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Direct Response Marketing

Field Reports

1 Jul, 2005 By: Response Contributor Response

Online University Mixes Brand and Direct Advertising

To many people, brand advertising and direct marketing are two wholly separate, if not antithetical, practices. One generates awareness and makes emotional connections. The other elicits a specific response. But, until recently, the two methods had rarely, if ever, been considered as complementary.

On the Web, however, brand and direct marketing are not so easily separated. In the big picture of an interactive marketing campaign, return-on-investment (ROI) efficiencies can only be achieved if brand and direct marketing are used jointly. The secret lies in combining the perception-shaping power of brand advertising with the one-to-one persuasiveness of direct marketing.

Strong Data Mining

The most revolutionary aspect of Web marketing is perhaps its most as-yet-untapped one: the ability to measure consumer behavior and to deliver messages tailored to fit that behavior accordingly. By culling behavioral information during each phase of the consumer lifecycle, data mining from Web campaigns allows marketers to target the right consumer with the right message at the right time, securing response rates that far exceed campaigns in other media like print or television.

Think of consumer behavior patterns in terms of a ladder — each rung is made up of consumers at varying degrees of involvement with your brand. On the bottom rung is the general pool of consumers at large. Your customers are somewhere within this pool; your task is to find them and lift them up rung by rung.

On the second rung are the suspects — people who fall within certain demographics, psychographics or life-stages and, therefore, are likely targets for your offer. Suspects who have demonstrated a clear desire to learn more about your offering then become prospects. These are the hand-raisers — people who identify themselves by asking for more information.

Prospects who have made a purchase become customers, and then the top rung of the ladder — the holy grail of marketing — consists of customers with whom you have developed such close relationships with that they become loyal brand advocates.

Brand advertising is more effective at the ladder's bottom rung, where it is essential to build awareness and establish perceptions. Direct response tactics must then take over during the suspect and prospect phases, in which the user needs to be given incentive to take action. Direct gives way to brand again in order to transition a customer to loyal brand advocacy. But in all cases, elements of both brand and direct must be used in each message.

Recruiting to an Online University

Let's take a look at a real-world campaign in which brand building and direct response both played a vital role.

One of the nation's fastest-growing online universities was looking to generate qualified leads that it could ultimately convert into enrolled students. The marketing team at the school had done its share of market research and data mining, and it understood what type of suspects they were targeting at the first and second rungs of the ladder. What the university needed was some way of promoting its brand to this particular audience while simultaneously utilizing direct response tactics to elicit the "hand raising" that would push suspects to become prospects.

The university's agency developed a flash-based Webmercial that laid out the benefits of earning a degree through the university and positioned the school as the most convenient, flexible and reputable way to earn a degree online. The creative featured smart-looking, well-dressed people in their 20s and 30s, who represented the success a prospective student could achieve if they attended this school.

These brand elements of the ad unit were intended to garner the attention of those users from within the pool of suspects who might make good prospects. But getting them to actually raise their hands and signify their interest as prospects would require something else.

At the end of the message, as the voiceover winds down and encourages listeners with the call to action to "Apply today — and point your career upward," a form appears, asking the consumer to submit some basic information in order to be contacted by an enrollment advisor and begin the application process. Or, if the user doesn't want to sit through the whole message before completing the form, he or she can always click on the "Sign up now" button that appears on every screen throughout the piece.

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