Do I contradict myself?  Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

— From Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself

Yesterday, I railed on brand marketing as full of, and I quote, “Buzzwords and Bulls***.”

Today, I’ll do the branding folks a favor and provide some counterarguments…

This should be instructive in itself.  One of the most valuable life lessons I ever learned was that everyone’s story or perspective is “true, but partial.”

That is, everyone — even your worst enemies — holds a perspective that has certain truths to it.  It’s true within their worldview, and in response to their experiences.  But it’s also partial to that worldview and those experiences.

The most useful perspectives to take are from those who have the broadest worldview, and the most diverse life experience.  Because the truths of those perspectives have been forced to hold up to the most evidence.

Once someone has experienced enough of the world, and enough different perspectives, they begin to see how important nuance is.  Recognizing that what’s true in one place is not always true in another.  And often seemingly conflicting truths somehow can occupy the same space.

Which brings me back to branding and direct response…

Branding is a happy byproduct of making a sale and delivering a great customer experience…

Recall my One Big Idea video on Dan Kennedy’s No B.S. Direct Marketing.

Buried in the middle of his list of rules for the aspiring direct marketer is the rule that branding will only come about as a happy byproduct of direct marketing done right.

This is understood by every effective direct marketer.

Brand is important.  Reputation is important.

But the true path to building a good reputation and a brand that your market recognizes is actually making sales, and delivering a great customer experience.

That’s sustainable branding.  Because you’re making sales along the way.  And your brand is built on what matters most — value delivered to customers, in exchange for them giving you money.

Attempts at branding that do not sell may resonate with people who want to be entertained by brands.  And some of them might eventually become your customers.  But in the diagram that shows “people who want to be entertained by brands” and “your customers,” the overlap is often small.  And everything that’s not overlap is waste.

Anybody remember the “Bud-weis-er” frog ads?  I do.  But I don’t drink Budweiser.

Anybody familiar with the Geico gecko?  I am.  But I am not a customer.

Anybody know “Built Ford Tough” as a slogan?  I do.  But I have two Toyotas.

… And so on.  Branding does not equal sales or customer loyalty.  But I am happily brand loyal to certain brands that have sold me and delivered a great customer experience.

Zooming out to view this on the levels of PRINCIPLES…

True branding is reputation…

A brand doesn’t exist in a logo.

It doesn’t exist in a font choice, or color.

It doesn’t exist in fancy design, or entertaining TV ads.

Branding is NOT any of that.  Even though these are what a branding agency most often focuses on.

The only branding that drives customer loyalty is reputation.

And the main reputation that matters is with your customers.  If your customers have a good experience once, they may return.  If they have multiple good experiences, they start to think of you as the company that delivers good experiences.  That’s a reputation.

Branding can also come through reputation in the media, although that’s absolutely secondary to customer experiences.  So, for example, your company could appear throughout the media (print, TV, the internet) and a reputation can form there and precede customer experience.  And in fact, this — in the form of PR — is probably the most useful aspect of “branding” as a marketing practice.  However this reputation is secondary in value to actually driving sales, for many reasons (not controllable, not always predictable, the fickle nature of the press, etc.).

If you truly want to build a great brand, you should aim to do it one customer at a time.  Deliver a great experience that sticks with them — and that they’ll perhaps tell others about.

That said…

Design still matters…

It typically doesn’t hurt sales to have design that looks well put together.  As long as that design drives consumption of your selling message, instead of outshining it.

I have an integrated design for everything connected to Breakthrough Marketing Secrets.

My clients have designers who provide a ton of value by making sure that even direct response campaigns look good.

One of my friends in the industry whose marketing opinion and insights I respect most is Lori Haller — who is a direct response designer.

Design matters.

It doesn’t make sales (in most markets).  But a bad design can hurt them.

And in the rare case of a luxury or upscale brand, having certain elements of your marketing mix feel just as valuable as what you’re selling can actually resonate with your buyers and provide credibility and believability for your selling message.

And here’s a BIG trend in 2019 — even as measurable advertising is forcing brand folks to get a little more “direct response”…

Softening the edges of direct response, for compliance…

This is HUGE, especially if you’re advertising on the biggest advertising networks.

Direct response has never really been loved by the media folks — and that includes the big social media platforms.

And in 2018, a ton of advertisers started getting kicked of Facebook and elsewhere just because they were in traditional direct response markets, and their marketing looked like direct marketing.

Today, the direct marketers that are surviving and thriving on these platforms have a unique tact…

They’re tweaking their advertising to look a lot less like direct response.

The headlines and big promises feel watered down.

The copy is long, but it’s broken up with many more visual elements.

The websites look less like sales letters and more like branded websites.

They’re not necessarily doing this because it’s what makes the average visitor convert better.  But because if they don’t do this, they don’t have access to anywhere near the paid traffic they can get at if they do it.

It all comes down to compliance.

If the advertising compliance department at Facebook or some other ad network decides they don’t want to send their users to a site that looks like a direct response site…

And you want to run your ads on their network…

Well, you don’t really have a choice.


(I’ll refer you to The Architecture of A-List Copywriting Skills if you haven’t read it yet.)

Direct response principles and strategies are STILL and always have been the best way to make sure you’re not pouring your money into the pit of ineffective advertising.

But depending on the market, the industry, the company, the client, the media channel being used, and a million other factors, you may have to apply those principles and strategies with techniques and tactics that look kind of like branding.

So, for example, a direct response landing page will always have one core sales message with the inevitable next action being to respond to one core offer.

Tactically, that can look like a classic Halbert-style, text-only sales letter…

Or it can look like a graphical, well-designed landing page that doesn’t strike you as “direct response” at first impression…

Likewise, the “video sales letter” is evolving, from black text on white slides, to more visual elements, video footage, images, TV-style splash screens and bottom thirds, and more…  Without fundamentally altering how the scripts are structured or written.

My final word on branding (for now)…

Branding itself isn’t bulls***.  Neither is the design and image work that is the focal point of so many branding efforts.

However, the exclusive adherence to branding as a marketing strategy — and the avoidance of direct response and actually selling — is…

And frankly, those brand advertisers (almost always at agencies) who actively dissuade their clients from trying to measure the effectiveness of their advertising investment are, in fact, committing advertising malpractice, and should be put out of business.

Your job, as a marketer or advertiser, is to sell.  To sell directly, or to help the sales team sell better.  If you are not doing that (for any reason), you are not doing your job.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr