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3 Tips for the Perfect Balance Between Branding and Direct Response

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Image by rawpixel via Unsplash

Branding in direct mail and email has to be done just right...with a delicate touch and an eye toward what's going to drive the highest response. Too much of one or the other can hurt what you're trying to achieve.

For most marketers, it goes without saying that your brand is more than just the logo, colors and fonts being used in your communications.

It's about the (sometimes) intangible "essence" of the brand—the attitude, the tone and the way it "walks and talks."

Visuals and paper stocks may seem like window dressing to the average consumer; they're not when they're tied specifically to an attribute of a brand for a specific reason. All told, everything needs to work together to convey the brand in its best light.

It's critical that the brand is showcased consistently, continually and without fail. When it's not, it's a disconnect for the consumer.

They may or may not notice, depending on the egregiousness of the brand break; but believe us, someone notices, and that's never good.

That's what's known as the "Moment of Truth." Or actually, a missed Moment of Truth.

It's that pivotal moment when the brand should have delivered on a promise...and then didn't.

So it's easy to see why inside most organizations, the brand trumps all.

But is that always right?

We know from experience that it's not. Particularly not in direct mail and email.

But you need to tread carefully here—missteps (too much brand...too little brand...improper brand) can be costly.

Take for example a regional bank we were working with a few years back.

We had developed a wildly successful mailing for them that was delivering response rates that hadn't been achieved before.

Frankly, we knew it was our solid direct response techniques that carried the most weight.

Their brand definitely definitely had some pull. As a regional bank, they had some very good brand equity we could use to leverage response.

But the same was not the case when we took this campaign national.

The exact same, heavily-branded mailing was sent to a prequalified list...and it didn't work. There was lower response across the board in the regions outside of their existing footprint.

Tread carefully when introducing branding into your direct mail and email campaigns. It's not enough to just change the look and language and hope for the best. You need to find the sweet spot.

So what went wrong? We didn't find the right balance, obviously. But the even bigger insight from the experience led to our first rule of brand-building direct response.

1. Base Your Decisions on the Target Audience and How Well They Know You

When marketing a completely new brand, it's best to go with what you know.

The key is to find the universal motivators that will keep the prospect engaged with what you're saying.

Because when you're a complete unknown to the recipient, the risk is great that they'll take the path of least resistance: your message ends up in the trash.

It might seem pretty obvious, but it's important to keep this idea top of mind. It's often one that's easily missed (or just ignored).

In the case of our regional bank-client, we were marketing a Harley-Davidson Visa card.

We were selling the Visa card, sure, but we knew what people really cared about was Harley-Davidson. That was our universal motivator.

When new Harley models came out, we changed our acquisition mailings and customer communications to reflect that.

The credit card took the back seat.

And when we dialed back the Harley-Davidson brand at all, response suffered. We learned the basis for our second rule.

2. Know the Specific Strengths of Your Brand and Use Only the Best Ones to Leverage Response

If we had made Harley and Visa equal, for instance, it wouldn't have worked.

Beyond that, if we got so far down the Harley brand-path (let's say we started talking engine specs in acquisition), that wouldn't work either.

In this case, it was the visual appeal and tone of the brand (and how that spoke to the recipient) that we could use as our best, strongest attribute to get someone to respond.

And we applied that across everything, leading us to this:

3. Be Consistent and Stay Vigilant Throughout

Continuing to use Harley-Davidson as an example, if what we did looked wildly different with each campaign, we would've doomed.

To prevent this from happening, we would continually audit our own communications (and even the work of other agencies doing direct mail initiatives) to make sure we were all walking and talking the same.

Our approach allowed us to strengthen the response on everything from newsletters to cross-sell mailings offering motorcycle insurance.

Mind you, this one seems relatively simple to implement.

After all, chances are good that if we just swapped out images and used the Harley shield everywhere, we would have been good.

In today's fast-paced marketing environment, it's easy to settle for just painting a new brand across your campaigns and hoping for the best. But to paraphrase the Bard, "That way disaster lies."

There's more to it than that, though.

Beyond the first three rules I've outlined, there are some very specific foundational rules you need to follow when branding across direct mail and email campaigns, whether they are acquisition, cross-sell or ongoing customer communications.

You start by taking the same measured approach you would with any direct response campaign, but you now approach it with the first three rules in mind.

Next week, we'll explore the remaining four rules for success in branding-direct response marketing.

Use those rules liberally with the first three, and you'll be on your way to keeping your campaigns working the way you want.

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