The Worthless Battle Between Direct Response And Branding

“I don’t get why you keep saying ‘direct response.’  I don’t get that term — it just doesn’t make sense to me.  Everything we do is direct response.  There isn’t a single piece of marketing we run that is not designed to get a response.”

And with those few words, I felt dumb.  For more than a decade I had focused on “direct response” digital campaigns, and with that one exchange, a client of mine was tearing it all down.  My immediate response was to chalk it up to semantics — we were saying the same thing just in different terms.

But when that didn’t stick, I chalked it up to another client that doesn’t “get” digital —  but I know this client, and he gets it.  So his comments stuck with me for the rest of the day, then into the next, and even into the next.  Then it hit me: I had been so used to talking one way when I discussed revenue-driving channels and another way when I was talking branding, that I had become…part of the problem.

Had I Turned Into One Of Those People I Made Fun Of?

Was it possible?  Was I turning into one of those people I hated – one of those people I made fun of for not realizing DR and branding go hand-in hand, should have intermixed budgets, should have the same overall strategy, should be evaluated similarly, and really aren’t that different?

Absolutely not (I mean let’s not get crazy here – one lazy interaction doesn’t make me one of them). But it was a good reminder that there are plenty of marketers out there that still separate the two, not realizing that when digital branding and DR campaigns are intertwined, strong results usually follow.

While it may seem like a silly place to start, the best place to start is with your existing “direct response” campaigns.  The majority of people run these campaigns on a strict ROI metric.  I spend $1, I need $5 back.  If my ROI is less than $5, I pull back on budget.  If it is more than $5, I throw a party.

Look At Your DR Campaigns With Branding In Mind

Seems pretty basic, right?  Sure, but by using this type of measurement as your sole metric for success you are doing yourself and the channel a disservice.  Instead, try looking at your campaigns this way:

 Never look at ROI alone.  It is a faulty metric.  Instead always look at ROI in conjunction with at least one other metric (e.g. volume, percent of site total, etc.).

By doing this, it will help ensure the ROI you are aiming at/getting is the right target to shoot for. For example, it is easy to get a 50 to 1 ROI, but without the context of volume, you won’t realize that the campaign only drove one sale.

Always look at additional success metrics. It still amazes me that the majority of advertisers don’t look at metrics like new customer acquisition, current customer retention, and customer buying cycles on a week-in and week-out basis.

Sure the data is harder to come by, but that doesn’t mean it is not valuable. Would you still want a 5 to 1 ROI if you knew that 90% of your customers were first time buyers? Probably not. So by adding in these additional success metrics, you find the true value of your campaigns.

 Don’t put revenue over the brand. This is a big one, and one so many people miss.  Why do people spend tons of time and money to develop beautiful websites with beautiful photography and an overly fancy user experience, but allow their search programs to have less-than-flattering creative, allow their network banners to end up on seedy sites, and not even bother to make sure their SEO meta data is in line with their brand.

These may be  “direct response” campaigns, but I guarantee you every part of these campaigns has a huge effect on your brand image.

“Branding” Shouldn’t Be An Excuse For Low ROI

Now that we have covered direct response, let’s talk branding.  If DR focuses too much on ROI, branding skates by without getting enough focus. It seems like the go-to for marketers is to call any campaign that doesn’t end up driving a high ROI a “branding” campaign.

I mean let’s be honest, it’s a great way for marketers to excuse a poorly performing campaign, but otherwise, it’s a pretty weak argument. Instead, I would argue branding campaigns should have more tracked success metrics than most DR campaigns — and those metrics are likely similar metrics to some of your DR campaigns.

For example, every branding campaign can track impressions and clicks, but it can also track email and catalog sign ups, new customer acquisition, new site visitor percentage, social sign ups, and a whole host of other metrics.

The problem is that most marketers go into branding campaigns looking for “targeted impressions.”  Sure there is value is highly targeted impressions, but if you don’t back up that targeting with additional success metrics to prove the impressions were valuable, you don’t end up with a whole lot other than a fuzzy feeling inside because you got to tell your friends the ad they saw on the homepage of ESPN was yours — and unfortunately, that doesn’t do a whole lot for the brand.

So you have expanded your DR campaign analysis past simple ROI metrics and you have expanded your branding campaigns to include real, tracked data, what next?  Attribution.

I know it sounds like a big scary thing (and it can be if you let it overwhelm you), but there is no better way to break down the barrier between DR and branding than by watching how the two interact.  In an ideal world, you are using attribution across all channels and giving different values to each touchpoint and each channel, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

First Steps To Unifying Branding And DR

Start with the basics: I ran a banner designed to broadcast the brand to a new audience — did people that saw that banner then go search for my brand on Google?  By starting with basic views of how your branding buys affected your DR buys, you will begin to see how the two campaigns work together.

Once you begin to see how the two campaigns work together, you will begin to see the two campaigns as much less divided.  And I don’t want to get too idealistic here, but as the campaigns begin to get closer and closer together, you will start seeing everything as one big campaign with one big budget and one big goal.

I know this is a topic that has been covered a hundred times. And I know the pieces listed above aren’t Earth-shattering words of wisdom, but for some reason marketers continue to struggle to break down the walls between DR and branding.

And the longer we struggle, the more we become programmed to think they should and will be separate.  And once we are programmed to think that way, we will never be able to break the habit — and that ultimately results in you going back to your client with your tail between your legs and admitting they were right and you weren’t.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Branding | Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing | Search Marketing Column


About The Author: is a New York-based digital marketing and strategy consultant specializing in retail. He has worked with Nike, Neiman Marcus, Staples, Michael Kors and many others to develop fully integrated digital marketing strategies.Follow him @VicDrabicky on Twitter.

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