Branding Gone Amok

Imagine this story I experienced recently.

I got a call from a printer who wanted some input on a direct mail package he was producing. His client had just completed a mailing and was concerned about why his 100,000-package mailing was not performing better.

In a nutshell, this package consisted of a #10 envelope package containing a trifold response device that served as a self-assembled reply envelope. The respondent would enclose the payment into this reply envelope.

The target consisted of past customers. Historically, this type of mailing had not worked in the past. In fact, this client had not found success with any mailing for the last couple of years no matter what list segment he selected.

The printer had suggested using a self-gluing response form saving the client nearly 20% on the mailing. This was an excellent recommendation for another reason besides cost savings. The piece mailed required that the respondent use a strip of tape he had to find on his own to construct the reply envelope. Whereas the printer’s less expensive option would have provided peel-off glue strips to construct the reply form.

But the company’s internal creative team opted for the more expensive format even though their internal direct marketer warned them that this format would depress response. They were more concerned about the look and feel of the package than the response rate.  

No wonder this company’s direct marketing programs were not working!

This creative group overruled the marketing team, as always, and decided to use the heavier, nicer stock that did not allow the self-gluing process. This same internal creative team also insisted that all direct mail envelopes always look the same regardless of the offer or list segment. The company’s creative team consists of non-direct marketing creative people who came from the school of branding for branding’s sake.

As a side note, that is one of the reasons why I am writing the series in my blog on identifying qualified direct marketing talent. General advertisers should not attempt to create direct response messages.

Their first devotion is to the brand, treating it as the goal rather than a strategy. Direct marketers want to respect the brand, but their interpretation is that the brand must support the bottom line.

I can already see the prospect getting this mailing. They have received this same package --- or at least what looks like the same package --- many times over the years. They make the logical leap that this is the same offer from the company they dropped before. The envelopes are never opened because they always look the same. The package goes directly to the trash.

There is an Einstein saying that applies to this thought process.

“Insanity: doing the same thing
over and over again
and expecting different results.“


In my view, the problem here is a misunderstanding of what the brand is about. Branding is a strategy and not an objective. Branding serves and supports the objective. That objective is to make money for the organization.

So interpreting the application of the brand so rigidly that it costs the company legitimate sales makes no sense.

How do we support the brand without sacrificing sales? In fact, should that even be an issue? Is branding totally dependent on making everything look the same? Why does the letter, for example, need to follow the font rules making it look more like a brochure than a letter? Yet this occurs daily in the direct marketing world. How do you maintain the proper balance so branding and the direct marketing message work synergistically to increase sales?

Posted on October 12, 2007 and filed under Branding.