The Mythical Battle between Brand Advertising and Direct Response

Written By

SMI Staff

Published On

Friday, Mar 14

Brand advertising creates loyalty. Direct response makes the phone ring. But are they really incompatible?

Certainly, there are times when these two sales models can seem to be at cross-purposes. Let’s suppose, for example, that you sell luxury cars. The direct response model would tell you that targeting a young woman in law school, who can barely pay her rent, would not be your best approach because she isn’t in the purchase-consideration funnel. The brand advertising model would tell you that someday that law student is going to have the money to buy a luxury car, and she’ll want to be familiar with the brand beforehand. In this case, it makes sense to allow for a longer, brand-oriented sales cycle than direct response would provide.

When the product or service is right, however, brand advertising and direct response not only coexist peacefully, but they can produce results that are significantly stronger than when one sales model is used on its own. This is where “brand response” comes into play. This benefit-driven model develops a qualified database while also building loyalty and establishing a company as a trusted advisor within its industry. In radio, brand response sounds like this: storytelling that communicates brand benefits along with a compelling offer. This kind of advertising connects listeners with the values of the product or service for the long-term, while remaining measurable and trackable. It’s an approach that recognizes that, at any particular time, prospects are at varying places in the sales funnel. The messaging is designed to address each one, without letting qualified prospects fall away.

But if luxury cars are likely off the list of viable brand response products, which ones can benefit from this model? The most important guideline is that it should be a product or service that is useful and has clear and compelling brand-benefits. Let’s take a cruise line, for instance. At first glance, one might think: A luxury cruise is like a luxury car, so it couldn’t possibly benefit from brand response. But here are some of the reasons why it is a strong candidate: Cruises are useful in that they provide a menu of relaxing and entertaining experiences with minimal planning required (just show up and be pampered). While it might not be something one would consider without advertising, cruises are affordable for much of Main Street America (with perhaps a little help from Mom and Dad, even that law student may be able to celebrate her graduation on a cruise to the Mediterranean). Cruise lines know how important it is to build a name associated with safety, fun, and elegance. And there is ample opportunity for cruise lines to create unique offers (“call now and get $250 off your next cruise”). It takes a thorough evaluation to determine whether any given product or service is right for brand response, but when a match is made, such as this, the payoff can be substantial. A skilled team can then build a brand response campaign that will simultaneously enhance the brand and gain qualified prospects.

So, why aren’t more companies taking advantage of the brand response model? Well, different sized companies tend to have different answers to that question. Larger companies often have separate teams for brand management and direct marketing efforts, creating a sort of organizational conflict when it comes to cross-channel creative. This is why larger companies can sometimes use the perspective of an expert third-party. In turn, small or mid-sized businesses often try to emulate the marketing techniques of bigger companies (just on a smaller scale). For a company with a limited budget, it can be intimidating to justify investing precious resources in a method that isn’t being employed by the “big guns.” Yet, it’s the small to mid-range companies that are often the ones best positioned to integrate separate media and creative forces, since the people focused on branding tend to also be the ones focused on marketing.

An example is Dell computers. While Apple and HP were duking it out in the retail market, Dell’s relatively small marketing department quietly took a foothold in brand response. The company offered a concrete call to action while also building its “Easy as Dell” brand. Dell could have strictly invested their advertising budget in the tried and true methods used by its much larger competitors – and, in doing so, they very likely would have been swallowed up. Instead, they grew a multi-billion dollar enterprise by recognizing that brand response can create an effect much greater than the sum of its parts.

The bottom line is this: while brand response is not for every situation, it can and does create a synchronicity between building awareness and sales conversion. Brand advertising and direct response both play to their strengths. Brand response allows for the perfect handoff.

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