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Direct marketing can sell products, but also build brand value and awareness: NCDM 2010

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This week's NCDM 2010 Conference in Miami offered many wonderful examples of how companies use consumer insight to enhance marketing efforts. Perhaps the most enlightening of all the sessions I attended was an in-depth explanation of how to create direct marketing campaigns that help build brand value and awareness.

The speakers at this session were Jeff Biesman, SVP of direct response for Bank of America Home Loans, and Li Saul, VP of strategic and creative for The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks.

Saul explained her definition of best of both worlds marketing as messages that feature calls to action, product features and benefits, while also providing a visual sense of what the brand represents.

“Direct can't build brand [on its own] but it can help maintain awareness and build loyalty,” she said. “Establish quality and value in the higher funnel. Now pay it off in the lower funnel.”

Direct marketing, according to Saul, will need not offer more than a logo as long as the brand message is relevant within the brand voice. The message must be targeted, and it must relate to customer wants and needs.

“The most powerful word in direct marketing messages is you,” Saul said.

Many companies are evolving to stronger tactics in many of their marketing messages, using bold colors, enhanced bullets, oversized calls to action and more, according to Saul.

In 2009, Bank of America Home Loans was more brand-focused than customer driven, according to Biesman.

"[Our messaging] was not call-to-action driven," Biesman said. "Our direct marketing tactics were toned down. The messaging offered a limited sense of urgency. It was less focused on emotional motivators.”

So Bank of America Home Loans established the following objective: Conduct a time series test to evaluate how customers respond to enhanced direct marketing tactics. The company believed customer satisfaction would not be negatively impacted if stronger direct response tactics were used. The ultimate goal of the test: To increase response and understand the impact of design and messaging in consideration of brand and customer satisfaction.

The results, according to Biesman, were a dramatic lift in response rates and profitability for direct response messages. The Bank of America Home Loans brand was not affected at all. No difference was seen in customer likelihood to recommend and equal rates were seen in the opening and closing of new accounts.

Although Biesman wouldn't reveal how long the test had run or the size of lift in response rates and profitability, what I learned from the session is simple: Marketers can urge the customer to make a purchase without making the customer feel as if he's watching a used car commercial.

This may not be true for brands with less visibility than Bank of America. Spreading brand awareness should be the primary goal for a company with which no one is familiar. But for a company that has already established its brand identity with a solid customer base, it's just as important to make consumers feel as if there is some value to opening and responding to e-mails as it is to tell them what the company represents. However, it should be every company's goal to accomplish both feats simultaneously.

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