DM has to consider creating long term brand value

A loose insert fell out of my newspaper a couple of weekends ago and it shocked me. And not in a good way… Mike Welsh, CEO, Publicis Dialog, talks about the importance of brand value.

It was produced by a very well-known and extremely successful German car manufacturer. I’m staring at it now as I write this, and it’s terrible. Completely devoid of any of the tone, personality and charm that has made the brand so iconic over the last 30 years or so. It appears to have been created in a brand vacuum.

Twenty years ago, when I got my first agency job in direct marketing, there was a generally held view in ad agencies that DM agencies couldn’t be trusted with brands. And there was more than a little justification for this. Back then, it was about maximising immediate response and sticking by the ’rules’.

Courier typeface was the most responsive typeface (and therefore de rigueur) and our output was awash with tried and tested techniques – the liftletter, the Johnson box, the bangtail envelope.

Now I’m not saying none of these are important, but they are what they are – techniques. And back then we thought that whilst brands were terribly important, they tended to, how can I put this? Get in the way. Sometimes this was true, but it was a widely-held view at the time, sometimes almost the default position. So it’s no wonder that our ad-land chums looked down their noses at us.

Fortunately, this situation has now changed, and our discipline is more brand literate than before.

Initially this was led by smart-thinking agency types such as Steve Harrison and Jon Voelkel together with clients like Tim Lewis at First Direct, for whom the brand was the starting point.

We now recognise that direct marketing has a longer-term impact on consideration, preference and sales, but 20 years ago, nobody in direct marketing appeared that bothered about the people that didn’t immediately respond to our work.

A staggering thought, when you consider that could mean 98 out of every 100 who received a piece of direct mail, and 998 out of every 1,000 who came across a loose insert. But there are still no institutionalised metrics in place to demonstrate the longer term value that the discipline adds to a brand’s bottom line. Perhaps this is something that our trade bodies might like to pick up.

Set against the progress that we’ve made over the last 20 years or so, the car insert I referred to earlier looks out of date and does us all a disservice. It’s hard to know what we will happen to our discipline over the next 20 years, but you might want to check out a music blog recently launched by a colleague here at Publicis towers.

Abarrelofnails.com will build to become the definitive story of recorded music. It starts with a very clear vision of what the site intends to achieve and uses many of the techniques we all cut our teeth on – long copy beautifully crafted, response mechanisms on every page, one-click links to Amazon and Rough Trade. It is one-to-one communication no question, but the brand essence, a passion, an obsession even, for music is the thing that everything else hangs from. It is direct marketing Jim, but not as we know it.

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