Redefining performance marketing

March 25th, 2015

The term Performance Marketing was once synonymous with pay-per action campaigns; search, affiliate marketing, etc. The ’performance’ focus may have shifted due to the rapid rise of programmatic but for many it is still essentially a measure of direct response. However I believe that the historical definition is too narrow now, for a couple of reasons.

Of course success is ultimately measured by business outcomes; a sale, increased spend, a new customer, a customer retained. But customer journeys are complex and there are many influences on performance over time – not just the final click. And now we have the technology to track and quantify those influences across platforms digital, social, and real life. So why shouldn’t all marketing be considered performance marketing? And where does content marketing fit in?

The winners of this year’s IPA Ad Effectiveness awards provide at least part of the answer to both questions. These are the awards that really matter because, as well as celebrating what the winners did, the real emphasis is on what they delivered. The winners are those that best demonstrate how a brilliant strategic idea was developed and activated to achieve a specific outcome, or solve a particular problem for a brand. These are the awards that reward performance in all its forms. And this year, for the first time, many of the winning entries are content-led campaigns and not strictly ‘advertising’ ideas.

This is probably why I was asked to contribute a chapter on content marketing to the 22nd edition of Advertising Works – the annual collection of the best of the IPA awards, which was launched this week.

The content-led winners are a diverse lot from Aldi to Mercedes, Vodafone to Mattesons, but each provides the same clear evidence of how they achieved reach, engagement, brand impact and conversion by taking a content-led approach. The results achieved by these brands are often greater than their advertising-led ideas of the past, and many have spent less to achieve more, further increasing ROI.

I describe these content-led campaigns in the book as ‘ideas worth advertising,’ partly because paid media distribution is an essential part of their success but also because the audience gets more than they do from classical brand and product advertising alone: entertainment, education, something genuinely useful (words not always associated with the old definition of performance marketing at the start of this post…)

This is a different value exchange to the one that most brand marketers and agencies are used to. It requires significant change not just in what brands say, but also how they behave, the experiences they create and the ‘value for time’ they deliver.

As Craig Davis, founder of Brandkarma and former Chief Creative Officer of JWT said:

“We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.”

Which is essentially the basis of all good content marketing. And in my experience editorial expertise is essential to make this happen, putting it at the heart of a new era for performance marketing.

Kevin Sutherland is Strategy Director at Seven

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