I had occasion recently to read the findings of a study conducted by Yankelovich and presented by Direct magazine.

The report was titled “The Whys Behind the Buys” and looked at consumer attitudes specifically toward direct marketing. The study wanted to explore the interests and attitudes of direct response consumers—and, as its title suggests, find out more about the behavior of direct shoppers.

But unlike many other studies I have read on direct marketing, this one actually makes note of the role of the brand in the direct process. Many times, the brand is viewed as its own little world inside the greater marketing discipline, which is patently untrue. And direct marketing, more than any other area of marketing, requires the brand in order to create a relationship and nurture growth.

One of the most interesting findings by Yankelovich was that direct marketing companies have fiercely loyal customers and people who shop direct are also much more likely to tell others about their experience—both the good and the bad.

This bodes well for brands, but holds some danger too. Integrated direct marketing offers great tools for marketers to build a brand's image and position in the marketplace, both through direct experience and indirect word of mouth. However, if a brand's image and position are not properly deployed and reinforced through the direct marketing channels, the potential to cause damage to the brand's position in the marketplace is huge.

As the study report stated, “There is a tendency in direct marketing to dismiss brand building as a program objective. Brand image is built through other marketing vehicles, it is thought, while direct marketing is only about selling.”

This is simply not true; practitioners of direct marketing must keep in mind that successful brands become so by delivering on the brand promise time and time again. The value of a brand to many consumers is realized by the brand delivering a “known”: the consumers' familiarity, their expectation, and the performance of the brand are static no matter where delivered or by whom.

And the study bears this out, noting that 74% of consumers who selected a particular brand did so because the brand helped them “eliminate risk so that I can avoid a bad decision”; moreover, 83% stated they select a brand because it “assures me that a reliable company is standing behind the products/services.”

The opinion a consumer holds about a brand is developed over many different experiences with a brand; successful brands are built by leaving many imprints or impressions in the consumer's mind. And this is all the more true when it comes to buying direct.

The study also reports that direct marketing buyers are much more brand focused than consumers who do not buy direct. And this is important to take note of. After all, brand impressions are built on every interaction with a company, not just the ones the brand chooses to highlight in its ads, promises or promotions.

The brand strategy and message must be integrated into every contact a customer has via direct channels—whether mail, phone, the Internet, TV, or any other medium. To not integrate the brand into the direct channels is hubris, and it is the direct way to weaken a brand.

So, what is a direct marketer to take away from all this?

The study says brands must realize the opportunity that lies in direct marketing. They must “take advantage of the opinions consumers have about a brand and of the attitudes they have about how brands contribute to their lifestyle objectives. Smart use of these insights can enable direct marketers to remind consumers why they prefer a brand and thus help sustain their loyalty and patronage.”

In this day and age, a marketer is both a direct marketer and a brand marketer. Frequently, repeat purchases are based more on the intangible assets that a brand offers, and any direct contact with the consumers is an opportunity to shine and strengthen the brand-relationship bond through deliverable intangibles such as service.

Direct response shoppers are more loyal, share more—and are more demanding, too. Use the direct channels to find out more, and deliver more. I don't mean to get trite here, but knowledge really is power when it comes to helping determine the strength and success of your brand.

By the very nature of the direct transaction, more information is gathered and learned about your customer base with every contact. Use the knowledge to find out the whys behind your brand buys.

Note: You can find a précis of this study at www.directmag.com.

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Kristine Kirby Webster is Principal of The Canterbury Group, a direct-marketing consultancy specializing in branding and relationship marketing. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Direct Marketing at Mercy College in NY. She can be reached at Kristine@canterburygroup.net.