Put Brand in Its Place
Direct campaigns that have been designed with brand policy edicts in mind—without the proper application of direct marketing fundamentals—consistently cause a direct communication to look great but under-perform and deliver less than acceptable ROI.
For example, an insurance client selling to small businesses is introducing a new brand. The brand is designed to be positive, fun, engaging. These all are great attributes for advertising. However, when using direct channels to get small business owners to pick up the phone and discuss proper coverage, historical evidence shows that fear, worry, uncertainty, discomfort and potential financial loss are what drive prospects to action. So the battle begins between delivering the brand tone and writing hard-hitting direct that works.
How Brand and Direct Work Together
I counsel clients to strive to integrate any brand messages, images, graphics or tone into a direct communication, as long as it doesn’t hurt program performance or cause the cost of acquisition to increase. Sometimes this means putting the branding messages and visual elements in the brochure of a letter package. Sometimes this means using the brand voice to find a clear but effective way to shout the offer.
What’s important to remember is that as much as the president, CMO and advertising director love their brand, consumers don’t really care. To a consumer, well-established, positive brands such as SAP, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Dell convey confidence, trust and value. And the hundreds of thousands of exposures they had to have to build their brands did not come with consumers’ total acceptance or permission.
So when a direct marketer applies brand elements in an advertising-like application to direct, results are suboptimal. The prospect sees this type of brand/response message from across the room, calls it “promotional” and quickly hits delete or finds the trash can. This is a very hard and painful truth for B-to-B (and even B-to-C) direct marketers. And it’s the underlying reason why B-to-B marketers must go back to testing white, #10, business-letter packages against their high-concept efforts. Sometimes it’s the non-fancy, non-award-winning creative that works.
So how can direct marketers support the brand promise, tone, voice and position while making direct marketing deliver to the bottom line? Use these four essential principles of brand-supported direct marketing as guidelines.
1. Direct marketing is a selling process, not an entertainment event. If branding, positioning, enlightening or entertaining helps to close a sale, fantastic. But, as soon as it hurts performance, reduces response or increases cost, you need to remember why you run direct campaigns in the first place. When looking at a branded piece, ask yourself: Is the offer presentation crystal clear? Has the brand concept gotten in the way of the offer? Has the brand platform or, for that matter, product features impinged on delivering a compelling reason to respond today?
2. Build direct marketing plans around ROI goals, not vague messaging or branding objectives. Direct mail should create immediate and measurable action with each event. By generating a lead or making a sale, the action can contribute directly to ROI. While positive shifts in mindset contribute to sales, it’s difficult, at best, to assign an awareness increase to an ROI deliverable.
If you don’t hit your ROI target, future budgets won’t be allocated. If you don’t get your budget approved, your job is at risk. By focusing on ROI, you also will force yourself and your staff to establish proper performance standards for every element of the campaign.
That’s why your direct marketing plans should include different measurements than a typical marketing communications plan. They must set the following targets, which tie into ROI well before creative development begins:
* drop, e-mail and/or call quantities;
* revenue and unit sales targets
* response rate targets;
* closing rate or qualified lead targets;
* target lead quantity, allowable cost-per-lead;
* system/lead infrastructure constraints; and
* target sales volume, allowable cost-per-sale.
3. Use the “nobody cares” rule in program development. Product and marketing communication groups become entranced with their products and corporate missions. They often project a level of anticipation and excitement into the product and market. Truth is, the prospect usually doesn’t care. Prospects are busy with their own lives and are all wrapped up in their own products and services, not yours. Most prospects have very little interest in working hard to understand your product. You need to build your copy platforms to address the following hurdles:
* Prospects don’t care about your company.
* Prospects don’t care about your products and services.
* Prospects don’t care about anything you have to tell or sell them.
What do these hurdles mean? Before any direct mail goes out, ask yourself the questions in the first point above. You’ve only got two to four seconds to persuade readers to take action in the mail, and only a tenth of a second online. You must create a compelling reason for them to care and respond.
4. Make your copy platforms, appeals and offers personal and emotional. Build your B-to-B copy platforms and programs around the emotional motivators that lie deep within us all: greed, fear, guilt, anger, exclusivity and salvation. Can you save them time? Can you save them money? Can you make their jobs easier? Can you help them get recognition or reward? Can you help them avoid the next downsizing? Can you make any significant, positive influence on their lives? Or can you help them avoid pain and suffering? Always remember: They don’t care what your product does—they care what your product does for them.
When you apply this concept to B-to-B direct marketing, the basic rule to get prospects into the top of the sales funnel is to provide an offer that promotes emotional benefits. What will your offer—not your product—do to help prospects? If you spend 90 percent of your time creating and positioning your lead generation offers to meet the emotional needs of your buyer—instead of selling your product—you will improve your campaign’s ROI.
In today’s world where brand integration is a mandate, direct marketers must have the knowledge and flexibility to know what brand elements to apply where and when. Because the cumulative effects of making a series of wrong decisions just to support the brand could render you and your direct marketing ineffective.
Russell Kern is president of The Kern Organization, a fully integrated offline and online direct marketing agency in Woodland Hills, Calif. He can be reached at (818) 703-8775 or via e-mail at