AdvertisingDigitalFeaturedInsightsMarketingOpinionSocial MediaTiktok

Brands adopting a ‘brandformance’ strategy will win the social game – by VaynerMedia’s Allan Blair

With a looming recession and squeeze on advertising budgets, social media could offer a solution for brand and performance marketing.

By Allan Blair, head of strategy, EMEA, VaynerMedia

In marketing, it’s hard to refute the argument for the effectiveness of long-term brand building. In a world of constant cultural phenomena on social media, it’s easy for advertisers’ campaigns to get drowned out.

On TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, it is mainly user-generated content, so marketers are constantly challenged with ensuring their brands cut through the noise to take advantage of the vast amount of attention focused there.

But in 2023, marketers are faced with another challenge. As we enter what is expected to be the worst recession in living memory, marketers’ belief in long-term brand building is being severely tested. With an unprecedented squeeze on consumer spending, people are making tough decisions about what they do and don’t buy, with even the most meagre purchases being scrutinised carefully to help balance the weekly household budget.

Faced with such volatile times and restricted spending power, it would take the bravest (and possibly the most blinkered) marketer to recommend prioritising brand over performance. It is a dilemma that most marketing teams will have to overcome. The line between the long term and the short term is blurring as the state of the economy continues through turbulent times.

Let’s take a look at why.

Modern brands are built on social

A lot of the dialogue around brand versus performance is predicated on the philosophy that traditional broadcast media drives long-term brand building and all digital media is performance. This is clearly outdated and no longer true.

Marketing science advocates argue that things haven’t changed in the past 50 years, so why would it change now. But there has been a rapid rate of progress over the past few years and a huge shift in how we consume media.

TV no longer dominates consumer consciousness, especially for younger people. According to Ofcom, Gen Z in the UK spend less than an hour a day watching broadcast TV. In contrast, they spend more than 10 hours a day on social media. Not only that, but they are even turning away from more traditional forms of digital channels, with 40 per cent choosing to search on TikTok or Instagram before they turn to Google.

Social media is undeniably the platform for mass audience attention, and this is having a fundamental impact on the way marketing and advertising works.

The TikTok-ification of social is changing the game

Even with social, things are changing. The rapid rise of TikTok hasn’t been driven just by the novelty of another new platform, but also by a smart rethink of how the social algorithm works. Previously, platforms were built using a social graph that created networks based on who you knew and were connected to – so when you posted on Facebook, only your friends, or your friends of friends, could see it.

However, TikTok is built using an interest graph meaning content reaches people who share the same passions as you, not just the same network. Eighty per cent of content people consume on the platform comes from people the viewer doesn’t follow. This big shift meant that suddenly you could post one piece of content to the platform and reach millions of people overnight.

It’s why TikTok has been so successful at capturing audience attention and it’s why all the other platforms are pivoting to copy it Instagram, Facebook Reels and YouTube Shorts, to name but a few.

This shift in the algorithms has revolutionised the power of organic social, especially as a tool to build brand. You no longer need millions of followers and huge media budgets to win in social.

Invest in what’s working

However, with this shift to the interest graph, the content you put into social matters more than ever.

For example, a portrait ratio cutdown of your TVC just won’t cut it, but real, truly relevant content can tell you more about your audience and what they relate to than any research group. When you make bespoke creative for each of your audience groups, switch up the aesthetic for these audiences and the platform, put it out into the world at the pace real people post and then observe the data, you can learn what resonates with your consumers and what makes them click.

Not all of the content will land, and that’s OK. But when it does, that’s where the real magic happens. When you understand what resonates with your audience you can strategically pick creative that you know performs well and only invest in this, reducing media spend on poor-performing content and marketing.

So, your media spend matters less upfront and is more important after you’ve seen how your organic creative performs.

Adapt it for short-term results

This model doesn’t work only for brand content. When you see the content that’s working by grabbing attention at scale, you can adapt the message to meet the business outcome you want to achieve.

Marketers are then able to tweak the copy, include a call to action and add an action button or drive to your website. The key is to keep listening, keep adapting and continue to learn what works.

We call this model ‘brandformance’. It’s an approach designed for a social-first world, but the smart use of organic social, relevant creative, data and media means it’s not only an effective use of marketing money, but one that can be used strategically. It can drive value for brands in tough economic climates to build long-term brand preference and use media spend effectively to drive short-term sales results.

A version of this article first appeared on Campaign UK.