Branding vs. selling: Which is more important?

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. Read more

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The history of branding

As someone who makes a living creating direct mail and other forms of direct response advertising, I don’t spend much time thinking about branding. In fact, I’ve developed a reputation for ignoring branding guidelines when I think they’re getting in the way of making sales.

I’ve embarrassed my share of marketing managers with ugly direct mail that beats the snot out of more attractive, heavily branded mail pieces. I even got one product manager fired when a direct mail package I created to launch a computer game produced such high response that it shattered corporate records and shamed every other manager in the company.

But I have no beef with branding. In fact, I find it fascinating. One site I recently discovered on the history of branding provides fascinating details about many of the most famous and successful brands. This is one of those sites you have to bookmark for future reference.

Sometime I’ll elaborate on why I think that branding and direct marketing are not incompatible, as long as you understand the purpose and proper application of each.

Note: The site I’m linking to should really be named “The History of Brands,” rather than “The History of Branding.” It doesn’t discuss branding as a strategy. Still, it’s interesting.

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