The Coming Convergence of Brand and Direct Response

It’s been almost 25 years since Bill Gates proclaimed that "content is king" in his famous letter to Microsoft employees.

As Gates pointed out, content’s sovereignty was true long before the advent of the Internet; the democratization and decentralization of content-production in the digital age has only strengthened its position of prominence.

We are by nature storytelling creatures with a bottomless appetite for compelling narrative. In that respect, the Internet has changed nothing.

But there is one major change that the Internet has made possible: rapid testing and optimization. Content may be king, but testing is content’s right hand.

It’s no longer necessary"or advisable"for marketers to sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into black hole production budgets on non-accountable messaging. Consumer attention-spans, always short, are at an all-time low. "Brand loyalty," always a tenuous concept, appears to be a relic of the past. According to a recent study, 90% of the top 100 CPG brands have lost market share to new entrants.

In this context, spending millions of dollars trying to hold viewers' attention for a 15-30 second television spot seems almost insane. You can’t expand the top of the funnel with a catchy jingle or a killer spokesmodel, but you can certainly destroy your cost-per-acquisition targets"and therefore the foundational economics of your business"by attempting to do so.

So what are marketers to do?

Simple: they have to become expert content creators, or partner with firms that are. What’s more, they have to internalize the new reality that content production no longer needs to be a time- and labor-intensive effort, shrouded in calculated agency mysticism. Your content is only as good as the measurable results it produces. With the tools that are now available, there is simply no excuse for marketers not to demand total transparency and performance accountability from their partners.

This means that channel partners have to be able to test, optimize, and report on their content in near real-time. Yes, it is possible to pop out viral videos on the regular, but it is also quite rare. And counting on being able to do so looks a lot more like "hope" than a "strategy."

Instead, marketers need to be nimble. Develop content quickly and with an eye towards performance. Test the content. Measure it. Optimize it. And keep cranking the optimization engine for basis point wins.

Direct response players have been doing this all along, which is why so many of them are now winning market share. There is no reason why traditional brand advertisers can’t do the same. What ultimately is going to drive brand awareness and esteem"getting a fraction of an audience to pay attention to a 30 second traditional media spot, or getting actual intenders and buyers to spend 2-3 minutes voluntarily engaging with your content?

The future belongs to marketers who understand that direct response and brand messaging are converging around measurable, targeted content.

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