How do you strike a balance between brand building and lead generation?

Three senior marketers explain which way they tip the scales

June 17, 2020

How do you strike a balance between brand building and lead generation?

Editorial Note: This episode of Live with Marketers was recorded back in March, before COVID-19 changed the world of work. The conversation and topics are still relevant today, so we wanted to share.

Have you looked at how much of your marketing budget goes on brand building compared to lead gen? According to new research from the LinkedIn B2B Institute, the optimal marketing split is 46% brand and 54% activation.

But in his blog last month, Jann Schwarz, the global director of our B2B Institute, highlighted a chronic under-investment in brand building. The most common issue is a lack of direct evidence that it makes a difference to the bottom line.

It’s true that the impact of this type of spending is notoriously difficult to measure (although if you’re looking for a good place to start, Jann makes some extremely practical suggestions).

So, with marketers under unrelenting pressure to prove ROI, how are professionals currently winning the argument in favour of marketing activities that don’t guarantee an immediate return?

We spoke to three senior marketers about how they balance long term brand building with short term lead generation activities in their own roles and for clients. Watch this clip from the Live with Marketers episode, or read more below.

The importance of brand building

According to the B2B Institute report, audiences are more likely to make a purchase if your brand is familiar and comes to their mind easily. This resonates with James Arnall, marketing director at Perkbox, who says that brand awareness is critical for seeing improvements in revenue:

“When your sales team walks into a meeting and there's a bunch of directors that they haven't met, decision makers, they know [your brand] and what you do. So, you can definitely see that affect other parts of the funnel as well.” 

But when it comes to gaining that ‘share of mind’, establishing which brand interactions matter is not an easy task. Sabrina Rodriguez is head of digital marketing at Dentsu Aegis Network, a holding group of advertising and marketing agencies delivering creative, media and CRM services across 145 countries.

She says: “Your brand isn't just an external thing. You live it. You breathe it. It's your values. It's your compass that drives how you behave with your people and what your people expect from you.”

You can’t measure every brand building activity

With such a wide number of variables that impact the perceptions and behaviours of your target audience, how do you choose what brand building activities to measure – and when?

Our Long & Short of ROI research found that marketers aren’t sure themselves: mixing metrics, measuring too early in the buying cycle and ultimately reducing confidence in their own results.

For our panel, the measurements are defined by the purpose of the campaign and what’s important for the brand. Sabrina says she considers everything from social listening to search volumes, backlinks and domain authority. But for a PR campaign or event, she may look at things like impressions and share of voice:

“There's a whole host of different metrics that you could measure…you don't have to measure every single one of them. It's really just dependent on who you're trying to reach and what are you trying to achieve. Then it's much easier to identify what those metrics should be.”

James agrees that it’s important to be selective: “I think as marketers, we fall prey to this notion that everything has to be measurable - everything has to be reportable and in terms of ROI. So I'd say stop trying to measure absolutely everything. Measure what you can. Don't sweat the rest of it and sometimes you’ve just got to go with your gut.”

But when it comes to gaining buy-in for brand building campaigns, Emma Rush, CEO at Gyro UK, a B2B specialist agency within the Dentsu Aegis Network, believes that the key to winning over senior stakeholders is to put benefits in financial terms:

“I would always say show me the money…The business case will always be: How much money will it save? Or how much great productivity will it drive? Or how much revenue will it make us? Whilst there are lots of other reasons for doing it, with key decision makers you need to bid for investments in the same language as other investments they're considering. Talk their language.”

Can you prove the financial value of brand building?

The B2B Institute says that a relatively even split of brand building and lead generation is more likely to generate better results than focusing solely on the latter. But the consensus amongst our panel is that the two campaigns exist on a continuum.

Sabrina says: “I have a problem with just dividing the two things. I think they're so interlinked. It's hard to kind of put a ratio on one and not the other when really they should be part of the same thing.

“You can't build a funnel without having a strong brand; certainly not at the top of the funnel. If you're looking to get people to engage with you, you need to have a really clear story with clear values: something that really attracts people beyond just an efficient exchange process or a bottom of the funnel process.”

James concurs: “If we're running a big brand campaign, the first question you typically get asked is: ‘Okay, great, what's the ROI going to be from that?’

“But you have to explain: ‘Well, actually, it's a little bit more complicated than that.’ If you do try to measure it, you need to have a very good attribution model. You have to understand the interplay between all the channels and touch points, and you're not be looking for that immediate return and that immediate measurement.”

In our own internal tests, we found that clients who ran brand and activation campaigns together achieved a six times higher conversion rate for lead generation. But there is no magic measurement bullet for individual companies. Instead, Jann Schwarz recommends tracking a small number of metrics like your branded search traffic and proportion of inbound enquiries.

As marketers, we know that brand campaigns can deliver real value. While individual tactics may not offer clear ROI, the key for our panel is that all activities work in concert to achieve measurable growth. That means measuring the right things at the right time. And crucially, it means putting the results in terms that mean the most to decision makers.

Watch the full conversation here.