The social media revolution was an over-hyped lie. Digital marketing is forcing marketing communications to evolve, not re-invent itself.

Mass media ideas that aren't working anymore (like branding) are winding down as "what works" is becoming increasingly evident: direct response marketing. Like it or not, whether you're a small business owner or a brand manager, surviving this evolution means embracing and practicing traditional direct response marketing.

"Well, we didn't get nearly the number of leads we wanted to from our LinkedIn Group this quarter but at least we got some good branding out of it."

Sound familiar? You could replace the words LinkedIn Group with trade show booth and you get my point. Branding is not enough to create sales. Nor is branding—or its "kissing social cousin" engagement—able to produce customer behavior (e.g. business leads). Why? Because they are rarely executed as processes aimed at producing behavioral outcomes.

Branding and engagement use tools like creativity to create, at best, brand name recall and preference. Hence, direct response must be added in to social engagement campaigns for leads and sales to manifest. It doesn't "just happen."

It's What Has Always Worked

The Web and social media are built for direct response and that's where we're heading as an industry. In fact direct response is where the ecommerce action has been since day one. Witness the multi-billion dollar affiliate marketing industry, Google Adwords. These innovations fueled rapid growth of ecommerce in the early days.

"We're all direct marketers now. The Web is one big direct marketing machine and everyone is invited to the party," says Mike Moran, formerly of IBM, a distinguished engineer and author of Do it Wrong Quickly, who says marketers come from two distinct backgrounds:

Brand marketers are the ones whose work you see on TV. They are all about branding, brand image, brand awareness—use whatever word you want—and their success has made Coca-Cola and many other consumer products into household names. Direct marketers are decidedly less sexy ... constantly searching for the next idea that increases response. They are all about sales, and couldn't care less about brand image as long as the cash register rings.

Moran says social engagement marketers with an interest in driving sales have much to learn from the practice of direct response marketing. David Ogilvy said this too. In short direct response works and it's never been more needed by those of us with things to sell online.

Customers Expect Proof, Upfront, for Free

Based on my own research while writing my book I've come to discover that people are buying in business-to-business and business-to-consumer contexts using social media. Yes, they're buying as a result of content marketing. However, customers only purchase when the business behind the content is willing to prove the effectiveness of the product or service (in some small but meaningful way) prior to the purchase. Executing this requires use of direct response.

What I'm getting at here is "engaging content that provides value" does not work nearly as well as engaging content that delivers a result before the sale. That translates to solving a related problem, or giving an actual sample of a unique experience. It's the difference between telling a customer you're the best choice and proving it to them. It's the difference between ascribing characteristics to your brand as bait for customers and letting customers' actual experiences create your brand for you.

"We develop brands to help customers achieve outcomes that they can’t achieve through products and services alone," says Brian Phipps, an independent brand strategy consultant.

"Thus, a 'brand'  is much more than an identity, a stylized sales stimulant, a promise or a reputation. It's a deliverable that acts as a supra-product method of creating value, limited only by the brand imagination of the company."

Results in Advance

This idea of being less artsy, creative or funny (branding) and more useful (content-rooted direct response) is what's fueling the success of Frank Kern and his clients. The concept begins with you/your brand giving materially useful things to prospective customers---like tools and utilities that solve problems for them. This often includes multimedia, educational content that proves your worth, builds trust. In the end, prospective buyers factor the seller's ability to actually produce a result for them into consideration when the call-to-action arrives. 

In this context your product is nothing more than an extension of benefits customers already received from you (for free). Your product suddenly becomes a chance to solve a prospect's nagging problem, avoid a risk or exploit an opportunity. Good deeds (deliverables) using helpful tools, advice, free samples of experiences all help buyers see your product as a logical investment rather than an expense.

By providing what Mr. Kern calls "results in advance" we marketers can do something remarkable. By moving prospects closer to their goal before we ask them to buy anything we bring customers closer to joy... so much so that they appreciate what we've given them and WANT to pay us to reach their ultimate goal.

What do you think?

photo credit: gnackgnackgnack
Jeff Molander

Published 8 May, 2012 by Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander is a professional speaker, publisher and accomplished entrepreneur having co-founded what is today the Google Affiliate Network. He can be reached at He is a regular contributor to Econsultancy. 

29 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (6)

Save or Cancel
Peter Bell

Peter Bell, Managing Director at Fuse Lead Marketing

Fascinating insight and I agree we're only see the beginnings of how the internet should really be used for advertising. As the 'old brand advertising generation' gives way to the 'new Performance Marketing Kids' on the block. However the importance of branding and being on message should not be underplayed in Performance. The more powerful the brand, the higher the trust and recognition and thus the lower the CPA you can achieve. The two are not unrelated. I would go 80% performance, 20% brand in terms of how future marketing money should be spent.

over 6 years ago

Mark Patron

Mark Patron, Consultant and non-exec director at Patron Direct LtdEnterprise

Being a direct marketer I'd love to believe you. However the death of mass media brand advertising is greatly exaggerated, even online. Brands have considerable staying power, of the top 50 packaged goods brands in Britain fewer than ten have been created in the past 20 years. I've always thought of brand advertising and direct response as being complimentary rather than in competition.

over 6 years ago


Shiri Ziegelman

I completely agree with the former two comments.

There is the purchase funnel. In order to move people to the bottom of it and make them actually purchase, there is recognition, favorability and intention to create. Thus brand building and direct response strongly go hand in hand and complement each other. You say it yourself throughout your article and provide different examples of brand building actions but somehow call them direct response. For example: "...multimedia, educational content that proves your worth, builds trust". Right,these actions might target the middle or lower end of the purchase funnel, but I believe they are still considered brand building actions and not direct response. The "engaging content that delivers a result before the sale", is exactly the brand building process that is so important to finally push for the sale itself.

There is now the term "brand performance" which refers to measurable results in digital advertising other then sale or lead. This term refers to actual results that can be translated to return on investment as they create true potential customers that like, prefer or intend to purchase a certain brand after engaging with it, in all levels, through online advertising.

over 6 years ago


Mike Moran

Thanks for the shout-out, Jeff. I obviously agree with your points. :-)

It's amazing to me that these points still need to be made after all these years, but I believe that is testament to how difficult it is for many people to adjust to this way of thinking after years of succeeding in a different way.

Digital marketing is still marketing--it requires understanding your audience, connecting with them, and persuading them to buy. But how we do it online might be different from the traditional ways, and people get caught up in the tactics rather than the big picture.

Thanks for the reminder that direct marketing isn't so new and it is one of the keys to digital marketing success.

over 6 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Thanks for all the comments, everyone.

Shiri and Mark... we are not actually having a disagreement because, as Shiri points out, we have yet to decide on what "branding" means as an industry. The new terms just keep on coming. Why? Because we cannot agree... and to the extent that it's getting comical in how nonsensical it has become IMHO. This is creeping into social media (return on engagement, return on influence, etc.).

I respect your belief in the term brand performance and the metrics that go into it but I do not, personally, believe that it is **as effective** a tool to create more leads and sales (as direct response is).

I say we're not having a disagreement because we define branding differently. I define branding as an outcome determined exclusively by customer experience. They decide. A lot of other people in this world choose to believe branding is something we do. Ok I respect that.

The crux of where people have problems with my viewpoint (as I continue to write about this subject) seems to be that "branding does that" (creates leads and sales). My response is "not really... causality is not clear most cases."

This does not discount the need for, or suggest, that brand advertising is dead. Quite the contrary. I am, indeed, advocating both awareness and preference-focused advertising (branding?) and direct response. Therein lies the power.

Thanks for considering!

over 6 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Wonderful case in point in the WSJ today via Kia's experience with Facebook's value dollar for dollar:

>>>>>>>>> The automaker has advertised on Facebook since 2009 and plans to increase its ad spending on the site. While building brand awareness on a site with 900 million users is valuable, Mr. Sprague said he's unclear if "a consumer sees my ad, and does that ultimately lead to a new vehicle sale?"

The concerns from Kia and other advertisers underscore the difficulties of measuring results of nascent-forms of social-media advertising.>>>>>>>>>>>>

So is this new? Nope. It's been around since radio/TV and newspapers. So my point is that if sales were really, truly being caused naturally by--- or "as part of"---the art and science of branding (which I call into question) we would not really be having this conversation. So that's why I advocate that advertising (for lack of a better term) be "blended" with DR.

This is not to say that Kia or other brands aren't engaging in direct response advertising that creates awareness/preference AND behavior. There are many examples of this and these are what I try to write/speak/produce videos about here and elsewhere.

Here's the WSJ source:

Cheers again!

over 6 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.