Most consumers have a single relationship with a brand. They develop generally good or bad feelings about the brand and its products, and those feelings inform their purchasing decisions — often for a very long time.
But direct marketers tend to see brands in a very different and more complicated way than consumers. Rather than thinking about the brand as a whole, direct marketers view a brand in terms of the marketing channel (Web, display, search marketing, mobile, social) that it specializes in, as well as by customer segments and geography.
At times, this more complicated understanding of brands can be a good thing. Great digital marketing is a complicated undertaking, and it certainly helps to have marketers who are experts in each respective aspect of the industry. You don’t want someone leading your mobile strategy, for example, unless he has a deep understanding of the rapidly changing mobile platforms.
But a direct-marketing team divided by specialties can pose a danger. When your focus is limited to your own niche, it can be far too easy to lose sight not only of the larger campaign goals, but also of the very way in which consumers form relationships to a brand.
Take display, for example. How many times have you seen a surprisingly cheesy banner ad for a major brand? Or, even more common, how many times have you seen a well-designed creative for a quality brand on a site with terrible — if not downright illegal — content? Other times, the problem is not the banner itself or the site on which it’s displayed, but rather the reliance on multiple targeting campaigns, which can leave the users feeling as though they’re being stalked across the Web.
If you’re only looking at standard metrics, the cheesy creative might be performing quite well. The repetitive targeting might, likewise, lead to good ROI. The problem is that all too often the ROI on these units is viewed in a vacuum, without any thought given to the long-term impact the ads have on the brand. After all, for every person who clicks on the ad, there are far more who don’t, and many of them may be thinking of the brand in a less-flattering light after spotting that cheesy banner ad.
This isn’t to say that direct marketers only overlook the negative impacts of their campaigns. A display campaign that doesn’t immediately appear to be effective could provide a significant boost to the performance of the SEM campaign, or perhaps contribute to view-through conversions, which can provide meaningful data when looked at across a reasonable time window. The point is that when we look at any metric too narrowly, we risk missing the big picture.
So how can direct marketers find a way out of this trap?
If you’re not sure how the different parts of a larger brand campaign are impacting one another, conduct a simple test. You could run a banner designed to broadcast the brand to a new audience, monitoring it to see whether the buy leads to more brand searches on Google.
That’s not a bad first step, but if direct marketers really want to think about the brand in a new way, they need to move beyond the metrics — CPM, CPA, CPL, CPV and CTR — on which they tend to rely. All of these C’s are cost-based metrics created so that direct marketers can attach a cost to a particular action. But the C’s don’t tell the full story. Direct marketers need to also consider the broader metrics that brand marketers look at: life-time value, brand lift and on-site valued outcome.
Thinking about metrics in a new way is certainly a critical step toward thinking beyond a marketing silo, but it’s not the only step. Sometimes the solution to thinking more broadly is as simple as better communication among the different direct-marketing teams within a single brand.
Ford is a great example of an organization that was able to break silos. After researching its audience profiles, the automaker realized that Fiesta and Mustang were competing with one another and bombarding the same consumers with display ads. Recognizing the waste and the risk of damaging the Ford brand, the company decided to tailor its display ads to its audience’s interests and needs, rather than bombard it with ads for multiple vehicles.
Ford’s move was simple. All it required was communication and marketers who were thinking clearly both about the mechanics of the direct-response campaigns and about the consumer’s relationship to the Ford brand. And yet this sort of thinking and communication is all too often missing from marketing departments. If direct marketers begin to think of themselves as brand managers, they’ll be able to think about their own strategies in a new light.
Ben Plomion is director of marketing and partnerships at Chango, a search-retargeting company.