We may (or may not) know what we are doing, but do we know what we are talking about?
As online takes a place at the table with other forms of marketing and advertising there is a tendency to define, discuss and label efforts branding or direct marketing (a.k.a. direct response). Does everyone sitting around the same table understand in the same way -- what we are talking about?
If you asked ten people to define branding and another ten to define direct marketing as it relates to online, I suspect you would get somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty different answers.
I put these suspicions to an unscientific test: if you Google the definitions of branding and direct marketing the results are quite revealing. Try it yourself for educational insight or simply for the fun of it, but below are some highlights of what you might find.
Definitions of Branding on the web:
Definition One: A traditional advertising method used to create an acquired response from a target audience based on cumulative impressions and positive reinforcement. These ads are not purchased for the sole purpose generating a click or visitor. They are geared towards increased product or company name awareness and lifelong customers.
Definition Two: A school of advertising that says, "If the consumer has heard of us, we've done our job." Fortunately for agencies, brand value is extremely difficult to measure, so branding campaigns can be easily defended with grandiose predictions of future glory.
Definition Three: In marketing, a brand is the symbolic embodiment of all the information connected with a product or service. A brand typically includes a name, logo, and other visual elements such as images or symbols. It also encompasses the set of expectations associated with a product or service which typically arise in the minds of people.
In general, definitions of branding largely focus on image, visual elements associated with a product, company and/or service. However, some definitions discuss acquiring response as well as building relationships with customers -- attributes more often associated with direct marketing.
Now let's look at the other side:
Definitions of direct marketing on the web:
Definition One: A direct communication to a customer or business that is designed to generate a response in the form of an order, a request for further information, or a visit to a store or other place of business.
Definition Two: An interactive system of marketing that uses one or more advertising media to affect a measurable response at any location, forming a basis for further developing an ongoing relationship between an organization and its customers.
Definition Three: Direct marketing is a form of marketing that attempts to send its messages directly to consumers, using "addressable" media, such as mail. Therefore, direct marketing differs from regular advertising in that it does not place its messages on a third party medium, or in the agora, such as a billboard or a radio commercial would. Instead, the marketing of the service or commodity is addressed directly to the consumer.
In contrast to the branding definitions, direct marketing definitions focus on direct communications with the end consumer; more often then not, they are transactional in nature.
So what are we talking about? If you apply the definition that direct marketing is addressed directly to the consumer, then online what other then email would be considered direct? Would targeting by cookies be considered direct?
To confuse the dialogue potentially further, some marketers segment different online channels and tactics into branding and or direct marketing silos.
Email, certainly, is mostly considered in terms of direct marketing, but search is also more often talked about as a direct marketing vehicle. And, is rich media a branding tool even if you are driving direct sales?
Challenging us further is an industry push to integrate marketing and advertising efforts at a time when many companies are still organized in silos. We are not just talking about the separation of online and offline but branding and direct response as well.
So how do we make sure that all of us at the table are talking about the same thing so that we end up doing the best thing?
Here are some suggestions to facilitate better communications across variable experience, disciplines and practices for better overall results:
- Come to the table without any bias that the program, campaign or efforts to be discussed are branding or direct response.
- Start off any brainstorming or planning meeting with a focus on the challenges and objectives. Branding and direct response are marketing disciplines that represent a menu of various different potential objectives and goals. They in and of themselves are not an objective or goal.
- Whenever possible, bring together individuals from different marketing disciplines and backgrounds to build better bridges of communication, stir new ideas and a move towards integration.
- Explore the full potential of various online options and how they can contribute to your overall goals.
- Try not to stick different forms of online advertising and marketing into branding and/or direct response camps. View different channels, forums and vehicles as potential tactics to meet a specific objective or even multiple objectives.
- View your online results in an aggregate. This will help you understand how all your tactics, channels and vehicles contribute to your overall marketing results.
- See if you can get through a whole planning meeting without using the terms branding and/or direct response -- it can be done!
Let's not limit our opportunities, thinking and ultimate potential by trying to define what we are doing with pre-existing marketing labels. That way, we can drive our business goals even further.
If we focus on the end goal and then plan against our objectives with supporting tactics and meaningful measurements, then we are less likely to overlook opportunities. Synergy between efforts and overall maximum impact will start to happen.
So let's put the branding versus direct response debate to rest; perhaps that will give us all something real to talk about!
Denise Zimmerman is Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of NetPlus Marketing, a top 50 Interactive Agency based outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Market leaders such as Charming Shoppes, Toll Brothers, Pharmavite (NatureMade) and Universal Studios to name a few, trust Zimmerman and the NetPlus team to provide value to their business. Zimmerman's vision, leadership, strategic insight, and experience have fueled the online success of many in more than a decade of practice. A passionate industry veteran, Zimmerman contributes to many of our industry's leading publications and organizations such as iMedia Connection, DMNews, eTail and others.