Branding and brand development through direct marketing in the consumer financial services sector: FINDINGS

Aim 1: Key criteria for developing branding and brand loyalty through direct marketing
Interviewees were asked to identify the key criteria used to assess good practice in a direct mailpack or direct marketing campaign for developing both brand awareness and brand commitment. A working definition of brand commitment, loosely based on Kiesler (1971), offered for the purposes of the interviews, was ‘resulting in a psychological resistance to switching brands’.

Four key success criteria; relevance, differentiation, consistency and credibility were mentioned by all 15 interviewees, except for one who only mentioned three of them, missing out credibility. Two items, relevance and differentiation, are present in both models of brand building quoted in the literature review. The four emergent branding success criteria in direct marketing are summarised in Figure 1 and described below.

1. Relevance
It was felt that brand focus had to be clearer in direct mail than in traditional media because direct mail is received by the individual as a one-to-one medium and must be perceived as relevant by the recipient. Brand relevance was not always distinguished from relevance of the direct mailshot itself, however, as is shown below.
‘You can stick a poster up and let the world drive past it, but a mailpack has to be just for you.’ (DM agency)
The success factor driving relevance in branding, or in direct mail generally, is perceived to be good customer research and strong information infrastructures.
‘The challenge is always to have a completely up-to-date database to reduce completely any communication that is no longer relevant . . . with direct mail the point is you have to be relevant.’ (DM brand-building judge)

2. Differentiation
Interviewees referred to the necessity in direct mail branding for distinctiveness (or salience) from competition.
‘The first thing is somehow it needs to be differentiated … to stand out.’ (DM brand-building judge)

3. Consistency
Clarity achieved through consistency, discipline and a brand champion at the client firm, was thought to lead to stronger brands. Several interviewees quoted Orange as a good example of brand clarity resulting from consistency (see Appendix for more detail).
‘When branding is fuzzy, that’s when customers and potential customers start to get confused, ”What does it stand for?”. When they’re confused about what the brand stands for, that’s when they’re susceptible to going off, switching to the competition. The stronger brand is delivering ”These are the values for which you choose me”.’ (DM brand-building judge)


Figure 1 Four emergent branding success criteria for financial services DM

In order to achieve strong brand values that become rooted in the minds of consumers, the need for consistency was the dimension of branding in DM that was discussed at greatest length because of numerous perceived difficulties associated with maintaining consistency. Three core dimensions of brand consistency were identified.

1) Consistency over time
‘If you can marry consistency and also creative development, because you don’t want to be sending out the same pack all the time . . . It comes down to longer-term thinking . . . A good ”above-the-line” campaign might run for a decade. To continually maintain that type of campaignability in direct marketing is very difficult.’ (DM brand- building judge)

2) Consistency of image and tone of communications with the brand heritage, brand persona and corporate identity or corporate culture. A respectful tone towards the customer is prescribed, rather than ‘talking at them’. There is also a ‘letter tone of voice’ for direct mail, which is different from a press advertisement and is thought to be best captured if copywriters consider not merely brand values, but also draw up a list of characteristics of the NatWest or Abbey National employee who is sending and signing that letter.

‘It is about tone of voice, ”attitude” . .. what’s good on telly isn’t necessarily good for direct mail. There may be elements of it, the proposition may be the same; the brand values are exactly the same, the strapline may be consistent but it doesn’t have to mean there is a single unified creative idea.’ (DM judge/ agency)
Moreover, interviewees often mentioned seeing direct mail that actively conflicts with or ‘cuts across’ the ‘above-the-line’
activity.

‘With the image and tone, you need to be consistent with the heritage. There is a hygiene factor of understanding a company’s corporate identity, its history, its heritage. Still, surprisingly, work appears and you think: ”it’s almost unrecognisable from that company!”.’ (DM brand-building judge)

Several agencies stated that not enough time is allowed in clients’ formulae of ‘how long it takes to create direct marketing campaigns’ for understanding the brand — a process that has taken months for some agencies and their larger clients.

3) Consistency across media, through the integration of values and proposition throughout communications, service delivery and performance, in the case of financial services. Interviewees went to great lengths to underline that, from a consumer’s perspective, ‘You can’t divorce direct mail from what you’ve created in general, particularly above-the-line’ (DM agency). DM should not be divorced from the rest of the company’s marketing, communications nor, indeed, from its operations.
But interviewees maintain that, too often, direct agencies are not brought into brand development meetings: DM is treated by clients as a ‘junior partner’ in marketing, as an isolated ‘add-on’ or as a series of ‘one-offs’. One interviewee named a Life company and a general insurer who treat every direct mailpack as a one-off. ‘It’s just a one-off apart from the logo. And I’m sure they’re not the only two’ (DM agency). Another agency demonstrated visually with a collection of communications from a single, major High Street bank in the UK, how the colour, treatment of the logo and styles were inconsistent.

Low client-agency loyalty was blamed for this one-off approach to direct mail and bolt-on approach to branding. ‘One of the worst examples I have come across was a motor manufacturer who put every single direct marketing campaign out to pitch’ (DM brand-building judge).

4. Credibility
Being honest and realistic was felt to be of specific importance to branding in consumer financial services direct mail.

‘developing the brand so that it’s got to be rooted in credibility and again that’s about understanding consumers and how they think.’ (DM agency)
Simplifying the financial jargon, the legal wording and the application forms (eg for Sainsbury) were seen as ways in which brands that have been positioned as ‘people’s champions’, such as Virgin and supermarket banks, should contribute towards credibility in that this process of simplification ‘recognises the real life of consumers’ (DM agency).

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