The inspiration for this post came from a real work encounter with colleagues who are only familiar with the traditional way of doing marketing. In their world view, marketing means getting your brand out there, letting everyone and anyone see and know about your brand. It means creating noise and buzz and attracting tons of attention. Let’s call this type of marketing brand marketing. There’s nothing wrong with this worldview. It’s merely a different target from the online “performance” marketing that startups come to utilize much more than traditional SME companies.

I believe that for startups doing marketing, there has to be a clear understanding in terms of the channel, end goal, resources, and timing. Let me try to do a comparison of the 2 types of marketing along these 4 axes.

Channel

Our team’s way of doing marketing was challenged on the point that we only use Facebook, Google, and other popular online platforms —— which misses the point actually. Performance marketing is channel-agnostic, it doesn’t really matter which channel you’re using to achieve the type of marketing that you’re doing. I can run a Facebook campaign to increase brand awareness for a certain luxury brand without any intention of the target audience doing any action. On the other hand, I can also run a Facebook campaign for a gaming company with a clear goal of 500 app installs or 500 in-app events or 500 in-game purchases.

I could also potentially run an offline campaign on local trams in which I have a very creative creative that is both memorable and also has a clear call-to-action asking the audience to do something (scan the QR code and download the app).1 For this campaign, I am both targeting brand marketing and performance marketing, but due to the nature of the channel (offline trams in this case), it will lean more to brand marketing on the spectrum.

End Goal

In performance marketing world, the end goal is very obvious in a way that is easily trackable. When I run a campaign, may it be Google search ads or Facebook banner ads, I set a clear goal of the thing that I want to achieve in terms of conversions. I reach my goal if I reach a certain conversion number at a certain cost per conversion. For a service agency, I could be aiming to get 100 leads for the next quarter at a cost of 500 cost per lead (CPL) or I could be an E-commerce company aiming to get 10 orders per day at 100 customer acquisition cost. The reporting is straight-forward: I spent (x) amount to get (y) number of customers who brought in (z) amount of revenue.

On the other hand, brand marketing is not as easily tracked. It’s harder to say if we did a good job or not. If I run any marketing campaign, it would be very hard to attribute that to brand awareness or share of voice. I believe it is doable with sophisticated market research but not easy especially for startups.

Resources

As a startup, everything is lacking – especially resources. We lack the budget, the time, and the manpower in a consistent manner. It means that we need to be laser-focused on where we devote our resources. There’s not enough to waste on activities without a clear return on invested resource. That’s why I believe performance marketing is better for startups in the early stages. We have limited resources and we deploy those limited resources on things that can bring in trackable value. The math simply doesn’t work out for a company to spend 4 man days to prepare for an offline expo that has the potential to bring in 10 qualified leads when the team can use half a day to prepare a search ad campaign and a simple landing page to capture 10x more leads of the same quality.

Timing

This last point on timing is closely related to resources. While advocating that startups should deploy more resources in performance marketing in the beginning, it’s just a matter of timing before they should start testing the waters of brand marketing. Once all the performance marketing channels are tried and tested and the company finds the few that provides great ROI and scales, it is time to start experimenting on brand marketing.

Frankly, we’re not there yet.

  1. In Hong Kong, local trams are called DingDing.