Small Businesses: Direct Marketing OR Branding?

in On Entrepreneurship

On a private list 3 weeks ago someone decided we were talking too much about direct response marketing. Instead, he said, we should talk about companies like Apple and how their strategies apply to small businesses. (Note: Of course Apple uses direct response, I’m just framing the discussion as it happened.)

Two things you should know:

  • I had to snip out the comments that started the discussion. Like I said, this is a private group of marketers; not for public consumption.
  • Since this started as a private exchange, I used a couple of naughty words. If this will offend you horribly, either don’t read it… or deal with it. grin

Here’s my response…

— START RESPONSE —

Since this discussion is likely to bring up the “B” word, might as well tackle that first.

First, most people who talk about and sell branding are full of crap. Second, people who religiously proclaim it to be crap are full of crap themselves, or, worse, repeating what they have been told. Third, some gurus appear to be the latter in public, while in private they’ll say it has been a key driver of their success.

For those three reasons, the words “brand” and “branding” should be tossed out of the discussion.

Just too much emotional baggage.

It’s a useless and meaningless word.

I know you (Ergest) did not use the word, but someone is bound to. grin

I’ll use the word Identity, instead, and enjoy its ambiguity. So, what is it?

Whether we use the “B” word or the “I” word, most people (including the experts) think it has something to do with what the product/company/marketing is. An inherent characteristic. This is short-sighted.

What it “really” is, and where the frame becomes golden for marketers who study mass influence, cults, political movements, and the like is as follows:

“What a person feels to be true of themselves when interacting with the product/marketing/business.”

When you engineer this EMOTIONAL state … consistently … alongside and underlying traditional direct marketing, you have enormous power and profound influence.

In direct marketing circles, read Gary Halbert’s early newsletters. Read Dan Kennedy’s early newsletters. And as you read them, ask yourself what emotional response you are having as a result of the interaction.

Then notice whether it remains consistent from one newsletter to the next.

Stretch it out further. If you have their products, ask yourself whether it remains consistent there, as well.

Harley Davidson.

Apple.

The Body Shoppe.

Starbucks.

Louis Vuitton.

JetBlue.

Virgin.

Pick up a copy of Cigar Aficionado.

Etc, etc, etc.

The same exercise applies.

But for the average small business owner, here’s what does NOT apply. (And also, probably, why it isn’t discussed on this list.) You can’t afford to spend billions on awareness creating ads. Nor can you wait for a critical mass of evangelists to accumulate. (The iPod has been out for years, yet only this past year did it truly tip into the mainstream.)

The small and mid-sized business owner NEEDS measurable response to justify marketing.

Alas, dear adventurer, it does not end there.

Most pseudo-experts will proclaim you can “B-word” OR do direct response. In fact, your question is in that frame. “Too much DM, we need to look at OTHER stuff.” The truth is you can do both. It’s not EITHER/OR … it’s AND.

As Halbert and Kennedy have done, and many others.

The key is to make the Identity-generating stuff part-and-parcel to the direct-response stuff.

It is the difference between someone who understands great copy and someone who can create a movement.

A good friend of mine breaks a lot of so-called Internet marketing rules and has subscriber value numbers that’d rock the minds of a lot of “gurus.” People look at what he’s doing and a) say he’s wrong, or, if they have any inclination about the numbers, b) try to copy the “technique.” And they fail. Because it’s not only about the technique, it’s about the Identity always present … just under the surface … that, in part, allows the “technique-stuff” to thrive.

It’s about what they feel to be true of themselves when interacting with what he writes.

And the ultimate consistency and congruity of that state.

The marketing-copy-cats say, “he does X, so if I do X I’ll get his results.” But they completely miss Z, which is what allows X to work without exploding! To use an overused metaphor, it’s like putting icing on a pile of shit. You might get the icing right, but you still end up with shit.

So, Apple’s cool stuff? They got a lot of “Z.”

Want something to read?

First, a caveat.

You are NOT going to get “how-to” from these books.

Frankly, most of the “branders” don’t really know “how” … they can only identify it after it has happened, then mistakenly try to recreate it in another context using the parts that mean nothing without the whole. These books will give you some clues, and stimulate your thinking.

Get “Lovemarks” and “The Culting of Brands.”

Also, pick up Hoffer’s “The True Believer.” But be careful not to adopt the cynicism…………….

It wouldn’t hurt to read some Jung and/or Campbell.

A few years ago I swiped a quote from a Tom Peter’s seminar, that he has since included in a book. It’s a great one, and it applies here… From a Harley-Davidson exec:

“What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in
black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of
him.”

They “get it.”

Want another great one?

From William Gibson’s great book (a must read for marketers) … Pattern Recognition:

“I want to make the public aware of something they don’t quite yet know that they know — or have them feel that way. Because they’ll move on that, do you understand? They’ll think they’ve thought of it first. It’s about transferring information, but at the same time about a certain lack of specificity.”

Enjoy,
Michael

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous July 12, 2005 at 1:07 am

I confess…I’m one of those unqualified folks who sometimes use the “b” word without fully understanding it. However, I admit my ignorance, look to blogs like this for insight, and happily take all the advice I can get. It’s especially encouraging to hear you say we can do both DM and branding…if we but take the time to study both and learn wherein our customer’s heart lies.

Or, something to that effect. Great post! I sure learned something.
——-

Reply

2 Anonymous July 12, 2005 at 6:07 am

I confess…I’m one of those unqualified folks who sometimes use the “b” word without fully understanding it. However, I admit my ignorance, look to blogs like this for insight, and happily take all the advice I can get. It’s especially encouraging to hear you say we can do both DM and branding…if we but take the time to study both and learn wherein our customer’s heart lies.
Or, something to that effect. Great post! I sure learned something.——-

Reply

3 Anonymous April 21, 2005 at 3:04 pm

[...] els to be true of themselves when interacting with the product/marketing/business.” (See Small Businesses: Direct Marketing OR Brandin [...]

Reply

4 Anonymous April 4, 2005 at 1:04 am

This is SOOOOOOOOOOooooo true, especially in the stock market!  There, it’s known as “the romance of finance.”  People actually get paid to twist our guts into knots with emotion over certain companies or whole industries.  The more we emote, the more likely we’re apt to generate commissions for somebody else by hitting the buy or sell button.

Reply

5 Anonymous April 4, 2005 at 6:04 am

This is SOOOOOOOOOOooooo true, especially in the stock market!  There, it’s known as “the romance of finance.”  People actually get paid to twist our guts into knots with emotion over certain companies or whole industries.  The more we emote, the more likely we’re apt to generate commissions for somebody else by hitting the buy or sell button.

Reply

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