The "Why" Behind Brand vs Performance Marketing
Marketing Skills
Creative Testing

The "Why" Behind Brand vs Performance Marketing

Jon BrodyJon Brody

July 15, 2021

The goal of *all* marketing is simple: get more users/customers/sales. Whatever equates to more growth of that which gives your business commercial value.

The first nuance is that growth is a long, jagged, non-linear journey. False positives can exist: what may work in a silo at small scale (aka Short Term marketing) may also work extremely poorly at helping you achieve sustainable scale at higher volumes (aka Long Term Marketing). 

The real-world application of short-term and long-term marketing strategies - often divided between Performance and Brand Marketers - is the stuff that Twitter brawls are made of.

Brand marketers think performance marketers sacrifice long-term growth and sustainability for short-term wins under the mirage of “we’re just following the data”. The big question being probed is whether all data is created equal; how do you separate signal from noise; and how do you ensure the inputs being fed into the machine-learning powered engines that underpin digital marketing channels stay “on brand”.

Performance marketers, conversely, think brand marketers rely too much on guesswork; lose their advantage over time by being slow to adapt to changes in market and consumer wants; and hide behind a lack of attribution to not take accountability for whether their work is actually working. Perhaps most importantly, which startups and small businesses understand: your Long Term doesn’t exist if you don’t win in the Short Term.

In gambling there is as saying that you can “go broke before the long term plays itself out” that highlights the truth as to why something can be theoretically (Longer Term) good, but does not practically matter if you can’t deal with Short Term needs to survive and ever deal with the future:

What is the Short(er) Term in marketing?

When we talk about short-term performance, we’re typically talking about direct response marketing using paid media channels such as Facebook, Google, TikTok, LinkedIn and YouTube. The feedback loops using data to signal what is and isn’t working is astonishingly fast: monthly, at a minimum…but it’s possible to make decisive decisions on a weekly or even daily basis. The risk is separating signal from noise and making decisions based on false-positives and false-negatives.

When your business has quarterly to monthly targets to hit speed; transparent measurement of success; and an ability to adapt is not just important, it’s necessary.  

The truth of “there are lies, damned lies and statistics” is highly applicable in performance marketing, whether we want to admit to it or not.

Good performance marketers still pride themselves on being strategic marketers that help build an increasingly strong, insight-rich business.

The ability to test - and leverage those astonishingly fast feedback loops - is the performance marketer’s superpower. We’ll break this down further below, but it’s the key to bridging the divide between Performance and Brand marketing.

What is the Long(er) Term in marketing?

On the other spectrum, longer-term marketing is focused on doing things that may or may not yield immediate “performance”. I recommend people think about brand marketing as focusing on scale.

Over time, the ability to spend efficiently on performance marketing becomes more challenging and plateaus become more common. What can happen next:

  • Your volume and topline growth flatlines
  • You reduce your efficiency and bottomline by accepting higher costs per acquisition, which may or may not become unsustainable

A performance marketer’s best friends are for a business to have a slowly growing combination of:

  • Organic traffic
  • Referral (aka word of mouth)
  • Retention (aka higher lifetime value)

If every single direct response acquisition yields, over time, greater organic traffic; increased referral traffic; and a higher individual lifetime value for each conversion, your equation for being able to bust past growth plateaus at scale becomes a solvable puzzle.

Going back to the basics of people and marketing: a strong brand just means a brand that stands out, resonates, and is intuitively trusted as being among the best at whatever product it’s selling. This is the brand that people casually mention while at lunch or think about first when they observe something in their day to day life that indirectly triggers their memory.

Ironically, brand marketing absolutely should be rooted in data: increased organic and referral value are measurable. Better, more resonant creative that doesn’t just lead to new acquisition but creates a new segment of user that has better lifetime is absolutely rooted in the same “data-driven” principles that performance marketers apply to paid media.

Combining Brand and Performance Marketing Together

With the right system, both types of marketing should fuel and empower the other.

Performance marketers should:

  • Provide a new layer of market research and user insights that fuel sharper creative thinking
  • Seek questions about the market, competition and audiences and structure their tests to build insights 
  • Leverage a brand marketer’s recommendations about identity and the ways in which the business wants to win - and win big -  and use these as helpful guides to move even  quicker (and stay on brand) when they build testing plans
  • Build reporting that transparently and efficiently communicates insights powered by data, not just the usual layer of performance data itself

Brand marketers should:

  • Provide as much whitespace as possible to test and incrementally figure out the best articulations of their brand across channels and user segments
  • Review performance marketing reports - even if means skilling up out of their usual comfort zone - and consider it as new weapon of owned research
  • Be brave in being okay with tests failing as part of the process - tests failing and providing learnings does not signify the process being wrong, but the process working 

Your goal should be to run your marketing organization with a test-driven framework that empowers long-term brand building *through* performance marketing itself; while building a brand that doesn’t stifle short-term success, but itself delivers on measurable growth and enables your performance marketing to scale - sustainably - to its fullest potential.

As creative becomes an increasingly vital lever in performance marketing itself this topic becomes existentially important for marketing teams to figure out. It’s increasingly complex as you navigate how to build a high-powered creative team *within* your performance team that also integrates smoothly with your brand marketing and overall business strategy.

We’ve built Ladder and continue to build Ladder to solve these problems as a turn-key partner to give you an advantage today, and tomorrow. If you have any questions about how Ladder does it or how to solve these problems, talk to a Ladder strategist today.

Ladder powers strategy and performance solutions for fast-growing brands

Talk to a strategist →

Growth is a high velocity game.

Sign up to our newsletter to stay up to date with all the latest movements in the field.

More from

796+ open sourced growth tactics used by the best marketers in the world.
Explore our playbooks →