Once upon a time, direct response marketers could take a specific, innovative item—a pair of polarizing sunglasses, an extra-thirsty shop towel, or what have you—and sell it on its merits. It was one product, one medium, one story—and with all eyes focused on television, one hell of a way to make money.
Today, things aren’t so simple. “The eyeballs are everywhere,” says Rob Medved, CEO of Cannella Media LLC, the parent company of Cannella Response Television and Media Property Holdings. “Brands—whether direct response or impression-based—benefit from having a strategy that reaches the consumer via mobile, online, programmatic, television, direct response television, and even print.”
Where a DRTV campaign once generated almost all of its sales on the telephone, most campaigns now push up to 90 percent of shoppers to other channels—mobile, web, social, search, display, etc.—prior to purchase or conversion. And to avert the potential for confusion that might head off a sale as consumers switch screens, the story needs to be consistent across channels.
“It’s like a sheepdog running around and herding all of this interest and activity into the digital environment to the point of transaction,” says Richard Wechsler, CEO of Lockard & Wechsler Direct in Irvington, N.Y. “The digital strategy directs response where you want it to go, and to do that effectively, it all has to look and feel exactly the same. Otherwise, you’re starting over with every channel.”
Marketers must manage each detail to support the storyline and brand. “Every direct response brand has to understand the different touchpoints,” says Nick Fairbairn, vice president of brand marketing for Dollar Shave Club, the razor subscription service that launched with a single YouTube ad and now claims more than 3 million members.
For Dollar Shave, the ecosystem of touchpoints now includes much more than irreverent ads; it also features cartoons, blog posts, advice, and much more.
“We have emails, postcards, social media, messages on the boxes that people receive—and there’s a magazine inside.”
Direct response marketers have historically done a great job of keeping their messaging clear and consistent. But what some may not understand or accept is that today, certain channels may carry only one chapter of the story, and it may not be “the closer.” Instead, it can be a bit of information offered to customers and prospects that doesn’t lead directly to the sale, but supports the brand and its positioning, and/or builds awareness and trust.
A crusty razor with a louche French accent communicates the Dollar Shave Club’s value proposition with humor.
“If every message is a ‘buy’ message, you aren’t thinking about customers—you’re thinking about business and grabbing for the most incremental, low-hanging fruit of demand,” Fairbairn says. “You aren’t thinking about telling your story and creating that demand.
“You can create demand through the omnichannel approach and still give people a ‘buy’ message, but do it at the right time and in the right channel,” he says. “It’s hard for direct response companies, because they want immediacy—they send an email; they want sales. You want to have a balance of short-term and long-term.”
Testing—another strength of DR marketers—is often the key to figuring out which taglines, fonts, colors, and creative executions work best for a brand, Wechsler says, but marketers should take care not to shake up messaging that’s working. “As marketers, we grow tired of the message, because we breathe it every day,” he says. “The only people it really matters to is the person who is seeing it and reacting to it for the first time. Fight your instincts and deliver the message consistently.”
Told and Retold
Many of Cannella’s campaigns take a creative treatment from long-form and support it with short-form, print, and digital advertising to tell the story across devices. While the 28:30 infomercial may be the holy grail of engagement, its message also needs to make its way across the internet and onto Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, and other platforms in a multiscreen, omnichannel environment.
“You see the consumer engaging on a more regular basis with content viewed in many different pieces,” says Brendan Condon, president of Cannella’s AdMore and REVShare divisions. And a good attribution model displays the impact of brand messaging in various channels over time, he adds—not just how many consumers pulled the trigger. “You need to be able to tie the electronic pieces together.”
When it comes to breaking through the clutter, television justifies its higher cost of entry. “TV looks more expensive upfront, but when you do the conversion analysis, you find a better-quality, longer-term client than you might in digital,” Condon says. “Not that one [channel] is better than the other—they complement and supplement each other.”
Many digital-first brands ultimately transition to television looking to expand awareness after exhausting their primary source of good leads. “In the digital world, you run out of qualified impressions and ways to capture those impressions,” Wechsler says. “With television, you reach 10 million impressions with a single airing.”
Since its launch, Dollar Shave’s messaging has been, “Razors are expensive, and shaving sucks,” Fairbairn says. “[We] make shaving a little more fun and convenient, and a little more affordable.”
That message is expanding, however. In May, Dollar Shave launched the Wanderer by DSC collection—a variety of bar and body soaps, moisturizers, and additional products designed to “help guys get more out of their showers.” In contrast to the day-glo colors and overpowering scents of Axe and Old Spice products, Wanderer goods are no-nonsense and natural.
But as the company shifts from being an affordable mail-order razor company to a “brand that helps you look and feel like a million bucks without paying a million bucks,” as Fairbairn says, Dollar Shave must adjust its messaging to attract new customers, while addressing any lingering negative perceptions surrounding the “dollar” in its name. Once people enter the club, Dollar Shave has incredible retention and satisfaction—but getting new members is the challenge. “I need to translate that [new] message to people who aren’t in the club,” Fairbairn says.
Research shows that male shoppers concentrate on product benefits, and by educating them on proper hydration and the other benefits of the phosphate-free Wanderer line, Dollar Shave hopes to engage more men in the importance of good grooming. “We’re using content to become a thought leader and get an authoritative stake at the table,” Fairbairn says. “Content can turn people into customers over time.
“I tell guys about the product and why they should be engaged in the category, and in the next email, I tell them why our product is better and might include a multimedia video piece,” he says. “But my objective might only be video completion, not purchase. I use television to grow awareness, but I do not ask television to convert.
“Our differentiator is our brand and our voice, and the way we take products to market,” he adds. “We respect the big guys—they are Fortune 500 companies for a reason. But our advantage is our voice. We look for consistency in voice and brand.”
Ian P. Murphy is the senior editor of ER.