Brand vs Performance

March 23, 2020

With CMOs under more pressure to drive business results, experts worry short-term performance may be overtaking long-term brand building.

“Brand dollars are needed to drive performance and vice versa, otherwise both will experience diminishing returns.”

The irony is that the overemphasis on performance marketing comes at a time when increased attention is being paid to brand reputation. The number of places and the times a customer can interact with a brand today is exponentially higher than it was just five years ago, never mind when marketing first came into vogue in the 1950s. What defines a brand, what it stands for, and why it is relevant are no longer defined simply by a television commercial or store visit. Now a single Twitter engagement can shift brand equity. So, too, can an organization’s purpose, values, and social impact, particularly among younger generations.

“Marketers need to connect their brand with a whole range of interactions now,” says Steve Biddle, director of global marketing solutions at Facebook. That means marketers today are constantly reassessing their media investments. Instead of committing to a media plan six months or a year in advance, now marketers are tweaking how money is allocated practically on the fly. In industry parlance, it’s called media mix modeling—which is just a fancy way of describing how, when, and on what media money is spent. Marketers may pull back on TV ad spend, for instance, and redeploy that money to social media platforms to drive e-commerce revenue. Or they can get more granular and increase the percentage of digital spending on paid search advertising and decrease how much they use for videos placed in users’ news feeds. “Spending is much more surgical,” says Biddle. 

Come together

Opposites attract, as the old saying goes. But if the pair stays together long enough, they end up looking more alike than different. The same goes for brand and performance marketing. Here are some key differences between the two disciplines and how they are coming together as media and technology converge.

brand marketing

Brand marketing

  • Builds relationships to build value
  • Emotion-based, creative-driven
  • Intangible measurement (reach, awareness)
performance marketing

Performance marketing

  • Generates transactions to grow the company
  • Data-based, tech-driven
  • Hard metrics (unique visitors, sales conversions)
merged traits

Merged traits

  • Increased content personalization
  • More interactive, visual elements
  • Unified strategic approach
  • Shared budget

The need for surgical precision, says Vinoo Vijay, CMO at H&R Block, means that successful marketers must intimately understand the interplay among a myriad of media channels that never existed before. How does a television ad correlate to website traffic, for instance? Or how does Twitter engagement relate to lead generation, and what is the relationship between Facebook news-feed videos and sales? “Marketers can’t do great creative or strategic planning if they don’t know how the channels operate,” says Vijay.

To understand that calculus, Caren Fleit, managing director of Korn Ferry’s Global Marketing Officers practice, says marketers need acumen across art, business, science, and technology. “It has fallen upon marketing to do the deep analytics to really understand the customer on a one-to-one level and use that information to create personalized services,” she says. The problem is, marketers are caught in an analytical conundrum. “They need to understand how to leverage the tools and approaches of performance marketing to inform their brand marketing strategies,” says Fleit. 

The industry agrees: 38% of respondents to Korn Ferry’s most recent CMO Pulse survey cited digital and performance marketing as the function in greatest need of talent transformation. Similarly, more than 40% of CMOs cited strategic thinking as the biggest capability gap their teams face. 

“Marketers need to connect their brand with a whole range of interactions now.”

Another potential factor swinging the pendulumtowardperformancemarketingis self-preservation. According to a new Korn Ferry study on C-suite tenure, CMOs have the least job security of any C-suite executive, averaging just 3.5 years, a decline in tenure of six months from 2016. Vogl says the high turnover stems in part from a disconnect with CEOs and boards over how marketing delivers business results. Put another way, marketing activities often lack clear, tangible performance metrics that correlate to revenue growth or increased profit margin.

One way marketers can make their jobs more secure is to invest in activities where performance is easily tracked and results clearly proven. But the need to remind people of what a brand stands for and why it matters will always be there, says InterContinental Hotels Group’s Lent. “The benefits of brand marketing compound over time and provide insulation for the brand over the long term.” 

The good news is that as measurement tools advance, brand and performance marketing will become more aligned. It’s inevitable, for example, that the same tracking analytics used in the digital environment will be applicable to linear or streaming TV, thereby allowing marketers to directly correlate commercials to sales.

Vijay says the distinction between brand and performance marketing is an artificial one. He says that not unlike how mass media and digital are now viewed as one and the same, all marketing is about performance. Indeed, in many ways today’s focus on analytics to prove marketing’s value mirrors the 1980s, when cable TV, infomercials, and VCRs (which allowed viewers to skip ads) made marketing more complex and ratcheted up the pressure for advertising efficiency by precisely tracking performance in each sales channel.

“The only metric that matters is sales,” says Vijay, “but what drives sales is a litany of micrometrics that marketers have to optimize against.”

For more information, contact Ann Vogl at or Caren Fleit at