Over the past 20 years, there has been a seismic shift in what we now call performance marketing. At the start of my career in 1999, clients ploughed huge budgets into DRTV (direct response television), direct mail, door drops, inserts and radio – channels that all played significant roles in driving business outcomes for brands. Then the early Noughties saw the rise and eventual dominance of digital and in particular PPC (pay-per-click).
This was the ultimate disrupting force in direct response, where the comms channel was also the response method. Web visits and online conversions began to become the dominant metrics of success. This change not only knocked offline performance channels out of the picture, it also widened the gulf between brand and performance in terms of planning, teams, channels and measurement.
The prevailing opinion became that if you didn’t have a ‘click’ to prove your channel had driven an action, then your activity wasn’t measurable, and didn’t count. Cue the overstated pronouncements of the death of any offline media channel.
This rejection of offline media always felt inherently wrong. I saw a need for greater integration between both online and offline disciplines and held the belief that offline or "brand" channels shouldn’t be justified by woolly-sounding metrics like "awareness" or media outcomes such as "reach", rather than business outcomes such as "sales".
So, when the likes of Binet and Field began their stellar work, uncovering the relationships between offline channels, brand advertising and business growth and success, I was over the moon. The coup de grace was not just proving the long-term benefits of branding, but also dispelling the myth that brand activity offered no (or little) short-term benefit to hard business metrics like sales and revenue.
This was the work that launched a thousand econometric projects, as agencies and brands sought to prove the business benefits of offline brand activity against hard business metrics, giving credence to another long-held suspicion (by non-digital natives) that digital channels were hoovering up the hard-fought demand generated by other activity and claiming the credit.
In 2020, we still seem to have a long way to go, to genuinely make the move from "performance" as a description of a set of digital channels or a specific team in a business, to "performance" as a way of thinking. Universally, we still talk about online channels primarily in line with how they will contribute to hard business metrics, while offline channels focus more on high-level or brand metrics, without ever really being sure of how those translate to business objectives in a measurable way.
Ultimately, we need a more robust and holistic approach to measurement and analytics. We have to challenge ourselves not to pick and choose whose feet we hold to the fire to justify existence on a plan, and every channel included must demonstrably contribute towards the client’s objectives. Clients too, must be more explicit in their briefs, ensuring that any objectives set flow back to clear business priorities and that the agency understands those priorities.
Regardless of channel, we should be obsessed with business outcomes, not media outcomes. It’s not about how many impressions you get – it’s about what those impressions made people do.
I dream of a day where no one in an agency has the word "performance" in their title, because it’s recognised that it’s part of everyone’s job.
Matt Dailey is chief performance officer at Havas Media Group