Branding Vs. Performance: Should Advertisers Choose One Over The Other?

Advertisers need to consider whether or not they invest too much in short-term performance marketing versus branding.

Amir Sharer, Brave CEO and founder, has refocused his supply-side platform (SSP) to run branding campaigns in apps using technology to identify the most relevant programmatic bid requests. 

Brave has not given up on data and algorithms. The company just doesn't work with personal user data.  

Sharer won’t tell any of his prospective or present clients not to run performance marketing campaigns. And it’s not that branding is better than performance. He believes it is important to treat branding on equal footing, because too much of performance requires consumer data.

Marketers turn to Google, Microsoft, Meta and others for performance-based marketing, which is why together they represent the majority of digital advertising in the U.S. according to data from eMarketer.



With changes in consumer privacy, Sharer believes it is time to start thinking about and understanding what advertisers can achieve with branding campaigns. 

Sharer isn't alone in his thinking. Anna Bager, president and CEO of the Out of Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA), in an interview with Data & Programmatic Insider in early March, said she began to see the "the writing on the wall” years ago with privacy and data regulations that digital advertising would face. Today she champions digital out-of-home and OOH because it does not have those challenges.

Advertisers need options -- particularly when platforms like Google’s Performance Max and Meta’s Advantage+ are black boxes for data.

Data & Programmatic Insider (D&PI) caught up with Sharer to discuss branding vs. performance advertising, and why and when one or the other should be used. 

D&PI:  What is the difference between branding and performance when it comes to in-app ads?

Sharer: The distinction between branding and performance marketing -- particularly for in-app ads -- resides in the primary objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Branding in-app ads aim to build brand awareness and a positive image among consumers. The focus is on connecting with the audience on an emotional level, increasing brand recognition, and ultimately fostering loyalty.

KPIs for branding campaigns often include metrics related to audience reach, engagement levels, and brand recall. These campaigns are more about telling a story that resonates with the audience and positions the brand in a certain light, rather than driving immediate action.

Performance in-app ads, on the other hand, are designed to elicit a specific action from the user, such as making a purchase, downloading an app, or setting up an account.

These campaigns are highly targeted and optimized for conversions, with KPIs centered around measurable outcomes such as conversion rates, click-through rates, app installs, and ROAS. The focus is on efficiency and effectiveness, with a clear and direct call-to-action (CTA).

There’s a growing tendency among digital advertisers to blur the lines between these two approaches. Brand advertisers shift toward campaigns that not only aim to build brand awareness but also drive specific "soft" consumer actions, marrying the objectives of both branding and performance marketing within their in-app ads.

D&PI:  When did you start to suggest branding?

Sharer: We didn't "start" at a particular moment. We have always specialized in brand campaigns from the inception of the company.

This foundational focus on branding stems from a recognition of its critical role in building long-term business value, cultivating customer loyalty, and distinguishing our offerings.

Our unwavering focus on branding from the beginning is a strategic choice aimed at achieving lasting impact and success.

Branding is not just an aspect of our strategy -- it is the bedrock upon which we build everything else.

D&PI:  How do Brave's demand partners leverage in-app ads for brand campaigns to drive results? 

Sharer: The key reason our advertising partners -- ad exchanges, ad agencies, and demand-side platforms -- prioritize in-app advertising in their brand-marketing strategy is the rich user data intrinsic to mobile apps.

Through traffic shaping, real-time optimization and curated inventories, we are able to connect brand advertisers with the most relevant target audiences. The results are quite distinct, meaning enhanced engagement, viewability, and conversion rates.

This not only stems from the interactive ad formats, but is mostly due to the intimate environment a user has with the apps they curated and installed.

This contextually relevant environment is not only ideal for captivating users, but also significantly enhances brand recall and loyalty. This level of engagement is paramount for brands looking to make a lasting and brand-safe impact.

D&PI:  Are there specific brand categories or types of brands that see more success with in-app advertising strategies?

Sharer: When we talk about specific brand categories that thrive with in-app advertising, our experience has shown remarkable success within CPG, retail and ecommerce, and the entertainment and media sectors.

Each of these industries has unique characteristics that align well with mobile app use and behavior, allowing them to showcase products and experiences. Our journey in the in-app advertising space is one of continuous learning experience that adapts as we go. 

D&PI:  How can you target bid requests without first-party data?

Sharer: Apps offer unique data points such as geolocation, device type, and app usage patterns, which are less readily available or as rich on the web and mobile web. 

These data points are considered first-party and can substantially enhance targeting strategies without relying on third-party cookies. The importance of first-party data collected by apps will only increase. Advertisers who understand how to effectively use this data will be well-positioned to create successful, privacy-compliant advertising campaigns in a post-cookie world.

The inherent collection of first-party data by apps presents a unique advantage in the current advertising landscape. It enables targeted bid requests and personalized advertising strategies that are both effective and privacy-compliant, making apps a safe haven for advertisers navigating the challenges of cookie deprecation.

D&PI: Can you provide examples of where branding works for apps and games? 

Sharer: Before I dive into specific examples, the fact that our in-app operations have maintained steady growth year-on-year —  culminating in a whopping 174% YoY increase in impressions served between 2022 and 2023 —  is indicative of the success of in-app ads for branding.

Regarding examples of specific brand campaigns, there’s one demand partner — a prominent ad exchange in North America — that comes to mind. They primarily work with CPG brands, not only the big names. It's unclear whether the strategy I'm about to discuss was initiated by the brands or at the direction of our partner.

Nevertheless, they have been targeting app gamers with ads for snack brands — predominantly mid-sized — between 11 PM and 12 AM.

This timing strategically coincides with a gamer’s last opportunity for a grocery run. Also, the mindset at this hour is particularly receptive. Gamers are likely unwinding, possibly feeling peckish, and are more open to suggestions. 

The results were outstanding, impacting much more than just brand consideration. I believe this serves as a quintessential example of perfect alignment between placement, product, creatives, and audience. Such synergy is uniquely possible in the intent-based, time-sensitive context of a beloved app.

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