Identifying the right combination of branding and direct response marketing is essential to establishing brand awareness, growing your customer base, and making sales. Together, the two approaches play a significant role in a company's overarching marketing strategy.
Although they must operate in concert, branding and direct response are not alike. To successfully deploy complimentary messaging, every marketer should know the major differences related to campaign expectations, execution, and measurement.
Here are five important areas of difference between brand marketing and direct response.
1. Goals and Objectives
"Direct response marketing helps people buy. Brand marketing helps people choose," says Jason Falls, a leader in social media marketing and founder of Social Media Explorer. That sums it up well.
Dr. Jeffrey Lant's influential Rule of 7 states that it takes an average of seven touches for a brand to become recognizable. That theory shapes the long-game strategy executed during brand marketing initiatives.
Consistent brand messaging reinforces a product or service, customer experience, or community engagement, and it strengthens overall awareness, making your brand unforgettable when it's time for a customer to choose. That decisions is often made based on brand sentiment and what the brand represents to the buyer.
Direct response plays the short game, with one invariable goal: convince prospects to take immediate action. All decisions and elements within a direct marketing program are based on performance data, and that is especially true when you work with a direct response agency.
Throughout the campaign lifecycle, direct marketing strategists track and measure response rates, conversion rates, customer acquisition costs, various "cost per" metrics, lifetime value, and ROI to gain insights into what converts and what does not; then, adjustments are made to specific elements (such as the mailing list, CTA, or creative package) and strategically tested to optimize performance.
When creating brand awareness, marketing messages are either scattered across the various channels that a prospect or customer will likely interact with, or sent through mediums that align well with the brand's specific mission.
Alternatively, direct response is targeted toward the audience that is most likely to take an action (usually, buying something). Through predictive modeling, a calculated blend of first-party and third-party data sets is used to identify your brand's ideal customer profile by building models rich with prospects worth marketing to. Target audiences are continuously optimized throughout the campaign lifecycle with new, high-performing lists for increased scale and performance.
Focused on educating or entertaining its recipients, brand copy is generally brief and incorporates a heavy use of visuals to tell its story. The copy follows a similar tone and structure across all channels and mediums to highlight a brand's expertise, products, or mission.
Direct marketing copy is written to drive response. It is intended to lead its audience to an irresistible offer through a series of clear and persuasive arguments. It can play on a prospect's emotion, such as comfort or fear of missing out, or it can compare your company with your competitors' by highlighting added benefits and value.
4. Design and Format
Attention spans get shorter every year, which steadily increases the difficulty of a marketer's job to stand out from the crowd with engaging and compelling advertisements.
"Memorable" and "entertaining" are two words commonly associated with branding creative. Its design is not meant to lead to immediate action, but to educate or entertain the audience so they remember your brand when the time to buy is right. Marketing and creative teams often experiment with formats, color palettes, playful imagery, and cheeky tone to keep the brand's story relevant and impactful.
In contrast, direct response creative is strategically built to inspire prompt action. Every element is chosen and positioned within the package to create an immediate connection and convince the prospect to take the next step in the buyer journey. Direct response designers embrace the "less is more" mindset for most industries, keeping the design clean and appealing with chunked copy and compelling CTAs that keep the message clear and actionable. Relatable and insightful visuals enhance the story to validate the brand's value.
Traditionally, the direct marketing format—such as a direct mail letter or self-mailer—is dependent on the industry and campaign goals (although agencies have been known to "push the envelope" and create more unexpected pieces).
5. Testing Approach
In the branding world, surveys and focus groups are commonly used to test new creative and fuel future branding direction, which helps the company build a strong reputation and strengthen audience trust. The intangible metrics involved are often based on opinions, which can be difficult to quantify.
On the other hand, "Direct marketing is action marketing and if you're not able to measure it, it doesn't count," says marketing leader and author Seth Godin.
When investing in direct marketing, the last thing a brand wants to do is leave money on the table. A measurable and actionable testing approach is table stakes to ensure that direct response mail and digital campaigns are not only profitable, but optimized. As a best-practice, all variables are tracked and tested regularly—including the creative package, list source, offer, integration with digital, and campaign cadence—to identify the highest-performing combination.
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Brand and direct response marketing must work well in tandem to successfully grow brand equity and convert new customers. With a thoughtful approach to both, you can help prospects choose your brand and buy your products or services.
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