how that investment turns into ROI?
And I’ve talked to countless media managers of brands who struggle with the same thing strategically. How do we do it so that we know the efficacy is there and and the effect is there. And I think there’s a few different ways to do it. There’s a few things you can look at that are pretty obvious. I mean, you can look at, you know, branded search, you know, you’re starting to see a lift in branded search when a campaign goes live. That’s a brand driver.
But there’s also different models that we’ve put into place. We’ve got a data science team and a business intelligence team at Hawthorne that does some different modeling using, you know, Bayesian modeling. And then a few other predictive models that we have that will show incrementally the effect of different channels upon the other. Now, that’s how we like to look at it.
And if we could pull those levers and show hey, if we pull this lever and allocate more here, we expect to see this there. And if we do see it, and we can make that correlation is true, then we can say, okay, we can spend in brand, because we know it, it actually starts to generate a lift in these channels. But as a standalone, Steffen, I don’t, it’s hard to measure as a standalone.
Steffen: Yeah, I agree. I mean, look, as we talked earlier, I used to work for over in the IPG network media brands, and we had our mathematicians that would do econometric modeling, similar to what you just said. And they would pull data from in store from so many sources, and then would be able to say, you know what, you need to spend X percent on offline in this area, then you need to spend X percent on offline in this area, then you spent this percentage on online in this area.
They broke it out, and then you run it and then you collect information back in and you see how you have to further fine tune things. You have to start at some point. But I think, for a lot of companies, and that’s probably the majority, obviously. We’re not talking about the Coca Cola’s. They have people that can do that.
But for the small and midsize companies, they struggle with finding answers to that. And unfortunately, to say most of us marketers, unless you really have, you know, a data science team in house, it’s hard to really put a number down or to come up with an answer. And it’s sometimes it’s more a little bit of a test.
So if we invest something on the brand side, as you said, do we see an increase, for example, on the search side on brand? Or do we see an increase in orders in general, during that time when we do that. And then we compare to time when we don’t do it, for example. So there are ways to test but there’s not a system out there, I think that you can easily just plug in and you get an answer for that.
Christian: No, I would agree with you. I think, and a lot of the things that we do as well is very similar in terms of testing. So you make an assumption, you test against it, did the results were what your predictive model shows. And if they do, then you know you’re on the right track. And if they don’t, you have to quickly pivot. So I think to your point too, Steffen, everybody kind of works in a more iterative model these days. I think you have to.
It’s not a waterfall technique where you look at your year, and you go, here’s the allocation, here’s the spend, we’re just gonna plow through it and do exactly this. You have to look at it, you’re looking at it almost week over week, certainly, you know, month over month, most definitely. But you really have to be paying attention to the signs, and making small bets, you know.
You make some small bets here and some small bets there and see if they start to generate the KPIs that you’re looking for. And then you can iterate. It’s a much, I think it’s a much, much different place now that we’ve introduced all this all this data, from the data scientists in there and the different models that we’ve got. It’s become more and more complex, and it demands more and more attention more and more often, I would say.
Steffen: Yeah, I would totally agree. Now, is there a post purchase conversion effect or a strategy to consider in regards to this?
Christian: Yeah, I mean, I think that, you know, I think actually, that’s a huge opportunity for a lot of brands is a lot of focus on kind of, like, how do we get them down the funnel? How do we get them to convert? And then there’s a bit of, you know, there’s a bit of focus on retention, of course. Trying to keep people from churning out once you’ve got them on some sort of a recurring revenue model. But what I think is missing, and this is kind of a more, I guess, it’s more of a philosophical point of view.
But I think where a lot of brands are missing the boat, is once you’ve gone through the hard work to acquire these customers, how do you keep them satisfied? How do you keep them engaged with your brand? Aside from them just using your product? So you and I probably, you know, you sign up for a service, and you’re using the service, and then you decide the service is not so useful anymore. You haven’t been using it.
You haven’t really been paying attention to any of the messaging you may or may not be getting, and you say, cancel. And then you get this kind of like, awkward hand fisted thing. Like why are you canceling? And you get offers for a discount or a free month or whatever it might be. But you’ve already made your decision. You’ve already decided I’ve had enough of this. I’m canceling.
So where I think the opportunity lies is how do you create these touch points during the process of being a customer that goes beyond just email marketing, right? So to give an example, I think where there’s an area of opportunity, and this is, it may be a little bit further into the future, particularly for a lot of smaller brands.
But when you start to think about the opportunities and kind of virtue worlds, and I won’t really say the the metaverse so much because there’s lots of different aspects of these virtual worlds. It might be Roblox or decentraland, or whatever it might be. How do you create brand touch points within these virtual worlds which you can connect your brand to that individual without it even being related to your product or service.
So if I own brand X, right, and let’s say my brand X is a subscription service for, you know, toothbrushes for example, if I can create something for my users who are using my product who are in let’s just say, it’s Roblox as an example. And it’s a special, virtual good, that signifies I’m a customer of this thing, or just signifies some sort of cachet or value, because it’s, there’s some scarcity around that product, right? That’s virtual good on Roblox.
Now, I’ve got users who want to get that product, who are willing to engage with my brand X, and then show that off in a virtual world. And so even when they’re not using their toothbrush, they might be thinking about brand X. And those are the types of touchpoints that I think would really benefit some brands to start thinking about, not just in the virtual world, but in the real world as well.
But it’s really interesting, because creating virtual goods is highly scalable, and relatively cost effective. So as more and more people adopt it, how do you start to kind of create an entree into those places that creates a more frequent interaction with that brand than would normally be there?
Steffen: That’s some great thoughts there. What it also means to me, what you just said, is really understanding your customers better, right? Instead of just sending all an email to everyone you have, and you know, you might say, hey, you bought last time this and now, here’s something similar etc. But finding ways for that audience segment that you’re talking to, to be more engaged.
That’s what your example I believe also kind of signifies is, you create something in kind of Metaverse or Roblox or whatever it is, that is targeted for a specific audience. Because if you are a brand, that covers a wide spectrum of audiences, kind of beating them over the head with one message, every audience segment is not going to be as successful as having individual messaging or experiences for individual audience groups that you have.
Christian: 100% Yeah, and therein lies, Steffen, I think the you know, the idea that a lot of marketers are trying to get to. It’s personalization at scale, right? How do you effectively do it. And I think the introduction of a lot of tools we’re going to see with AI, and being able to kind of plug these things together and create a workflow that makes sense. I know, Adobe’s working pretty hard on it, and a lot of other folks are too.
But if you can get to that personalization scale, you can kind of create those touch points that are very unique to each individual segment or person. You know, I would say too one of the things I’ve been talking about, with my colleagues, at Hawthorne, particularly folks doing social is you know, when you think about what’s happening on social, we say social, right, we say it’s this broad term.
But if you think about the mindset, the qualitative mindset of individuals, when they’re on different social media platforms, they’re very different. My mindset, if I’m on Instagram, is going to be very different than my mindset when I’m on Twitch, or I’m on Pinterest as an example. So how do you think about Pinterest is a good example. Because that’s creating mood boards or creating vision boards or creating some sort of vision for something that you want to create in the future.
So your mindset is already thinking about a point in the future that you want to get to. Which if you’re an advertiser, that seems to speak to a few different options, like, it could be insurance, right? It could be life insurance. It could be thinking about something that’s going to happen in the future. Maybe you’re getting ready to have a child. And you’re, you’re considering that so you can talk about, you know, baby products, or whatever it might be.
So thinking about the qualitative mindset of each user on each social platform, and how it can provide you with some insights on where you might want to consider advertising and not just treating social as this broad brush where everything’s kind of the same, and you just kind of modify some creative a bit. So yeah, we’ve been exploring that a lot internally. It’s an interesting, interesting topic, I think.
Steffen: Yeah. Christian, unfortunately, we’ve come to the end of today’s podcast episode. I’m sure we could continue this conversation for quite a while. But thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your thoughts on how to balance spend across brand and performance activities. Now, if people want to find out more about you, what you guys do at Hawthorne Advertising, how can you get in touch?
Christian: Well, you can go to hawthorneadvertising.com. That’s our site. There’s a contact form there and just shoot a note. And I’ll actually get that directly as well. And then we’d be happy to have a conversation. Or just shoot an email directly to email@example.com.
Steffen: Perfect. As always, we’ll leave that information in the show notes. Thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
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