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