Opinion

Performance media needs a rebrand

In recent years, the role of performance has changed. It’s now full-funnel, harnessing AI, and leading advertising innovation. Yet plenty of people maintain a perception of performance and the people who manage it that’s out of step. Clare Farrugia, performance director at Hatched, explains.

I’m calling time on our industry’s obsession with brand vs. performance. Not because I don’t believe in debating the balance of top vs. bottom-funnel tactics. But instead, because performance isn’t what it once was.

It’s been seen as an afterthought. Often the last line added to a media plan.

Our industry has long typecast performance as a workhorse with a view that it serves to drive conversions at the end of a brand play.

But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The role of the channel has changed. It’s now full-funnel and getting more sophisticated by the day as it evolves and harnesses AI.

To better recognise its impact, I reckon performance media needs a rebrand.

And not just the media tactic itself.

In media land, performance specialists have long copped it. From being told we’re too niche, too in the weeds, too repetitive, boring and complicated, it’s an outdated stereotype that needs to change.

It’s time to recognise performance as a full-funnel tactic

Performance, especially Search Engine Marketing (SEM), has come a long way. No longer does it sit in the weeds requiring boffins who review keyword bids and set up ad groups.

The people running your SEM are planning full-funnel strategies. We’re balancing AI and data with business outcomes and objectives. We go deep into data and tech while also zooming out on audience and channel planning. Things have changed, for the better.

Performance channels – search, shopping and social – are at the heart of discovery, exploration and evaluation for online shoppers. And, of course, more often than not, the purchase too.

We’ve seen the expansion and uptake of different campaign types and objectives across performance channels. It’s now an expectation that we’re supporting the full funnel across these channels. Think an awareness play across YouTube, driving consideration with demand generation, capturing first-party data with a leads form on Meta, converting across Google Search, and re-engaging/building community advocates with a TikTok campaign.

Today platforms such as Google Ads embrace this full-funnel approach through new converged campaign types. This activity spans different placements and inventory, and more importantly, plays a role right across the funnel.

By harnessing data, AI and conversion tracking, performance campaigns stretch up into the funnel when generated demand begins to deplete, finding users to push down the funnel.

If you want all this in your brand’s media strategy, and you do, it really shouldn’t be an afterthought.

You don’t strike me as a performance person

I’ve heard that more than a few times.

I don’t know why we get such a bad wrap. Especially these days.

In 2024, performance specialists are a new breed. You’ve got to have the dual ability of thinking big picture with incredible detail. Can you juggle audience planning, platform selection, tactics, tracking, creative, budgeting, optimisations and reporting?

It’s all about balancing the thinking and doing of media.

It’s human vs. machine, with continuous platform innovation and a shift towards ‘black-box’ activation.

We know that AI – and advice from our account reps – isn’t always working in the best interest of our clients. And problem-solving skills are needed to work around that.

With Google pushing the boundaries of AI and machine learning for decades while harnessing massive inputs of search data, performance is at the forefront of advertising innovation. It’s a fast-paced sector. There’s no other specialty moving like ours.

Sure, we don’t see the glitz and glamour that agency teams working on offline media channels do. Forget about boozy lunches and helicopter rides.

But the reality is, you’ve gotta be on your toes and that requires a certain dynamism that doesn’t gel with the stereotype of weird reclusive performance people of the past.

Given all this, performance media is crying out for a rebrand. Perhaps a name change would help.

Regardless, it’s time to change the perception of performance. No longer confined to the shadows, it’s a strategic powerhouse navigating the complexities of AI, data, and innovation from the top to the bottom of the funnel.

And it deserves genuine kudos for that.

Clare Farrugia is a performance director at Hatched.

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