Marketing 101 Must Include Strong Focus on Brand

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In response to Howard Sewell's article ("It's Time to Dust Off 'Marketing 101', " Feb. 15), I must say that the headline is apt, but the content implies the wearing of blinders that could spell a troublesome trap for a conscientious direct marketer.

Marketing 101 would indicate a "back-to-the-basics" approach that requires a revisit of the primary tenets that have proved successful for generations of companies in the past century. I contend that this includes a strong focus on brand building, coupled with lead generation and sales, to ensure that one's communication strategy provides long-term differentiation and value enhancement. Ignoring this will take an unsuspecting direct marketer down the path of competing in a commodity market with offerings valued as such.

Brand building has been maligned in the era of dot-coms because the phrase became synonymous with burn rate. But what is brand building, and how does it relate to the direct marketer? In fact, direct marketing must above all be in concert with a company's overall brand strategy. This will drive list selection, creative development and offer selection.

In building a direct marketing program, it is critical that a company be clear about whom it is talking to (target audience/list), who the competition is, what makes it different in a unique and defendable manner (leverage points) and what is the essence of its brand personality. Together, these make up a core positioning that is the cornerstone of a brand strategy. This positioning is the foundation upon which any communications effort must be built if it is to be effective. All of us have experienced the lift that a comprehensive, integrated marketing communications program gives to direct marketing results.

By not incorporating the brand strategy in a direct marketing program, a huge opportunity is lost. More importantly, the leads that are generated by "off-the-wall" tactics that serve near-term goals might be eroding the longer-term value of the brand. So, despite Mr. Sewell's contention that you should "forget it" when it comes to brand building, the current marketplace demands that all of your communications work harder. So your direct marketing efforts had better be building brand, along with everything else you set out to accomplish, or you could be shooting yourself and your clients in the foot.

Ross Halleck, CEO, Halleck, Palo Alto, CA

Howard Sewell responds: Can a strong brand aid the success of your direct marketing programs? Sure. But is brand-building a necessary prerequisite for direct marketing success? Far from it. Even in the best of times, incorporating brand strategy into a direct marketing campaign is a risky proposition at best. Attempting to achieve competitive differentiation and other lofty, distinctly nonmeasurable goals will only distract from the sole purpose of any direct marketing program -- getting the reader to respond. Maybe Mr. Halleck has richer clients than we do (more power to him), but these days, ours want results they can measure.


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