Integrating Brand With Direct Marketing

The Web is unlike other media. Print, billboards, and TV are passive. Radio is intrusive. The Internet is a participatory medium. That means a prospect is a volunteer. She chooses how to interact with the medium. Her participation is a function of her intent, the strength of your brand, and the measure of how well your Web site’s persuasive architecture can participate in a dialogue with her. Clearly understanding the dynamic nature of the medium is critical for maximizing the return on investment (ROI) of an interactive campaign.

Because of the participatory nature of the medium, the only way to achieve maximum effectiveness for your marketing efforts is if brand building (generating awareness and making emotional connections) and persuasive direct marketing (tactics designed to elicit a specific response) are used wisely and in concert. Success lies in combining the perception-shaping, relationship-oriented power of brand advertising with the one-to-one persuasive pulling of direct marketing and in how the two combine during the different phases of a customer’s lifecycle. Direct marketing lets the customer perceive she’s in control of the relationship. In so doing, it allows the marketer to reinforce the brand’s value proposition.

In an infinite customer universe (of which potential buyers are a subset), nontargeted brand advertising is critical to build awareness, anchor emotional connections, and establish perceptions of your brand’s offering and value. Persuasion tactics then guide people along the suspect, prospect, and buyer phases, where users need incentive to take action and choose you over competitors. Direct persuasion cedes to branding again, to transition a user from customer to brand advocate. Elements of both branding and direct marketing are used in each email message and search engine result and on your Web site.

We can determine the effectiveness of the message communicated to prospects by mining data. If the right objectives are defined, we can measure just about everything a prospect perceives when interacting with us. Successful ROI marketing is a matter of identifying trends within data to test and tweak messages for optimal performance. The more we know about our customers, the more effective we are in our brand and persuasive messages.

Practically, how can we apply, measure, and manage this?

Following the Buying Process

As consumers enter the buying process, they become aware of a need or problem requiring a solution. Fredrick Marckini, CEO of iProspect, explains:

  1. They recognize a problem to be solved.

  2. They choose to solve the problem via the Internet.
  3. They choose one of 15 major search properties to perform a search.
  4. They choose certain keywords or key phrases for research.
  5. They choose which site to visit from resulting sites listed.

There are two possible outcomes: They find you or they don’t. How much influence do you wield? Jupiter Research (a unit of ClickZ’s parent corporation) says 80 percent of all Internet users make some type of search request every month. With 175 million U.S. users, a lot of your customers are online searching for a solution to their problem.

Roy H. Williams says: Smart advertisers are those who set out to win the customer’s heart long before she needs their product. Their only goal is to be the company she thinks of first and feels the best about whenever her need arises. Smart advertisers make no attempt to predict the moment of the customer’s need, but buy enough repetition [or search phrases] to ensure they will immediately spring to mind whenever such need arises.

This was reiterated by David Hirsch, Google’s director of business-to-business (B2B) vertical markets, at @d:tech, “Searchers reveal what stage of the buying process they are in by the terms they use.”

You can determine if people find your brand online; you can choose which search engines find your site; you can choose which keywords or key phrases to market in the search engines; you can choose how your description persuades prospects to click. According to a recent iProspect study, 33 percent of users believe top ranking in search results is for a top brand.

They land on your site as suspects. If they came using a keyword or key phrase your page is relevant to, they’ll continue. If not, you’ve lost them. You control whether they find relevance in what you offer. After exploring your site, they’ve expressed interest in what you offer. Now they’re prospects.

To turn a prospect into a lead or customer, persuasive architecture must be part of your site’s fabric. You must be clear about your objectives and the actions you want prospects to take — whether to print and use a coupon, purchase from your site, subscribe to your newsletter, qualify themselves as leads, or any other action or conversion you desire.

Once prospects have converted to buyers or customers, brand again comes into play. Peter Drucker explains, “The purpose of a business is not to make a sale but to make and keep a customer.” The goal isn’t to get customers to take action once, but to effectively establish relationships and dialogue with them.

Traditional agencies hate measuring campaign ROI. They claim their efforts’ effect is beyond measurement. Yet brand-persuasion marketing is measurable, in terms of not only the new customers it brings in but also retention and advocacy of loyal customers. Perhaps that’s why so many traditional advertisers are reluctant to move online and plan effective objectives. Online marketing’s ability to combine branding and direct marketing in the same message makes brand advertisers more accountable.

Your prospects are online. They arrive at your Web site because they recognize a need, problem, or opportunity. They want you to provide a solution. Eventually, they will find that solution. Have you spent as much time focused on your persuasive architecture as you have on branding?

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