Are marketers banking on the wrong media channels?

Social media is the most effective paid channel, say global marketers – but while it’s easier to track ROI from digital channels, it is sometimes at odds with their top business objective to drive brand awareness. We dig into the findings from Nielsen’s 2022 Global Annual Marketing Report to explore this potential conundrum and where marketers should be looking to find growth.

Social media tops the list of most effective paid channels for 64% of global marketers, according to Nielsen’s 2022 Global Annual Marketing Report. But with 66% of them placing brand awareness as their most important business objective, there’s a potential disconnect as CMOs struggle to find the right balance between short-term wins and long-term brand building efforts.

“Marketers are always pressured to deliver measurable return-on-investment (ROI) for their efforts, so it’s not surprising to see a greater focus on short-term wins – especially in recent years,” explains Emma Delserieys, vice-president, customer success Europe, marketing effectiveness, Nielsen. “There is no short selling the importance of being able to engage those who are ready to purchase, but effective marketing needs more than mid- and lower-funnel activations. While it’s easier to track ROI from digital channels, it’s not the best way to achieve mass brand awareness.”

Future growth must be addressed with balanced marketing strategies that re-evaluate upper-funnel brand building efforts to work in tandem with the mid- and lower-funnel efforts, finds the report.

The state of play in digital

Marketers went big on digital in 2021, allocating more than half of their advertising budgets to digital channels. And it’s showing no signs of slowing down. The popularity and growing brand successes on channels like Instagram and TikTok are influencing increased spend in 2022, as marketers plough as much as 53% more into social media, the highest of any other channel.

Social media, along with online display (which will see budgets increase 50% in 2022), video (+49%), search (+45%) and over-the-top (OTT) services (+37%), are set to attract the biggest increase in ad dollars this year. Meanwhile, traditional mass-reach channels like linear TV (+20%) and radio (+13%) – which are more aligned with brand building and new consumer acquisition efforts – have been knocked down the list of priorities.

While 61% of global marketers are confident in their ability to measure the impact of brand building, they are less confident in the effectiveness of traditional channels compared with digital ones. By limiting their increases in ad spend across traditional channels, it suggests there is a possible misalignment between top business goals and marketing tactics.

A balanced marketing strategy for future growth

Balancing the need to meet near-term sales targets and position a brand for future success can seem at odds with each other. With limited budgets, doing more of one may mean doing less of the other; and the optimal mix of media channels and message strategies will likely vary when optimizing for only the short- or long-term objective.

“Brands need to understand that the channels that are great for driving sales may not be ideal for driving awareness,” adds Delserieys. “While there is a modest correlation between a channel’s effectiveness for upper-funnel efforts and its effectiveness for lower-funnel efforts, that isn’t particularly helpful when it comes to making investment choices.”

A matter of trust

The stated high confidence in marketers’ ability to measure the effectiveness of brand building campaigns notwithstanding, it’s not uncommon for brands to find it challenging to quantify the effects of brand building on long-term sales, notes Delserieys.

It's also a matter of trust. Nielsen’s 2021 Trust in Advertising study found that many of the channels marketers plan to leverage more heavily in the coming year are less trusted by consumers globally.

More than a third (36%) of consumers don’t trust ads on social media networks or ads served in search engine results, while 38% don’t trust online banner ads, Nielsen data shows. The exception is advertising or opinions about brands from influencers – trusted by 71% of consumers. By comparison, 78% of consumers trust ads on TV and 74% product placement in TV programs.

Patience is a brand’s best friend

Delserieys explains that in driving new customer acquisition, patience will be a brand’s best friend. According to Nielsen Commspoint Journey, a survey of purchase journeys across 80 product categories found that 85% of purchases involved brands the customer had already tried in the past, while 22% of consumers report feeling worried or nervous about trying a new brand.

“With a clear and real-time understanding of consumers and their behaviors, brands become well positioned to hone their messages, allocate their ad spend, adjust their media mix and optimize to drive ROI,” says Delserieys. “Navigating constant change isn’t easy, but agility has never been more paramount. An adaptive mindset is the most important attribute to have in business today. Brands that partner with consumers, clearly articulate their company’s value proposition, and meaningfully engage with them will develop the foundation for long-term relationships.”

Amid media fragmentation and sources of brand equity evolving, brands will need to leverage an array of channels to reach the widest audiences. Caring for upper-funnel metrics requires a keen alignment between messaging and channel, and this is particularly true with brand-building efforts.

As the convergence of consumers’ linear and digital lives continues, well-defined data strategies will help marketers engage in meaningful, personalized ways that foster long-term growth and prosperity.

For more insights on future-focused strategies for brand building and customer acquisition, download Nielsen’s 2022 Global Annual Marketing Report here.