The debate about which is better, brand marketing or straight selling, has raged in the marketing community for decades. The two camps have fundamentally differing views on the topic, and have even developed names to distinguish themselves.
On one side of the argument are the “rationalists,” or those who believe the best way to sell a product or service is to give consumers the straight facts – plus a good discount every once in a while. On the other side are the “emotionalists,” or those who feel you need to develop an emotional bond with the consumer before they’ll pay attention to your products, services (or advertising).
Which group has it right? The truth is, the most effective marketers are those who have found creative ways to combine the best aspects of both approaches.
Advantages of the Straight-Sell
Rationalists love to point to marketing churned out by big Madison Avenue advertising agencies as proof that brand marketing simply doesn’t work. The famous “Whassup?” Budweiser campaign and Taco Bell talking Chihuahua ads were huge hits with the general public, but they didn’t perform nearly as well as the discount and fact-based campaigns that came before and after.
Bottom-line results are all rationalists are concerned about. They don’t care about buyers’ emotions, winning advertising awards or creating marketing campaigns that are offbeat or cool. They simply want measurable sales results that are better than last month.
Consumers, they believe, are driven by greed, fear and insecurity. And the best way to tap into those intangibles is to offer a discount, a competitive advantage or a compelling solution to a common problem (i.e. “Your family needs a larger home. You want a manageable mortgage payment. Harris Realty has a solution.”)
Facts are key to this strategy. Rationalists like to pack every marketing effort with lists of benefits, head-to-head comparisons and, if possible, a guarantee of some sort (i.e. “The fastest way to rid your yard of weeds. Guaranteed.”).
The bottom line for rationalists: You don’t sell advertising, you sell a product (or service).
Brand Marketing at its Best
You can talk about features and benefits until you’re blue in the face, say emotionalists. But if what you’re selling is similar to your competitors’ offerings (and the vast majority of things are), consumers will look for something more than product attributes to help them choose. And, in most cases, that special something is your brand’s “personality.”
If the consumer values quality, they’ll be drawn to the brand that presents itself as a leader in that area. If the consumer identifies with the green revolution, they’ll look for the provider that seems the most environmentally savvy. Whatever they want their brand to be, they’ll look for the company that seems best able to deliver on that.
Only after that “brand credibility” has been established will buyers begin to focus on the features, benefits and any special offers, say emotionalists. In short, before your marketing can be believed, your business has to be liked.
Take, for example, the exemplary brand-marketing efforts of Nike (“Just do it”), Las Vegas (“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”) and Macintosh (the Mac and PC guys). Instead of pushing features and benefits, these long-running campaigns are simply trying to get people to like their brands. Once an emotional bond has been established, then, the argument goes, buyers will begin flocking to the products themselves.
The bottom line for emotionalists: Emotions (not product attributes) drive most, if not all, of our buying decisions.
Your Best Bet: A Combination of the Two
The truth is, emotionalists and rationalists are both right. Once you develop a level of recognition and trust with consumers (brand marketing), that sets the stage for any straight-sell efforts that follow. Without one, you won’t have as much success with the other. So forget about taking sides in this long-running dispute and instead look for ways to incorporate the best of both worlds into a balanced marketing campaign all your own.
As is the case with all marketing campaigns, testing is virtually a requirement for success. One way to combine these philosophies would to be by kicking off a campaign with a marketing effort that appeals to your audience’s emotions and piques their interest (i.e. “Change your life with a fit body and mind”). Then, follow up with a straight-sell offer they can’t resist (i.e. “Sign up with the Body Club by September 15, and save 50%!”)
For straight-sell marketing efforts, email is especially well suited. Include photos of your products/services, bulleted lists of features and benefits, charts, facts and figures, plus links to your web site for more information.
Print ads and newsletters are ideal for brand-building efforts. Include customer testimonials, articles about you and your employees, summaries of any company-sponsored volunteer efforts, mentions of awards bestowed on your business and any other insights that give consumers a better feel for your “brand personality.”
Direct-mail is so versatile that it can be used for both brand-building and straight-sell marketing efforts. Alternate not only between the two approaches, but also between longer and shorter formats (small and large postcards, rack cards, flyers and brochures).
In an economy like this, you have to approach your target audience from all angles and appeal to their every sensibility. If a marketing approach works, keep using it; if it fails, try a new tactic. That’s how to succeed in a down market.