A direct marketer at heart, I tend to view advertising and what makes great advertising through a lens that focuses on results and ROI. Awareness, recall, ‘likability’ and consideration are worthy metrics, but we demand behavioural impacts. Did we influence web visits, get people to sign-up, purchase in-store or call to place an order? There’s a level of accountability and action required that doesn’t come from mass awareness alone.

Thanks to this focus on accountability, as the dual plays of media fragmentation and the technology explosion have come to life, good direct marketers have seen increasing success. Direct marketing has moved on over the decades from a channel play to a customer-centric philosophy of doing business.

However, here’s the conundrum – without a baseline of brand awareness, we’ve proven time and again that it is difficult to get a response. And for the purist brand advertisers, without connecting with the consumer journey the balance of demonstrable returns is inadequate at a boardroom level. This is where we need a greater meeting of the minds.

Great advertising today should seek to marry the brand acumen of the traditional ad agency with the smarts behind brilliant direct marketing – the understanding of behavioural triggers, the role of data and application of technology in influencing outcomes. A good creative idea well executed will elevate the brand story. That same story, when wrapped around the consumer path to purchase, can deliver exponentially better results.

The consumer path to purchase is a complex beast. As highlighted by the MEC Momentum article recently in Advertising Age, the process is never linear. In reality it will be different for each category and even differ brand to brand in the same category. The weighting of influence and the focus of budget at each stage therefore demands considered modelling.

The article highlights four distinct phases of the consumers’ ongoing journey to making a purchase: The passive stage; the trigger; the active stage; and finally the purchase. (We’d suggest two further stages: post purchase and reconsideration, as the journey will differ for first time purchasers and existing customers.)

Some advertisers focus heavily on creating strong perceptions during the passive stage, only to see the sale lost to another brand stepping in with a stronger offering in the active stage; in contrast others focus too much on the active stage, only to find they are too late.

The study found that 53% of consumers had a strong idea of which brand they would purchase at the outset – what they called “Passive Stage Bias”. The strength of this bias has important inferences for the brand and the way it is marketed. When the bias is strong, your brand is more likely to be selected, the journey shorter and the impact of price lower. On the other hand, a weak bias suggests more emphasis on earned media as consumers look to confirm support for their purchase decisions during the active stage.

What all of this reinforces is that the consumer needs to be at the heart of the decision making and planning. Rather than the atypical approach built around the product and channel, weave a strategy around the customer that draws on a rich tapestry of insight, and plays in messages that connect in different ways at different times throughout.

It also highlights that advertisers need to find a way of ensuring they are “always on”. Our advertising should work seamlessly across all media channels to influence and reinforce decisions that are taking place continuously. By joining up the dots between the data, the strategy and the creative, we give ourselves a greater chance of influencing the outcome.

Esurance did a marvellous job of applying this type of joined-up thinking through the bastion of big brand advertising – the 2014 Super Bowl.

By buying the first ad slot after the game, they saved $1.5m – 30% of the price of a slot during the game (“…about how much Esurance could save you”).

As well as tying in to a clear value proposition, they turned this to their advantage prompting people to tweet #EsuranceSave30 to win the $1.5m they had saved. Social mentions broke 1.4m in the first hour, which compares favourably to the 58,828 that ‘Puppy Love’ achieved for Budweiser. Importantly they recruited hundreds of thousands of new active followers and tied in to coverage on other channels to extend the engagement. They are now free to market 30% insurance savings to a massive base of potential customers all at different stages on the path to purchase. This campaign is very young, but the vista of a great outcome is there for all to see. It looks like a major win to me.


Author: Simon Breed

This article appeared in NZ Advertising March/April 2014.