Branding Versus Direct Response: Sound Familiar?


In many conversations, marketing executives tell me their higher-level online goals are leveraging the Web to create unique brand experiences and generating brand loyalty.

Yet when I compare those conversations to topics presented by Web analytics experts, the focus still tends to be on direct response metrics: click-through, conversion, direct leads, direct revenue, and immediate return on marketing investment.

Is there too much focus on the Web as a direct response channel? What about the Web’s long-term value to an organization’s brand? Customer satisfaction? Overall business?

The debate of branding versus direct response isn’t new. It’s long been discussed in traditional offline advertising and marketing channels, too. Yet branding goals now represent the lion’s share of marketing investment in TV, print, and other offline media. Why not online?

Is it time to evolve our perspective on measuring online marketing performance to include more focus on branding? I believe it is.

What’s Wrong With Persuasion?

According to “The American Heritage Dictionary,” “persuasion” is “the act of persuading or the state of being persuaded.” Persuasion, we’re taught, is the fuel of direct response marketing, both on- and offline. Conversion is the measure of how successfully your site persuades visitors to do what you want them to. OK, understood.

The problem with persuasion is many customers don’t want to be persuaded. Some cats don’t want to be taught to bark. They’re happy behaving like cats.

What if your job as an online marketer wasn’t to persuade your audience to do what you want, but instead to make it easier for them to accomplish what they want? How would that affect your site’s design?

In an era when customers control what they view, when they view it, and why they view it, are hardcore persuasive tactics necessary? Worse, could they have a negative impact on long-term brand value? Sure, you can add a huge, red “Buy Now!” button on every page or hyperlink every other sentence of your copy. You may just even increase conversion doing it. But at what cost to your brand in the long run?

Don’t get me wrong. Persuasive direct response has its role online, just as it does in offline marketing. A well-timed, permission-based direct email campaign with the right promotion to the right customers is smart marketing. I’m not challenging those strategies.

But up until now, Web marketing and Web analytics have almost exclusively been focused on direct response metrics. There’s a need at a more strategic level to focus less on measuring every click of every page (like counting grains pouring from a hole in a large bag of rice) and more on measuring the Internet’s overall, long-term value in satisfying customers and creating brand value.

Think Like a Customer, Not Like a Marketer

Forget for a moment that you’re the marketing director for your organization. Imagine yourself as a customer of your organization and you go online to learn more about products, explore different options, solicit opinions, purchase — whatever your mission. Do you approach your Web design differently?

When you think like a customer accomplishing a mission rather than a marketer purely trying to increase page-level click-through by X percent, the online experience you build changes. It naturally takes on more of a long-term brand focus. You begin to see the value in branding as well as in direct marketing. You begin to care more about what repeat visitors and other specific customer segments do rather than what the total visitor population does. Are you successful in building an online community of brand loyalists? Are you able to achieve higher profit margins and greater lifetime value due to brand lift?

What’s Your Opinion?

My goal isn’t to persuade you to adopt my point of view (wink, wink). We must all step back from our online direct response data models and consider alternative approaches that include branding. As always, I’m interested in hearing your opinions.

Please email me and let me know your perspective on online branding versus direct response — and anything else on your mind related to Web marketing.


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