Amid digital marketing changes, Ibotta turns to brand-building efforts

It’s only getting harder to stand out in the digital marketplace. So cash-back reward company Ibotta is turning to in-person activations to better capture shopper attention.

Between Google’s phase-out of the third-party cookie and the saturation of advertisers in the digital landscape, performance marketers are grappling with changes in the space. For many marketers, like Ibotta, it’s meant retooling their marketing mix to focus more on brand-building channels as opposed to squarely focusing on performance marketing.

“The landscape’s getting tougher; it’s tougher to reach people,” said Richard Donahue, CMO at Ibotta. “We realized that it’s just, we need to expand the reach of the brand, expand the impact that we’re having.”

Within the last few weeks, the rewards app launched its first-ever augmented reality experience along with interactive art installations in New York City, Chicago and Denver. The effort also includes a TikTok-led influencer activation, giving it nationwide reach.

It’s Ibotta’s first time activating around experiential marketing, per Donahue. It’s unclear how much Ibotta spent on this specific marketing effort, as he did not offer specific figures. In general, however, Donahue did say that Ibotta is looking to invest its media spend where the company can engage with shoppers. 

“We did get more intentional with where we are placing our dollars because as it got harder, and it continues to get harder,” Donahue said, “we realized it just wasn’t working as hard and it makes the trade-offs easier.”

Ibotta isn’t alone in focusing on experiential marketing. Direct-to-consumer brand Parachute Home significantly increased its experiential investment this year. It’s a similar story for DTC athleisure brand Halara, which rolled out its first-ever brand campaign, and Orangetheory fitness, which ramped up its own brand-building efforts with an in-person and livestreamed event.

In fact, agencies say they’re seeing more requests for proposals for brand building. According to eMarketer, 36% of marketers plan to increase their investment in brand marketing this year. But it’s not quite a pendulum swing. The same report found that 40% of marketers plan to increase their performance marketing investments this year, down from 46% last year.

Clients aren’t necessarily spending more on brand marketing efforts, especially as marketing budgets remain under scrutiny. But they’re more willing to test the waters, said Sammy Rubin, vp of integrated media at marketing agency Wpromote.

“There’s a lot of fragmentation in the marketplace when it comes to [how] audiences are consuming media across more platforms than ever before,” Rubin said. “So brands need to find ways to stand out.”

True, there’s more interest in building buzz around a brand in the hopes of building a relationship with customers before propositioning them to purchase. But that won’t come at the expense of performance marketing anytime soon, per Rubin. There’s still a focus on how to do more with less, as well as an emphasis on performance metrics, she added.

That’s the same stance held by Donahue, who said that performance will continue to play a pivotal role in Ibotta’s marketing mix, just better balanced with branding to keep customer attention.

“We’re never going to walk away from the performance stuff. We’re tracking it, we know what we get,” he said. “Anybody who’s not taking a hard look at how they’re engaging with folks across the spectrum of places that people are consuming media … they’re missing an opportunity.”

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