“Branding Happens”

February 10th, 2009

My ex business partner Steve has a new post asking why anybody uses glossy branding ads, when direct marketing is so much more cost-effective, and builds brand at the same time.

The weird thing about us was that we cared about conversion (vs “branding”) , and despite dozens of attempts to make ads pay, the ROI on print ads was always abysmal compared to direct mail.
Despite our total neglect of “brand management” (we simply focused on getting people to our events, and then making their experience as close to perfection as possible) we developed a fabulous brand. …

Our mantra was “Branding Happens.” Getting and keeping customers is the way to achieve that.

I used to wonder the same thing (think: Dell), but I remember hearing a big honcho Pepsi ad manager speak at one of our events, and her saying "you don't build a big brand with direct marketing." And for something like Pepsi, she's absolutely right.

We were pushing high-ticket, carefully considered purchases. Same as Dell. Most purchases aren't like that.

I went to Jonah Lehrer's (How We Decide) book-tour lecture last night at Town Hall in Seattle. He mentioned the studies done mimicking the Pepsi challenge. Give a Pepsi lover a Coke and tell them it's a Pepsi, and they love it. And vice versa. The brand association overrides any true direct experience of the product.

The same is true even with cars and other things that you'd think would be rationally considered purchases. Sadly, they aren't. (Even in politics–look how many people vote for Republicans!)

The rational mind parses information and feeds it back to the emotional system, sort of asking "how do I feel about this?" The emotional system responds with feelings. Firebird good! Camaro bad! It's ultimately The Decider. (Where else can "I want" come from?)

Branding ads try to bypass the front-brain parsing, and aim for a straight conduit into the emotional system.

If you're selling sugar water, or perfume (same thing)–where there is no real rational parsing to do–or overpriced watches that do the same thing as a $20 Timex (so you need people to avoid the parsing and analysis), branding is all you got.

And if you're selling something where the number of choices and choice criteria is large, beyond people's ability or willingness to sort through rationally (not doing the up-front work for the emotional system), branding wins.

Think: Sarah Palin.

Sarah, can you give us your thoughts on the battle between Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney over Lincoln's (and eventually Congress's) suspension of habeus corpus during the Civil War?

  1. February 11th, 2009 at 08:10 | #1

    Yep, print ads for perfume do make sense.

    Regarding Palin:
    What President have you voted for in your life besides Obama that knew the answer to that supercilious question?

    I agree with Buckley:
    “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”

    1) Albert Einstein, the intellectual’s intellectual:
    “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”

    Probably the most inane political statement I have ever read. Retarded on its face, yet you’ll find it on the sweatshirts of intellectuals worldwide. If you need a literacy refutation, read the memoirs of any Soviet general and it’s clear the “dope” Reagan proved that one wrong.

    2) My good friend Tony with an I.Q. that puts yours and mine to shame (Duke undergrad, masters from Harvard)
    “I wouldn’t hire 90 percent of my classmates on a bet, they don’t have the brains to come in out of the rain.” He’d agree that they sure do know how to memorize facts though…

    3) Jimmy Carter was fluent in reactor technology and nuclear physics. Quite a brain there, just not much of a President.

    In my (and Tony’s) experience smart comes in a variety of flavors, and rote memorization is likely one of the least critical.

    Of course we could bring Eric Anderson in on this, he has a masters in history. I’d be eager to hear his take…

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