The short answer is no… and yes.
The answer is partially "no" because today's branding advertising sells product harder than ever drawing closer to the direct marketing approach. Few clients allow their agencies to simply position the product. They want immediate and verifiable sales when they spend advertising dollars.
Many general agencies continue to hold on to what they know while moving slowly to blending their expertise in positioning advertising with direct.
So positioning advertising today moves closer to direct marketing by making offers and featuring products.
In a real sense, positioning and direct marketing advertising have always had things in common.
If one aspires to the idea that all interaction with the advertiser's audience including communications, products, services and particularly customer service work together to build the brand, then direct marketing certainly should work hard to build the brand.
Yet the answer is also "yes" -- there is a difference between positioning and direct marketing advertising because true direct response advertising possesses several key strategies not shared by brand or general advertisers.
- The direct marketing discipline seeks to track response for each promotion and evaluate sales based on actual customer behavior.
- Testing dominates the direct marketer's thinking believing that through ongoing testing, the customer ultimately determines what advertising wins and what advertising fails.
- Direct marketing looks well beyond attitudinal change to behavior change.
- In addition to front end advertising, direct marketers focus a great deal of energy on building the customer database looking for front end sales that yield the best quality customers on the back end for the best ROI over time. This is something that general advertisers rarely get involved with and certainly have little ability to track absent a relational customer database.
- By taking ownership for churn and long term customer profitability, direct marketers work with clients to build loyalty programs and upgrade existing customers. Again, general advertisers tend to focus mainly on acquisition while professional direct marketers give equal weight to both acquisition and retention.
The bottom line: Brand and direct response advertisers have much to offer each other. And the wise client knows how to allocate balanced resources for both acquisition and retention.