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News Plus 3 Aug 2022 - 6 min read

'As soon as you say brand, half the room switches off': My Muscle Chef's marketing lead Liam Loan-Lack exits for CMC Markets APAC role; brand vs performance debate bogged

By Sam Buckingham-Jones - Deputy Editor
Liam Loan-Lack

“I do not think we are doing ourselves any favours in ‘brand versus performance’,” Liam Loan-Lack said. “When we’re speaking to the CFO, all they care about is payback and return period."

My Muscle Chef marketing lead and former UM exec Liam Loan-Lack has left and starts at FTSE250 financial services giant CMC Markets next week. He says economic volatility makes it “the perfect time” to enter online online trading and wants to challenge the "brand vs performance" debate. Industry is taking Peter Field and Les Binet's Long and Short mantra "too literally", which is damaging marketers’ credibility in the C suite. A better view is "everything is performance marketing”, says Loan-Lack, it's just about timelines.

What you need to know:

  • Liam Loan-Lack has left My Muscle Chef, joining UK-based, FTSE250 trading company CMC Markets as its APAC and Canada Head of Marketing. He's covering for Alicia Tan, who is on maternity leave. He starts next Wednesday.
  • Loan-Lack, a former UM exec, has spent about a year client-side after a long career in agencies and has been eye opening. Marketers are getting bogged down in the ‘brand vs performance’ debate, he says, taking Les Binet and Peter Field’s doctrine “way too literally”.
  • He says Atomic212º’s James Dixon hit the nail on the head when comparing marketing investment to the terminology used by accountants: Capital Expenditure and Operational Expenditure. Capital expenditure provides a return over several years, operational expenditure gives returns within the year.
  • Equally, industry is getting lost in demographics and "face value" generational personas. Many millennials have Gen Z habits. "It’s about thinking about behaviour instead of demographics." 
  • Joining a financial services company right now is “perfect”, he says. Good marketing and marketers can demonstrate value.

Brand vs performance… everything is performance marketing. It’s simply the time frame. Having a good robust discussion around the time frame and how campaigns work around that is crucial, because as soon as you say ‘brand’, half the room switches off.

Liam Loan-Lack, incoming Head of Marketing APAC & Canada (maternity cover), CMC Markets

Brand advertising is performance advertising – the only difference is the time horizon. That's partly how CMC Markets new APAC and Canada Marketing Lead Liam Loan-Lack plans on convincing his leadership team to hold marketing investment as economic headwinds loom. The problem, he says is when marketers talk brand, finance teams and operational teams switch off. 

Loan-Lack has departed My Muscle Chef and has joined FTSE250 financial services firm CMC Markets as Head of Marketing role for Asia Pacific and Canada (covering a colleague on maternity leave). Chief Customer Officer at private equity-backed My Muscle Chef, Nick Love, has taken on the company’s marketing function.

“It’s the perfect time to be joining [CMC Markets],” said Loan-Lack, a former UM growth exec.

“Every study I’ve read says if you double down in this downturn, you can reap the rewards when there is the upswing. And there will be an upswing. The beauty and marked demonstration of marketing value is in a downturn. It’s never been a better time.”

Loan-Lack went client-side in the second half of 2021, outlining his impressions of what misconceptions and learnings were the most immediate in a piece earlier this year. He’s learned a lot since then.

The Brand v performance furphy

For one, marketers take Les Binet and Peter Field’s doctrine of brand and performance marketing “way too literally”, Loan-Lack said, which is leading to misunderstandings inside businesses.

“I do not think we are doing ourselves any favours in ‘brand versus performance’,” he said. “When we’re speaking to the CFO, all they care about is payback and return period. Brand advertising is performance advertising – the only difference is the time horizon.”

He says Atomic212º’s James Dixon hit the nail on the head when comparing marketing investment to the terminology used by accountants: Capital Expenditure and Operational Expenditure. Capital expenditure provides a return over several years, while operational expenditure gives returns within the year.

“It’s interesting. Many organisations hold marketing to this higher standard than other investments. An IT project delivers value, but of course you amortise that investment across multiple years. In marketing, it’s the hardest job because not only is there a lot of subjectivity around it, we give it the hardest financial job to deliver in 12 months,” Loan-Lack said.

“And we all know it accumulates and compounds and accrues over multiple years. Brand vs performance… everything is performance marketing. It’s simply the time frame. Having a good robust discussion around the time frame and how campaigns work around that is crucial, because as soon as you say ‘brand’, half the room switches off.”

What I would love to do at CMC is what The Barefoot Investor did for ING and industry super funds.

Liam Loan-Lack, incoming Head of Marketing APAC & Canada (maternity cover), CMC Markets

Briefs and creativity

Another key lesson Loan-Lack said he has learned is the challenge in writing briefs – they’re not as simple as it may appear. There is often a lengthy internal discussion before an agency sees a brief. It's also why Mark Ritson joined the Better Briefs project - marketers are wasting a third of their budgets writing poor briefs.  

“The effort and brutal simplicity required to get to a brief is astonishing,” Loan-Lack said. “I have such empathy and sympathy with clients who share a brief with an agency. Some of the best clients on the planet, the reason they’re so effective is because they organise and get the business around what the advertising is doing. Many clients cause chaos if they’re not good at wrangling stakeholders. Agencies get frustrated. I now recognise the value in that.”

Likewise, creativity is an area that is difficult to nail as a brand – often competitor sets end up looking similar.

“I believe what we did successfully [at My Muscle Chef] was we made creativity one of the most objective things in our business. Where we landed was we had a very risky and different campaign versus the market,” he said.

“In terms of risk and reward, the more cut through we got, the more risk we had in our creative. The more potential to activate our customers. It’s about trying to think in financial language and what that flows into in future cash flows, rather than talking about why brand is important.”

While looking forward to the challenge of a financial services company, Loan-Lack said he has been grateful for his first client-side experience at My Muscle Chef. “I learned so much and they are a brilliant bunch of people,” he said.

The CMC Markets challenge

A key reason why brands can find ways to stand out and grow during or after an economic downturn is because they continue to invest in their marketing function. That’s not an easy argument to make, especially as profits shrink, losses mount and nervous execs want to play it safe. It’s about making the case, building trust and delivering best practice work, Loan-Lack said.

“Working for a financial services brand, many of their clients take risks on a daily basis. It’s a model. Nothing is guaranteed,” he said. The same is true for marketing.

“The way I’ll demonstrate it is, how do you demonstrate a hedge? Let’s talk about ad inflation. How do we hedge that? For me, we need to spend more relative to our market share, but how do we hedge organic? We should be doubling down on SEO (search engine optimisation). Google and Meta, unfortunately as an e-com brand, so much rests on their whim. We need to hedge versus that and double down on SEO – high value content anyone can use. Doubling down in those channels to increase share of voice. That type of thinking is what I would like to bring… What I would love to do at CMC is what The Barefoot Investor did for ING and industry super funds. CMC is an incredible business and has the right to play in that space.”

Loan-Lack said My Muscle Chef taught him that buying based on demographics is outdated and crude. People of vastly different age eat in ways that fit different “demographics”, he said. Rather, marketers should focus on the behaviours themselves.

“CMC has been around 30 years. The neo traders, start-up trading companies, some of their tone of voice has a very crypto-gaming look and feel. But just because someone is 21 doesn’t mean they don’t have similar behavioural tendencies as a boomer,” Loan-Lack said.

“We get lost as marketers in demographics, in very face value generational personas. [Professor] Mark Ritson has had a good rant about it and I’m on the same page. They diminish the value of real marketing, understanding audience. Many millennials have Gen Z habits. It’s about thinking about behaviour instead of demographics.

“Be pragmatic with the best practice you can apply, and don’t be paralysed by perfection. No-one knows the future – anyone who says they do is lying. We have to be able to adapt and look at our strategy and look at the market regularly. And you have to own it. Say, ‘We took a calculated risk’.”

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