Brand respsonse – a case of having your cake and eating it

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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4 Replies to “Brand respsonse – a case of having your cake and eating it”

  1. Thought-provoking stuff as ever – thanks Richard. Your points about digital segregation connected a few thoughts in my mind.
    One of the things that attracts marketers to digital communications is the fact that they allow us to perform straightforward cause-and-effect analyses. It’s easy to prove whether specific activities drive sales, and that’s very useful. However, we seem to have become caught up in the reporting, and we’re increasingly focusing on the activities that are easiest to measure. We obsess about measurement, rather than on the outcomes the measurements should assess in the first place.
    However, by not measuring the more complex, brand half of the equation, we risk returning to a commoditised approach. We’re placing greater value on linear returns, and as a consequence, each interaction is in danger of becoming a one-off transaction.
    Perhaps this imbalance stems from a disproportionate emphasis on short-term results. Our focus on the present quarter means we’re losing sight of longer-term planning and the continued growth and success of the brand. There’s no denying that each quarter’s sales are critical, but to the same point, so are next quarter’s sales, and those 5 years from now.
    But this is a classic case of missing the forest for the trees: we don’t need to choose one over the other.
    Building brands and driving sales are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they should exist in symbiosis. They’re the yin and yang of brand success; we need to balance both in order to survive.
    In that respect, any activity that prioritises one over the other is a sub-optimal compromise.
    Some brands have already proven that we can achieve this balance. Ben & Jerry’s have shown that free sampling can be used to build a strong, durable brand at the same time as driving quarterly sales. Their success lies in the fact that everything they do engages people on an emotional level, rather than merely enticing them with free or cheaper product.
    Of course, this strategic model requires more up-front thinking, consistency of purpose, and patience, but nothing worthwhile ever came without effort.
    If anyone doubts this can work for their brand, feel free to get in touch via twitter: @eskimon

  2. Great thoughts Richard – and indeed Eskimon – thank you for this.
    Couple of points to add:
    1) The job of advertising is to sell. Always has been. Brand building is a component part – not THE part. It won’t work in isolation of the other bits unless you have a superior product legacy. It is increasingly apparent everything should be brand responsive as we move into the conversation age – which incidentally is just good customer service right?
    2) The Maysles brilliant film ‘Salesman’ is a perfect allegory for the times we are in now as the worn out Bible sellers couldn’t afford to be just ‘liked’ they had to sell to eat. Would it have been different if they had an ad campaign behind them? Possibly – but it was not essential to create sales. Oh and the product was great.
    3) Eric Du Plessis did a fairly respectable job in analyzing the drivers of future purchasing intent (Erik du Plessis, Admap, May 2005, Issue 461 & The Advertised Mind). It came down to likability through emotional triggers leading to rational assimilation. The issue of attribution of advertising effects is still an issue – you and I know how hard it is to write a paper that qualifies advertising effects (except for Craig’s brilliant piece for Sainsbury’s a few years back). Liking the ad has never definitively led to sales. If we could prove it we wouldn’t be having this debate and there would be more and easier to write papers for IPA and APG. Equally I can’t categorically recall a dislike of an ad leading to a drop in sales.
    4) Good distribution plays an enormous role in a successful sales legacy. A great product sells itself and through technology people are now telling others like them about it in greater numbers so they buy it too. One strategy that is emerging is to give the product away free to a handful of people in exchange for them talking about it. That is a form of advertising too. No need for traditional advertising here other than a reaffirmation that you made a good choice. Worrying.
    5) CEO’s and CFOs are using the moving annual total model to determine efficacy of marketing spend. When there are successive quarters of positive short term results they are interpreted as a trend. If it didn’t work – they wouldn’t do it. It seems to be working.
    6) The context that surrounded previous examples of spending on your brand in a downturn (there aren’t that many are there?) may be totally different to the circumstances we face now so may be largely irrelevant and are probably why they are largely discredited or ignored.
    7) ‘Like the brand’ and ‘buy from the brand’ may actually be the only model required in future as people are creating their own context within which they choose to ‘like to buy from the brand’. They don’t need to be told what it is – they can find that out for themselves and – increasingly do.
    8) Putin is relentlessly building his brand as a strongman because Russia has lost its way and he needs to stand for something – not policies but physical strength. It is working. I worry that in the future companies and the brands they create may end up doing the same thing reducing advertising to the level of glorified corporate videos. Let’s hope not.

  3. Thanks for the great posts and the insightful comments from Eskimon and Holycow. It’s a wonderful and thought provoking discussion.
    You’ve probably seen or read the marketing model that claims marketing, advertising included, aims to move people through a continuum starting with awareness, then interest and finally preference (the preference to buy). Advertising is sometimes so good, and has enough frequency, that it punches right through the whole continuum and actually makes people purchase and (maybe) simultaneously builds the brand…but it usually only does this with one or two segments of it’s total possible audience…those who relate most to the ads.
    I think marketing/advertising can both sell and build the brand, but it requires a different way of looking at the audience. Each brand has a story to tell, but it should be told differently to each person. Just like common story lines are adapted for kids, adults, and in the case of salesmanship “stories” are adapted for each person. The marketing continuum is a lot like the process we use to get to know people: awareness, interest, preference–stranger, acquaintance, friend.
    We all have different spheres of our lives and relate to the people in those spheres differently. It’s an ability most of us figure out for our own interpersonal lives. We don’t do that with advertising and marketing though, maybe because it seems impractical. But by targeting messages to different audiences and then measuring the right stuff (what each person clicked on, what they downloaded) you can understand what each person finds compelling and adapt your efforts to meet their tastes. It’s building a brand and it leads to an ongoing relationship.
    Those bible sellers probably were keen observers of people and the good salesmen, adapted their pitch to for the different people they encountered. We could probably learn a thing or two from them.

  4. Interesting.
    I think you might find a lot of smaller agencies actually deal with Brand Response already. The smaller budgets and spends mean that you usually have to do two jobs regardless.
    I agree it’s an issue for digital marketers, and one that will probably only get louder whilst they answer the other question of whether digital agencies should remain seperate or now be part of an overall team. Cakes or deaths?

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