Direct Marketing as a Branding Tool

Every now and then I see an article in DMNews that challenges conventional marketing values. Such an article was co-authored in the February 23rd 2009 issue by Daniel Morel, CEO of Wunderman and John Gerzema, Chief Insights Officer, Young & Rubicam.

What drew me into the article was its title: "Branding and response are the same."

Well now, for many marketers -- in particular brand marketers -- those are fighting words. 

The article compares the economic meltdown with another crisis. 

"We discovered the value that brands bring to a company's total business value are exaggerated. The financial markets attach more value to brands' worth when compared to the consumers who buy the brands ascribe."

They go on to name it the "brand bubble" that is twice the ascribed value of the entire sub prime mortgage market.

Their impressive research data show that "85% of brands are stagnant or eroding in brand differentiation." And of Interbrands top 100 valuable brands from 2004 through 2007, 45% are declining in consumer perceptions.

The most interesting part of this article was how the authors combined the two different disciplines of branding and direct marketing into a single strategy. 

As marketers, many of us bought into the AIDA model of awareness, interest, desire and then action. So branding pushed the demand and direct marketing harvested the desire branding developed into a purchase action. 

The authors contend that this linear model no longer works.

In other words, AIDA now occurs during the direct marketing messaging because consumers now act immediately to brand/direct response messages. "Direct response no longer exists at the end of the tunnel."

Direct marketing actually creates the messaging and imagery that contribute to the brand as it always has. Only now, the Internet has given direct response new influence in the marketing community. The Internet and it's live interactivity gave direct response its ultimate medium. Now most marketing activities are driven by CRM (Customer Relationship Marketing) and response.

In a very real sense, strong direct marketing programs have created the advertiser's reputation and product sell simultaneously from the beginning. But few in those early days were willing to ascribe that kind of mission to direct marketers.

Besides, branding is much bigger than brand advertising or direct marketing.

It is the culmination of the advertisers complete interaction with customers including customer service, phone answering systems, product quality, product warranties, market reputation and finally consistent positioning messages.

Direct marketing reveals much more about a company's true operating procedures and customer friendliness than a brand campaign.

Direct marketing includes offers, warranty information, shipping costs, refund policies, attitudes in the inbound and outbound telemarketing calls, email communications and so forth. All of these actions build or weaken brands. So direct marketing strategies go far beyond pure messaging. Direct marketing interweaves with the advertiser's delivery of the brand on the ground where all of the action is.

In this new Internet world, companies like Zappos "created an Internet juggernaut with a call center and great product diversity that was at the heart of the brand." Several other examples are enumerated in the article. 

The bottom line: direct marketing not only represents a potent branding tool, but it moves product all in a single integrated marketing strategy.

How important do you see direct marketing as a player in the brand arena? Does this article go too far?

Posted on March 5, 2009 and filed under Branding, Direct Marketing Strategy.