Use a Brand/Response Marketing Model

Many companies could improve customer acquisition results by integrating brand and response advertising. It’s a big idea that isn’t new, but deserves more attention than it gets. When companies try it, they discover they can get a bigger return on their advertising investment.

But many companies that could benefit aren’t. I’ll explain why shortly. First, let’s see how the brand/response model works.

The basic idea is simple: orchestrate brand building and direct marketing so that they work together in harmony. Brand ads play the critical role of building awareness. Direct identifies qualified prospects and helps the sales team convert them. Brand ads create an emotional connection. Direct uses persuasion and incentives to get the prospect to act, choosing your firm over a competitor. Both disciplines play to their strengths. A perfect handoff occurs from one to the other as the prospect moves through the buying process.

A brand/response campaign combines branding ads in media such as television, radio, print and online banners with response vehicles such as direct mail and e-mail. What makes this approach so powerful is a centralized prospect database. The database connects individual media channels into a closed-loop marketing system that advances the sale at every touch point. This adds power without increasing the media expenditure. It’s like hooking up a turbocharger to an automobile engine.

A well-executed brand/response campaign builds awareness, identifies qualified prospects and then moves them through the buying process with a series of communications to educate and inform. Each communication includes a purchase incentive and invites a purchase. Over time, prospects progress from interest to desire to conviction, buying your product or service when they are ready. This approach recognizes that, at any given time, prospects are at varying levels of interest and different stages of the buying process. It treats each one accordingly, without letting qualified prospects fall through the cracks.

A key tactic of the brand/response strategy is to make your brand advertising, with its considerable (and costly!) reach, do double duty as a response funnel. Add a call to action with a toll-free number and Web URL to every ad.

Include a compelling offer that motivates interested prospects to respond.

This technique lets you harvest a bumper crop of prospects who can be further qualified through direct marketing. Note that there is virtually no cost to doing this. Moreover, the large volume of leads generated will easily justify any small added costs.

Once you transform your branding ads into response funnels – and create a centralized prospect database – you can put response channels to work on building relationships. Start by sending prospects a survey to determine their level of interest and when they are likely to purchase.

Then, score the leads based on how each prospect responds. “A” or hot leads should get the most attention with immediate literature fulfillment and a call from a sales representative. Less-qualified “B” and “C” leads can receive periodic direct mail or e-mail appropriate to the buying cycle and interest level.

Brand/response integration pays off in consumer acquisition and business-to-business lead generation. A cruise line found it simultaneously could advance its brand and harvest many qualified prospects by adding a response device to ads in upscale consumer magazines. An enterprise software company increased the volume of leads generated, then converted more of them into customers.

If a brand/response strategy can be so effective, why don’t more companies embrace it? It mainly involves the way they are organized. Companies often have separate internal teams for different commerce channels: brand management, direct marketing, e-commerce and e-mail marketing. These teams support the company’s product groups or, in some large companies, each product group has its own media teams.

Picture departmentalized teams as “silos” launching tactical campaigns. Each one develops its own in-house resources and outside agency relationships and chooses a media mix best suited for its short-term goals. Results are tracked by each silo, but rarely shared with other silos. An inquiry or purchase generated by one silo is unavailable to others for follow-up.

Each silo essentially is its own universe, cut off from other silos. The inevitable result is small, splintered gains, but no quantum leaps in acquisition. The integration challenge has been made tougher by the proliferation of electronic channels, which tends to increase organizational complexity.

What’s missing is an overarching acquisition strategy that stays with prospects throughout the educational process that leads to a purchase. This strategy must be executed by a team that takes ownership for the entire process of capturing leads, then cultivating and converting them. Instead of having prospects scattered throughout your organization, a company-wide database lets you track prospects as they move through your marketing system.

Companies of all sizes face challenges in executing a brand/response strategy because of the aforementioned organizational conflicts. If anything, larger companies face a greater challenge due to the sheer number of marketing teams and ad agencies involved. Yet large companies are recognizing that their marketing can be more effective if all media channels work together.

“Stand-alone disciplines don’t work anymore,” says Wunderman chairman/CEO Daniel Morel. “With more fragmentation in the media, all the channels have to be integrated. That’s where you get the biggest bang for your buck.”

When implemented correctly, a brand/response strategy prevents a company’s internal constraints from diluting acquisition efforts. It considers that prospects are likely to interact with several media channels at different stages of the buying process. It identifies prospects with the greatest potential. It diverts promotional dollars away from low-value “suspects” toward high-value prospects.

The brand/response model applies direct marketing principles to the entire media mix to improve acquisition results. It’s amazing how simple the strategy is to define and how easy it is to execute, once you step away from organizational constraints.

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