There’s a lot of power in a great marketing campaign. Who can forget Apple’s rebellious “Think Different” campaign, which featured icons from Einstein to Muhammad Ali, driving Apple back into the forefront of personal computing, or Dollar Shave Club’s introduction to the world, waking consumers up to the benefits of a direct-to-consumer model?
These memorable ads are more than just great creative. They’re more like the tip of an iceberg—the small visible pinnacle of a huge undertaking planned and executed by many marketers, from product specialists to media buyers.
What is a marketing campaign?
A marketing campaign is a series of time-bound, coordinated marketing efforts that have a single goal and key message. What makes something a campaign, and not a strategy or project, is focus.
They can be contrasted against evergreen marketing programs that never turn off or against marketing promotions that emphasize discounts.
A great campaign can have multiple channels (for example, TV advertising and email marketing) and can be as long as a year or as short as a day. But the consumer should have a consistent experience among channels over time, and they should recognize the calls to action and the messaging.
Marketing campaign goals
A great marketing campaign requires the coordination of a team, budgeting, planning, and focus. So before planning one, it’s important to know your goals for a campaign. Not only does this help you define what a successful marketing campaign looks like, it helps inform what types of campaigns might be the best fit for you.
The most common marketing campaign goals are:
- Brand awareness. Brand awareness is making consumers familiar with your company, product, or overall brand. This is one of the most important goals for new brands and makes all the other possible goals easier to achieve.
- Brand love. This is similar to awareness but with an important twist. Awareness campaigns focus on people who haven’t heard of the brand and are measured at least partially in sales. Brand love campaigns, on the other hand, typically focus on people who are already familiar with the brand and are measured with brand sentiment lift, not sales.
- Rebranding. Brands need to evolve to stay relevant—which can lead to brand refreshes, or rebrands. But you have to make a concerted effort to make the change stick. There is nothing more frustrating for marketers or business owners than when people continue to use your old name. (Trust us—without it, we’d still be Jaded Pixel).
- Product marketing. In these campaigns, the product (or service) is the message. Product marketing focuses entirely on a specific product or product line.
- Content marketing. As opposed to focusing on a key brand message or product, content marketing campaigns focus on driving people to a piece of content. This could be a webinar, ebook, or quiz. It can reach people through advertising or through having the content rank in search engines. The principle is that people who engage with the content are more likely to convert into customers down the road.
- Product, service, or feature launch. This is similar to product marketing but specific to new products, and with more emphasis on awareness.
- Support for a marketing program. Evergreen marketing programs are extremely powerful, but they often need a jump start to get their flywheel turning. Some examples of marketing programs that benefit from campaigns are referral programs, affiliate programs, and influencer partnerships. The campaign remains time-bound and then segues into an evergreen program.
- Seasonal. Certain times of year lend themselves incredibly well to marketing campaigns. For example, Black Friday/Cyber Monday, the end-of-year holiday season, and the beginning of summer.
Marketing campaign channels and examples
Marketers need to strike a delicate balance when campaign planning. They need to reach people, and the fastest way to do that is through multiple marketing channels. But they also need focus, and one of the best ways to achieve that is through a single channel.
A common approach is to define your campaign with a single primary channel, supported by other secondary channels as needed. Below are some examples of common marketing campaigns, organized by their primary channel:
- Social media. The key to knowing whether social media is the right channel for your campaign is this: Do you expect other people will share your message? Dollar Shave Club’s original ad was designed to be shared on social media (with the support of paid marketing). They achieved this by “picking a fight” with a frustration that resonated with people: expensive razor refills.
- Paid marketing. Similar to social media, paid marketing campaigns can achieve a wide range of goals. A paid marketing strategy will typically include multiple campaigns: brand awareness, or top-of-funnel campaigns, and product sales, or bottom-of-funnel campaigns. Top-of-funnel campaigns target people who haven’t heard of a brand, whereas bottom-of-funnel campaigns primarily nurture people who have already heard of a brand.
- User-generated content (UGC). Similar to social media, the goal of UGC campaigns is to build brand awareness through having others share your messages. The difference is that in social media campaigns, you are looking for them to re-share your message or content. With UGC, the goal is to have your customers create their own content that lines up with your message. Although this is a bigger ask for the consumer, it can be incredibly powerful when done well.
- Integrated. There is still a place for marketing campaigns that blend many of these channels and goals. When a campaign properly balances multiple channels and goals, it is called an integrated marketing campaign. Apple’s “Think Different” campaign was a great example of an integrated campaign: many channels, one message.
- Product-activated. This type focuses on activating existing customers through the product itself. This could be a flyer in a delivery package, a notification in an app, or a QR code on an item. This is a great way to support marketing programs.
- Public relations (PR). The goal of PR is to build brand awareness through having other people talk about you and your business. This can mean offering quotes or interviews for writers or publishing a press release with an announcement.
- Email marketing. Email marketing is typically a marketing program (evergreen), as opposed to a campaign. But an email-focused campaign can be a fantastic way to increase sales, especially for new offerings. This can take the form of a drip (series) of emails sent over time surrounding an event, for example, leading up to and during the drop of a new collection. Often, these are sent to a smaller segment of a large email list, such as a VIP list.
What makes a marketing campaign succeed?
“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote wasn’t referring to marketing campaigns, but it certainly could’ve been. There are a few factors that lead to a campaign’s success (or failure), all of which need to be considered before a campaign launches:
Clear, measurable KPIs
Great marketing campaigns have goals. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are how you measure those goals. These are important not only to understand what worked and what didn’t, but also to align your team. If you think the goal is sales, but your head of marketing thinks the goal is awareness, you’re going to have very different feelings if your campaign gets tons of social shares but not many sales. Defining KPIs ahead of time ensures everyone is on the same page.
Digital tools like Google Analytics have made measurement easier than ever. But most new marketers still assume that if a campaign’s goal isn’t sales, it can’t be measured. All goals can be measured. For example, awareness campaigns can be measured with reach, website traffic, or brand lift studies from groups like Meta or Nielson.
Budget and timeline
Great marketing campaigns have timelines with milestones for execution (for example, videography should be ready two weeks ahead of launch) and clear budgets, including for internal resources, external resources, and hard costs. After launch, marketers should track progress against those timelines and ensure that spending isn’t creeping over budget.
Marketing campaigns are all about focus. The strongest campaigns pick a single target audience and deliver a single message.
This is particularly important for brands that have multiple possible audiences or messages. For example, the sustainable fashion brand Allbirds has a small product line but appeals to a wide audience. We can see in their advertising that they focus their message for each campaign:
These differentiated, focused messages (and possibly audiences) help keep the brand’s products fresh and top of mind.
Marketing campaigns can be transformative for businesses. They break through the noise of evergreen marketing programs and help drive strategic goals. They also require strategic thinking. By doing the work up front—clearly defining KPIs, audience, types, and timeline—marketers can ensure they get the most out of their next marketing campaign.