Stop looking at performance marketing as a tool to trick customers

Despite what self-proclaimed 'growth hackers' might have you think, performance marketing needn't be a dirty word for brands, writes strategist Henry Innis.

Every time I see ‘growth hackers’ marketing on Facebook, I cringe.

They promise ‘tactics’ to get customers to buy more. All the tricks of the trade. It’s like every single piece of data is just finding new ways to deceive people into buying more things that they absolutely don’t need.

Is it any wonder the bottom of funnel marketing feels like a bunch of scam artists?

It gets worse. You’ve got people selling courses on how to become a marketing consultant. Courses on how to build ‘funnels’. Courses on how to trick people into doing almost anything with some marketing hack.

It’s almost as if performance marketing is an opportunity to trick customers — confusing them with a bunch of psychological tricks to get people to buy something they just don’t want.

Growth hackers are prone to over-exaggeration Source: Unsplash

But it shouldn’t be.

At it’s core, performance marketing is about data. About putting a piece of marketing in front of your customers and knowing how they respond. It should, in many ways, be a feedback loop that helps marketers and the wider team know what’s working and what isn’t.

If you’re a telco, do people crave data or international minutes? Do different segments value these things differently?

Take a health insurer. Do extras matter more to mums and dads than people in their early 20s? Are there particular ailments which really get a 29-year-old to consider their health?

Too often we’re looking for the trick (‘what will get this person to do what we want’) rather than the value (‘what is this person telling us they need’). It’s an attitude that devalues performance marketers immensely. And as a profession, it’s no wonder the brand guys are looking down on them with their noses turned firmly up.

In essence, performance marketing shouldn’t be about tricking our customers, but finding ways to listen to them. When we listen, we can consistently be more consumer-centric.

Let me give you an example of a real-life execution of this in practice.

A business in market today wants to launch a big above the line campaign in Australia. They’ve got no idea what will really resonate. Lots of people have theories and the creative director of the big, fat traditional agency has his preferred line that he’s convinced will work.

I’m sure many people reading this have probably gone through a version of the above.

Rather than crafting the perfect line, the brand decides to do something brave. They get 50 versions made up, each tackling a slightly different angle, and punch it into an test and learn engine on social media.

Each goes live against five of their key segments. That’s over 250 tests running in market.

They listen to see what customers say about each, how they react and how they behave when they come to their website. Pulling all of this data together, they get a fairly cohesive picture of which message works best and which doesn’t.

The risk of course is that seeing 10 messages work well, the client wants to run all 10 in the one ad. Another big no no.

The brand then uses this data to inform which message they will take into their above the line communications. The big, pricey, expensive piece that they often can’t change easily but often has the most impact!

In a sense, performance marketing hasn’t played a role in devaluing the brand and using cheap tricks to get customers to do something here. It’s actually played a role in helping the brand listen to customers and understand what will make the most impact.

Which brings me to my key point: we need to stop looking at performance marketing as a tool to trick customers. and start looking at it as a way to listen. Instead of trying gimmicky tactics, brands should be trying to identify genuine customer insights.

If we start there, performance marketing needn’t be a dirty word for brands. It might turn out to be quite useful for brand building instead.

Henry Innis is a strategy director and management consultant.


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