You can't just fold up a general ad campaign into an envelope

The tricky art of turning brand image into a mail package that sells

It was the brand manager's first venture into direct marketing -- and clearly his first time ever briefing a direct marketing creative team.

Respectfully, we listened to his presentation on the product's brand image, its slogans, colours, tone and visual imagery, its competitive positioning and focus groups results, the print ad campaign and new TV spots. Before we even left the table, we knew our challenge: this brand manager expected us to fold up his general ad campaign into an envelope Ð and still achieve ambitious product-trial response rates.

The reaction from the creative team was predictable. "Help," said the creative director. "The supplied photography is gorgeous, but it doesn't demonstrate the benefits of using the product. And the colour palette is so soft, how can I grab attention in the mailbox?"

"Help," said the copywriter. "Action-oriented copy doesn't fit the language of the brand. And the product's slogan is memorable, but it doesn't prove 'What's in it for me?' to a consumer."

In an era when clients believe brand image is all-powerful, what's a creative team to do when staying true to the brand means potentially compromising the impact of a direct mail package?

It all comes down to one problem: the brand image of a product or service is usually defined by its general advertising, with no understanding of how it would be represented one day on an envelope, a P.S. or a best customer 'Thank You' card.

Mass advertising tells consumers how to think and feel about a product or service, how to differentiate it from the competition, how to assess its value. Direct marketing is in the business of selling. And when you translate that into creative, the rule is: if it doesn't sell, it's not creative.

All too often the tried and true techniques of direct creative that lift response rates are vetoed by clients who only understand branding in the context of mass. They say no to a burst of red drawing attention to the call-to-action. They resist copy that explains a benefit and then offers proof. They cross out the word FREE, saying "it will make us look cheap." They ask for more white space.

Direct marketing's creative leaders must help clients break through this mindset -- to sell the fact that the direct medium opens doors to giving a brand depth, personalizing its slogan, bringing its image to life.

A direct package gives a brand manager a whole lot more marketing real estate than any 30-second TV spot. While leveraging the words and images that remind a consumer of the product's mass advertising, the package can go further by adding personal relevance to messages that motivate the consumer to act.

I once described it to a brand manager this way -- what if a consumer invited you into his home and gave you five minutes to sell your product in your own words? You would explain the product's benefits in a way that you thought would be most relevant to him. You might quote relevant testimonials. You would give him background information and facts that proved the product benefits. And if this customer asked: "What's in it for me?" and "What do I have to do to get it?" You would give him a simple, direct answer. That's the power of a good direct marketing package.

Now, think about beer. Brand image is everything. And, given the massive TV buys of each brand of beer, mailing a brand-image direct package to a loyal or competitive drinker isn't going to sell more brew. But a direct campaign can turn a passive consumer of the brand's image advertising into an active participant in contests, events and activities that make him experience the brand image in a more personal, permanent way. The end result: increased loyalty and increased sales.

Data-driven consumer knowledge adds even more dimension to how direct creative teams can reinforce brand image and customize the sell offers and messages.

Take this example. A bank works hard to sell itself with a clearly distinct caring brand image. But with direct mail, you can bring that branding to life for different customer groups in different ways -- from the young couple buying their first home to the empty nesters in the home stretch to retirement, all the while staying true to the bank's caring image.

Effective use of branding does increase the power of a DM package. It can affect both attitudes and behavior. But only if the words and images that define a brand's image can incorporate clear sell messages and technique.

And that means creative leaders in direct marketing must sell their clients on being invited to the table to have input on a broader definition of their product's brand image.

Reprinted with permission of Cheryl Ferguson, Vice-President, Creative Solutions at Rapp Collins Communicaide in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada's largest knowledge-based marketing agency, (905) 281-2424, [email protected] Her article appeared in the February 2, 1998 edition of Marketing Magazine, a MacLean Hunter publication.

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