Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Three things direct marketers can learn from brand marketers

I started this blog to initiate conversations that I thought marketers should have, but do not seem to have.  Namely, conversations between traditional brand and direct practitioners.  This lack of discussion reflects my experience; as the kids these days say, “YMMV” (your mileage may vary).  Both direct and brand practitioners have the same overall goal--to sell stuff--yet differ in approach, success measures and most visibly, execution.

Today, I’d like to argue that direct marketers have a lot to learn from brand marketers.  Well, at least three things to start.  In a subsequent, I’ll make the counter-argument as well. (UPDATE: here's the post)  I’d love to hear your own thoughts/arguments/ridicule, so read and please respond.

One: Looks count

Let’s face it: a lot of direct mail pieces and direct TV spots look downright ugly, a topic I’ve discussed before.  Starbursts, Johnson boxes, 800 numbers that take up a third of the screen --these elements do not make for attractive communications.  An old-school direct marketer might say “who cares?”  And that marketer would point to results validating the need for such contrivances.

However, that marketer should remember something that all brand people take to heart--that consumers know schlock when they see it.  Unless you’re selling a Slanket, you need people to respect your brand.  Phrases such as “but wait, there’s STILL more” tend not to engender respect.

Of course, most direct marketers would have problems swallowing this suggestion whole hog and would insist on testing it.  As well they should.  However, few direct marketers have the patience to test the “looks count” thesis as the consistent, attractive approach generally only shows its value over time.  Conversely, brand marketers appreciate patience as a tool, relying on quarterly or annual measures of brand strength rather than an immediate campaign-level management.

Still, direct marketers should endeavor to make their work look good.  Not relatively good, not reasonably good, not good enough.  Just good.  Ugly helps nobody.

Two: “Why?” matters

Brand marketers, the successful ones at any rate, spend a lot of time trying to understand various questions that begin with “why?”

  • Why do consumers choose (or fail to choose) our brand?
  • Why do consumers shop our category the way they do?
  • Why do consumers get frustrated or excited about the category?

Understanding the “why?” fuels more effective brand communications.  The “why?” uncovers those nuggets that make a consumer say “this brand gets me.”  

Direct marketers, on the other hand, have a tendency not to care about “why?” and instead focus on results and results alone.  Again, this singular focus comes from an honest desire for improvement.  However, the focus falls all too heavily on the short term.

I can personal vouch for the “why?” approach in direct marketing.  I’ve called it “insight-based testing” and “knowledge-based marketing,” but the approach remains the same.  By looking for those nuggets of understanding, I uncovered insights that drove short-term and long-term benefits for my clients.  For instance, for a fashion accessories retailer, I used some qualitative segmentation to amplify their extant quantitative segmentation to the tune of an 80% increase in response.

Direct marketers should spend a little more time asking “why?” and then seeing how that understanding drives more impactful communications programs, not just better-responding TV spots and mail packages.

Three: Think big

Truly great creative doesn’t just convince consumers to buy; it can transform a company culture.  The “We’re #2” campaign that Doyle Dane Bernbach did for Avis in the 60s stands as a good example.  At the time, Avis indeed held the #2 position in rental cars.  But with the advent of the campaign, the staff at Avis took the message to heart and indeed they DID try harder.  As a result, Avis remained the #2 renter, but widened the gap between them and #3 considerably.

Granted, direct marketers rarely have the influence within an organization that brand marketers do.  However, they can still think bigger.  Rather than focusing on the narrow, yet profitable, execution of direct mail and direct TV, they should envision a larger role for themselves.  This summer, I reviewed case studies of pharmaceutical marketers who extended direct marketing into the store, through health care professionals and into consumer-facing lifestyle management websites.  If drug marketers, who have to leap more regulatory hurdles than  most, can do it, so can you.

In my next post, we’ll turn the tables.  Brand marketers have more than their share to learn from direct marketers.  But for today, think about how looking good, asking “why?” and thinking big can improve direct response.

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