Choosing Sides: Should Clients Combine Branding and Lead Generation?

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Ryan Lee
Ryan Lee




It’s an indisputable fact: Marketing departments, no matter the size of the business, are dealing with diminished budgets, yet they are being asked to take on additional responsibilities. They have to do more with much less.

And as a result of staffing freezes, layoffs, and business travel restrictions, marketing teams are turning to their agencies to take on more -- much more -- including planning and executing on both brand and lead generation programs with budgets hardly suitable for one. When agencies, in turn, tell their clients doing both isn’t possible without compromising each, we typically hear, "OK, well this is definitely a brand campaign, but we need to make sure we're delivering leads to our sales team."

This is the point at which our brains explode.

The issue doesn’t come down to budget alone. While branding and lead generation programs are distinct, they play equally important roles in a marketing plan. Where lead generation is all about corralling audiences to sell specific products or services, brand campaigns are about capturing and retaining mindshare with the same audiences so they’re able to understand and connect with a business in its entirety. We think about it like this: lead generation is the ground troops of the marketing plan, moving the front line forward. Branding is the air cover to support that movement.

They are both critical to the ultimate goal of propelling a business forward.

For example: Consider the innovative eyewear brand Warby Parker. Warby Parker uses pre-roll ads and TV (traditional brand-related mediums) to generate awareness of its overall business value and philosophy at the highest level. 

The company also uses highly targeted digital and social ads (often used as lead generation mediums) to find their audience and serve them with specific eyewear frame styles and offers.

If someone were to see one or the other, but not both, they only have half of the story. The audience would not necessarily buy just because they saw the Warby Parker brand represented on TV. In all likelihood, they would want to also know the price range of the products and what several of the styles look like. Conversely, the audience would not necessarily buy if they only knew what the products look like and how much they cost. Without prior exposure to Warby Parker via a brand initiative, a consumer would wonder if they were purchasing something of value.

The same is true for brands across most industries. IBM, Nike, Starbucks, Bank of America, and many other great companies didn’t achieve their lofty status by focusing on only brand programs or only on lead generation. They got to where they are today by leveraging multiple touch points to stay in front of key audiences.

Because brand and lead gen are so distinct, organizations that try to excel at both without putting sufficient budget against them are committing a major marketing 101 no-no. But some organizations have short memories, and despite past failures, they keep trying to combine marketing activities.

What makes the problem more complex is this isn't necessarily a marketing-related issue only. It's also a business issue. 

Agencies are often faced with fire drills arising from leads drying up and brand tracking studies that don't meet the client's expectations. They ask:

  • How can we be completely unknown in our prospects' market?
  • How can a company that has half the number of customers have a higher level of brand awareness?
  • Why isn't the media giving us the leads we need?

The answer is simple: Infuse more cash into your budgets, and spend it wisely. 

Of course, words are cheap (no pun intended). So what do we do about it?

1) Build the case with data.

Ready understand the client's market and the competition. The client (or agency) should spend a marginal amount of money to secure competitive spend data and messaging from a tracking service such as Competitrack, Kantar, or REDBOOKS. This will provide the raw data needed to build a case for bigger and more well-defined budgets. Equipping a client with the ammunition to show the incredible discrepancies between their business's spend and their competitors' should motivate marketing and non-marketing personnel on the client side.

2) Reiterate the need to support both goals -- individually.

One is not necessarily more important than the other. Branding needs to support lead generation and vice-versa. There’s a need to do both, but you can't do it by compromising budgets, plans, or strategies or by blindly throwing money at the issue. It will come by carefully defining explicit goals for -- and drawing clear lines between -- brand and lead generation activities.

3) Set expectations.

If budget doesn’t come through or the client continues to compromise on their plans and budget, the only thing left to do is to properly set client expectations: They are unlikely to see an increase in awareness or a consistent or strong flow of leads.

Along with their management, the client needs to be made acutely aware of the impact of compromise. An honest and open relationship between the client and agency is the only way to successfully move forward and plan the next steps for the brand.

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Topics: Leadership

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