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The Classic Question: To Brand or Not to Brand?


Historically, direct marketing creatives have played second fiddle to brand creatives. As proud representatives of the former, we take exception to that attitude. 

We don't see brand as an isolated exercise or execution. The way a customer thinks about — and even more importantly, feels about — a brand is an amalgamation of all of his or her interactions with it. You can have a clever and compelling TV spot, but if the customer's experience with your product, service, or team is shoddy, you've just thrown away a lot of creativity and money. Today's brand experience is at least as often online and it is offline. Printed marketing communications, including direct mail and direct marketing print ads, can be a powerful way to establish or reinforce a brand.

And, direct marketing has the added benefit of enabling you to build demand along with brand.

Brand and demand can — and should — go hand-in-hand. We joke that one of the reasons our campaigns are as effective as they are is that "we play well with others." So, when there's a brand agency involved, we're happy to work with them, to make sure that the direct marketing programs we develop enhance the brand investment our clients have already made. It should all work together if you're going to get the biggest bang for your buck.

For example, several years ago we did a credit card solicitation for a major women's clothing retailer. It was a bit of a challenge and that's exactly why we were brought in: to challenge the company's control package. The audience was mature and saturated — a full 40% of the store's "best customers" already had the credit card. These women were loyal to the brand, spending hundreds of dollars on merchandise every month. And, there were definite and valuable benefits if they chose to get the card.

BUT, the existing direct mail package was all about points and tiers and interest rates. It looked like any credit card package you might receive on any day from any provider. The brand — the brand that these women were so passionate about — was nowhere to be seen.

SO, we put the brand back in. We put the retailer's personality front and center with images pulled from their current catalog and in-store campaigns. We teased them with familiar language, asking "What kind of classic are you?" and assuring them that "There's only one card classic enough to have your name on it."

Of course, our mission was to motivate the audience to apply for the card, so we also used tried-and-true direct mail tactics, mixing response-driven promotion with all that classic emotion. We stressed that the recipient was "pre-approved," that she would earn "appreciation dividends," and a "birthday bonus."

Of course, we believed (and hoped) the campaign would be a success. But, we didn't stop there. We built in three separate offer test cells so that the client would gain knowledge about exactly what worked best and why.

So, the big question, as always ... did it work?

Well, duh. The brand-infused campaign not only outperformed the control; it pulled 300%  the industry average. More than 1,000 new accounts were opened in the first two weeks of the campaign.


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