Image courtesy of Blake E. Marquis.

Eddie Izzard has a standup routine about how useless the Church of England would have been at the Spanish Inquisition, because everyone appearing before it would have been given the option of cake or death. Naturally most people end up choosing the cake option.

The choice is somewhat less clear in the world of marketing. With marketing budgets that used to dwarf our national debt now stripped to the bone by voracious bean counters, marketers face a choice of whether to spend their slim and hard won resources on brand or response.
Every fibre of their being knows that to mortgage people’s long term relationship with the brand on tactical and temporary sales driving activity alone is an act of pure folly. That’s what their training has taught them, that’s what the marketing text books tell them and that’s what their advertising agency takes every opportunity to remind them of.
And yet with real pressure on the business the imperative will naturally be to divert all their funds into lead generating activity both off and online. And with their direct and digital agencies dangling the carrot of bargain basement cost per response online no one is going to be fired for making that decision. This dilemna between response and brand is what in a less elegant past we called jam today or jam tomorrow.
Well it may well be possible to have your cake and eat it complete with lots of jam. Help is at hand in the form of an approach that goes by the imaginatively named title of brand response. Can you see what they did there? Now admittedly at first sight this idea appears to be a monumental fudge that’s almost certain to satisfy neither the objective of building an enduring relationship with consumers nor building immediate sales. And it probably is if you simply take your brand work and slap a harder sales message and call to action onto it and hope for a decent response.
However, real brand response activity approaches the problem strategically not just executionally. If the primary objective of brand advertising is to get people to ‘like the brand’ and the primary objective of direct response advertising is to get people to ‘buy from the brand’ then the objective of brand response advertising should be to get people to ‘like to buy from the brand’. And that means not just dumping value claims and offers into the market in the way direct response does but also delivering a compelling context for that claim. The context that ensures consumers understand the reason the brand is offering that deal. And right now that’s a fundamental reconfiguring of value in the lives of consumers, what we might call a new-value mindset.
Sainsbury’s gets this and right now excels at imaginative brand response marketing. Under the ‘like me’ brand idea of try something new today, initiatives like ‘love your leftovers’ and ‘feed your family for a fiver’ have people queuing up to buy from the brand and loving every moment. Small wonder that Sainsbury’s are taking the predominantly response driven Tesco to the cleaners.
Which leaves us wondering what a new world pf brand response means for digital. Online brand activity seems far more segregated into ‘like the brand’ and ‘buy from the brand’ than offline, into apps and experiences on the one hand and cheap and cheerful direct response advertising on the other. Fine if these are just tools to compliment other marketing activity, but not much of a future as a stand-alone industry. Perhaps its time for the digital marketing community itself to make a choice between cake and death.
This post appeared originally as a column in New Media Age

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