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Is branding more important than direct marketing?

Marketers often come from two distinct backgrounds. Brand marketers are the ones whose work you see on TV. They are all about branding, brand image, brand awareness–use whatever word you want–and their success has made Coca-Cola and many other consumer products into household names. Direct marketers are decidedly less sexy, traditionally focusing on catalogs or direct mail letters, constantly searching for the next idea that increases response. They are all about sales, and couldn’t care less about brand image as long as the cash register rings. All of which leads to the question, “Is branding more important than direct marketing?”

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So, what about brand marketers and direct marketers? Ralph Kiner, the Hall of Fame baseball player, once said, “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs, and singles hitters drive Fords.” So it had always been with marketing, where brand marketers worked for the big names, got the big budgets, and the made the big money. Direct marketers were the singles hitters of marketing, toiling away in relative obscurity.

So, given the dichotomy between brand marketing and direct marketing, many people ask which one is more important. Luckily, the answer doesn’t force you to choose between brand awareness and sales. Despite the differences between brand and direct marketing, brand awareness and sales don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Despite its name, brand marketing is not the only way to raise brand awareness or improve your brand image. Direct marketing can raise brand awareness as well as sales. After all, if more people buy from you, I guarantee that your brand awareness is going up and that your brand trust is increasing. But the opposite is not always true. Trying to directly improve awareness and trust doesn’t always translate to higher sales.

What that means is that brand marketing might be important, but it has limitations. While improved brand awareness can lead to higher sales (and often does), the effect is indirect and hard to measure. And higher brand awareness should be a means, rather than an end. Sales needs to be the goal of all marketing, so direct marketing has a natural advantage over brand marketing.

Especially when thinking about Internet marketing, where direct marketing is so easy to implement, you should almost always lead with direct marketing techniques, assured that those approaches will also lead to the brand awareness you desire.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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Discussion

  1. Avatar Bob McCarthy

    I see branding as a luxury that requires a lot of time and money, can never be fully measured and only delivers unspecified results over the long haul.
    Direct response, on the other hand, produces immediate, measurable results and can be done on a shoestring.
    As a long-time direct response consultant and copywriter, I am obviously biased.
    But I offer this compromise in recent article:
    http://www.mccarthyandking.com/branding-on-a-small-business-budget

  2. Avatar David Bruce

    In the marketing environment today, we ought to drop the boundary between brand and direct marketing.
    It is interesting to look at the different objectives and tactics, but with all of the social activity amongst purchasers, we should look at marketing as a long and ongoing sales call.
    In that kind of dialog, we weave branding, marketing, and sales discussions together. It requires marketers from each of those areas to orchestrate their work – but at the end of the day, the client gets an opportunity to build more brand loyalty, is exposed to areas of opportunity, and is pushed toward making a purchase.

  3. Avatar Mike Moran

    Totally agree, David. If we think of every touchpoint as an opportunity to inform, to help, or (for some brands) to entertain, then we’ll just naturally do the right things. If we pigeonhole everything around our brand message, we’re doomed.

  4. Avatar Nick Stamoulis

    Well I think that direct marketing also does build brand awareness. So in a way, they should be working in harmony with each other, building brand awareness is very important and can definitely be done through direct marketing.

  5. Avatar Karl

    Seems a bit like throwing tools out of the toolbox to say one should be used over the other. Branding should be continuous and evident in all aspects of outreach.

  6. Avatar Chuck Kent

    Gotta agree with Nick here. If a brand is a promise, every communication should be leveraging the power of that promise, should be delivering on it in a way that makes people want to respond. There’s no reason to think this conflicts with using tried-and-true direct response techniques. I think the bigger issue is getting brand marketers to conceive of all of their communications as presenting an opportunity to create response – as I tell clients, why pay for a monologue when you can create an on-going dialogue?

  7. Avatar Mike Moran

    I agree that every brand is a promise, but I think that we overuse that idea. To me, conversations can be just conversations, with no promises involved–not even the promise to continue the conversation. I might be nit-picking, but sometimes I think we marketers don’t know when to let a conversation end. (It’s OK sometimes to shut up…)

  8. Avatar Zinco

    Yeah, I agree that brand marketing is a luxury. you really need to have a lot of budget to promote your product if you are willing to use this type of strategy. While direct marketing is less budget than branding I still preferred direct marketing if I were to be ask.

  9. Avatar bed in bags

    I think Importance of branding and direct marketing are dependent on the area or people where you want to do this.
    People mostly go for branded things when it’s big like refrigerator,washing machine, Tv, etc. I think branding is important than direct marketing for some products as above mentioned.

  10. Avatar appointment scheduling

    branding and marketing are of equal importance. none should be given ignorance anyway.

  11. Avatar Dr.Mohamed

    Distinguishing between BM and DM is important but as mentioned they are not mutually exclusive. lets take the example of product life cycle and the introductory stage: in this phase product doesn’t need for brand but in need to create the initial demand by DM channels to increase the product awareness. when it is done next growth stage now we need to adopt BM to protect our product from the competition in the market beside DM channels adaption

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