After over two years of pandemic-related disruptions including supply chain issues, budget cuts on marketing and advertising, and difficulties holding in-store and event activations, many businesses and brands are now eager to get back to spending on what they feel will generate the most impact and ROI.
In many markets, consumer product brands are anxiously trying to reconnect with customers through events, including pay-to-play activations like stadium sponsorships, festivals, and celebrity endorsements.
Service-based businesses are also returning to out-of-home advertising, as well as sponsoring local events, with some beginning to experiment with influencer campaigns and more unique promotions on platforms like Twitch and TikTok. Their hope is that the association and short-term visibility will result in brand likeability, eventually leading to more customers that buy.
However, a recent Nielsen report warned that focusing only on short-term activations instead of a goal of building real, long-term brand awareness may actually do more harm in the long run.
“Why is this the case?” you might wonder. “Isn’t a guaranteed view, radio air time play, or a print ad more impactful for sales?”
That’s the assumption that a lot of businesses take, but think about it this way. An advertisement or activation is a limited-time or one-time event. Because of this, it will only result in a temporary uptick in awareness, eventually being forgotten or replaced by the next shiny, new object, funny ad, or event.
The second reason is that sales, marketing, advertising, and brand awareness do not exist in silos. These activities are all part of the customer buying cycle, or funnel, with the upper portion of the process-where brand awareness happens-feeding the longevity of a brand, and the lower portion feeding immediate sales.
Brands must find ways to make a deeper impact with their target market in order to be remembered as the best solution for their needs.
HOW BRAND DECAY AND MARKET LOSS OCCURS
If a brand completely stops marketing and advertising, as many did during the pandemic, this typically doesn’t result in brand awareness dropping to zero. It is brand decay, or the loss of relevancy or identity, that can be problematic when brands go dark for extended periods of time. This is why many brands maintain consistent advertising and marketing campaigns even during normal market conditions.
Nielsen pointed out that, on average, it can take at least three to five years for a brand to recover lost equity as a result of halted advertising. The report also noted that ‘long-term revenue can take a 2% hit for every quarter a brand stops advertising’.
Nielsen also stated that the long-term effect of marketing is 88% greater than its effect on short-term impact. This means brands have to play the long game of brand impact and awareness if they want to stay ahead of their competition.
HOW TO BUILD LONG-TERM BRAND AWARENESS
Given the tumultuous state of the world in recent years, it is not surprising to see businesses want to focus on what they consider sure bets: live event placements, paid celebrity endorsements, activations like direct to consumer discounts, sponsorships, direct mail promotions, as well as television, radio, and out-of-home advertising.
While activation or advertising-oriented tactics such as these can raise awareness in specific markets, and they certainly have their place, a brand will see substantially greater and more impactful results when these tactics are combined with organic brand awareness efforts like public relations to earn media coverage in digital mediums like blogs, online magazines, podcasts, as well as television, print and radio.
One way to do this is through consistent well-planned content strategies like social media, as well as supporting public relations campaigns. This two-pronged approach can help to keep a business top of mind with its target market as well as reach more of its ideal customers.
In fact, using strategic earned media campaigns along with limited, selective influencer placements, our brand clients were able to generate hundreds of mentions and article placements, resulting in over 8 billion consumer views in the United States market at a fraction of the cost of paying for advertisements in the same outlets and influencer channels.
THE CONSUMER MINDSET HAS EVOLVED
Understanding the mindset of consumers today is also a critical factor. Racial justice issues, along with a strong movement toward greater diversity, equality, and support for small businesses, as well as woman and minority-owned brands have impacted consumers of all financial backgrounds and incomes.
A return to activation-geared marketing that does not take the impact of these factors into consideration could result in a consumer being turned off by a brand as being out of touch or insensitive.
It’s also important that brands speak authentically about topics that connect to their core values and mission, so as not to appear to be ‘washing’ advertising messages with the sole purpose of driving sales.
Nielsen noted that 41% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that uses brand messaging and advertising to show how they are giving back or helping others, both with employees, as well as customers and within the community. However, corporate values have to be in line with this message and employees must be able to stand with corporate ideals, in order for this type of messaging or campaign to be seen as true and authentic to the brand.
BUYING PATTERNS HAVE CHANGED
Consumer buying patterns have also changed. Direct to consumer messaging, as well as storytelling that clearly communicates how a brand solves a problem or has a purpose that fits into customers’ lives will likely impact a brand’s bottom line much more effectively than short-term advertising or endorsements alone.
American consumers have been statistically proven to be ad-blind, and with the rise in online purchasing, curbside pickup, and contactless retail experiences, brand choices and purchasing decisions are being made well before a customer ever begins to add items to their shopping list.
If a brand wants to be top of mind and get into the cart, they must engage with customers early and often, in ways that add value and meaning for them personally.
The opportunity may also be greater than you think. Although a short-term activation might be alluring, Nielsen reported that on average, a single ‘1-point gain in brand metrics such as awareness and consideration drives a 1% increase in sales’. One percent might not seem like much, but consider that a 1% return on $500 million in sales equates to $5 million in increased revenue.
HOW TO PLAN FOR THE LONG GAME
Given the ever-evolving state of media and advertising, brands need to focus on balancing multi-faceted brand awareness initiatives if they want to thrive.
This means integrating long-term planning for brand building and raising awareness, along with sales-driving initiatives and thoughtfully planned advertising that supports both awareness and sales in the market.
Additionally, long-term business success involves more than just repeat business from retaining current customers. It also involves continuing to attract and gain new customers through ongoing brand affinity initiatives.
In the past, visibility on a store shelf or through POS was effective enough. In today’s market, two years of online buying has trained customers to make buying decisions before visiting the store, if they even enter a retailer at all.
Food and beverage brands accustomed to selling through sampling and in-store marketing programs now need to find other ways to get top of mind with consumers, reaching them well before they’re ready to shop.
For this reason, brands that used the time during the pandemic to learn how to use digital marketing and alternative channels will likely come out as the real winners, especially if they’ve set clear metrics and KPIs, and measure factors like brand recall, overall category growth, and share-of-voice.
Integrating advanced technologies can also enable marketers to connect online and offline consumer interactions, maximizing impact on a brand’s bottom line.
A TOTAL SOLUTION FOR SUCCESS
In today’s modern marketplace, the activities of sales, marketing, earned media, advertising, and brand awareness should not compete, but work together.
Brand owners and managers will do well to analyze their current marketing and advertising budgeting initiatives and determine where their strengths and weaknesses lie. By focusing efforts on a specific target audience, and reaching them early, often, and with the right message, they’ll have the best opportunity for long-term success.