Brand equity is your MVP: Don’t leave it on the bench

Brand equity is your MVP: Don’t leave it on the bench

In the tug-of-war between brand and performance marketing, the last decade often saw the latter as the more favored. And the steady drumbeat of industry pundits that advocate a balanced approach is frequently overlooked. The extent to which marketers can gather and leverage data increases the ability to execute more seamless multichannel communications. Advancements in marketing automation technology and tactics incentivize and accelerate the quick, nimble marketing efforts and specific, measurable outcomes that embody performance marketing.

While performance marketing is a part of any robust strategy, its dominance can impact marketers’ ability to focus efforts on longer-term brand-building. Over time, such incremental, performance-based tactics to increase engagement—despite their best intentions—often lead to brand drift, a misalignment between a brand’s positioning and its strategy.

If this struggle sounds all too familiar, you’re not alone. According to Gartner’s 2023 Brand Leaders Survey, 75% of respondents said there were three or more major changes to their brand strategy over the previous two years.

It’s time for the tail to stop wagging the dog. 

As a marketer, your brand is your most valuable asset

The function of your brand is to serve as the common vehicle through which to communicate the company’s values to its target audience.

Importantly, values aren’t just an agreed-upon set of words or beliefs—they play a critical role in the customer journey. According to our recent proprietary research, 81% of consumers say a brand’s values are important to them, and 75% of consumers say they’re likely to buy a product from a brand that shares their values.

In order to effectively meet such high and costly expectations, marketing leaders must consider how each piece of marketing and every message going out into the world both relays and reiterates the brand’s values to their audience. This, of course, can be done directly or subtly.

Recent work for Miller Lite highlights the potential range a brand-first approach can employ. For a recent award-winning campaign, we partnered with a historian to produce a beautifully illustrated hardcover coffee table book, Beers & Queer History. The book explores the culturally significant role bars play within the LGBTQ community.

We also worked with Miller Lite to produce the first-ever Christmas Tree Keg Stand—a fully-functioning tree stand designed to fit perfectly around a quarter-barrel keg. While a very different approach than Beers & Queer History, it’s one that still firmly tapped into Miller Lite’s brand values.

Brands aren’t built in a day

Marketing in ways that align with your brand’s values and the priorities of your customers drives sales, and maintaining that alignment has residual, long-term benefits.

Beyond the fact that acquiring new customers is substantially more expensive than retaining existing ones—estimates range between 5x and 25x as much—existing customers are also more valuable to your brand. However, here again, our research indicates that the key to retention is in values alignment, as 68% of consumers say they are likely to spend more money with a brand that shares their values. Conversely, misalignment in values can be costly—it’s the primary reason consumers said they stop buying from a brand.

The story you tell about your company, products, and service; the optimistic vision you paint about the ways your offerings will improve customer’s lives; the emotional resonance you build with customers to cultivate relationships that go beyond transactional—this is the valuable work of building brand equity, which often gets lost in the tactical in-the-weeds mentality of performance-based models.

It also takes time and happens over the course of multiple encounters between a customer and your brand. Through this successful re-engagement, you build more meaningful relationships with your customers and spark Participation—moving them from affinity to loyalty and brand advocacy—and increasing their value to your brand along the way.

Data matters, but so does how and when you use it

Often, proponents of a performance marketing model will laud its objectivity, particularly in comparison to brand marketing, which can feel squishier and more subjective. Based on how each is deployed within an organization, this is a fair critique. But brands might consider an alternate perspective that truly leans into the importance of data within modern marketing organizations.

Rather than use data to make minor tactical adjustments in the day-to-day, which can gradually cause your brand to become misaligned from your core strategy and values, data should be applied in two key moments: as initial guidance and benchmarking to set your brand strategy up for success and then to measure and evaluate its effectiveness to achieve your key objectives.

An inside-out approach will help your organization remain aligned and allow for tactical adjustments within specific channels or campaigns to retain a strong connection to the brand. This keeps you relevant with customers, regardless of where they are in their journey.

Don’t forget: brand marketing comes first

It is critical that brand marketing comes first and is prioritized to help set the stage for performance marketing to be implemented. Without this solid foundation, performance marketing tactics will likely miss the mark and can negatively impact your brand’s ability to engage with customers more meaningfully and hurt your bottom line. Building brand equity is the real winner for establishing deeper, more resilient relationships and sparking Participation with customers—it's truly your MVP.


ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the author
  1. Jackie Hopkins, Managing Partner, Communications and Marketing

    Jackie is a senior leader in communications and marketing with over 25 years of experience developing and executing data-driven ideas that deliver cultural relevance, resonance, and a strong return on investment.
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