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Brand Marketing vs. Funnel Marketing: What’s the Difference?

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You might’ve noticed that all of us at Wistia have been talking more and more about brand marketing. Our view — as we outline in our Brand Affinity Marketing Playbook — is that the next stage of investment in video marketing will be long-form, serialized content designed to increase brand affinity. And when it comes to brand marketing, this method is a different type of investment than the one you’d make in typical, straight-forward digital advertising. Let’s take a look at the differences between brand marketing and funnel marketing and why you might want to invest more in your brand.

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Brand marketing is the investment in marketing activities designed to associate imagery, ideas, and feelings with a brand in the mind of consumers. It typically takes the form of creative content that’s distributed through advertising, organic channels — or both.

It’s not a new concept. Brand marketing, in various forms, has compromised the lion’s share of investment in marketing since the 1950s. TV, print media, and billboards are all created in an effort to tell a story and increase emotional connections between a consumer and a business. It’s how most established major businesses have built a name for themselves.

But the promise of more trackable, directly attributable advertising and marketing activity, led by innovations in CRM and digital advertising over the past 15 years, has shifted the default approach to marketing most new businesses now take.

Typically defined as performance marketing, inbound marketing, or digital marketing, the new “funnel-centric” approach starts with the premise that potential customers go through a linear process called the “buyer’s journey.”

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Image credit: HubSpot

The idea is that businesses can — and should — reach their users (“prospects”) at each stage of this journey, providing appropriate guidance at each point that eventually leads to users choosing their product or service.

The growth of the buyer’s journey mentality has ensured businesses move away from one-size-fits-all messaging, toward offering more targeted and focused offerings for individuals based on their particular situational needs.

However, it’s also meant that a huge number of small businesses today aren’t doing any brand marketing at all. The shared thought is that brand marketing is something big companies invest in, which smaller companies can afford to avoid, since an investment in targeted and specific messaging will yield returns more efficiently than expensive creative content.

Brand marketing and funnel marketing essentially use the same tactics, with different foundational strategies. Both heavily rely on using content to acquire users via search, social media, advertising, and email. But, they differ in terms of the audience, the intention, and the success metrics.

“They differ in terms of the audience, the intention, and the success metrics”

Let’s compare:

Funnel Marketing Brand Marketing
Audience is potential customers Audience is potential influencers
Goal is to drive conversions Goal is to drive engagement
Reach people when they’re looking for solutions to problems your product solves Reach people when they’re looking for general information and entertainment
Convince people of the value of your product or service Explore an idea or topic your audience cares about
A focus on acquiring leads A focus on acquiring fans and subscribers

While funnel marketing treats each new user as a potential new customer on the first step of their journey, brand marketing treats each new user as a potential advocate who can further spread a company’s message.

“Brand marketing treats each new user as a potential advocate who can further spread a company’s message.”

Funnel marketing, therefore, focuses on nurturing new users as individuals, with a single end goal for each user (revenue). Brand marketing, on the other hand, treats users as members of many different communities, providing an opportunity to further amplify a brand message through word-of-mouth.

Relying solely on conversion-oriented investments has several flaws.

The modern buyer’s journey relies much more on word-of-mouth than individual research

With the growth of private, ad-free social messaging platforms, more than ever, consumers are researching products on platforms that marketers can’t see or track — in a phenomenon ominously (and excellently) called “dark social.”

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For example, if I want to buy a new monitor for video editing, my first step is not to search Amazon or Google, but instead to text Wistia’s ultimate gear-head, Chris Lavigne. And if I want to find a new small-business banking service, I don’t start with searching comparison sites, but instead sending a message to a Whatsapp group of self-employed friends from college.

This trend isn’t only reserved for B2C businesses; it holds true for B2B investments, too. If I want to buy a new rank tracking software to provide data for some marketing dashboards, I won’t shop around. I’ll just ask for tips in a private Technical SEO Slack community.

In all of these cases, I’ve bypassed the awareness and consideration stages of the funnel, and gone straight to the decision phase before any business had the chance to market to me at all.

Google and Facebook completely control what’s left of the funnel

As pointed out in this study, the big tech giants are steadily taking over the entirety of the buyer’s journey, and filling it with ads. One of the smartest strategic plays of Google and Facebook over the last few years has been to convince marketers that all marketing investments are now quantifiable, all the while ensuring the only truly quantifiable activity available are ads on Facebook and Google. The removal of keyword data from Google Organic referrals (i.e., not provided) in 2011 was the first stage of this, and more and more control has been asserted ever since.

Both Google and Facebook seem to share the goal of being a one-stop-shop for advertising and marketing, where marketers can go to buy access to an audience of potential customers, and reach them efficiently with appropriate messages for their stage in the buyer’s journey. And, they’re doing a very good job of it. The problem is that this trend involves all businesses being completely reliant on just two giant businesses to survive, at which basic rules of the market mean advertising costs are going to increase significantly, punishing any business that hasn’t been able to break away from the “pay-to-play” model.

As the adage goes, you get what you measure. And if you only measure the value of content in terms of its contribution to a sale, you’re going to inevitably start shifting all your creative energies towards things that look like ads and product videos.

Even if the desire initially is to do something more creative and entertaining (perhaps under the framing of “top of funnel” content), measuring success based on sales will mean you end up wanting to include product value propositions in everything you do — hampering the initial intent and its efficacy.

Success with brand marketing relies on two things: consumption and conversation.

1. Consumption: Are people engaging with your content and message?

2. Conversation: Are people talking about your content and message with others?

Obviously, to start with, you need to have a great message and brand identity.

Need help getting started? Ogilvy’s Big Idea framework is a great resource if you need help refining your brand identity.

Once you have a solid message and identity, the challenge then becomes how you can maximize consumption and conversation with your creative assets and distribution:

Creative

Creatively, you need to come up with something that will get people talking. Word-of-mouth relies on galvanizing communities and subcultures, which you can achieve by targeting a niche audience.

Distribution

On the distribution side, you need to get in front of people in the places they’re looking for distractions, like social media. You also need to make sure whatever you’re creating captures the attention of anyone who comes across it and captivates them enough to keep exploring, all while providing sufficient reason for sharing — on both private and public platforms. At Wistia, we believe the best way to achieve all this is by marketing like a media company, which, in short, means marketing your content like a product.

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One of the reasons why businesses are reluctant to invest more in brand marketing activities is that the return is inherently much less directly measurable. For example, If you spend $10,000 on PPC ads, and implement a sensible attribution model (e.g., linear or time-decay), you can arrive at a very straightforward “money in, money out” figure. This then makes justifying further investment very straightforward, since you can say with an extremely high degree of confidence that this activity will be worthwhile.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for brand marketing activities, where the direct benefit is in changing the way people think and feel about you — something which doesn’t necessarily manifest itself outside of the minds of consumers. So, to effectively measure brand marketing, we have to use a series of proxies which likely represent a shift in attitude and behavior. But the one, single most important metric to quantify value from Brand Marketing is time spent with your brand.

While funnel marketing has helped dictate our strategies in the past, it isn’t the best way to build a lovable brand in the future. When it comes down to it, if you want to grow your brand, you need to combine funnel marketing with Brand Affinity Marketing, investing in tactics that increase word-of-mouth and create more meaningful relationships with your customers.

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Why Your Business’s Brand is More Important Than Ever

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When it comes to purchasing a product or signing up for a software or service, more often than not consumers will buy from and remain loyal to the brand that resonates with them the most. So naturally, in today’s cluttered marketing landscape, building your brand and growing a loyal audience should be a top priority for most marketers. Yet, small and medium-sized companies still insist on sticking to the same old strategies — ones that don’t help them cut through the noise. It has us wondering … what gives? Why aren’t more businesses investing in growing their brands?

In this post, we’ll explain how marketing has shifted and why traditional tactics aren’t as effective as they used to be. Read on to learn why your business’s brand is more important than ever and why you should invest in doing more (and better) brand marketing.

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At our live-streamed event, Change the Channel, our co-founders Chris Savage and Brendan Schwartz discussed how building your business has drastically changed over the past few years. In their experience, growing an audience was previously an entirely different ballgame. Savage said, “It used to be the case that you’d post something on Facebook and your entire audience would see it. Now organic reach is below 2%. So that audience that you worked really hard to build, now you have to pay to reach them.”

The stark decrease in organic reach signaled that something had to change. Nowadays, in order to stand out amongst the competition, marketers must invest in brand marketing to reach the right people at the right time and build an audience of brand advocates.

Marketers today are also at a disadvantage if they live and die by a data-driven approach to brand marketing. We’re all working with the same tools and tech these days, which means all of our competitors are on the same playing field as us. We all have the ability to calculate every interaction and every bit of marketing spend to see exactly how our digital marketing efforts tie to revenue. What was once a competitive edge is now merely common practice for businesses across industries.

“What was once a competitive edge is now merely common practice for businesses across industries.”

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We shouldn’t toss data analysis out the window for good, but we do need to find a new way to differentiate ourselves in saturated markets — which means putting an end to constant tinkering and starting to take even bigger, riskier swings. We think businesses can do that by investing more in their brands and the stories they are uniquely positioned to tell.

We know what you’re thinking — we wrote this blog post that you’re currently reading and we’re saying content marketing isn’t exactly revolutionary anymore. That’s because, while it may not be a novel practice anymore, it’s still valuable. But investing in content marketing alone will no longer do the heavy lifting for your brand it once capable of doing. Unless you already have a large following, positioning your business as a thought leader with a single blog post is like tossing a coin into a magical fountain and hoping your audience would boom overnight.

To put things into perspective, there are about 30 blog posts being published every second, and quite frankly, a lot of this content is low-quality and self-serving. This makes it confusing for people to sift through the dust and find any valuable content your business is creating. Even if they do discover your content, will your brand leave a lasting impression and make them want to come back for more?

“To put things into perspective, there are about 30 blog posts being published every second, and quite frankly, a lot of this content is low-quality and self-serving.”

It’s time for marketers to lean into the greatest differentiator you’ve had all along — your brand. We rely so much on recommendations for products and services from friends, family, and co-workers, that building a reputable brand consumers can connect with is essential to not only growing sales, but also influencing how people speak about your business to others.

That’s where we think Brand Affinity Marketing can help. With this approach, businesses create and distribute binge-worthy content with the goal of positively impacting the overall sentiment, perception, and value of their brand. The truth is, digital advertising has become less effective over time and generating affinity for your brand is more important than awareness. So, why not let go of those old rusty marketing tactics and jump into creating more engaging content that’ll grow you an audience of true fans for your brand?

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3 Common Problems Marketers Face When They Focus Too Much on Brand Awareness

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Marketers have started experiencing some serious growing pains as of late. For years, most of us have followed a tried-and-true formula for getting people to know about our brands — create engaging content, post regularly on social media, run some eye-catching ads — lather, rinse, repeat. The problem with this approach is that marketers today have nearly all the same tools at their disposal.

We all know what it takes to make our content marketing efforts successful. We all know that we have to pay to play on social media. And because we’re all well aware of this, the internet has become a really crowded, cluttered place. Businesses have focused so much on making people aware that they exist, that they’ve lost sight of what matters most — getting people to actually like their brands.

In fact, the pursuit of brand awareness alone has ended up stunting growth for many businesses. Here are some common problems marketers face when they’re on the hunt for brand awareness, and brand awareness alone. If you can relate to any of these, you may just want to take a closer look at your goals for the year ahead and consider shifting your strategy accordingly.

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Metrics that measure brand awareness like views and impressions don’t actually indicate whether people like your brand or not. For instance, it’s impossible to determine the quality of a view or impression. According to Google Analytics, a page view is any instance where a page is loaded or reloaded in a browser. On Facebook, an impression is the number of times your ad was displayed on someone’s screen. So, without taking the time to dig much deeper into either metric, a five-second view or impression would be counted the same as a five-minute view or impression.

Now, these metrics clearly don’t reveal very much, but, in the world of digital marketing, they’re easy to measure and track. The resulting chase for vanity metrics has pushed marketing teams to produce content that merely juices up these numbers instead of actually providing value to their audience. Since SEO tools can help marketers pinpoint the keywords, headers, and angle of a post or video required to rank on Google or YouTube and, in turn, attract as many views as possible, the results for virtually any competitive search term have eerily similar titles, examples, and structures.

“The resulting chase for vanity metrics has pushed marketing teams to produce content that merely juices up these numbers instead of actually providing value to their audience.”

Most marketers also source their research from the same search results, so everyone’s essentially copying each other in order to rank on Google and YouTube. The result? Bland and boring content, uninspired ads, and more of the same.

Just because you reach a ton of people (even millions!) that doesn’t mean you’ll connect with them, let alone convince them to buy anything from your business. Traffic and impressions don’t always equate to resonance, and they certainly don’t guarantee more revenue.

For example, here at Wistia we once spent $2 million on an ad campaign that featured some of our most creative work to date. With 43 million impressions, it certainly seemed like a successful campaign. But once we dug a little deeper into the data, we found out that our campaign generated the same amount of web traffic as a reasonably successful blog post, converted minimal leads, and generated barely any business. That’s one expensive and, embarrassingly, pretty ineffective campaign! Here’s a little look back at one of the ads we ran (we still stand by its cuteness):

Another interesting case study on brand awareness takes place in the marketing automation space. HubSpot, one of the market’s leaders, focuses heavily on building brand awareness and currently has four times as many social media followers and almost double the amount of organic traffic as Mailchimp, one of HubSpot’s main competitors.

However, Mailchimp, a business that focuses more on building brand affinity than awareness, has been able to generate more revenue and profit than HubSpot. Now, we’re not saying this the sole reason for Mailchimp’s success, but it’s an interesting case study in what can happen when you focus less on reaching the masses and more on reaching the right folks.

It’s true, Google and Facebook’s advertising model lets businesses find new audiences with ads, however, that doesn’t mean you’re reaching the right folks or that they’re happy about it. Just think about your own personal experience with ads — when they interrupt your favorite TV show, you probably look straight down at your phone. And when you’re cruising through your social media feed, chances are you won’t spare a passing glance at the countless ads screaming for your attention.

As of this past year, more than 25% of internet users in the United States used ad-blocking apps on their devices to help put an end to the noise. People have even started to develop banner blindness, which causes them to not only ignore ads but also any content resembling ads or content located in the places usually dedicated to ads. It’s pretty impressive what our brains can do!

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“As of this past year, more than 25% of internet users in the United States used ad-blocking apps on their devices to help put an end to the noise.”

For most brands, their digital advertising return on investment also decreases with each year. Since digital advertising spend has been compounding by 20% each year over the past decade, the only way you can generate the same return on investment is by increasing your ad budget by the same rate. If you can’t (which is the case for the majority of brands) digital advertising will generate less of a return on investment over time.

When it comes to inbound marketing tactics used to gain brand awareness, the same issues run rampant. With over 500 million blogs and 23 million YouTube channels with at least 10+ subscribers, brands struggle to cut through the noise. And with the cost of consumer attention increasing seven to nine times over the past decade, inbound marketing’s return on investment is also dwindling each year. So, what’s a marketer to do?

Any marketer will tell you that making people aware of your brand is a crucial step in building a successful business. But, that’s only one piece of a much bigger puzzle, and focusing too much on that component alone can send you down a dark, fruitless path. Getting people to like your brand and actually recommend your products or services to their friends — or in other words, creating brand affinity — is a much more worthy investment in 2020.

Curious about how to get started building brand affinity? Sit back, relax, and dive into the world of Brand Affinity Marketing with us. Read our four-step playbook and learn how to connect with your audience on a more personal level, how to build loyal audiences, and ultimately, how to grow a stronger business in the long run.

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How to Ensure Your Marketing is Consistently Creative in 2020

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Jay Acunzo was angry. As a seasoned marketing professional who had spent most of his career deep in the trenches of the content marketing space, Acunzo couldn’t stand the commodity content and conventional wisdom that started flooding the industry. So, in 2016, he decided to wage a war against it with his own creative agency, Unthinkable Media. He crafted a podcast series called Unthinkable that tells compelling stories about the rare few who buck their industry’s best practices and hone their intuition to do exceptionally creative work.

In two and a half years, Jay shipped over 70 episodes of Unthinkable, attracting over 100 five-star reviews on Apple Podcasts and tens of thousands of social media followers. He even wrote a book called Break the Wheel about ignoring best practices, focusing on what actually works best for you, and prioritizing resonance over reach.

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Image Source: Artillery

However, despite convincing many in his industry to subscribe to his philosophy and transcend the creation of cookie-cutter content, Acunzo is still frustrated. “Right now, because I’m running a media company for marketers who make shows (Marketing Showrunners), I’m mad at why so much ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ in marketing feels like random, one-off stunts,” Acunzo says. “Why can’t we be more consistent?”

As marketers, chances are you’ve asked yourself that question at least once. How can we turn creativity from a swing for the fences to a defining trait? To find the answer to this pressing question, we asked Acunzo and four other creative thinkers in content marketing — Ann Handley, Joe Lazauskus, Jimmy Daly, and Eddie Shleyner — how they hone their creativity to build loyal, passionate audiences. Let’s dig in!

Contrary to popular belief, the information that will help you create the most compelling content isn’t stored in a Google Analytics dashboard — it’s in your audience’s minds. After all, they’re the ones you’re creating content for in the first place.

In the content marketing industry, there isn’t a more passionate supporter of this notion than Joe Lazauskus, the author of the #1 Amazon New Release, The Storytelling Edge, and the Head of Marketing at Contently.

Over the past few months, he’s conducted dozens of what he calls “empathy interviews” with clients and prospects to test his team’s assumptions and develop new solutions for their clients. The goal? To fully empathize with his target market. And it’s paid huge dividends for his team.

“For the first time, I spoke to my clients without an agenda. I wasn’t trying to subtly influence a purchase decision or create their content strategy. I was just listening in an open and empathetic way,” he wrote in a blog post about empathy mapping. “These interviews were the greatest gift I could have gotten. I had two dozen spreadsheets on my computer that told me who our clients were. But these conversations told me how they feel. And suddenly everything — our messaging, positioning, content strategy — became so much clearer.”

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Getting constant feedback from your audience not only supplies you with a laundry list of new ideas, but it also helps you truly serve your audience. So if you really want to be consistently creative and get your audience hooked on your content, take a page out of Lazauskus’ book and interact with those who consume what you make, learn about their challenges, and, most importantly, understand them on a deep level.

“Getting constant feedback from your audience not only supplies you with a laundry list of new ideas, but it also helps you truly serve your audience.”

Ask anyone what the most important stage of the creative process is, and they’ll likely say ideation. The best ideas stem from long brainstorming sessions, right? As counterintuitive as it seems, sparking your creative process by creating, rather than ideating, can actually lead to the breakthrough moments needed to make something worthwhile.

“When we want to create great work, it’s tempting to try and gather up all the answers we think we need to justify creating something, but it’s far more effective to create to find your answers,” Jay Acunzo says. “I call this the quest, which is a term I learned from marketing author and speaker Andrew Davis, who helped me see the importance of focusing the creative process on investigation rather than pontification. Think of it as the relentless pursuit of curiosity through research and creation, which I find leads to better breakthroughs than leaning back in a chair and trying to concoct ’the idea.’”

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Placing a heavier emphasis on creation during the creative process also helps Eddie Shleyner, founder of one of the best copywriting blogs around, VeryGoodCopy, find the answers that steer his articles in the right direction. “Once I have the topic, I try to write my article as quickly as possible. I just want to get the story and the ideas on paper,” he says. “This usually takes a few hours and gives me the full picture I need to evaluate where I need more words and where I need fewer words. It also helps visualize where I can weave in a story to hook the reader.”

Acunzo’s and Shleyner’s laser-focus on the act of creation speaks to the fact that creativity is a skill. Just like dancing, the best way to sharpen your creative chops and consistently channel your creativity is through practice — not by obsessing over every little move you’ll make.

When asked how she decides the topics for her wildly popular newsletter, Total ANNARCHY, Ann Handley, the Wall Street Journal best-selling author and Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs answered, “What delights me that week. I can’t write about things I don’t care about.”

Passion fuels creativity, generating your best ideas and enabling you to do your best work. And while creating content that specifically appeals to you might not cast the widest net, it’ll resonate with people who have similar interests and help you build a loyal audience.

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Just like Handley, Jimmy Daly, a Director of Marketing at Animalz, has relied on his own palate to create a thriving newsletter called Swipe File, which boasts over 4,000 subscribers. “The only real theme in Swipe File are things that I find interesting. I have a bias towards stuff that is really evergreen. If I find something interesting from 2005, it’s going in the newsletter,” he says. “I’m also biased towards marketing, writing, productivity, creativity, etc. Swipe File definitely mirrors my personal tastes.”

With their newsletters, Handley and Daly have the creative freedom to write about whatever interests them — liberties most people won’t have when working for a company (though some of us are luckier than others on that front!). Fortunately, you can still fuse your passion into your work and fuel your creativity even while working on the dullest of projects. For example, by bringing your unique self and personal creativity to work, you can invigorate a bland blog post with a story about one of your passions or enliven a dry how-to video with your graphic design or musical skills.

“You can still fuse your passion into your work and fuel your creativity even while working on the dullest of projects.”

After waging his war on random acts of creativity, Acunzo told the marketing world, “Today, the mandate of marketers is to hold attention, not ‘grab’ it. As a result, all of marketing needs to be consistently great work instead of one-off spikes in the numbers.”

In other words, consistent creativity isn’t a nice-to-have anymore — it’s a must-have. And if we can absorb the lessons that some of the best creatives in content marketing have detailed above, we’ll never stop delighting our audience.



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