Direct Response to your Brand.

For some time, I’ve been guilty of speaking in terms of Direct Response (DR) and Brand as if they were black and white. Left and right. Obama and McCain. You get the idea. This dichotomy largely stems from what I do in my day-to-day, as I help marketers nail the direct response portions of their advertising strategy. See? I’m doing it again!

But lately I’ve been hearing something interesting from my customers. While I tend to look at DR through the lens of performance metrics (ROAS, conversion rate, lift), they say interesting things to me like, “I like the way this ad functions like our website,” or “I don’t like how that ad has nothing to do with our brand.” Huh? Weren’t we talking about your ROI just a second ago?

Great marketers understand return on ad spend. They’re not ignoring that when they ask about the brand implications of the ad they’re running. Rather, they’re experiencing their advertising from the perspective of their customers, who actually have a better grasp for the Brand/DR mix than any of us do. Consider this example:
A chief household officer (CHO) performs a search for a family trip to Cancun. A savvy performance marketer for a big Online Travel Agency (OTA) sets up a dynamic retargeting campaign that hits this searcher with a well-placed ad that shows the best deals on packages in Cancun for the same dates searched. Our CHO is reminded of the relevant (and competitive) deals of big OTA and books.

I’ve given this example before (probably in a MediaPost publication, even) to illustrate how perfect DR display advertising is achieved in travel marketing. But let’s look at that last sentence: “Our CHO is reminded of the relevant (and competitive) deals of big OTA.” This ad just achieved (for the consumer) the best brand experience of any ad that this OTA could show. We often think of brand in terms of creating buzz, raising awareness, and all that fuzzy stuff, but really brand is about influencing the decision-making process that goes on in consumers’ heads when they decide between you and the other guys.

It’s easy to run an ad that says “Lowest Price on Flights from NYC-Cancun” (even a dynamic ad that substitutes the name of the origin and destination cities) but what does that really do to convince consumers that your brand is truly that which offers the lowest price on this route? Ads that offer this experience to consumers can achieve this, and “walking the walk” of showing the low prices you actually have for what the consumer is interested in is the best thing you can do to prove it. This, by the way, is why people hate the “fares from $99*” ads with that annoying asterisk. Because you know what that asterisk means to them? This deal is probably not going to happen if I click this ad.

The point is, if “we can get you there for less” is the brand message you’re trying to convey, the same tools you use to create the best DR-measured performance actually do double duty in creating the best brand experience for your customers. And the next time our CHO searches for a trip and is given a choice between you and a similar deal from a competitor, the brand equity you’ve built with that last experience with your ad will remind them why they booked with you before. So, DR and Brand become as complimentary as peanut butter and jelly. Yin and Yang. Gin and tonic …

By Paul Knegten
Paul Knegten heads up marketing at Dapper, an online advertising technology company. He is also an independent marketing consultant advising on online marketing strategy for clients such as MTV and
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