Mix DM, Branding Online? Just Do It

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At a recent online marketing conference directed at brand marketers, a keynote speaker said something to the effect of "Pay attention to direct response. It is the future of online advertising." Really.


As a result of the online medium's unique capabilities to drive brand-related goals as well as direct response objectives, these two seemingly disparate approaches work together or apart to achieve success online.


Initially, the Internet's interactive aspect drove most marketers to direct response purposes and applications. More recently, as the Internet shows its branding capabilities, traditional brand marketers are finding their way online.


Research from DoubleClick last fall shows that 82 percent of U.S. marketers cite building brand awareness as an online advertising objective, up from 75 percent in the spring. And 69 percent cite new leads and customers as an objective, while 52 percent say they want to drive sales.


Online advertising and marketing offers branding accountability unlike what we have ever seen. We can capture data that tells us brand impact by exposure, by frequency, by industry, by site, by ad unit, by target audience and more.


Rich media and other more interactive, graphic and multimedia online advertising creative units also have contributed to the surge in interest from brand marketers because of increased capabilities to communicate a brand experience and message.


As more brands continue to prove the effect of branding online, the roster of online advertisers is starting to resemble what we find in offline media. Particularly now with advances in online creative, the Internet allows campaigns that are highly interactive and prompt a response.


But are brands applying direct marketing applications to their programs and campaigns? In some cases, yes, and in others brand marketers still look for the online medium to behave like other mediums, specifically television, sometimes at the expense of extracting full value from an online campaign.


Consumer packaged goods, retailers and pharmaceuticals in particular have found success with new ways to connect with customers through online direct response programs. For example, Reckitt Benckiser (Lysol, Electrasol, Jet-Dry, Air-Wick) working with E-centives is using online direct response programs not only to reach its audience but also to understand them better.


"The ultimate goal is to have a direct relationship with the consumer," E-centives president/CEO Dadi Akhavan said. "We use coupons as the 'hook' to begin the value exchange and then move beyond that to communicate with our clients' customers directly and better."


So for brands that want to consider direct marketing goals in their branding campaigns or as an extension of the brand advertising, just do it. Here are some tips:


· Consider how to integrate direct response tactics in a campaign or ad unit, even if branding is the main objective.


· If a campaign largely has a branding-oriented goal, do not measure success by direct response metrics. Sometimes branding clients get carried away with the measurability of the Internet and measure just because they can.


· Use direct response metrics in an online branding campaign to correlate with brand measures. Don't optimize and measure impact based on click throughs.


· The more accountable a campaign is, the more management, analysis and funds potentially are needed for tools. To enjoy the benefits of greater accountability and increased customer insights, advertisers need to be willing to pay the increased cost.


· Look for opportunities to apply offline tactics online, such as couponing and other promotional offers. Online delivery of coupons can be targeted in ways based on category, brand use and other variables that are impossible in other channels.


· Bring your direct and brand marketing teams together. If you hire an online agency, ensure it is experienced in both brand and direct response marketing.


· Build a centralized database. The customer database is at the heart of online direct response marketing.


There are clear challenges as well for brand marketers to achieve online DM nirvana and to integrate direct response objectives with online branding goals. Some of the more obvious are the existing infrastructure and the allocation of marketing duties across companies. Direct and brand marketers within a corporation may be segmented to where the corporate and regional marketing efforts are divided or DM efforts are handled by a separate subsidiary.


Take McDonald's. The company's online branding has made headlines with its industry-defining campaigns - all focused on branding goals. There is no direct response aspect to the creative or overall strategy. Why?


"Direct response goals on a national planning level are challenging for us because of our regional marketing infrastructure," said Neil A. Perry, senior director, Internet marketing, at McDonald's. "As a franchised organization, couponing decisions, for example, are made at the local market level, not nationally."


Brands within larger brand companies also may function independently, isolated from larger marketing and advertising initiatives, so the ability to cross-pollinate efforts or share learning becomes that much more challenging.


So what can DMers learn from brand marketers? Though a relationship between advertising activity and revenue is always important, major advertisers understand that advertising is an endeavor that works over time. But that is a story for another day.


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