Our Love Affair With DR And Earned Media

We often create our own hair-splitting quandaries in this business. When marketing our brands, when servicing clients, and when planning integrated programs, we are constantly running into our own would-be messes by overstating the relative strengths of certain platforms.

All Hail "DR!"

The first that comes to mind is the inflated reputation of digital for nailing direct response. We began seeding this long ago, as we effused over the accountability and ultimate measurability of digital. But even lately, I feel as though I hear more and more brand marketers -- even those launching an absolutely brand-new brand with no history and no offline marketing to date -- extol the total virtues of digital for DR. They insist that all their marketing dollars must be spent ONLY on DR and performance-driven methods, and scoff at branding.

While it's not as much of a concern when a brand already has some roots and a leg to stand on, Isolating DR makes no sense if you want your brand to take hold and live on in the hearts and minds of loyal consuming people, when you've turned off the machine.



While branding -- driving visibility, awareness, affinity, advocacy -- and direct response (getting a consumer to do something right now) may involve different muscles, today's environment enables our pursuit of both. In fact, the bounty of options encourages tackling branding and DR all at once. Think of all the things that can happen within one well-oiled, robust marketing initiative: 

-      We can leverage offline traction we already have, applying learning and extending brand assets, as we develop our digital executions.

-      We can buy context, relevancy and strategic content adjacencies and also buy audience. In the same day!

-      We can determine what part automation and hard-core mathematics will play in our buying -- balancing strategy, planning, program development, innovation and automation.

-      Targeting is a cat that can be skinned nine different ways: behavioral; audience; via search-retargeting; across media.

-      Media and creative can conspire like never before. Today's rich media technology; ad unit formats; engagement and interaction mechanics; optimization options; and our ability to use data not only to course-correct media but to tune creative -- are at a sort of ultimate state right now.


Earned Media is Not a Bargain Approach

Another murky area to consider is the sometimes head-swimming endeavor of mapping out "how much" paid and "how much" earned media belong on a plan. Just like the sometimes bloated reputation of digital/DR -- there are folks among us causing a lot of confusion by wielding the concept of earned media, without giving it its place. As with anything in our world, it's a matter of strategic planning and tuning - and setting up your operation to take advantage of the opportunity. That's no endeavor for the lazy. True, it's possible to do more today within the media mix, with more modest budgets, thanks to earned media.

But, increasingly, with the predominance of earned media, the term "media mix" is a bit of a misnomer anyway. Within earned media, our brand is propelled by the consumers who power their path across the social graph by their influence and their demand. While there is math involved in planning and modeling to harness that element, the real factor is human. And the picture is a bit amorphous vs. a neat mix that can be mapped. That's more complicated than spending less to get more from consumers.

We see today that consumers  are willing to shift between mediums from paid to owned and earned platforms. It's a self-guided stroll toward their ultimate buying or commitment decision for your brand. Brands need to have a strategy for connecting into this tendency. So, "earned media" is way too pat an answer.

We all love heroes, but, we do ourselves a great disservice by isolating and elevating any given approach as stand-alone. In an industry that most of us got into for its diversity of options and interplay of moving parts, I will never stop finding this yearning for over-simplification out of character for the media at hand.

3 comments about "Our Love Affair With DR And Earned Media".
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  1. Shawn Riegsecker from Centro, LLC, August 15, 2011 at 4:45 p.m.

    Amazing column Kendall and so incredibly spot on. We are at the end of the DR path. Everyone is doing it. All brands and agencies have access to roughly the same technology tools and DR capabilities.

    In essence, we end up where we began: that the difference ISN'T in the media or the technology, but rather the difference lies in those who create a brand that consumers want to own, engage with and/or be a part of. No amount of targeting or DR advertising will get you there. And without great branding, one is dead with respect to earned media.

    Apple is the most valued company on the planet, when was the last price/promotion ad you saw them run? Look no further, it ALL comes back to the brand.

    Figure out how much time are you spending on the branding side of your business versus the direct response and you'll easily determine how valuable (or not) your brand is going to be in the future.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 15, 2011 at 5:27 p.m.

    Reminds me of ions ago when working at an agency in media on an auto dealership. Client insistance was TV news only. (pre-cable except for HBO). Big reach, no frequency, short run. Hulabaloo from stations and client. After the run, the client left the agency. "Nobody saw the spots." Lots of lessons learned though.

  3. Rick Monihan from None, August 16, 2011 at 10:14 a.m.

    Great article. DR has always kind've bugged me because of the immediacy of its needs. It's like a baby, in some respects, demanding that you do something NOW, without respect to how it will be viewed later.

    And while there is a benefit to the immediacy, the long term effects can cut both ways - the branding can be good or bad....
    For example, Ronco is either the punchline of a joke, or recognized for the "new technology" it's brought to market. But make no mistake - Ronco's done quite a bit of branding on its own, although it was all done via DR. Which is why I've always felt the low prices that DR clients pay is discounts the branding (and even if that branding is bad, apparently that's part of the campaign).

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