When it comes to marketing, I am first and foremost a direct marketer. In today’s language – I am a D-T-C proponent and advocate. Over the years I’ve worked with companies that have cared little about their brand identity (just get the order and we’ll find other items for that new customer to buy) and focused on beating break-even numbers as quickly as possible. Investing in a brand was and is time consuming AND expensive.
Companies that were interested in building a solid brand understood that careful planning and execution had to be undertaken in order to create and maintain the desired brand identity and promise. Ten years ago this meant driving consumers to purchase the product most of the time at a retail location. The Direct to Consumer marketers were running all different types of media promotions incentivizing consumers to stop what they were doing and call and buy now. The incidences of reverse engineering a brand to begin as a DTC and move to a full-scale retail brand were rare. Tempur-Pedic mattresses on which I worked for many years was a rare exception and today for the most part has forgone its direct response roots.
In the last ten years companies like Warby-Parker, Harry’s, Dollar Shave and others have disrupted the retail AND the direct response landscape. As an agency owner the fallout has come in some unexpected ways. More than one client has expressed a desire to create a good and ‘cool’ brand but at the same time they all need orders to sustain their growth and spending. These companies are not funded by venture capital or private equity so they feel they have to straddle the line between brand and direct. This is fine for our shop as we often discuss the idea with clients and prospects that we stand at the intersection of brand and direct response.
But there’s a catch. It ain’t easy and there’s not a magic formula that can be plugged in that will guarantee success. Oh sure, clients will say they understand that success is not guaranteed but that’s not completely true. Every company is hedging their investment to protect the downside risk. That’s just smart. But can straddling the line between brand and direct response actually be successful?
The answer is YES – with a caveat (of course). Understanding and mapping the customer journey is the key. And it is not always immediately transactional – despite what we all would like! Depending on the product or service, the promise, look and feel of a brand’s appearance must be aligned with the consumer’s personal journey. For some products it’s a one step and one stop solution – i.e. cool product that’s useful, easy to buy and needs no further information. The support for a product like this can be simple, straightforward and more promotional than a multi-step sale in which the consumer will research, check other information and more carefully consider purchase options.
There are inherent difficulties in attempting to capture customer orders while building a lasting and valuable brand and they do not always work in concert. Professional major sports teams are a good example of brand building while being transactional. Sure it’s great to have a good year where lots of people buy tickets, subscribe to watch, and pay for team merchandise. But many teams survive despite a lack of on the field success and over time the value of their brand (franchise) increases whether they have a winning tradition or not. Unfortunately the model that works for pro sports teams is not easily replicable for most other businesses.
Building a lasting brand of value requires a longer-term plan. Quality products, a good value proposition, and great customer service are all critical elements that make up a successful brand. If getting people to ACT NOW! is all that matters, there can be a big disconnect in laying the foundations of a successful brand while trying to make incremental sales in order to keep the lights on. How can this be done? Very carefully with detailed planning and execution. I said it wasn’t easy but creating something of lasting value is rarely easy.