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Direct Response vs Brand Advertising in Online Marketing

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One of the most important strategies in online marketing is understanding how to create different content for direct-response and brand advertising goals. 

If you ask most digital marketers, they’ll tell you that SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising are opposite sides of the same coin.  They have the same goal:  page one ranking that drives convertible traffic.

In fact, often the only reason a business chooses PPC is they can get page one ranking right away by bidding.  Organic SEO, on the other hand, takes time to climb to page one.

In many cases, SEO and PPC campaigns share keyword lists and landing pages.  They use the same ad copy, headlines, and calls-to-action.  Conversions they drive are measured against each other.

The goal of many businesses is to get to where they don’t have to use PPC.  Their organic listings will do their lead-generation work, and they won’t have to pay Google or Bing a cent.

The problem?  This all assumes there is only one type of content to be used for all campaigns.  An assumption that wastes budgets and loses opportunities.

The Difference Between Brand and Direct Ads

Seth Godin helps us differentiate between brand ads and direct ads.

Brand advertising is about awareness.  A TV commercial, billboard, Super Subs Power Play at the hockey game.  The return from this type of marketing is often difficult to measure.

Direct-response is action-oriented and measurable.  This is the classified ad, mailer with coupon code, catalogs, and pay-per-click advertising.  You track and maximize clicks.

With PPC, you write an enticing ad that directly relates to a consumer need, then take them to a landing page with a direct-response conversion goal.

SEO was the same, except you hoped not to pay for the click.

Enter Content Marketing

In recent years, a new marketing term entered the scene.  Content marketing uses editorial content for business development.  By editorial, we mean content with stand-alone entertainment or informational value.

Like brand advertising, you’re creating awareness and initiating a long-term connection to get prospects into your sales funnel.  However, in this discipline, anything that seems promotional will be ineffective.

With analytics, you can track interactions and events.  But you’re not building the content around those goals.  It’s job is to inform, entertain, and build trust.

With content marketing, you start with ideas that people are interested in, learn from, and enjoy, then work back to the marketing goal.  If you start with the marketing/conversion goal and try to build the content around it, you’ll end-up with a sales pitch people will reject.

There is still congruence between the content and your offer.  But you have to start with informational value and have that lead into the conversion goal.

Social media marketing now plays a big role in online brand advertising.  SEO is kind of bridge between brand advertising and direct response, depending on the type of search query.

Informational vs Transactional Searches

With your SEO strategy, it’s vital to differentiate between informational and transactional search intent.

Google classifies these types of queries and matches results based on the user’s intent.

If the query is informational, such as “how to choose the right size hiking boots”, it will rank content that provides a useful answer.

If it’s transactional, such as “buy men’s hiking boots” it will provide purchase options for the searcher – which is direct-response type of content.

Informational SEO content leans more towards brand advertising.  Informational value comes first, with a tie into your sales funnel.

A transactional search puts SEO into direct-response territory.  Because the intent shows the desire to purchase, Google will provide that type of content in organic results.

Diverging Strategies

Clearly, content creation is not a one-size fits all endeavor.  You need unique content creation strategies for:

Social media marketing.   This content is all about awareness and long-term engagement.  Assume the audience doesn’t have an active need.  You offer entertaining, useful content without a promotional intent.  Think of this as your brand in search of an audience rather than the audience in search of your brand.

Informational SEO content.  This content is designed to catch consumers in the research phase of the buying cycle.  It targets informational search queries.  Like brand advertising, it must provide upfront value without being patently promotional.  However, it is targeting searches that demonstrate early buying intent, and needs calls-to-action that capture contact information and begin the sales process.  This content is usually articles, videos, or inforgraphics.

Transactional SEO content.  Now you are targeting searches that demonstrate buying intent.  This content can mix in informational value, but it’s going to have a strong direct-response element to it.  With this content, you measure direct conversions.

PPC Landing Pages.  This content is direct-response and often designed to target leads in the decision making phase of the buying cycle.  It may or may not be the same landing page as your transactional SEO, depending on the nature of the ads you’re running in the campaign.  This pages should have strong message match to your ad copy, with a specific offer and single, strong call to action.

In the big picture, social media and informational SEO content fall under brand advertising, while transactional and PPC are direct-response.

Separating Your Content Strategies

The common mistake businesses make today is that they don’t create different content for online brand and direct-response advertising goals.

Trying to run direct-response content on social media tends to fail.  Your conversion-rates will be low, because people on social media aren’t looking for solutions. They’re looking to be entertained and informed.  Direct-response does have more opportunity today on social media advertising platforms, where you can run retargeting ads, which are a drip-campaigns for people who’ve already displayed buying intent by visiting your website.  You can also create target audiences based on email lists or people who downloaded at app.  These ads can lean more towards direct-response.

On the other hand, you don’t want to have a brand message directed at someone who’s ready to buy.  If you create a blog post that ranks organically for a keyword phrase that shows buying intent, you want to integrate direct-response into your informational copy.  Ask for the business.

Goals can conflict.  Direct marketers will sacrifice long-term standing and authority in order to gain clicks.  They don’t care about the medium, they care about the result.

Brand marketers care about the brand’s image and sensibility. But this content doesn’t have a strong, immediate conversion focus, so it’s imprecise when your goal is short-term conversions.

The grey area between brand and direct-response is where it gets confusing – even for the search engines.  Understanding user intent on a search query is still a work in progress, and will likely get more complicated with voice activated search queries.

Still, understanding goals between brand and direct-response advertising is useful practice that will save you budget and help you create authority for your brand.

It also focuses content on different phases of buying cycle, allowing you to engage the most potential clients at the right times with your marketing.

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