DTC Has Shined a Light on Performance Tactics

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Over the past five years, direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands have done more than just disrupt industries. They’ve disrupted the very conversations that we’re having as marketers. Chief among these disruptions has been the elevation of performance-driven tactics within both our discussions as well as our marketing executions. This shift doesn’t represent a pendulum swing from branding to performance, but rather a long-overdue merging of the two—and that’s a good thing for all marketers.

As recently as only a few years ago, brand marketing was the undisputed face of the entire advertising discipline. Within large brands, branding and performance teams were kept largely separate, with the performance marketers often taking a backseat in prestige to the brand team—despite the fact that performance-driven efforts were commonly responsible for the majority of sales. But no more. These days, performance is back in fashion—and people want to talk about it. (As evidence, look no further than this year’s Advertising Week schedule of events and hot topics.)

Whether or not the DTC revolution continues ahead at full speed or gradually fades into the background of the business landscape, one thing is certain: Its effect on how we think about marketing will remain. Over the past few years, DTC disruptors have flipped our notion of the marketing funnel on its head. These days, as evidenced by so many purchases through social and mobile channels, a converted customer doesn’t always progress through the standard stages of awareness, interest, consideration, intent, evaluation and (finally) purchase. Sometimes that whole journey takes place in an instant thanks to one well-placed, well-targeted promotion in a person’s media channel of choice.

But, as marketers are realizing, that doesn’t mean the importance of branding is diminished. Quite the contrary: When a person makes his or her first purchase with a brand based on limited direct-response ad exposures, that person’s relationship with the brand is just beginning. How the brand tells its story to that individual following the initial conversion means everything when it comes to driving strong lifetime value. In other words, branding and performance have never been more closely intertwined than they are today. The funnel is no longer a funnel; it’s a complex web that every consumer navigates in a unique way, and marketers must be both building their brands and driving toward conversion every step of the way.

With the advent of the DTC revolution, we’re at last seeing the false dichotomy of brand vs. performance marketing begin to fall away. This is a shift that, as it continues to gain momentum, will benefit marketers and improve results on both sides of the former divide.

Heather Macaulay

Head of Marketing & Strategy at Publishers Clearing House

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