Fight Brand Tyranny! (774 words)
by Bob Hacker
The current marketing mantra is "brand." Virtually every marketing publication and conference features articles, discussions, seminars, workshops, roundtables and speeches about the overriding importance of brand. The new marketing field of dreams: Brand it right, and they will come.
I would propose that this singular emphasis on brand, at least for direct marketers, is at best simplistic and at worst heresy.
The Great Escape
Until the 1960s, advertising agencies were held accountable for sales. In the mid '60s, however, agencies were able to convince their clients that they should be held accountable for awareness, and perhaps brand preference, instead. Measurement shifted from sales revenue increases or decreases to more subjective brand and awareness research measurement. And the cults of positioning and branding spread across the land, while general agencies became the authority on all brand issues and advertising became the vehicle for changing brand image.
For most packaged goods (low-priced products bought on impulse), the agency's control of brand makes sense. Other than product usage itself, advertising probably is the primary brand image contributor. For products that never change, advertising makes an even more important contribution.
The Direct Marketing Difference
But most products sold through direct marketing (catalog excluded) are sold in very different ways.
In the first place, most direct-marketing-sold products are "considered sales"—at least more considered than soap, candy and canned goods. In the B-toB world, higher price and rapid product change force a more considered buying decision. The sales process becomes more complicated and selling systems must be created to support the sale. Every touch in the system affects brand—initial communication, word of mouth, telemarketing, fulfillment, customer care, product usage and service.
Brand becomes the sum of the total selling experience—experiential rather than communications branding. The client and/or their vendors make the biggest impact on customer perception, not the general agency. The only selling step the agency controls is the first one. Advertising influences, but no longer controls the brand.