When businesses slashed their marketing budgets in 2020, branding suffered the most.
About 70% of companies cut their budget for brand advertising, whereas only 13% cut their budget for performance marketing, according to WARC data.
The budget cuts happened largely as companies shifted their branding dollars to e-commerce infrastructure, to accommodate consumers making more purchases online.
It made sense: IBM estimates that the transition to e-commerce that happened during the pandemic would have taken five years under normal circumstances.
That only makes building a brand more important, though. Every company has access to the same Shopify storefronts and martech staples, but brand — like community — is an increasingly precious differentiator.
So despite budget fluctuations in a crisis, branding remains a top marketing objective. Brand-building was the most common top priority among marketing leaders in June 2020, and the second most common top priority in February 2021, according to The CMO Survey.
Should you prioritize branding, too? We asked three experts why, when and how companies should invest in a brand marketing manager.
- Dani Marom, freelance creative director at MarketerHire
- Jared Rosenberg, a freelance brand marketer and marketing course leader
- Patrick Sullivan, a brand marketer and graphic designer
Why it’s worth investing in an expert brand marketing manager
We get it. When it comes to measuring ROI, brand marketing poses a lot more challenges than most other digital marketing roles.
You can make a change to an email marketing campaign’s subject line, and measure how it affects KPIs like conversion rates and revenue. You can quantify how an SEO strategy boosts your rankings for important keywords.
Brand marketers don’t have such concrete performance metrics — and it’s a waste of time to A/B test all their recommendations.
But an expert brand marketer is still worth their weight in gold.
1. They make all your marketing channels convert better.
Without a strong brand, it’s “a lot more expensive for you to convert people [and] to keep people” with performance and lifecycle marketing, MarketerHire director of marketing Tracey Wallace has found.
Growth marketer Nik Sharma agrees.
2. They keep your messaging crisp and consistent.
Having clear brand guidelines elevates everything you do.
“It’s going to make your emails better; it’s going to make your site better; it’s going to make your ads better,” Rosenberg said.
By keeping your messaging and visuals clear and aligned, they ensure all your communications reinforce each other and support your brand identity.
3. They get to know your target audience — and make sure you do, too.
Brand marketers know how to conduct market research and gather consumer insights, to make sure that your brand impresses the customers you actually want to reach.
Good ones “give you an understanding of your customer segment, an understanding of the business landscape overall and how you’re seen within it,” Sullivan said — and that helps you “really reflect what you want to be seen as in the market.”
Ultimately, brand marketers close the gap between external and internal perceptions of a company by “holistically… [and] strategically looking at your brand and where your brand is going in the future,” Marom explained.
And “that’s how unicorn brands happen,” they said.
6 signs you need a brand marketing manager ASAP
When is the right time to add a brand manager to your marketing team? Our experts shared six of the key times a company could use the services of a brand marketer.
1. You’re starting a company.
If your company is a startup, a brand marketer can craft an identity, spot opportunities and help secure you a strong position in your target category.
“For startups, [brand marketers help with] understanding the market sector that you’re wanting to speak to… [and] building that brand reputation with those customers,” Sullivan said.
That means figuring out how to explain the pain points your product solves in a clear, compelling way across all channels, Sullivan noted.
Early work with a brand marketer can help lay the foundation for a growth marketer to run a slew of tests without disrupting the brand identity.
2. You’re pivoting.
If you’re reimagining what you sell, or who you sell it to, a brand marketer can come in handy.
It’s a complex project — and few companies know that better than Ministry of Supply. During the pandemic, the team had to stop marketing to frequent business travelers.
Their target demographic had evaporated.
Instead, they needed to reposition their product for telecommuters.
But how? Brand marketers can help answer this kind of question and build out new marketing plans that make sense.
“When you’re going through a perception change that people actually notice is when you want a brand marketing manager,” Marom said.
In Ministry of Supply’s case, they updated their product visuals — styling slacks with sneakers, highlighting slouchier models, and cutting any depictions of commuting from their website.
3. You’re launching a new product (or three).
If your company is successful with its current products but wants to expand into new categories, brand marketers can ensure your go-to-market strategy gels with your existing brand strategy.
Take Allbirds. The company originally made one product: comfortable shoes. But in 2019, Rosenberg noted, it started expanding its catalog to include socks, t-shirts and underwear.
Why did that make sense at the brand level?
“They were really more of a materials company,” Rosenberg explained.
The Allbirds team had always prided themselves on their use of natural and upcycled materials, like ethically sourced wool and recycled bottles.
“The [brand] story was always about the materials, sustainability and supply chain,” Rosenberg said. “They were able to tell that story so it’s not a surprise when a shoe company suddenly makes underwear.”
“They were able to tell that story so it’s not a surprise when a shoe company suddenly makes underwear.”
4. You’re successful — but not so hip anymore.
If your company is established and successful with Gen X, but not so much with Gen Z, a brand marketer can help you reach the youth without losing the old guard.
Marom worked with two legacy brands to update their appeal and make them relevant to younger consumers.
- Mars: The candy maker’s TV commercials weren’t resonating with the youth audience they wanted, so Marom helped the company show up at music festivals.
- Olay: Perceived by younger consumers as their mother’s skin care brand, Olay wanted to regain relevance. Marom connected the company with appropriate social media influencers.
“Those are just two examples of taking brands that already had a lot to work with, a lot of history behind them… and finding new spaces to have conversations with consumers that you maybe have not had before,” Marom said.
5. You're misunderstood.
If consumers don’t view your company the way you want them to, brand marketers can help.
Take an auto fintech company that hired Sullivan to support its rebrand efforts. The company wanted its brand story to highlight its cutting-edge tech and modern sensibility, but its consumer-facing website and social media marketing didn’t. Yet.
Then the company changed its name to Tresl — inspired by trestles, or bridges — to reflect how it connects prospective buyers with financing. At the same time, Sullivan helped overhaul the website and create content for its revamped social channels.
“This new identity and rebranding helped customers see Tresl in a new light,” Sullivan explained, “and reflected a thoughtful, high-tech customer journey.”
6. You’re sending mixed messages.
If your company’s marketing initiatives all have different looks, tones or messages, it’s time to bring in a brand marketer.
This kind of inconsistency is especially common with larger companies that have a full-time in-house marketer handling some things and an agency handling others.
“When growth happens without guidelines, things grow in different directions,” Rosenberg said. “That’s generally the challenge with companies that have grown without making this investment in brand development.”
5 expert tips on hiring a brand marketing manager
Whatever your dreams for your band, there’s a marketer who can help you attain it. Our panel of experts shared five tips that will help you choose the right one.
1. Set goals for the role — the more concrete, the better.
Maybe you want someone to focus on refining your brand positioning, or brand management. Maybe you want someone to boost brand awareness with a splashy out-of-home campaign, or collaborate with your product marketing team around new product development.
Once you set a specific goal for the role, it’s easier to write the job description (and recruit for it).
“The brand knowing some of its needs... and asking questions around that, is super helpful,” Marom said. “Even a good hypothesis will get you better talent.”
"Even a good hypothesis will get you better talent.”
2. Remember that not all brand marketing experience is relevant.
You don’t just want years of experience. You want a brand marketer who has a strong track record marketing products like yours, in an industry like yours.
For instance, a brand marketer used to working with commodities — frequently-replaced products like jeans or printer toner — might not transition seamlessly into selling durable goods — long-lasting purchases like cars and furniture.
And if you’re in an industry like health care, you may want a brand marketer with some specialized knowledge of your space.
Look for candidates with brand experience that will help them succeed at not just a company, but your company.
Three ways to assess relevant experience...
- Check out their portfolio. Ideally, their past work sparks ideas for your own brand, and you see parallels between their past clients and your company.
- Review a brand guide produced for a past client. Is it as deeply-researched and comprehensive as you’d like yours to be? Does it seem like they know your niche — or could get to know it fast?
- Ask what changes they might suggest at your company. Here, you’re assessing their communication skills — do you understand what they’re saying? — and their ability to observe and diagnose issues across consumer touchpoints, Sullivan said.
3. Gauge their curiosity.
Brand marketers have to be curious. They won’t understand your brand’s scope and differentiators unless they ask a lot of questions — interesting, even uncomfortable questions.
To gauge how curious they are, “ask them about their previous projects, work that they are proud of, and insights that they’ve uncovered that excited them or that they remember,” Marom recommended. “Even questions like that will showcase someone’s passion and curiosity.”
“[A]sk them about their previous projects, work that they are proud of, and insights that they’ve uncovered that excited them."
4. Ask about their preferred process.
Examples of finished work can only tell you so much. Candidates should be ready to outline their research process and creative process.
Rosenberg suggested several questions to ask a brand marketer to gauge their project management talents, like:
- What’s your ideal process for getting this project over the finish line?
- What happens during week one, two, three and four?
- When are we finished?
- What does the final product include? Not include?
“Brand marketers should have... organizational skill and that framework of deliverables,” he said — and they should be able to explain it clearly. “It is also something that companies looking for a brand marketer should definitely ask about.”
5. Don’t ignore the empathy factor.
An empathetic brand marketing manager can understand both the consumers you want to reach and the people within your own company.
“Understanding people and their motivations and their behaviors... lets you do your job in the best way,” Marom said.
Hiring isn't just science. It's an art.
Ultimately, there’s no one perfect time or way to hire a brand marketer.
“Maybe they don’t have as much experience, but if you like the way they think, you have a good rapport and you’re on the same page, that’s invaluable and a durable asset,” Rosenberg said
“Maybe they don’t have as much experience, but if you like the way they think... that’s invaluable and a durable asset.”
In fact, rapport could end up being the most critical factor of all.
Key stakeholders on your team may work with this brand marketer for months — constant conflicts and misunderstandings will slow things down. You need someone collaborative, who gets your business in a way that’s hard to define.
Sometimes, you need to go with your gut.
First, though, you need candidates. You can’t hire your gut. MarketerHire makes it easy to find freelancers who specialize in brand marketing.
We pre-vet all the marketing specialists on our platform — only accepting the top 5% — and we’ll handpick a candidate just for you. In 48 hours.