Jekyll and Hyde: Why your direct marketing creative could be at odds with your brand

Do you find your business in this situation? Everything with your communications seems to be going well. Your brand is set in one direction. You’ve invested in guidelines, templates, asset libraries and training that senior management has approved. Then, out of the blue, you discover that one of these jarring scenarios has taken place:

  • One or more of your company’s direct marketing tactics are almost unrecognizable. Not just inconsistent in design and color, but in copy wording, tone of voice, presentation of benefits, and more.
  • You learn that new prospects are receiving communications that contradict your freshly-minted standards or long-established brand values
  • A direct response campaign has been built to ‘move product’ that discounts without supporting the position your brand occupies in its market.
  • Emails and direct mail that are supposed to generate leads are using ineffective direct response practices, for the sake of staying ‘in brand’.
  • Repeat customers or valued targets are receiving direct marketing tactics that don’t acknowledge the relationship or what past contacts have taken place, treating them like a stranger
  • Your research shows that even among good customers, there is low awareness of your full breadth of products or services.

If one of these things is happening, rest assured more on the list are either undiscovered or waiting in the wings. Keeping brand creative and direct marketing creative from developing a split personality monster and keeping them in sync doesn’t have to be an obsession, but like a garden, needs constant tending in order to flourish.

Causes of Jekyll and Hyde Direct Marketing Creative

Unlike the evil plotting by characters in a television drama, few instances like this happen due to intentional sabotage. Brand development and direct marketing efforts in an organization travel along different paths, and at different paces, and due to realities of their needs, they need to. But that doesn’t mean they have to be at odds with each other.

 

Jekyll-and-hyde direct marketing creativePublished in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US.

 

One of the most common causes of rifts between direct marketing creative and branding efforts is lack of communication between groups. It’s a sin of omission more than commission.

  • Field and sales stakeholders are not made aware of branding changes.
  • Direct marketing efforts are executed without checking on brand status and potential changes.

Forgetting to keep departments and stakeholders informed of brand changes, or letting brand guardians know of upcoming direct response campaigns, needlessly adds time, expense and frustration.

Likewise, lack of a creative overwatch causes situations like this to develop. An overwatch in marketing is the person either formally or informally tasked with watching out for brand and direct marketing and aware of the overall situation and desired direction for the organization’s marketing. Someone in this role should not also be directly in charge of developing tactics. They need to remain above the fray so they can be aware of individual tactics and the bigger picture of things. They also need the authority to call the shot and change something or stop it in its tracks when it might jeopardize the overall mission. A marketing director or brand director is at the best level to take on this role, because they also can carry sway to get things stopped, started or redirected.

Probably the worst cause of direct marketing creative and brand creative conflicts comes from behind the scenes: a Field vs. Ivory Tower culture of mistrust in the company.

  • Field and sales ‘does their own thing’ independent of brand creative standards because they think the brand direction is out of touch with what they need to do to sell.
  • Brand stewards get frustrated that field and sales leadership don’t appreciate the need to build a brand and won’t tow the line.

In most cases, both sides share some of the blame. And no matter where the rift started or who is most right, the company suffers.

Effects

Having your Direct Marketing and brand out of alignment can lead to several detrimental outcomes that impact your audience, customers and prospects.

Brand Dilution: Your brand loses traction, because of the conflict in messaging between brand and direct marketing efforts. If your company is a category leader based on a quality image, but prospects are getting deep-discount promotional messages, the value proposition of your company has to be restated (read: more money spent) in later added communications.

Audience confusion: The inconsistency also causes problems for recipients. At minimum confusion, at most, anger from contradictory value statements and offers. Imagine receiving different offers from an office machine company for a piece of equipment you’ve already bought, then seeing a different incentive campaign in print or online ads. I’ve seen it happen more than once.

Brands that lack across-the-board consistency in brand and direct marketing creative character give up their USP (Unique Selling Proposition) to any competitor that does a better, more cohesive job claiming it in the hearts and minds of the target audience.

First Fixes First

The journey back to balance and sustainable brand and direct marketing is not a quick fix, but it’s not complex. Start with what’s important now, then move on to setting new groundwork for the future.

Triage. If you’ve discovered that there’s a big issue with the current brand creative platform that can’t wait, bite the bullet, spend the money, and fix it. Scorched earth. Otherwise, let it’s shortcomings go for now.

Focus. Identify the most notable visual elements of the brand, and incorporate them into a visual ‘bridge’ that gives your direct response creative room to work while still feeling consistent. Identify what you can improve in other areas, and keep changes tactical. Be careful not to let things become a free-for-all in terms of creative. Remember the overwatch role mentioned earlier in this article? This is where that person can help keep things on track.

Adjust and alter. Modify tactics with add-on components (stickers, inserts, imprints, video edits and more) that help existing materials recover, reinforce and replace creative messaging.

Keep things real. It pays to be honest about what you can’t do. Some things just have to be tossed.

Example: In the mid-1990’s I worked for a Savings bank that had just invested heavily in a ‘retro’ brand creative effort, including in-branch fixtures, TV ads (a-la-60’s musical ice-dancing numbers, one complete with a dancing houses), and Homer — a cute retro mascot house (someone in a foam house costume) and thousands of cute little house-shaped plastic banks. While production of everything from TV to Web to print materials was excellent (read: expensive), the brand image change was a BIG flop.

Apparently, people have a great sense of humor, until it comes to their life savings. When it comes to their money, they prefer a company that is serious, not flip. A tough call was made, and the whole campaign was reversed before too long. To replace this effort, a more serious replacement brand campaign was launched. A lot of little plastic banks met the shredder that year, and the TV spots got more views in the producer’s reel than it ever did on TV. It takes guts to make a call like that, and as marketers, sometimes we have to know when to make a tough call.

Minimizing Risks in the Future

Great brand creative and Direct Marketing creative don’t happen in a vacuum. Just as you brief your creative teams well to get the best possible work back from them, stakeholders in sales, field marketing, and brand marketing all need to be in touch with each other, and sharing what their plans are at early stages. These meetings need to be held more often than 3-4 times a year, as direct marketing efforts have very short timelines of 8-12 weeks, while major efforts like product launches, trade shows or brand advertising have timelines measured in months.

Bridge building is also important. Departments may be vying for parts of each other’s budgets or business turf, and conflict like that gets in the way of communication and withholding information or valuable knowledge, which eventually comes back to affecting creative messaging. The overwatch can facilitate the flow of information.

And a well thought-out strategy that sets a framework for both brand and Direct Marketing is imporant. If you’re wondering how to set up such a strategy, a book like Jane and Richard Rosen’s book,Convergence Marketing: Combining Brand and Direct Marketing for Unprecedented Profits (affiliate link) can help you develop your brand and direct marketing strategy in a unified way.

Why brand creative and direct marketing creative that complement one another is important, and SO worth the effort

The upside is simple, lasting and powerful. Not only does your brand become stronger, but if various groups work together and understand how each is important to the other, new attitudes and ideas come out of the interactions. Brand marketing creative teams learn from field and sales situational experience. Field and sales gain a voice in the input stage of branding direction. Efficiencies are gained, cross-selling opportunities created, and customer lifetime value can grow.

The key is that everyone benefits when the company keeps all of its creative consistent across both brand marketing and direct marketing. For my money, taking some lumps up front, making tough decisions about tossing what doesn’t work, and opening up ownership and communication to other departments beats the heck out of having a Jekyll and Hyde creative image.

By the way, lest you think I was exaggerating about the retro bank commercial, I found one of the TV commercials that were produced in the late 1990’s on YouTube. Watching it still sends a shudder up my spine decades later.

If you liked this article, please share it. And be sure to read my other articles about direct marketing.

An abridged version of his article was originally published as a guest post on the Anderson Direct & Digital Blog

I’m a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.