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Is Branding Dead?

1 Jan, 2009 By: Thomas Haire Response

No, but as the economy struggles and marketing budgets are slashed, measuring ROI on every marketing dollar is now a necessity. In the new age of direct response, marketers are turning to 'response-branding' methods more than ever.

Provocative question, isn't it? Yes, 10 years ago, one could have never asked such a question with a straight face. However, the advances made by direct response marketing, as well as measurability technology across the advertising and marketing universe — along with the even greater need for marketers to immediately measure a campaign's effectiveness in troubled economic times — have made the question not only valid, but very timely.



While the simple answer is, of course, no, traditional brand advertising is not dead, the reality is that the marketing landscape has changed and branding campaigns no longer stand alone in any successful company's marketing plan. In 2009, facets of direct response marketing — via television, radio and, especially, the Internet — can (and, really, must) be found in almost any marketer's arsenal.

Richard Stacey, president and CEO of Toronto-based Northern Response Intl. Ltd., says, "Brands are not dead but, simply, for many product categories they are not the competitive advantage they once were. The brand is just one of many points of product differentiation. As media and audiences have splintered, brand marketers have been forced to follow their customers into new media and channels of distribution or lose them to competitors. Advertising can have a variety of objectives. If you're running ads to show that Volvos are safe, it's harder to measure whether your ads are being effective. However, where immediate sales are the goal, then this can usually be easily measured and should be."

However, the idea that traditional branding campaigns haven't been subject to measurement over the years isn't quite true, if you ask Doug Garnett, president of Portland, Ore.-based DR agency Atomic Direct. "We can't claim that traditional brand media hasn't been measured — it's been 'measured media' for 50 years," he contends. "And, brands put amazing amounts of money and statistical analysis wisdom into measuring audience size and make-up."

Instead, Garnett prefers to "restate" the question around two different types of media measurement that he calls "impression-measured" media and "response-measured" media. "Impression-measured media is media where you buy the opportunity to put a message in front of an audience," he contends. "This is an appropriate approach when you can't generate significant immediate action that will reflect campaign impact."

As an example, he cites President-elect Barack Obama's long-form media buy days before the November 2008 election. "Obama's campaign needed to get its message in front of people in order to persuade them to eventually take action — vote. A response-measured campaign would not have worked."

On the other hand, Garnett says, "Response-measured media are media opportunities evaluated based on their ability to generate measurable consumer action, such as a call, a Web visit or even a purchase. This offers more immediate measurement of advertising effect, while its weakness is that it can only accurately measure a specific set of direct responses."

Garnett contends that his definitions can better frame a response to the original question. "With these definitions, we can discuss the rapidly emerging shift from 'impression-measured' to 'response-measured' media," he says.

No matter the parameters or definitions, the rise of direct response marketing as a competitor to and companion of traditional branding in the first decade of the 21st century is unquestionable. With that in mind, Response turned to a group of experts in the marketing business with a set of questions that address the evolution of marketing. Including Garnett and Stacey, both members of Response's Editorial Advisory Board (EAB), we included a trio of marketing leaders for big-name companies in financial services and healthcare, the leaders of a new media agency that is making its mark among corporate marketers, and additional DR agency-side experts from the EAB.


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