Dear Tig,

My company sells room additions. Now the company wants to "brand itself." The problem is this: Because of the nature of the product, we are not really interested in long-term brand loyalty. This is a once-in-a-lifetime buy, and there are no long-term follow-ups we can do other than warranty repairs and make-goods. Do you think it is worth brand building and positioning exercises in a case like this? Send help before we spend my ad budget on research.


Out on a Limb

Dear Limb Sitter,

There is a big difference between a company that indicates it cares about the long-term customer prospects and a company that relies on long-term customer prospects. You may work for one that doesn't need long-term relationships, but you might find yourself with more of those juicy short-term relationships if your customers perceive you care.

Think of Trane air conditioners, or Maytag dishwashers. Both companies brand themselves as being obsessed with high quality to the point where it simply isn't in the company's own best interests. But, of course, while producing products that don't require replacement may or may not be profitable, giving customers the idea that the products never need to be replaced is almost always helpful to profits.

I understand that yours is a slightly different case, but the principle still applies. Branding can, in fact, help drive first time purchases.

There are lots of reasons why branding efforts might be wasteful, but working in a one-timer product category isn't one of them.

I share your knee-jerk skepticism when senior executives start bandying the word brand around. It's nice to see your high degree of scrutiny on it. That might help you focus the branding efforts on building up brand preference in the market, even before customers start to consider a purchase.


Dear Tig,

I've been given the task of writing a marketing brief for all those people surrounding my product (for instance, ad agency, PR people, market researchers, etc.) Could you please send me any information that may help in writing of these briefs ASAP!

Thank you kindly,

Product Man

Dear the Man,

It sounds like you're covering a pretty wide array of audiences, so you're going to have to write a brief that gets across several main themes in a very succinct way.

Don't fall into the typical product manager's trap of regurgitating product features and benefits. That's not a brief--that's just a bad brochure. You need to get across the key points that are going to matter to external communications.

And you need to make it brief. The most important people who will read this aren't the marketing managers that'll make all the fuss about it; it's the creative people who are actually writing the words and designing the ads.

Try to keep everything to two pages. Failing that, provide a two-page executive summary for those who would otherwise merely skim the high points.

Include these elements:

  • How does this product fit into the larger brand of your company, and how does that affect or limit the brand personality that this product can develop?
  •  What is the unique selling proposition for this product? What makes it unique and valuable in the market?
  • What elements of brand personality already exist, either in the design of the product itself or in the communications done and sales efforts made? Some products--for instance, Apple's iMac computers--exude their own personality.
  • What features or qualities are the ones that best play into the product branding and what features are the ones most important to the customer's purchase decision process?
  • Who are the people who buy, and who are the people who use this product? What is the thinking that goes on behind the purchase process? What are their main worries and aspirations?

You may find that you're not sure about some of these questions. That's why we write briefs. Circulating this among the research and marketing people will help coral everyone's thinking into something more useful and effective against market realities.

And, finally, seek suggestions. Sometimes communications people can have some good ideas for radically repositioning the way a product is sold. An open mind can make for a much more successful brief.


Dear Tig,

I have surfed my fingers off, but can't seem to locate any industry standards for outbound B2B telemarketing. I'm looking for something along the lines of: direct mail typically gets 1-2% response, e-mail typically gets 1-15% response, etc. Any benchmark you have or could direct me to would be helpful.

Thanks very much!


Dear All Thumbs,

The reason why there are few accepted general response rates is that different companies are asking for quite radically different responses.

Sure, in consumer land, you can generalize that there is a one percent response rate for business reply card offers of products below $100. But in the business-to-business realm, there's no such tidy category.

I've done business-to-business marketing for an enterprise software firm that was targeting just the top 50 chief financial officers, spending about $5,000 per recipient on an amazing offer. Another campaign tried to reach thousands of businesses with a small discount offer.

Obviously, the response rates were wildly different (40 percent versus 0.4 percent) The diverse nature of this category makes average response rates useless, were they to exist.

In the absence of a rule of thumb, you need to look at more specific and proprietary data, either from your own company's past efforts or from another company that conducts a similar form of marketing. An ad agency is great at providing these types of figures, as they do marketing for many different clients and can produce more customized gut estimates.

A final word of warning: I have seen several studies on telemarketing as follow-up to a direct mail campaign, and the results were quite positive, indicating a response multiplier of about 300 percent (e.g., a 1 percent initial response rate would find an additional 2 percent from the calls).

Then again, all of these studies were commissioned by companies that do telemarketing as follow-ups to direct marketing. Funny.

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Tig Tillinghast writes from the banks of the Elk River near Chesapeake City, Maryland. He consults with major brands and ad agency holding companies, helping marketing groups find the right resources for their needs. He is the author of The Tactical Guide to Online Marketing as well as several terrible fiction manuscripts.