Direct Response vs Branding: Why you Need to Build a Brand?

advertising-largeThere’s a great debate amongst marketers between branded marketing and direct response marketing.

Advocates for brand marketing argue that brand marketing helps keep your brand top of mind – the more familiar people are with your brand, the more likely they are to buy from you.

Brand marketing advocates say the art of branding is about how it makes a person feel.

Detractors argue that brand marketing is worthless unless you get a return on investment.  This is where direct response marketing comes to the fore.

Direct marketing is all about making the offer – driving sales and getting prospects to either buy or enter into a sales funnel where they can nurtured.

The truth is both are valid techniques.

Brand marketing helps people choose – it indirectly influences a purchase. Direct marketing makes the offer – it helps people buy.

The metrics also differ. Metrics for branding are measured by awareness and trust while metrics for direct response are governed by response rate and conversion rate.

Having worked both as a brand marketer and as a direct response marketer, I can see the argument from both sides.

I often get business owners tell me that they don’t give a toss about branding. They don’t trust it and see it as a waste of money because it is harder to measure a return on investment.  Yet they are often on social media which is an ideal platform to help build awareness about their brand.

The fact is, there is room for both brand and direct response marketing.

Many large brands rely on both. That’s how they got big.

A brand like John West not only advertises it’s brand in media, it also runs sales promotions in supermarket catalogues (which is form of direct marketing).

Branding is the reason why a customer will pay more for a can of John West than another brand. It’s also the reason they will choose John West over a lesser known brand when pricing is at parity or close to parity.

Imagine you are a brand like Mercedes Benz.

Your advertising might be seen by a 25 year old who probably can’t afford to buy right now.

If you are an advocate for direct response marketing, you would ignore this market and focus on only potential buyers.

However, as a brand marketer whilst that 25 year old may not be your exact target market, you would recognise that a well educated 25 year old with a promising career ahead will be able to buy one day – perhaps in the not too distant future.  And when they do want a luxury car, you would like Mercedes Benz to be in that 25 year olds consideration set.

A smaller brand may not have access to the same resources as a larger brand so may focus more on direct response. This is a short term approach but guarantees a cycle of continually needing to invest to elicit a direct response.

Additionally, once they get people into a direct response funnel, they still need to nurture them and use tactics to build a relationship with them.  This requires time, skill and strategy.  It requires you to build trust. 

Whether you are for or against branding, it’s important to understand the value of a brand.

Are you investing for the long term or the short term? Do you want to invest for the long term?

Why not try measuring the effect of direct response marketing with and without a branding campaign.

Here’s a quick overview of branding versus direct response:


  • Focus is on brand awareness
  • Metrics are based on brand awareness and trust
  • Does not tend to have calls to actions
  • You are investing for brand equity and the long term health of your brand
  • You are less reliant on search engine rankings or one social media channel for visibility

Direct Response

  • Focus is on sales / conversions
  • Metrics are based on conversions & response rates
  • Tends to use calls to action
  • You are investing for a short term & instant responses
  • Consistent investment is required to trigger sales

I am not an advocate for direct response or branding. Both work very well together and are complimentary to each other.

After running numerous online advertising campaigns, there is a definite advantage in branding campaigns.  Brand terms have stronger conversions rates than generic terms. Branding makes a customer more receptive to buying from you rather than someone else.

The approach you take depends on your advertising goals and where you are in your business lifecycle.