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New Year, Old Dichotomy: Is the ‘Brand Building-or-Direct-Response’ split a thing of the past?

Liam Loan-Lack
Liam Loan-Lack (former) Account Director

Why should we be forced to choose between Brand or Direct Response? It’s 2015 for goodness sake!

For my money, this distinction should be used less and less to describe advertisers and their media behaviours. There are two reasons: first, almost all brand campaigns cut away at typically labelled direct-response goals. Second, a focus on direct, short-term consumer responses, such as visits to a unique URL, redemption of Free Trial offer etc, normally leads to an unhelpful reliance on last-click attribution analyses.

Expanding on the former, an example is the 2010 TDA teacher recruitment brand campaign, which resulted in a 20% uplift in enquiries about traineeships. Also I this category are the now infamous John Lewis Christmas campaigns. These high-profile offerings undoubtedly aimed to drive hard behavioural responses, such as YoY increases of online orders/in-store visits, rather than the typical softer brand metrics of favourability and consideration.

As to the latter reason, the 2010 IPA Effectiveness Paper for Orange, detailing the creation of the “Pistemap” digital attribution model, illustrates the point. Here, a classic direct-response marketer moved away from a narrow-minded focus on optimising using a ‘last-click-wins’ evaluation. Instead they adopted a media plan which considered brand exposures further up the conversion funnel. The results? Increased cost efficiencies (ROMI) along with greater revenue and profit.

This last case study evidences the point that brand campaigns amplify direct response activities. The net effect is that the consumer is exposed to a greater frequency of message and is therefore more likely to click/call/redeem when prompted.

The simple fact is that all advertising is designed to create some response from the consumer. The question is really when we should expect this response (and when the primary measurement of effectiveness and efficiency will take place). Do we expect it over a long term period (1+ year) or short term (<1 year)?

However, even if we are dealing with the purest of ‘direct—response’ advertisers, whose focus is the short-term, the IPA DataBank suggests that only c.10% of the total advertising effects are in this period. Econometrics can show the total effects with great clarity and help marketers ascertain the true contribution of channels. This can prevent the over-optimisation of investment, and forestall the trend toward forging a media strategy based on short-term metrics like Cost per Acquisition, Cost per Free Trial etc.

Most clients and agencies are probably aware of all this. But there is a definite reluctance to wake up and act on this knowledge. So how can the industry lessen its reliance on this old-fashioned 80’s dichotomy in 2015? Below are my suggestions to kick-start the debate:

  1. Adoption of Binet & Field’s brand-response thinking. Agencies in particular should in my view, integrate The Long & Short of it into all training. An example of how useful the statistical analysis undertaken by Binet & Field to justify their arguments is below:


Source: IPA The Long & Short of It 2013, Les Binet & Peter Field, p29.

  1. Educate and empower brave clients. Working with marketing managers/directors who are willing to champion the importance of brand building in tandem with direct response selling.
  2. Abandon the arbitrary distinction between ‘brand’ and ‘direct-response’ budgeting and similarly segregated media plans.
  3. Realise the significance of further research into Social ROI and the continued growth of M-Commerce. There is a growing body of research on the value of social interaction. Marketers will be able to justify with hard numbers the effect of brand comms beyond simply the effect on purchase consideration and an assessment of retweets, likes etc. For example, as the modern consumer responds to ads and is increasingly paying for services/goods on their smartphone it may be possible (with some clever data-mining) to match social interaction with subsequent M-commerce activity and gauge the value of those reached by brand comms and those un-exposed in sales/response campaigns. This would be a powerful argument to justify the synergies of brand-response media plans.
  4. Be aware of the scale of the task. Updating a client’s media behaviours into the 21st century model of brand-response is not an easy task. It requires being let into the operation of client earned and owned channels, unfettered access to customer data and an agency relationship as a trusted partner, not one of a media supplier. This is even before coming to an overall advertising concept that is both powerful in the short and long term – not an easy creative brief to either fulfil or write!

In all, what I’m not suggesting is that we depart from using these terms entirely, but instead use them with greater fluidity in order to ultimately recognise that “Building brands and driving sales have never been exclusive activities, they are symbiotic.”




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