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Amy Naughton: why organic matters in performance marketing

Whenever there’s an economic downturn or a brand isn’t performing as well as it needs to in order to hit commercial expectation, business leaders often end up prioritising bottom-line performance at the expense of longer-term brand building to ensure they hit their short-term objectives, namely margin. Organic marketing strategies are often viewed as an easy budget line cut – the “nice-to-have,” as they can’t always demonstrate that clear commercial impact that the CFO is looking for.

It may seem prudent at first glance, but it is a shortsighted approach which poses serious risks to a brand’s future visibility. Let’s put it another organic marketing presence is akin to having a “shop on the high street” – it keeps your brand visible and front-of-mind, even when direct advertising is reduced.

Why does organic matter?

Paid strategies serve a great purpose, but most brands cannot (and should not) bid on every relatable term. So, what happens for instance, when someone searches for something specific, and you no longer have organic to capitalise on that niche? You aren’t showing up anymore when people are looking, for instance at navy blue swimming costumes, or most reliable home alarm systems? You can bet another competitor will start occupying that space whether that’s on Google, through publishers, influencers in social or through video content in social search so, over time, along with site traffic, your mental availability starts to drop.

Without organic marketing, are people going to remember you, or are they just going to click on whatever they see first?

This gets to the heart of why organic marketing matters for preserving brand equity. It’s about maintaining a consistent, discoverable presence, even when you can’t afford to outbid competitors in paid search or marketing channels. For brands the decision to cut organic budget should be just as critical as shutting physical locations. Unlike PPC it’s not like turning the tap on and off. It can take months, and for some of the highly competitive categories like travel and finance, years to build up the authority, expertise and trust that creates an effective strategy for the likes of Google.

An organic framework for success

It’s clear the challenge lies in demonstrating the commercial value of brand-building work with a constant reminder to senior teams that it’s a blend of measures that pinpoint whether an organic strategy is successful or not which sit beyond sales. Metrics like reach and engagement, visibility and share of search, awareness and recall AND traffic and sales should all be part and parcel of painting the full story in which organic is playing a part. Agencies like ours have been challenged by this and we are now exploring a framework that looks at organic marketing’s role in both “driving demand” versus “servicing demand” – a more nuanced way of measuring its impact across the customer journey to help day-to-day marketers tell a stronger story for organic back to the board.

From tracking how organic content and conversations influence product discovery and brand consideration, versus how it supports conversion and loyalty for those already engaged with the brand; marketers can leverage a mix of tactics to quantify these effects:

*Brand lift and consideration metrics, such as surveys, search trends and marketing listening, to understand how organic is driving awareness and interest.

*Funnel engagement metrics, like content click-through and website referrals to see how it’s facilitating customer actions.

*Operational efficiencies such as decreasing customer service enquiries to call centres and/or improving self-serve product selection and purchase.

*Cross-channel attribution modelling to isolate the unique contribution of organic marketing to business outcomes.

The framework acknowledges organic marketing’s dual purpose – as a top-of-funnel awareness driver and a bottom-of-funnel conversion tool. By clearly outlining its contribution at various stages, marketers can build a more compelling business case for sustained investment.

Cut through the data for strong foundations

Integrating data across siloed platforms is a big headache for marketers, as is maintaining a long-term measurement mindset when leadership is focused on short-term KPIs. There is also the challenge of evolving marketing algorithms, which can dramatically impact organic reach and make consistency a moving target.

To tackle these hurdles, brands need to take a more strategic, cross-functional approach to organic marketing measurement. This means aligning KPIs to specific business objectives, leveraging advanced analytics capabilities where investment permits and finding ways to clearly demonstrate organic’s role in influencing the full customer journey – from awareness to conversion and building loyalty.

The key here is finding the right balance between performance-focused paid media and brand-building organic efforts as well as understanding the strength of your brand versus your competitor set. the key is to ensure you are geared up for the right short term gains without compromising long term growth.

Amy Naughton is managing partner, 26PMX

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