Branding has not traditionally played a big part in the creation of direct mail, ads, and other forms of direct response advertising. That’s because direct marketing is all about selling directly to consumers and relies less on product recognition than retail marketing.
In recent years, however, as direct marketing has become mainstream and is now being used by businesses that sell through multiple channels, branding has become more important.
People like me who work on the front lines creating direct response advertising have to deal with clients who want to sell but who also demand adherence to branding guidelines, usually in the form of font, color, and graphic specifications.
It can be a difficult juggling act. The guidelines may be simple, requiring only the use of a logo, or difficult, enforcing highly restrictive design rules that curtail selling techniques.
When branding guidelines become too restrictive, it can hurt sales. Years ago, I began working with one of the top communications companies, helping them sell products and services such as DSL and long distance. I decided to break out of the overly restrictive branding guidelines and create mailers that I thought would sell better.
This didn’t go over well with others in the company and I received many complaints about the “look” of my mailers. However the response rates were high. In one effort, I created a self-mailer that met the annual call generation goal within 9 weeks. So I was allowed to continue.
Eventually, my “ugly” mailers provoked the branding department so much, I was asked to test a “pretty” and properly branded mailer. I did. The ugly mailer won hands down.
Do I think I hurt the brand with my ugly mailers? No. I think I made them a lot of money and created a larger customer base.
I’m not one of those direct marketing neanderthals who think branding is irrelevent. But having dealt with the issue of branding vs. selling for many years, I have a few thoughts on the matter.
- Branding is often confused with design. Design is a part of branding, but there is much more to a brand than how ads look. Companies grow through sales, not through graphics.
- In direct marketing, selling should be the goal. If you’re not trying to sell, you’re wasting your money. Why even bother with direct marketing channels if you’re not interested in making sales?
- Branding people will argue that design guidelines aid selling. If that’s the case, then branding should be viewed as “support” for selling not a substitute for it. If certain graphical guidelines suppress sales, then those guidelines should be modified.
- Consumers are not as sensitive to branding rules as some would assume. If a color is a bit off, for example, most people won’t even notice.
- Not everything needs to be highly branded, including acquisition efforts. Getting the customer is the most important thing. The branding will be there in the form of follow up materials, billing, Web site, TV commercials, in-store products, other ads, and so on.
- Following branding guidelines so strictly that every direct mail piece or ad looks the same can actually hurt sales. If prospects see 2 or 3 promotions and turn down the offer, future look-alike promotions may be ignored. Sometimes it’s beneficial to fly under the radar.
Please understand that I’m not suggesting that branding is not important. In fact, I think it IS important. All I’m suggesting is that there is a difference between maintaining a brand and slavishly following design guidelines.