Thursday, September 8, 2011

Three things brand marketers can learn from direct marketers

In my last post, I talked about what direct marketers could learn from brand marketers.  Today, I’ll return the favor, but not before addressing the obvious: in most organizations with which I’ve worked, direct serves as the poor stepsister of brand.  They receive fewer resources and less attention than brand.  The sit on lower office floors, if not in a less glamorous building altogether.  One Show Pencils go on the top shelf; DMA Awards live closer to the floor.

More’s the pity.

Truly innovative marketers, most notably David Ogilvy, have always respected the power and discipline of direct marketing.  Ogilvy, in fact, referred to direct as his “secret weapon.”  And so, in that spirit, I think the following represent good learning for brand marketers from the direct folks.

One: Respect business objectives

Direct marketers live and die by specific objectives.  Those objectives usually relate narrowly to sales (e.g. “sell X units at a cost per sale not to exceed $Y” or “drive A leads to our sales force at a cost per lead not to exceed $B”).  However, the more successful direct marketers link these immediate-term sales objectives to larger business objectives.  For instance, a financial institution may know that the $B in lead costs mean a payout in year three of a customer relationship, which further colors the sales materials and follow-up materials such as e-newsletters and statement stuffers.  The best direct marketers think through an entire sales cycle from initial consumer interest through profitable relationship.

Brand marketers all too often accept vague objectives for their campaigns.  Many campaigns, for instance, have an objective along the lines of “add our brand to the consideration set.”  Obviously, more consumers adding a brand to a consideration set should result in more sales.  But how?  If a campaign succeeds in convincing consumers to add the brand to their consideration sets, but at the cost of positioning the brand as the cheap one, has it really succeeded?  More to the point, how does the brand go from the consideration set to purchase?

Instead, I think brand marketers should understand how their campaign will help the brand achieve a business goal, whether that be category leadership, more profitable customers or even pop culture status.

Measure what people DO, not just what they SAY

Both direct and brand marketers care about measurement.  However, the measurements they use differ: direct marketers tend to focus on that measurement usually pertains to sales--calls, orders, order size, etc.  Brand marketers measure brand attributes via phone or web surveys or social media chatter.  While both types of measurements have real meaning, they differ in one key way--direct measurements capture how people act rather than what they think.

While brand campaigns usually do not have a call to action (that’s part of what what makes them brand campaigns), brand marketers should nevertheless consider how people might act after seeing them.  For instance, we have known for years that TV commercials drive web searches extremely well.  So why not measure site traffic before, during and after campaigns air?  Why not analyze site paths as well?  Marketers may find that TV, print or other brand campaigns drive specific site behavior which in turn may help fine-tune campaigns.  For instance, if a carmaker found that site paths changed when they put campaigns on air such that people started looking at safety features, then the carmaker might focus on safety in subsequent campaigns.

Plenty of other measurements may help identify campaign success: store or dealership visits, event attendance or calls to a call center.  Brand marketers should strive to understand what these measures tell them about their brands and their campaigns.

Ask the question “what then?”

I can’t take credit for this one.  At Acxiom, I had the pleasure of working with one of the sharpest and most nailed-down account guys I’ve ever met, Jay Jayabose.  Whenever I discussed strategy with Jay, he’d inevitably ask “what then?”

Jay meant that if a consumer took an action on a communication, then our client should have the next move plotted out as well.  For instance, let’s say a consumer clicks on an offer in a retailer’s email.  Obviously, she should land on a page with the offer prominently displayed.  However, the retailer should also think about how else it might expedite the sale.  Or how to encourage the consumer to add other items to the sale. Or, should the details of the offer not interest the consumer, how to put the right next offer in front of her.  I’m tempted to invoke the chess adage of thinking three steps ahead of the consumer, but as I’ve said before, I don’t like competitive metaphors.

How can brand marketers think about “what then?”  Certainly, brand marketers anticipate an emotional reaction to an ad.  They expect that consumers will laugh, get angry, be curious or feel something else.  Correspondingly, marketers should imagine what their audience will do.  If, for instance, they think consumers will visit stores, do the stores have materials that reinforce the message?  Do those materials in turn give them something to do such as try the product on for size, try a sample or squeeze the Charmin?  And, of course, what then?

Ultimately, no barrier really separates brand and direct marketers except one of tradition.  There’s no good reason a brand marketer can’t get up from her desk and talk it over with her colleague on the direct side.  However, in my experience, they generally don’t, except to the extent that the brand marketer creates a look and feel and then expects the direct marketer to follow it.  Instead, I envision a construct in which those two marketers, or their respective staffs, work closely together in constant dialogue with shared objectives and even shared measurements.

Lastly, I’d like to know what you think.  Can we make these two groups function as a unit, or should I spend my energy on reconciling the Sharks and the Jets?

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