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Review: Brand vs performance – How to get results in 2021 roundtable discussion

Smoking Gun roundable brand vs performance

Brand vs Performance – How to get results in 2021, held on October 7th, 2021

In association with Smoking Gun.


A group of senior marketing experts from leading brands gathered for a hybrid roundtable event hosted at Smoking Gun’s offices at Bridge Street, Manchester last week.

The morning, hosted in association with PR agency Smoking Gun, brought together senior brand marketers for a discussion on the topic of ‘Brand vs performance’ to discuss and debate the competing roles of performance and brand marketing.

Leaders discussed aspects of brand marketing and explored how brand love and loyalty can be strengthened through a variety of methods.

The discussion covered the topics of growing brand reputation while weighing up the competing goal of driving sales through performance channels with the limitations of marketing budgets.

Chaired by David Prior, Editor of Prolific North


  • Deborah Darlington, Brand director at Co-operative bank
  • Arafa Heneghan, Head of Brand at AO
  • Gemma Buckwell, Senior Brand Manager, AO
  • Rachel Chesters, Marketing and Communications Director, The Growth Company
  • Jake Witherington, Associate Director of Marketing, Gorilla Glue
  • Rick Guttridge, Managing Director, Smoking Gun PR

At the hybrid event, several attendees took their seats after coffee and breakfast with several attendees joining the conversation remotely. David Prior (Prolific North) kicked off the discussion by welcoming guests and introducing the key themes that would be debated during the hour-long discussion.

He said when brands are deciding how to spend their marketing budget, brands must weigh up twin goals of growing reputation and brand fame whilst also driving sales through performance channels. Over the last 18 months with the acceleration of digital transformation, he explained there is a sense that the pendulum has swung in favour of performance marketing.

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Roundtable discussion at Bridge Street.

Brand marketing and the development of love for a specific brand

Rick Guttridge (Smoking Gun) said when talking to clients he found it interesting how siloed departments in a company can be. By not talking to each other it can make budgets work harder. He referred to the IPA Effectiveness Study on brand building and mentioned it highlighted whether it be brand or performance, the optimal split is 60% brand and 40% performance to provide brands with a longer term impact. He questioned the attendees on their approaches, asking how they blend the two.  

Arafa Heneghan (AO) explained that the retailer is traditional with its brand metrics while also adding in cost per acquisition to map out trends between the direct response and brand advertising. Working on pulling both performance and marketing together is vital to ensure the teams work more cohesively together. 

Rick (Smoking Gun) raised the question of whether employee engagement and staff communications tie into pulling teams together. He said it is often a necessity that brands often forget to establish yet employees are the number one advocates to develop love for a brand as they act as ambassadors. 

On the silo issue, Arafa (AO) explained the retailer’s chief executive is of the belief that everyone needs to work together so making sure employees are involved and understand the brand is a key part to their approach. 

Brand fame can be measured with brand tracking surveys but measuring the trust and love of a brand can be complex, said Gemma (AO).  Brand love can be perceived as notoriously hard to measure. She said driving awareness does not always drive brand love as you can be a well-known brand but not necessarily have the love that goes with it. 

For Deborah Darlington (Co-operative Bank), brand positioning for the bank is about being an ethical brand. Fusing together different teams can provoke new questions and help to bring the brand to life. She explained driving performance albeit in a relatively slow-paced sector is very much about focusing on awareness with branding being core to this. 

Jake (Gorilla Glue) said building brands and laying imprints in consumer minds and building emotional connections with an audience are crucial at the consideration stage. He stressed the importance of making sure the marketing/brand and sales functions were aligned in terms of what their priorities were and where a brand should sit.

Rachel Chesters (The Growth Company) said limitations of contracts can be tricky when it comes to highlighting or spreading awareness of a brand. Amazon was mentioned as a brand that everyone is aware of, but not everyone necessarily has love for.


How brand loyalty can be cemented through a variety of methods

Arafa (AO) explained that driving awareness of a brand is crucial to a business as it cements the brand in the mind of the consumer when it comes to making a purchase several years down the line.

For Gemma Buckwell (AO), when entering a new market such as the German market, it can be a challenge to break through if something about the brand doesn’t translate for a different audience especially if there are more established brands already in the marketplace. Working with local agencies is a way to tackle this to find out how to adapt to a new market and approach a new market. 

Rachel (Growth Company) said a challenge when working on fixed term contracts for employees and deliverables is it can be difficult to cement a long-term brand strategy as the focus can steer away from showcasing the brand.

Cementing awareness with brand fame is key, Rick (Smoking Gun) said. He said brands can delve into the data to find something useful to make a difference about the reputation of a brand and whether people recommend or refer to it.

Jake Witherington (Gorilla Glue) explained if a sales team is not working holistically on brand spend goals then the investment into the right type of activity won’t be collaborative. Focusing on brand-building activity vs the performance or activation all has to come from the same direction. From an advertising perspective, driving mass reach and growing the awareness metric alongside the focus on digital activity is key to ensuring a brand receives a fair share of voice.

Rick (Smoking Gun) mentioned brand love and loyalty can come from operations and the customer service piece by listening and adapting to feedback from customers.  

Understanding the perception of a brand versus the reality of customer experience of that brand is very important, said Deborah (Co-operative Bank). Brands should follow through with what they say they will do and continue to deliver against what customers expect. Taking into consideration issues that matter to customers is also important while assessing traditional measures, such as the metric of awareness, to contextualise the brand position against competitors. 

Jake (Gorilla Glue) said developing a strong brand personality relies on developing products that deliver on promises. His personal mantra is to leave a brand in a better position than it was when you took it on. Advertising to the masses is also important to drive awareness and leave an imprint in the minds of consumers. Building up a brand reputation means consumers are more likely to look at your brand first at the point of purchase. 

On the channels used for brand awareness, Arafa (AO) said TV advertising was particularly utilised during the pandemic and lockdowns as more people were at home. Building brand through awareness and in a way that resonates with customers is what makes customers understand what your brand stands for. Word of mouth and sharing good news or campaigns through social media can create greater consumer engagement. 


Where influencers sit within the debate

Gemma (AO) said the retailer utilises social media and influencers as a core part of its PR activity. Recognising the value influencers can offer can help to spread awareness and target the right audiences that a brand may not always be able to reach. 

Deborah (Co-operative Bank) said a lot of PR is responsive but working with research agencies can help to decipher what is happening in the minds of consumers and to turn it into activity. PR can offer an opportunity to tell a story in a different way. She found broadcast media as a predominant channel to spread awareness of a brand, particularly radio. She explained it is a way to tell a story in a compelling way and to a relatively captive audience.  

All attendees agreed with Deborah that radio has significantly grown and has become a rising media channel post-pandemic. 

Rick (Smoking Gun) added that while the use of influencers is on the rise, it is important to be cautious and select the right person by opting for an influencer who is actively talking with authority and credibility on a topic. Some celebrities may have over 20m followers but half of those could be bots or teenagers that aren’t relevant to the audience a brand is targeting. 

Recommendations for future plans 

David (Prolific North) asked attendees to look ahead to 2022 and consider what trends might emerge next year that brands should focus on.

Jake (Gorilla Glue) explained TV is a key medium to drive mass reach. He said he is a big believer that your share of voice needs to be ahead of your share of market. 

Deborah (Co-operative Bank) said some brands with limited marketing budgets need to ensure they understand the different media channels and where the brand wants to be positioned. Cutting through and being bold and focusing on messaging will be key. Continuing to talk to that audience and growing the brand will increase the gap between your brand and others. 

Rachel (Growth Company) said traditional PR is the best route for The Growth Company and making its ethical credentials and sustainability goals part of its brand story is a big challenge for the company next year. 

Gemma (AO) spoke about focusing on standing out in the market and thinking about how to do things better compared to other brands in the same sector. 

Rick (Smoking Gun) added that avoiding the sea of sameness next year, evoke emotion and stand out and do something unique and authentic as a brand is what consumers are looking for. 

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