Don't Forget the Response When Advertising Your Brand

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As a direct marketer, I seek responsive behavior and can even get excited about being able to measure that behavior. On the other side of the marketing world are advertising people who become equally enthused about brand image and awareness.


Of course, they don't seek measurements like direct marketers but usually are content with reach, frequency and impressions. This, at times, is coupled with research that measures awareness and possibly even preference for the brand. We only have to go back a few years though to the legendary example of New Coke to realize that what people say they will do doesn't always translate to a behavior. This is more true today than ever as product choices are not only multiplying, but in the hi-tech arena, they are overlapping and confusing as well. So, we need to close the gap between awareness and behavior.


On the other hand, Don Schultz, in his recent book "Measuring Brand Communication and ROI," defines brand communication as "encompassing all forms of communication, actions and activities that influence and impact the relationship between the customer and the brand." This is certainly an enlightened view that, unfortunately, is shared by few marketing communicators. This issue, combined with the reality that advertising commands the dominant share of the marketing communication budget, leaves us direct marketers with a question: How can we leverage that budget for both advertising and response goals?


Ironically, when surveyed, most hi-tech marketing communication managers list "generating inquiries" as the most important goal of their advertising effort. Yet, when one reviews ads in the hi-tech arena, only about 10 percent have any real direct response characteristics -- such as an offer.


Trade magazines also are caught in a quandary between ads and response. While they sell the magazine on its advertising merits, they frequently are called to task if the ad didn't produce many responses. "We frequently get calls from advertisers concerned that the ad didn't pull. Yet when one looks at the ad, it's obvious why few people responded -- there's no real reason to respond," said Carl T. Marino, publisher of IndustryWeek magazine. We direct marketers might well call this a lack of a compelling or related offer.


OK, enough of the carping. What should we do? Pragmatically, we aren't going to change the brand communicator's view of creating an image ad to make it a full-blown direct response ad. So, here's a first step in leveraging the ad budget and obtaining higher response rates: When advertising is created, there almost always is a strong point of view that is driven by a clear feature, benefit or unique selling proposition.


As smart direct marketers, we should be able to find an offer that is highly relevant to the USP. Then, without changing anything else in the ad, this offer becomes the logical payoff from the ad copy and "compels" the reader to respond -- a behavior. In other words, the first step toward integration of brand and response advertising is to find the essence of the advertising message and leverage that into an offer. This beats the tar out of the normal "for more information" statement found in most ads. Inquiries will leap by a factor of two to seven times, depending on how compelling the offer is and its prominence in the body of the ad.


Now for some examples of how this simple approach would work for three ads that are truly in need of better offers.


Lexmark: If you've been reading any major business magazines recently, this ad may have barked at you. This picture of "Old Rover" in a business suit certainly is an arresting visual. And maybe you buy the correlation between Rover tracking down savings from the "new breed" of Lexmark Optra 5 printers. Where's the proof? As direct marketers, we know that a claim without a proof statement or support loses response. So now you have the offer opportunity, and I will phrase just one version: "Call 1-800-Lexmark and we will provide a cost comparison between your present printer or any other printer you are considering."


Not only will responses increase, but the offer does two additional things. First, by offering this comparison, we establish that the savings is real. Secondly, it identifies people who currently are considering a purchase -- an important stage in the buying process.


SAP: I'm usually hungry when I read business magazines, so I stopped at this ad from SAP. Upon reading the copy, we find that SAP has applied its "Accelerated SAP" program (whatever that is!) to Cultor Food Science Inc. Major benefits ensued, including a shorter than normal time to implementation. OK, I'm interested. How about more details of how SAP helped Cultor? So, here's the easy offer: "Call us today at 1-800-283-1SAP to obtain the full case history on this project, its challenges and how we beat the clock." In the fulfillment, I'd even send the box of cookies pictured in the ad (without Joe Dunne, president of Cultor).


Rockwell: Here's an ad that brings two unlikely companies together -- Eddie Bauer and Rockwell. So we're interested to read the copy, and we find that Rockwell Automation Systems can help all types of companies (avionics, semiconductor, food, etc.), but I'm left to search the Web site or look in the telephone book for Rockwell's phone number.


The essence of this ad is that Rockwell has automation solutions for many types of companies. So here's an offer that might move the reader: "Call (need an 800 number) and tell us your business or automation problem and we'll send you a case history of an application like yours." I'm sure that Rockwell has the knowledge and case histories, but apparently not the desire to hear from potential customers.


IBM: It's dangerous to critique an ad from a former employer, as you can lose old friends, but I couldn't resist this one for the new S/390 Server. It has a nice visual effect and good use of white space, plus the IBM name stopped me. I tried to read and understand the top copy but quickly bogged down in the technical lingo. The larger body copy does imply that the S/390 G5 Server is more powerful than other servers. Well, that's a claim I'd expect from IBM, but where's the proof? It may be on the Web site, but without any promise of why I should type in "www.s390.ibm.com/g5IBMS/390," I most likely won't make the effort.


So let's stay with a Web response and offer an explanation of all the technical copy. Something like: "To fully explore the depth of all the technical capabilities of the New S1390 G5 server, visit www.s390.ibm.com/g5IBMS/390." IBM's Web site is robust and the job of the ad is to make you want to go there, where I am sure they will capture your name through registration.


So there you have it. A simple and pragmatic first step on how to begin to integrate brand and response advertising. There are more steps to take, but you can't change the world overnight.


John M. Coe is president of Database Marketing Associates, TKTK, and was formerly with IBM and Rapp Collins Worldwide.
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