Is Branding Making a Comeback?

"With the shift to brand, the pendulum is starting to swing back, focusing more on innovation, differentiation, and emotional connection with consumers."

July 9, 2024

Ben (00:02.476)

Welcome back to another episode of Content Amplified. Today I'm joined by Alan. Alan, welcome to the show.

Alan Magee (00:08.346)

Hey Ben, great to be here.

Ben (00:10.188)

Love it. Well, Alan, let's quickly get to know you for just a minute before we dive into the subject. Maybe just explain a little bit about who you are, your career, what you love about marketing in general, and let us all get to know you a little bit.

Alan Magee (00:24.378)

Yeah, I'm Alan McGee. I am the vice president of marketing for Empire Portfolio Group for a leading wellness portfolio that has brands in Orange Theory Fitness and Relive Health and oversee all things marketing and communications for all of our studios and clinics across 15 states.

My background has been 100 % in marketing across consumer brands and in the franchise world, brands like of me, Moe Southwest Grill, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Holiday Inn, Arby's, and Church's Chicken. So a lot of experience across all things traditional marketing, product development, innovation, digital transformation. I'd like to say I've zigzagged my career every couple of years diving into where marketing is going.

And that's one thing that I love about marketing. It continues to change. The job that I did 15 years ago is different from the job I did 10 years ago. The job today, even though it's a lot of the same things, same problems I'm solving, is vastly different from what I did three years ago. So there's always new challenges, always new learnings, and marketing's fun. Let's just be honest, it's fun.

Ben (01:44.14)

I love it, I love it. And I love that what you talked about, marketing is constantly changing. And that's a big part of the subject for today. Sometimes in marketing, and we're seeing this right now, there are cycles. And there can be this resurgence of specific things coming back into the forefront of marketers' minds.

Right now it feels like there's this big wave of branding and doing marketing activities that may or may not be easy to track, things like that. What are your thoughts on this resurgence and this change and branding? I don't know if branding is the right term, but coming back into the forefront of everyone's mind.

Alan Magee (02:28.634)

Yeah, I think it's real. I mean, I'll call it like the Taylor Swift era. We're coming back to a brand era right now. That's all I hear about being talked about with different marketers, seeing what brands is coming back to brand. And what that means is so many brands, whether it was appropriate or not, went super deep down the rabbit hole of focused on performance marketing. And performance marketing worked really hard for years, for the last seven, eight, nine, 10 years.

But now there's so much competition in that performance space that as a brand, so many more are starting to come back to more top of funnel, more innovation, more differentiation, more emotional connection with their consumers. And part of this too is also because there's so many more options out there. There's so many more ways to buy products. There's so much more competition than certain brands had five or 10 years ago.

So there's definitely a wave coming back to brand. Seeing it more and more, start to see more activations. We're seeing innovation, which is great. I think innovation and repositioning, which a lot of brands needed, is all coming back to the forefront. And I think this is here to stay.

I think it's here for the next two or three years, especially as performance marketing kind of remains the same until we actually get through the cookie-less world and we get to the other side of things and all of that. But as that continues to just keep pushing off, then it's made room for brands to come back to brand.

Ben (04:11.244)

I love that. So when you're looking at it from an actual tactical perspective, what is the difference in a branded based marketing campaign or area or focus as opposed to the more, you know, recent surge of performance marketing? Like what does that on a day to day look like and how is that different?

Alan Magee (04:34.682)

Yeah, I think it really comes down to mix and how you look at.

All things that are coming out from a marketing perspective. So in most organizations you have a performance arm of marketing. You may have an owned channel or CRM arm of marketing. You've got PR and social. You've got activation or you've got field teams. You've got sales, right? You've got all these different arms of marketing and revenue generation.

And with this, with a shift back to brand, what it's really doing is shifting of who is leading all of those, those other pieces. And with performance led, performance was primarily the most dollars that was, it was focused on those, those last clicks or those direct revenue channels. And then things like PR, social content started to become very, very functional.

You started to see brands that weren't investing in top of funnel as much, less storytelling. And I think also too, getting away from really understanding the consumer journey and their consumer on an emotional level and not just a numbers and cookie level. And so with the shift to brand, the pendulum is starting to swing a little bit more.

Now people aren’t running TVS, now people are doing activations, things like that, right? That's how you kind of think it's going to swing. But I believe the brands that are thinking about it the right way are saying, let me really understand the consumer journey and what are those touch points? Who is our target? Where are the channels they're going to, to engage with our brand? How do we bridge things like a physical and digital experience to make it feel all one?

Because so many of those live in totally separate universes for consumers. And then thinking about from a marketing strategy perspective, where do we start? And it might be that in some areas, brand starts, in some areas, maybe it's content, where there's a great content idea, and other areas, it's performance.

And that's a shift in thinking to more of what I almost want to call just holistic marketing, that one quarter or one month at a time, depending on there can be different things that can kick off and lead all the rest of the organization. In the past, if it was performance-focused content really came second, sometimes third, right? It was more about the channel and the performance of that channel, less about what was actually being said or how it was being said there. And then all the other things really fell even further down the ladder.

But now as consumers are getting more savvy, there's more competition, there's more options. You have to take a different approach.

And it all starts with understanding that consumer and then figuring out what's gonna resonate with them and the rest will come off of that as your total plan.

Ben (07:47.916)

I love that. So I love how you're focusing so much on seeing the problem from the consumer's eyes. What is their experience? How do I as a marketer get better at that? How do I actually empathize? Some people are lucky. They can work in businesses where they're the consumer.

I talked to someone recently who is an actual writer and he works for a company that creates software for writers. He's so excited that he gets to market to himself. But there are other people that market to other industries and areas where they may not be the consumer. How do you recommend they actually get those insights and that perspective, even if it's not coming directly from them?

Alan Magee (08:39.738)

Yeah, I think there's two approaches to it. One, you're 100 % right with saying as a marketer, you've got to take that step away and say, I am not the consumer, even if you are, because we all want to think we're the consumer for the brand we're at in most cases. But you've got to take a step away from that.

The easiest way, honestly, is talking to your potential consumers. That doesn't mean you have to hire a huge research company to do a big nationwide four -part research project, right?

But actually understanding who is your consumer, which you most likely already have through data. And then talking to them, even if it's a small sample size, a very small sample size, and understanding those pieces and components on the, I say the qualitative side, like how do they think, the qualitative side?

And then once you understand how they think, it's a lot easier to pair up the quantitative components that you're going to see around what channels they go to and what content is resonating with them and those pieces. I like to say, talk to family members, talk to friends, go to, if your target is younger, go to universities, like those type of things, they don't cost a lot of money to really understand.

The other thing too is if you're a brick and mortar business or anything that's a physical product business is actually just go spend time. If you work for a restaurant brand, go spend time and sit and work in the restaurant. Just watch people and see what they order, how they interact, how they're using your brand, how they use the space, what gets left on their tray when they're done. There's a lot of different ways.

It's just as a marketer, we get hung up sometimes in the everything has to be quantified. And yes, we want to quantify it, but in content, a lot of it comes down to the qualitative components of it. And so, that's one. And the second is, you know what? Just think about it as yourself. If you were going through this consumer journey, then what would your steps be? What are your steps of doing something similar, even if it's a vastly different product?

What are your pain points with some other brands' consumer journey and then compare it to yours and be honest about it that you know your consumer journey, your messaging, there might be things broken in there, right? It's easy for us as marketers to identify everything that's wrong with other brands that's not ours. It's super easy. I can tell you, give me a brand and I'll tell you a hundred things wrong with it. And, but then you give me mine of like, here's, I can only find like three things. Like everything is right. So sometimes you just gotta, again, take that step back.

And then think about it in that way or compare what's wrong over here that you see in one brand and see how does it compare to what's yours. So those are my two easy ways to put yourself in that mindset.

Ben (11:56.428)

I love those points and I love that information. So anytime there's a transition or change, it can be painful, right? Because some people are stuck in one mindset, some people have adopted, some people have come over to the new mindset. But when you're at a business and you're seeing this resurgence of branding and holistic marketing, you know, quantifiably more difficult. How would you recommend getting the rest of the business to come along to this new way of thinking and help them really embrace this new way of marketing or like a renewed way of marketing again?

Alan Magee (13:20.57)

Yeah, I think change is hard, especially when you're working with senior leaders that have been around in the industry for a long, long time, right? And they have long held beliefs, whether they're marketers or not marketers. What has been successful for me when it comes to change management and understanding, getting change management across is one, packaging it up in a way for people to understand really the why first, like why are we doing this?

And it's always rooted in the consumer or your target and the business. And that really helps make it irrefutable of the why you're doing this. And then bring it down to the what. And when it comes down to the what, this is where people get hung up a lot because the what is where the change is. The what and the how.

And I like to do things in phases. It's anything that you're trying to do eight hundred things at once are going to be some certain things are going to be unsuccessful. So I love to face things. And if it's a change in how we're marketing, I'll probably put it in a three phased approach where the first phase we're going to build at the bottom. We're going to do these five things. We're going to do them well. And then we're going to build. Then we're going to add to the next level. And then we're going to add to the next. Typically by the time you get to that third level of a, of a phase, probably you've learned stuff in phase one and two that you're going to tweak and change and you're going to optimize for that.

And once you have that phasing, then you can get to the actual how. And when you communicate that to everyone, they understand really then like, that here's why we're doing it. Here's how we're going to do it. And it's manageable to get done. And then, or the what, and then the how. This is how we're actually going to execute it.

Of course you want to put measurable metrics as part of it. But that will help leadership and your team understand. If you leave out the why and you just jump to the what and the how, you're gonna lose people. And if you go from the why just to the how, you're also gonna lose people too. So you've got to get each of those phases right.

Ben (15:43.852)

I love that. I've never heard it articulated that way and in that order. And I think that that is so important for actually getting the business to join in and follow that journey. And it's cool because you talked about putting yourself in the consumer's shoes. You're going to be in this new position where you understand the why a little bit better and can start to really feel like that and take people along that journey. So I think that's really powerful.

Well, Alan has promised these episodes go by quickly. They're so fast, it's amazing. But if anyone wants to connect with you and further the conversation online, how can they reach out and find you?

Alan Magee (16:25.562)

Just go to LinkedIn and type in Alan McGee, M -A -G -E -E. Send me a LinkedIn request. I usually accept 95 % of them, as long as they're real humans. And I'm always up for a virtual coffee to just talk shop.

Ben (16:44.012)

Very cool. Love it. Well, Alan, thanks again for your insights today. Appreciate it.

Alan Magee (16:48.186)

Thanks Ben, enjoyed it.

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