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Editorial Advisory Board

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.


With the nation facing major economic issues for the foreseeable future, and marketers tightening budgets across the board, direct response marketing in all media appears to be in position to take another major step forward. With measurable marketing and ROI now taking center stage more than ever, it begs the question — is traditional branding dead?

Ken Murray, chief marketing officer, J.G. Wentworth: No, traditional branding is going through a metamorphosis, where the borders between branding and DR are less defined. What that means is that messaging needs to be memorable, but also have a clear call-to-action in order to be effective. Budgets are tight and marketing investments need to be measurable to the extent possible, but branding is alive and well.

Ian Baer, president, Big Fuel: The biggest shift is that branding has become a mutual proposition. It's no longer sufficient for a brand to develop a set of messages and rely on frequency and spending to burn those messages into a consumer's mind. Now, the consumer has taken an equity stake in every brand, at least when it comes to the emotional side of the equation. Direct marketing has moved from optional to mandatory for most brands.

Darren Beck, senior vice president of marketing, Tree.com: Brand advertising isn't likely to ever "die." However, the line between brand advertising and direct response advertising continues to blur. I view brand advertising and direct response advertising as opposite ends of a spectrum. Many highly successful companies recently have found a sweet spot somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. "Branded-response" advertising has become a buzzword for this approach, and companies from Capital One to LendingTree have successfully leveraged a branded response approach to drive their businesses forward.

Ronald Pruett, chief marketing officer, Liberty Medical: No, because brands ultimately need to stand for something. They need to be positioned properly or be reduced to a commodity with averaged returns. I actually view DR as a flight to efficiency more than a departure from branding. Here's a more personal example: online classified job sites. People are using them in droves, putting their own personal brand out there for many to see because they are interested in a specific opportunity. The advertiser for the position is thus allowed to pull or "buy" individuals with their own unique experiences and, in essence, "brands" from an assortment. This process is fast and efficient. Richard Stacey, president and CEO, Northern Response Intl. Ltd.: The return on brand as a component of the marketing mix has diminished relative to other components of the marketing mix. In some categories, such as housewares or health-and-beauty, traditional branding has been under attack for a long time. Brand is certainly one component of competitive advantage, but an increasingly less important one. It just so happens that if you have an innovative and feature-rich product, then DRTV may give you a competitive advantage in explaining it to consumers so you can get it to market sooner and at the same time give it the support and drive required for retail and/or other channels of distribution.

Timothy R. Hawthorne, founder and executive creative director, Hawthorne Direct: Traditional branding will remain alive and well as long as there are brick-and-mortar retail outlets — which is forever — or until we de-evolve to the flat-screen obsessed world of "Wall-E." Branding is about building an enduring association between your brand and an image/feeling that dominates the competition when confronted with purchase choice. Direct marketing is based on striving for an immediate purchase decision while seeking to eliminate any thought of choice. But, in fact, there should be no barrier between ROI and branding. All it requires is a deeper understanding and quantification of how branding efforts translate into sales — the "Holy Grail of Brand Marketers," which may be as achievable as the Grail itself.

David Savage, executive vice president/managing director, R2C Group: Traditional branding is not dead, nor will it be any time soon. But direct response marketing is no longer the redheaded stepchild. It's more of a competitive sibling. Fortune 500 companies and emerging brands are embracing DR strategies and media opportunities more than ever, and some of the largest advertisers are utilizing DR both strategically and tactically to complement their branding efforts.

Doug Garnett, president, Atomic Direct: Traditional branding is not dead — and it shouldn't be. All advertising has a role to play and that includes the impression-measured media of traditional branding. But impression-measured media needs to become the exception rather than the rule. Why? Impression-measured media operates on the theory that getting our message in front of the "right" audience will achieve the results we seek. However, audience measurements like Nielsen or Arbitron are entirely incapable of measuring whether a demographic is likely to take action any time soon based on messages. Response-measured media's operating theory is a much more likely one: that the communication and media that generates the highest immediate phone or Web response will also be the most persuasive to the most people.

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