Historically, there was somewhat of a divide between direct response advertising and general brand advertising. All advertising has some brand and direct impact, though it is sometimes skewed heavily towards one end or the other. The winners in today's world of multi-touch, multi-channel advertising have moved beyond this debate to take actionable steps to harmonize, optimize, and succeed through the right blending of brand and direct. Here are 4 key steps to do this:
Display consistent messaging
Consistent messaging and brevity are the foundation of your content messaging. You need the following: one sentence describing your brand and each product, a handful of short (ideally one-word) bullets about your brand and each product, and one paragraph elaboration. This last is your elevator pitch, which should be well-crafted and changed only in dire need when it's clear either your branding efforts or product mix are not working. Only then should you start over.
Develop consistent creative
Consistent brand creative with an appropriate call-to-action is the engine that drives long-term success. It's the creative that your customers see, so you have to put your "best foot forward" with engaging content. The creative will be determined by your current business situation. For a new, one product company with sales largely dependent on each week's media buy, you need to focus on the product attributes and really push the call-to-action. In this situation, your business is depending on direct response to survive. Even with the "one-week sales" creative, you still need consistent brand messaging, logo, color, and look and feel. It's possible to display strong branding even on hard-sell creatives without detracting from sale effectiveness.
At the other end of the spectrum, a so-called "pure" brand creative can have subtle and not-so-subtle calls-to-action which don't detract from the creative's brand effectiveness and actually lead to additional brand impact. A web site URL, Facebook logo and link, giveaways, and coupons are just a few examples. There are two main values of this approach; the customer's response to any of these calls-to-action further engages them in the brand, and they provide an easily measurable response. With enough media spend, one can even measure a statistically significant spike in brand web traffic and searches for a spot with no explicit call-to-action: the association of the spot to the brand provides an implicit call-to-action.
Measure responses to enable "scorekeeping" and optimization
Measuring responses wherever you can provides data for keeping score and optimizing the campaign. Big data analytics can find correlations and impacts in the strangest places. For example, direct branded TV creative aimed at generating sales of one product has been definitively shown to lift retail sales of unrelated products under the same brand. The analysis below measures an efficient cost per acquisition for the unrelated SKU in addition to direct phone/web and retail sales of the advertised SKU.
Generate, collect, and store as much data as is practical, regardless of what you think will happen with the results of the creative/campaign. Data collection and storage has become very inexpensive, and it's almost impossible to collect data after the fact. Measuring the ROI, especially from TV advertising, in today's multi-touch, multi-channel world is challenging, but essential.
Attribute and analyze response data
In order to provide accountability for advertising investments, you need to attribute and analyze the response data. Much has changed since the days of unique 800 number direct response where attribution was almost completely unambiguous.
On the digital side, the direct link between impressions and clicks provides direct attribution and rich data on both sides of the connection. However, multi-touch, multi-channel effects mean this last-touch direct attribution is extremely misleading. Especially for paid and organic search campaigns, the real reasons for a response were previous touches motivating the consumer to conduct a search. Modern data science and statistical attribution techniques have extended simple unique 800-number attribution to identify and quantify multi-channel, multi-touch effects, and even extrapolate the data to quantify brand responses.
The key for this level of attribution is to collect as much granular and clean data from all response channels, to enable as many complementary types of analysis as possible. Interactive and visual analysis can be particularly useful as each cycle of analysis reveals and suggests further analysis and discovery. The exact path and methods of analysis may not be clear before the campaign, so the strategy is to collect the data to support any possible analysis.
Following these four guidelines allows advertisers to pair the most appropriate combination of brand and direct to their current business stage. Brand building and direct response are complementary, not contradictory strategies in the modern advertising landscape. They should both be considered throughout the advertising lifecycle from basic message formulation, through the creative process, to an analysis of advertising impact and ROI.