May 24, 2024

Forbes: The Most Important Marketing Metric Is Driving Business Growth

Over the past few years, many CEOs have encountered the same problem: the organization's media is more efficient than ever, but the business isn’t growing.

Brad Simms

CEO & President

This piece was originally published on Forbes.

Over the past few years, many CEOs have encountered the same problem: the organization's media is more efficient than ever, but the business isn’t growing.

As digital, CRM, and more have evolved to create an abundance of digitally-infused customer experience activities, marketers have become responsible for an ever-growing list of options for how to spend their marketing dollars. While these innovations and the MarTech solutions that come with them have added immense value for the industry, they have also posed challenges for CMOs who’ve become deeply focused on optimizing each and every channel to ensure their reporting to the C-suite demonstrates value. The bigger picture – driving business growth – took a back seat.

Understandably, CEOs and their CFO counterparts appreciate some level of cost certainty for their marketing spend. Optimizing for channels provides comfort because it helps manage cost. Marketing’s job, however, is to drive growth – not simply manage cost.

Now, the industry’s best are demanding a shift to reposition marketing as a growth driver. In doing so, they’re fostering realignment on what marketing is responsible for among CEOs, CFOs, and beyond – all for the betterment of the business. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Prioritize Cultural Relevance and Brand

Don’t let performance marketing bog you down. For brands with some scale, prioritizing a marketing mix model that includes driving cultural relevance through brand marketing can make a big difference.

According to research from X (Twitter), a quarter of consumer’s purchasing decisions are linked to a brand’s cultural involvement. Consumers aged 18-35, who have long been a priority due to their purchasing power, feel even more strongly that the brands they purchase align with culture. These aren’t just idyllic consumer responses – there’s proof.

When travel company Airbnb lost 80% of its business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it simply could not afford to let marketing manage costs; it needed to be a growth driver. CEO, Brian Chesky, and Global Head of Marketing, Hiroki Asai, aligned on a shift from primarily performance-driven marketing to instead focus on brand campaigns – connecting with customers rather than buying them.

As Asai shared on the Marketing Today podcast, “When you’re over-indexed on performance, you don’t really have the opportunity to put a narrative out there to tell your story.” Instead, a brand-forward approach allowed Airbnb to do just that, linking it to the culture of modern traveling. According to Asai, those brand campaigns, “strike a chord and get to a deeper shared experience of humor or awe or irony about travel that we all love.”

By 2023, Airbnb made the Fortune 500 list for the first time ever, citing a revenue jump of 40.2% year over year.

With results like that, Chief Financial Officer Dave Stephenson praised the approach stating, “Our brand marketing results are delivering excellent results overall with a strong rate of return, and it’s been so successful that we’re actually expanding to more countries.”

Think Beyond The Television Screen

While Airbnb did make a splash through some memorable television spots, modern brand marketing requires thinking beyond that screen.

With endless content options, it’s become increasingly difficult to win consumer attention. The Interactive Advertising Bureau recently reported that in 2024, digital video spend is expected to surpass linear for the first time. At the same time, research from Bulbshare found that 99% of Gen Z say they’ll hit ‘skip’ on an ad if it’s an option. As media dollars and consumer behaviors shift, a holistic marketing mindset must be applied to build brand.

Soda brand Poppi, whose team has called it a “creator-first brand,” has leaned in on influencer partnerships and experiences as part of its brand strategy. Most recently, they took a big swing by engaging one of the most well-known TikTok influencers, Alix Earle, for their activation at the popular music festival Coachella. While many brands set up experiential activations and wide-ranging influencer partnerships, Poppi invested big in Earle – her cultural relevance, 6.6 million TikTok followers, and power to drive trends.

In a custom luxury house with over-the-top Poppi branding and merchandise, Earle’s partnership generated 4.5 million engagements, reaching over 275 million people. Poppi’s previous influencer partnerships have helped catapult the brand to the number one selling soft drink on Amazon, entering 5 million monthly new households in 2024.

As director of brand awareness and culture, Sophia Sesto shared with Ad Age, “You can’t 100% measure what it does in terms of a sale, but I'm already seeing so many videos in our TikTok tags, viral or not, with people talking about the ‘Alix Earle effect’ and going to the store and buying Poppi … It really is just [about] looking for brand awareness.”

Step Back, Evaluate, And Build A Winning Strategy

Taking big brand swings can require a little faith, but they don’t need to be built without data. Marketers looking to make a shift can start small, evaluate new ways to measure impact, and gradually develop a plan that works for the entire C-suite.

Brand marketing may not pay off as predictably as performance marketing, but the strategic shift will set you up for greater long-term business success. It’s time for marketers to drive a move away from the performance marketing obsession; they must be less safe and tactical and more strategic and growth-focused. When the CEO, CMO, and CFO realign on marketing’s role - and the levers that must be pulled to drive real business growth - the company will ultimately win.