Understanding The Direct vs. Brand Marketing Conflict - Social Media Explorer
Understanding The Direct vs. Brand Marketing Conflict
Understanding The Direct vs. Brand Marketing Conflict

The direct-response marketer is a hard nut to crack. He believes strongly that there is one way to communicate with an audience: Make an offer.

Certainly, he will concede that you have to have customer service, but this is a gnat-like cost of doing business. It’s not real marketing communications to the direct-response marketer because it doesn’t bring with it the important metrics of response rate and conversion rate. If it has those, then it’s real.

When a brand marketer – someone who understands and believes in branding, public relations, social media and other forms of marketing communications – enters the picture with a direct-response marketer, there is conflict. She can produce a response rate and a conversion rate, but because her goals and objectives are often very different than producing direct response sales, they never compare positively.

Direct Marketing vs. Brand MarketingBrand marketing often has the goal of awareness, which aides in conversion, but doesn’t necessarily produce it. Brand marketing can also have the goals of reputation management, customer service, community engagement, advocacy and more. Direct marketing has one goal: Convert prospects to customers or, more simply, drive sales.

The direct marketer looks at brand marketing and says, “We shouldn’t do that because it doesn’t convert as well.” But if the direct marketer looks at brand marketing as communications that creates an easier environment for him to convert – something that aides his efforts – then an organization becomes more efficient.

Think of the two types of brand communications like this:

  • Direct-Response Marketing Helps People Buy
  • Brand Marketing Helps People Choose

If the prospective audience is aware, thinks positively of and has a previous interaction or relationship with a company, it is infinitely more likely to CHOOSE to BUY from that company when it finds itself in the buying mode. When presented with the direct marketing communication, it will say “Yes” with more frequency.

Direct marketing without brand marketing is less than efficient. It’s not a matter of comparing brand marketing’s conversion rates to direct marketing’s. It’s a matter of analyzing direct marketing’s conversion rates with and without it.

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
  • Hey Jase,

    I think you’ve misrepresented direct response marketing here.

    Customer service, helping people choose… these are all parts of part of direct marketing.

    Direct marketing is not only concerned with the immediate sale, but with lifetime customer value (LCV). And they’ll test a whole bunch of things that increase this number. Customer service efforts being one of them.

    And in terms of “helping people choose”… you might have a 10-email series that educates the prospect on the benefits and USP of a product before asking them to buy. What’s known as a sales funnel.

    Or, even if you’re asking for the sale on the spot… in a direct response salesletter the awareness level of the prospect is taken into account. And the copy is written based on that.

    So if they’re unaware of the problem, you’ll start the salesletter at a point where your prospect can understand the problem, the solution and why they should choose your product.

    If you want to get the full picture of direct response, a good start point is Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. A short read, but well worth it.

    Source: worked at Agora ($600m-a-year direct response company).

  • Great insight on the distinct roles of the direct-response marketer and the brand marketer —Jason presented his case succinctly.

    Two weeks ago, I’ve shared similar thought on LinkedIn that read, “Branding is NOT Marketing: I Think You Should Get That Straight”, which resonates with many design, branding, and marketing professionals. They’ve shared some interesting and diverse insights on this subject.

    You may want to check my LinkedIn post for those insights.

  • Great insight on the distinct roles of the direct-response marketer and the brand marketer —Jason’s present his case succinctly.

    Two weeks ago, I’ve shared similar thought on LinkedIn that read, “Branding is NOT Marketing: I Think You Should Get That Straight”, which resonates with many design, branding, and marketing professionals. They’ve shared some interesting and diverse insights on this subject.

    You may want to check my LinkedIn post for those insights.

  • Jacob Wadsworth

    These two strategies have their own advantages and disadvantages. They also have instances when they are best used for. Both however, have a completely different approach in marketing. It is up to the company how they put these strategies to good use. – http://2020connect.net/

  • It shouldn’t be one versus the other! As marketers we are all on the same side and working towards the same end goal. It just so happens that brand marketers and direct marketers don’t agree on the best path to that end goal. Each can get there on their own in time but 2 heads approaching the same problem from different angles are much more likely to come up with the best solution possible.

  • Pingback: Top Internet Marketing Strategy Links for the Week of September 30th, 2013 - Sazbean()

  • Michael Bian

    This very helpful to all new direct marketers. And I strongly agree about this “Direct marketing without brand marketing is less than efficient.” Excellent post . Thanks !

  • Viktoriya Semyrodenko

    “Direct-Response Marketing Helps People Buy” – but does it really? This post explains the topic of the conflict between the two very well, however I think the days of direct-response marketing are quite limited. People get tired of having to skip through TV commercials and having to toss tons of booklets they probably do not bother looking at. Inbound marketing, in my opinion, is what is really going to set your brand apart from the others by providing great content and the ability to make the best choice.

  • Pradosh Mitra

    At times you stumble on something that is too good to share. You tend to be the child who does not want to share his favorite toy. This post transformed me in to that child. Very interesting clarification of the two principles. Time to grow up, time to share… :)

    • Thank you for the compliment. But please, do share!

      • Pradosh Mitra

        Oh!!! It has been shared already on Linkedin, with an underscore for clarity.

  • Pat S

    This is a brilliant distinction, Jason, and fits right in with a mini-course I am taking right now on sales conversations. Thank you for naming those values which define our mindset as brand-marketers. I know there are a lot technical services which are the nuts and bolts of our medium, services which might be easy for a direct marketer to get excited about selling in his direct way. But hopefully most of us chose this field because we truly care about the relations which comprise the packaging of what we offer, not just the offer itself.

  • Charles T Franklin

    I just had that issue today with a client! From the looks of it, I’m a brand marketer, but the client was a direct marketer (although i don’t think they realize it until now!) Good article and definitely a conversation we will see more of in the future.

    • Pat S

      This brings up an interesting point, Charles. We tend to buy the way that we sell. If we are brand-focused, and the prospective client is direct-sales wired, it may be difficult to craft the kind of communication we value in the marketing conversation with that prospect. Taking that a step further, if they are so wired, they may be too quick to buy, not taking the time to explore whether or not working with us (our brand) would actually be a good fit.

  • Dave Link

    This is easily one of the biggest roadblocks I’ve run into in my time as a content and social media marketer. It doesn’t seem to be the rapid change in tech that is causing rifts and chaos, but the radical change in messaging and approach. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the mantra of ‘tell, don’t sell’ at conferences and summits only to return to the office and begin the same old arguments about why this or that project doesn’t include a repeated CTA or product specs. There are definite places for that type of marketing, but it’s not something that can be repeated over and over without turning off consumers – especially in mediums like social and content marketing.

  • Parissa Behnia

    Jason, based on my experience, your observations are very much in line with what happened in the 90s. Today, I see more of a symbiotic relationship between brand and customer engagement. Direct marketing, in an of itself, is an anachronistic term and is rather like a four letter word these days to those who really understand delivering to the customer the right message, the right offer at the right time – or what I call customer engagement. The smart marketer these days knows that one must infuse any customer engagement piece with branding and vice versa. We all know the importance of building and supporting the brand but we also all know that building a cohesive soup to nuts touchpoint strategy will take us to the place where the brand promise is delivered.

    • Ah, but today’s direct marketer (online retailers) are still stuck in the “if it doesn’t convert like SEM we shouldn’t do it” mentality. This is for them.

  • Jason,

    As a long time direct marketer, I remember the days when the conflict between direct and brand were intense. But I think it’s mellowed over the years…sure, there are still those instances where someone gets upset because the control package is based on creative that doesn’t match the current brand campaign, but effective direct marketing builds awareness, captures the attention of the buyer and motivates them to engage with the brand. The offer doesn’t have to be “buy now”, it can be “download this” or “register now” – so that the messages and offers are best for that person at that stage of the buying process.


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