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Demand versus Brand – the dangers of fragmented marketing

Marketing excellence is a prerequisite to 21st century business success. But while budgets soar and  CMO profiles rise, escalating marketing awareness to board level is creating a dangerous fragmentation of the marketing strategy.

Good CMOs are, unfortunately, spending more time justifying strategy than delivering. They are navigating a c-suite often polarised between brand and demand; obsessed with performance and ROI. They have to explain why it is important to explore multiple digital channels to market, even if one outperforms the others. Less confident individuals are caving in to pressure – undermining business performance as a result. 

With the latest generation of marketing recruits demonstrating more confidence with marketingtechnology (MarTech) than converting sentiment into effective creatives, the essence of successful marketing risks being side-lined just as it is becoming more important than ever. Norman Guadagno, CMO, Acoustic, explains why good marketing is a holistic mix of brand and demand — and why MarTech should support, not replace, creative expertise…

Centre Stage

Marketing has never been more important. In a world where the quality of customer experience dominates consumer and, therefore, corporate thinking, marketing is at the centre of many business initiatives. According to the latest CMO Survey, 73% of UK marketing leaders confirm the role of marketing in their companies increased in importance during the last year.

Yet this strategic role creates new challenges for marketers. CMOs have the ear of the board – even a seat at the board – for the first time, and very few c-suites have any real insight into the complexities or intricacies of successful marketing. This is understandable, to a degree, given the astonishing pace with which marketing has evolved over the past decade, from the increasing sophistication of new digital channels to the ever-extending marketing technology stack.

The result, however, is often divergent attitudes and priorities. For every board member citing the Oatly story, the company that has built a $10 billion ‘oat and water’ business on the back of a brand image that resonates with a health, environmental and wellness-focused customer audience, will be another lauding the value of demand-focused marketing, with the ability to compare lead generation performance in granular detail across a multiplicity of channels.

Brand and Demand

Both points-of-view have merit – but they are driving a worrying fragmentation in marketingactivity. CMOs are spending less time creating strategy and far more refereeing misinformed ‘brand’ versus ‘demand’ battles in the board room.

Brand and demand are two sides of the same coin. A brilliantly crafted demand generation campaign that presents the perfect message, in front of the ideal prospect, at the best time, will deliver far better results if that prospect already has some form of brand knowledge and understanding. Operating a demand campaign in a brand vacuum is a massive waste of marketing resources.

Successful marketing takes a holistic approach and even the most skilled expert in demand generation needs to understand brand to ensure every aspect of the marketing mix works.

Obsessive Measurement

Of course, many of the loudest voices in the c-suite will shout that ‘brand’ is a nebulous concept while ‘demand’ can be tracked and assessed in extraordinary detail. Again, this reinforces the lack of understanding into how good marketing works. In many ways, digital marketing’s inherent ‘measurability’ is its Achilles heel, encouraging the judgement of marketing activity only on quantitative performance.

Companies are endlessly demanding measurement of brand perception and brand awareness – and ROI from brand campaigns. This totally misses the point – brand as a holistic concept is not implicitly measurable (although investors certainly flock towards companies with excellent brand recognition) but it is hugely valuable within the overall marketing mix. Strong brand awareness coupled with positive brand perception will make it far easier to create marketing qualified leads (MQLs); it will ease the conversion process; it will set the foundation for customer expectation.

In addition to explaining the value of combining strong brand and demand campaigns many CMOs also have to justify the basics of marketing activity. Why, ask management teams, is money being wasted on multiple customer acquisition channels when one or two so clearly outperform the rest?

Wrong Questions

While such questions may make sense in a linear operational process – manufacturing or logistics, for example – marketing, irrespective of technology and metrics, remains a far more nuanced activity.

Good marketers know the importance of testing, evolving strategy and building the right messaging. They know that in a constantly changing market, performance is never static. Customer expectations change, cultural events will influence the relevance, even appropriateness, of activity. Yet there is a risk that less experienced individuals will cave into to management pressure to focus only on demand, on today’s top performing channels – and the business will suffer as a result.

Success should be analysed not just by the numbers. Companies need to understand the effectiveness and relevance of messaging: Does it reflect current cultural events? Is it enhancing the brand? Does it provide value to the customer or prospect?

Creative Expertise

The risk for marketers is that in an increasingly technology- and measurement-driven discipline, the essence of creativity — of recognising how to speak to the customer with the right sentiment — will be lost. Indeed, growing numbers of young marketers are now arriving in a business with a great understanding of the mechanics of successful campaign delivery and technology expertise but little, if not zero, insight into how to craft the correct message, one that piques the customer’s interest.

Technology should not drive marketing – and marketing teams need to be creative first, ‘mar-technicians’ second.  Technology should provide the entire team with a complete view of how, where and when customers interact with marketing activity to ensure the strategy is infused into every message.

It should empower individuals to experiment with messaging, delivering rapid insight – through A/B testing for example – into how customers respond to small changes in emphasis. It should help a company understand how best to approach a new market, to measure existing brand awareness, for example, but the creative skills of the marketing team are then vital to identify how to entice that new audience, to create the best messaging to tap into their mindset.

Conclusion

Marketing is not a linear activity. Customer expectations, experiences and desires change constantly; the way they can interact with a brand evolves continuously. Good marketing will be judicious mix of innovation and consistency. And the best CMOs will balance brand with demand; they will maximise the value of proven channels while always looking towards – and experimenting with – the new.

Marketing teams require a holistic skillset that blends creativity with technical confidence. And business leaders need to recognise that while MarTech provides a great insight into marketingvalue, it is not the be all and end all of marketing success. Pitching brand against demand makes no sense – it is the way in which a company reaches out to customers that is key. It is the message, not the channel, that resonates.

Email Marketing

5 insights into email marketing from 2020

By Michael Trapani, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Acoustic

Benchmarking an unexpected year, like 2020, can be a significant challenge. With so many factors affecting your company’s performance, how do you go about it? Comparing your performance in 2020 to 2019 (or any other year) will hardly account for the outsized influence a global pandemic had on your business, and the market as a whole.

Our newly released email marketing benchmark report, though, showcases the influence that the pandemic has had on email marketing based on data from thousands of marketing teams.

This benchmark is an indicator for your performance through an unprecedented year and a source of insight into consumers’ responses to the pandemic, current events, and how email marketing prevailed. These metrics uncover five primary insights:

  1. Pandemic lockdowns drove a huge increase in email engagement by consumers.
  2. It wasn’t just the pandemic — other global events impacted performance of email engagement.
  3. Email has further established itself as consumers’ preferred channel of engagement.
  4. COVID-19 messaging grew tiring and drove unsubscribes.
  5. Key industries were affected in different ways as a result of the pandemic and current events.

Let’s take a closer look.

  1. Pandemic Lockdowns Caused a Spike in Engagement

In March and April of 2020, the world entered the first wave of pandemic lockdowns and most of the in-person economy paused. However, while in-person shopping came to a halt, digital soared, leading to a surge in engagement with email marketing. Email marketing open rates increased 31% from January 2020 to April 2020.

While consumers sat at home, they opened more brand emails. Constantly online, the spring of 2020 was the perfect environment for email engagement. With higher open rates, click rates rose too: from January to April 2020, click rates increased 28.6%.  

2. Email Open Rates Coincided with Current Events

The pandemic wasn’t the only event that impacted email marketing performance. Natural disasters coincided with increased email engagement in the energy and environment industry. Unfortunately, the second half of 2020 saw a historic number of hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts. The industry was a clear outlier in the second half of the year, with multiple months exceeding a 40% open rate as a result — well above other industries measured.

The political arena of 2020 also had an impact on email marketing performance. Government-related emails saw a large uptick in November, coinciding with the U.S. presidential election. Open rates continued its upward trajectory for the industry through December, too, after the election was called.

3. In the “New Normal,” Email is Preferred

Email has always been a popular channel, but in the “new normal,” consumers are favoring this channel more than prior to the pandemic. Across the board, open rates increased since the pandemic’s start. While engagement peaked while we were in lockdown in the spring of 2020, engagement rates, overall, increased during the “new normal.”

In fact, every region measured had a higher click-to-open rate in the second half of the year. Europe saw the highest click-to-open rate in H2 of 2020, with an average of 14.8%.

Globally, consumers are more likely to engage with emails. This signifies a growing affinity for email communications as well as brands getting better at targeting the right consumers with each email.

4. COVID-Messaging Grew Tiresome Quickly, Driving Unsubscribes

While engagement was up, so was the unsubscribe rate. Other than India and Asia Pacific, every region had a higher unsubscribe rate in the second half of the year compared to the first. Overall, unsubscribe rates were 34.4% higher by year’s end, globally.

This could be a result of the COVID-19 messaging sent en masse to “unclean” lists. It was common practice for CEOs and brands to send pandemic-related updates to their entire list about the state of their business, like processes installed that kept employees and customers safe. This likely alerted many customers that brands they no longer shop with nor have affinity toward had their contact information, prompting them to unsubscribe.

5. Industry Highs and Lows Throughout 2020

Not all industries were equally prepared for the rapid digital transformation that took place: some industries thrived in a lockdown environment while others suffered. Unsurprisingly, hospitals and healthcare enjoyed high engagement throughout the entirety of H2, ranging between about 30 to 35% open rates. Because consumers were anxious for COVID-19 updates, they were more likely to interact with related content.

Two industries hit especially hard by the pandemic were travel and retail. Travel, for the most part, came to a halt for much of the year and the pandemic’s impact on the retail industry has been well-documented as dozens of retail hallmarks went out of business. This performance is reflected in their email marketing, as well. Travel and retail were two industries with consistently low open rates and low CTORs compared to other industries, rarely eclipsing 15% for open rates and hovering around 10% for CTOR.  

Getting Back to Basics with Email

While 2020 saw unexpected global changes, the “new normal” demonstrates that email marketing is a reliable tool with staying power. Comparing your performance from before and after the pandemic can signify how your brand is performing in the “new normal” as well as how you stack up in your market. Overall, global open rates increased in the latter half of the year by 6.5%. If you trend under the industry average, you can implement strategies to improve your email engagement, such as more advanced targeting to understand what content your audiences interact with more.

Despite many new marketing technologies and opportunities seeming to emerge daily, email is still growing. Make sure your email marketing strategies can keep pace. 

If you’d like to review the results of the full Acoustic report, download it here.

Three Psychological Pitfalls Marketers Should Avoid In 2021

By Norman Guadagno, CMO, Acoustic

A year in quarantine has changed consumer psychology and the rules of engagement for marketers. From dealing with isolation to significant economic uncertainty,  it is no surprise that depression has doubled for UK adults throughout the last twelve months. 

As the UK lockdown starts to ease, people are grappling with the conflicting emotions of desiring connection with each other on the one hand, yet remaining wary of too much close contact, too soon. 

For marketers, this means both adapting their 2021 plans to today’s “new normal,” contactless world, while ensuring that empathy and connection remain at the core of every communication. To accomplish this, we must all avoid the following pitfalls. 

Don’t mistake empathy for disingenuity 

We’ve all heard the same phrases a dizzying number of times by now: “These are unprecedented times,” “Stay at home, save lives,” and “We hope you’re doing well in these trying times.” For many brands, these empathetic phrases served as a pseudo-obligatory acknowledgement of current events before diving into sales-driven messaging. But for consumers, these messages quickly became white noise, a reason to ignore the communication altogether.

Data from Acoustic’s analysis of email marketing from January to May 2020 reinforces this. While open rates in the UK and Ireland increased by 19% in March versus January as consumers scoured for information on how to safely buy essential supplies and support their favourite businesses, click-through rates and click-to-open rates, on the other hand, remained relatively flat. This signals that emails with “An important message from our CEO” piqued curiosity but did not incite action or engagement. 

For marketers, the takeaway is clear: Show, don’t tell. Find creative ways to make it clear you genuinely care about your customers, without falling back on the same tired phrases. As marketers, we should emulate rigour. Our messaging should be clear, transparent, and to-the-point. The rest is just white noise. 

Stay connected with your audience 

Regardless of whether you’re a B2B or B2C brand, it’s important to remember marketing should not be a one-way street. The best marketers foster community and connection, which are vitally important in today’s context. For many consumers who are working from home, the marketing communications they receive may be some of the only forms of communication they have with the outside world in a given day, besides work and the news of the day. This gives marketers a golden opportunity to search for ways to spark conversations with and amongst their target audiences. 

After all, the pandemic has all but eliminated the small talk and water-cooler conversations that play a key role in keeping us happy and productive at work. In today’s stay-at-home world, many of us have replaced these innocuous conversations with scrolling through social media or “forced fun” like workplace happy hours on Zoom. We have less opportunity to opt-in to small talk, but brands can change that. Marketers should embrace new ways they can foster conversation and community through social media, message boards, or other means to create a sense of normality for their consumers. 

Don’t get too close 

It’s one thing to leverage consumer sentiment and personal data to make your communication more personal and relevant. It’s another thing altogether to get too granular that you prompt concern about misuse of that data and abuse an individual’s sense of trust. 

It’s a bit like dating in today’s online world, where finding out about someone is seemingly so easy. It’s almost second nature to Google your date or look them up on Facebook or Instagram to find out more about them beforehand. But would you ask them about their holiday to Croatia the year before last that you found out about? Of course not. At least, I hope not….

Marketers face a similar conundrum. We may have psychographic data about our consumers, but should we use it? And if so, how? Marketers should devise new approaches that allow consumers to be more involved in granting permission to use their data on their terms. Allowing them to actively curate information about their likes and dislikes, in exchange for a better value proposition — a better brand experience — a “give to get.” In this scenario, an informed consumer is acknowledging that a brand may want to learn more about them — and then taking things a step further by cultivating information about themselves that is relevant for brand marketers to know. In the coming months, marketers should think about how to tailor this approach to psychographic profiling to keep their communications empathetic and connected to a consumer’s personal identity. 

Ultimately, marketing and dating can be surprisingly similar. Marketers always want to keep consumers engaged and keep them coming back for more, which requires a delicate balance of reaching out to the target audience without overreaching. As marketers plan upcoming campaigns, we must avoid the artificial genuineness, one-way communication, and overt psychographic profiling that can be so off-putting to consumers. If not, those consumers just might say, “This date is over,” stand up, and leave. 

Norman Guadagno is CMO at Acoustic, an open, independent marketing cloud.