Classic Marketing Mistake – Direct Response vs. Branding

by Tim Francis on June 18, 2012

Typical marketing mistake: a business owner buys an ad, designs it as though they’re a Fortune 500 company (even though the owner has less than 10 employees and has less than $50M in annual sales), and then wonder why the phone isn’t ringing.

I don’t blame the business owner – often they don’t know any differently.

The reason Coca-Cola, Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Lipton, Kraft, etc, can throw their name on a billboard with no offer for direct response is because these massive corporations have spent literally billions of dollars over decades (often generations) to become household names.

The small business owner is not in that boat.

Yet – and often because they just don’t know any better – most business owners will create ads as though they are a billion-dollar corporation.  Open up the Yellow Page or newspaper, and how often do you see:

ABC Plumbing
Plumbing of all kinds, big and small, Bonded, Insured
555-555-5555

Dr. Johnson, Chiropractor
Accepting new clients, BBB-approved, 10 years experience
555-555-5555

…in these cases, the business owner is taking out advertising that is focused on their business’ name, not on the solution the prospect is searching for.

The problem is that these ads don’t pass the classic “So What?” test.  If someone were searching for a plumber or chiropractor – in the paper, Yellow Pages, or on Google – they would see these above ads and problably say “So What?”

So What Can the Business Owner Do?

Build Direct Response Ads That Grab The Reader’s Attention

Consider what a Direct Response ad would look like for our above two examples…

Leaks Stopped Immediately
Call anytime, 24 hours / day, and save your house from mold and water damage
ABC Plumbing, call now 555-555-5555

Neck or Back Pain Ruining Your Life?
Most patients start feeling relief within one, 20-minute treatment
Dr. Johnson Chiropractic, 10 years experience, 555-555-5555

…see how these Ads are focused on the searcher – what their pain is, what is relevant to them, what grabs their attention?

Does Name Recognition Matter?

Once someone is drawn into taking action – to click, to call, etc – now the rest of the sales process is set in motion.  The prospective customer must experience us as credible, believing that YES we can solve their problem, at an acceptable price.

This is the time to convince them with your business’ track record and all other tools to build trust.  That is why you need to have your name, logo, etc, on – for example – your website.

Even at that, though, it’s still probably not your name that is convincing people to trust you, it’s moreso what you’ve accomplished, what others are saying about you, etc.  The logo and design are there to communicate trust, professionalism, credibility.

What About Brand Awareness?

Furthermore, to get maximum brand awareness – so your reputation can grow over time – it’s crucial that we focus on getting the opt-in first to your database by having them take an action – subscribing for free report, buying something, entering a contest, requesting a free consultation, etc.

If we sacrifice direct response for branding, then we might get one exposure, which a person may or may not take action on .  But if we make direct response the top priority, secure the opt-in, then we can get brand awareness with the customer over and over and over again…. once they’re opted-in, they will see your company’s name:

– in the email “from” line when they receive emails from you
– in the signature line when they receive emails from you
– in the free report when they look at it / the product when they receive it / during the consultation
– in future email communication that we have with them
– on the sales offers and sales pages that we send them in the future

…accounting for (in most cases) no fewer than 10 or so exposures, instead of just one.

Time And Circumstance Change Everything

Plus, as the old saying goes, “Time and Circumstance Change Everything”… maybe someone is only curious now, but if we can capture their info and stay in touch over time, you’ll be the #1 business in their mind when their circumstances do change over time.

Maybe they get a job promotion 6 months from now, they can now afford to purchase your goods/services, and you’re right there, at the top of their mind.

That will take us much further than the “branding” advertisement that they saw 6 months earlier, and had forgotten about within a week.

Marketing Is Like Dating

The bigger the transaction, the more that Marketing is like Dating.

If you have a low-priced, eCommerce type transaction, spending a lot of time building value and credibility isn’t as crucial (in fact too much might actually lose you sales).

For example, if you’re selling vitamins online the hardest part will be to win the click, or get the call (because you have some intense competition from other vendors), but once they’re on your website, if you can handle 3-4 crucial points (credibility, fast shipping, free returns, competitive price, have the product they’re looking for, etc)… you have a good shot at winning the sale.

On the other hand, if you’re selling something much bigger – for example a $300,000 condominium – the sale is a much longer process, and is much more like dating.

Gotta Wine And Dine!

Ask a girl to take a big step on the first date (marry you, be really physically intimate, etc) and she *might* say yes, but you’ll probably scare most of them away, never to be seen again.

Instead, and what I’ve found most successful in marketing (and truthfully in dating too) is to build a relationship, gain trust, show value to the other person, wine and dine them in the appropriate way, respect the process, and become the only logical choice, or at least a very compelling option.

In Summary

As long as you are a small business, you’re probably focused too much on “branding” and “name recognition”, and would be well-served to focus on direct response.  Make that your priority.

Once someone has taken the step to respond to YOU, then do your best to capture them into your database in the following way…

1) Small, eCommerce-type transaction: make the sale.

2) Big, “Life Decision”-type transaction: offer free up-front service, samples, experience, support… wine and dine accordingly.

In either case, stay in touch over time, continuing to grow the relationship, thus winning you repeat business, referrals, and all the other good stuff that comes from making the long-term effort.

In either case, branding, name recognition, design, colours, logo, etc. are all important… as secondary items.  They are there to support and enhance your direct response message, not the other way around.

If you find yourself making these mistakes, I don’t blame you at all  because no one taught you any differently.  When we open businesses, we’re expected to know what to do, but rarely does a business come with an instruction manual.

And even for those of us that have taken some University-level marketing training (I have), we sure didn’t get this kind of street-level marketing education.  It only comes from being in the real-world, with our own real money on the line.

Hope that helps,

Tim :)

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