Brand Vs. Direct Response: It’s All In How You Set The Table


ADOTAS — Recently, someone not in the advertising business asked me why brand campaigns were so much different from performance campaigns in terms of delivery. After having been in the industry for close to a decade, this seems intuitively obvious to me, but I admit it was hard to articulate. There are so many factors to take into account and really the difference between brand and performance is not black or white, but shades of grey.

Yet I had to give him a simple answer. As usual, I pulled from my experience as a dad for an analogy: Every single night of the week, I have to ask one of my older kids to set the dinner table. On average I have to ask them 6 to 10 times before they set the table. However, by the second time I ask, they know it is their turn to set the table. And that is the basic difference between brand and performance or direct response campaigns: to just make them AWARE that it is their turn to set the table I have to tell them once or twice. To ACTUALLY get them to set the table, I need to tell them many, many times.

The same holds true for brand versus direct response campaigns.  Brand campaigns in general are more efficient in terms of use of impressions. Low frequency rules, since it does not take too many exposures to move the needle on awareness. However for performance campaigns, you typically have to get in front of the same user many times to finally drive them to action.

Now, let’s refine this analogy a little bit more. My kids really hate setting the dinner table. However there are other things I ask them to do and they do it more readily. For example, if I tell them to put on their shoes because we are going out, I only have to ask them 3 or 4 times. They usually want to leave since it means we could go somewhere fun. So I need to spend less energy getting them to put their shoes on than getting them to set the dinner table.

This begins to give you some insight into the shades of grey of delivering performance campaigns. If the “conversion” is easier, it takes less effort to make it happen. A conversion for a direct response advertiser that requires filling out a large amount of data — maybe entering a credit card number — will take a lot of impressions to make happen. That will be costly.  A conversion to simply enter your email into a mailing list or locate a dealer on a website is much easier and will be cheaper since less impressions will be needed to make the conversion happen.

So what does this mean to advertisers? Several interesting observations come to mind:

  1. For equal budget levels, brand campaigns will reach more people and give your product more exposure, and direct response campaigns will reach a narrower audience. You can’t achieve both large reach and many conversions without having some relatively deep pockets.
  2. Brand and direct response campaigns are complementary regardless of distribution channel.  The first few touch points with your intended audience make the next touch points that much more effective. For instance, if I had decided to tell my kids via cellphone to set the table prior arriving at the house, I would have to tell them less often to set the table once I was actually at home.  Branding “primes the pump” for performance so to speak.
  3. Even for branding campaigns, not everyone is a qualified prospect. If you take my examples, there is no chance my 4-year-old son will ever set the table for me. So I limit my message to the older kids. However all my kids are qualified to put their shoes on and leave the house. If you are a brand advertiser, you can waste a lot of money showing your ad to unqualified prospects unless your product or service really qualifies for mass reach.

Finally, it feels like the best approach is really “shades of grey”. If you are a brand advertiser, you would be well served to add a lightweight conversion process to your campaigns to make sure you hit the right audience. Maybe post-click page views on site, as an example. Conversely if you are a direct response or performance advertiser, you should realize that you need to achieve awareness before you can get conversions and relaxing your strict ROI metrics means you can get in front of more people, which will ultimately grow your market share over time.



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