I was sitting at a hotel lobby bar in Washington, DC last week discussing some business with a colleague. Three weeks earlier I was doing the same thing in Austin, TX. There was a conference going on each time but the real conversations were happening at tables in the lobby, top floor suites, and private sections of nearby lounges.
One friend sitting nearby is a VP at a very successful credit card processing company. Many of his best accounts are direct response marketers. Many of them are in attendace – some sell information products, some sell dietary supplements, subscription services, specialty physical products, et cetera. Needless to say, Kevin knows some very intimate knowledge about the men and women in the room because he knows their numbers. He knows the revenue from their recent launch, their previous year’s worth of business, even their personal credit score in many cases. Read: Kevin looks around the room and he knows who’s selling what and how much.
Particularly amongst online/digital marketers, there is a long-standing grudge match between those who self-identify as direct response marketers and those who fancy themselves branding experts.
I bring up my friend Kevin because he has been successful, an emergent player, in the direct response marketing space for some time now, though he himself is not a pure practitioner in the field. I think of Kevin more as a purveyor of pails, picks and shovels during the gold rush – he’s not a miner but he’s getting rich from the color just the same.
Most of the people at this event would put me in the branding camp. Until a few years ago, they would be correct. Now I do both. After years spent in each, I propose that the direct response vs. branding argument is over. You can no longer survive on one or the other.
Last time I saw Kevin was in Austin, he was mapping out a direct response marketing campaign in the credit card processing space with a mutual friend of ours. I waited until they were done and I added a few branding suggestions, nothing that opposed their plans now in place, but a few tricks of the branding trade that I believe will add a layer of uniqueness, trust, and recall to their promotional efforts. Credit card processing is seen to be a commodity though Kevin and company do provide an exceptional service in my experience. He listened intently as he is a polite guy, then his expression turned to surprise. I think he was genuinely surprised that he liked what I had to say… maybe there was something to this branding stuff after all.
When to Favor One Over the Other
Most young entrepreneurs, especially those emerging from MBA programs, are inclined to focus on their brand when they would be better served focusing on sales – direct response marketing will get you sales much faster than branding ever will. You do not have a business until you know how to spend ninety-nine cents in return for more than a dollar. The quicker you have success with sales, the quicker your branding will begin to matter.
Similarly, if you are a marketer at a well-established brand, you should be studying the most current successful business models and best practices of direct response marketing. Because your success over your competition is contingent upon the efficiency of your marketing funnel: If you spend $1 in marketing to make $2 in revenue while your competitors spend $1.50 in marketing for that same $2 in revenue, it is only a matter of time until you are dominating your competition in that particular market. Believe that.
In either case, that does not relegate branding to the fluff atop the marketing sundae. Branding has hard value in most markets, especially those commodity markets like my friend Kevin’s credit card processing service. Branding can make or break you just as quickly as the sudden glitch in your marketing funnel. Branding is the heart of desirability which far outweighs reason or logic in most purchasing decisions. Silicon Valley is still brand-centric for a reason. So are the VCs of the world.
So… Stop the Insanity!
The debate is over and here’s why:
Consumers are accustomed to good branding now, which means that you can’t succeed without it, not in a market of any size or longevity. Gone are the days when expert copywriting and direct marketing sales tactics were enough to sell a product without a brand behind it because most direct response sales copy that is not supported by a well-considered brand reads formulaic or worse.
Equally so, gone are the days when you could design a brand and grow it into a successful business without doing everything else well. Most markets are far too competitive for mediocre marketing execution and wasted marketing dollars.
So it’s always a mix. That being said, if your marketing department is not steeped in both, you need to remedy that.
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