Direct marketing vs brand marketing

It's important to understand the difference between direct and brand marketing, and measure each accordingly.


As Head of Marketing here at Lemonpie, I draw a distinction between brand marketing, and direct marketing.

I learned this from Seth Godin and GaryVee.

The distinction goes like this:

Brand marketing is designed to build trust in, and awareness of, your brand - and is mostly unmeasurable.

Direct marketing is designed to drive a specific action (clicks, impressions, purchases) and is 100% measurable.

Brand marketing is sponsoring a little league game, creating amazing content on social media, doing podcast tours, or buying billboard space. Direct marketing is running ads on Google, Instagram or Facebook, or paying to sponsor a newsletter.

“If we can’t measure it, it’s not worth it…” (the mistake marketers make).

It’s no secret that we live in a ruthlessly data-driven culture. Many CMOs, Heads of Marketing, and marketing managers are expected to track everything.

In fact, over the past 10 years, many smaller companies seem to have forgotten that brand marketing existed. Sure, Budweiser has the extra cash to do some creative things where they can’t track the ROI, but your small business surely can’t. Right?

The advent of simple dashboards showing your CPM, CPC, CPA (and more abbreviations like that) came to mean (for many companies) that if you couldn’t measure it, it wasn’t worth it.

Here’s the problem: if you only rely on ideas (or platforms, or campaigns) you can measure, you’re going to miss out on things that have the most opportunity to build your brand.

And that matters, because building a brand matters. If you don’t build a brand, you’ll never be a company that people search out. You’ll always pay other channels to get in front of their audience.

It’s also worth noting that the biggest, most successful brands in the world rely heavily on brand marketing, the results of which cannot fully be measured. Like GaryVee says, ‘do you wear Nikes because you clicked a paid ad or got retargeted?’ Probably not. You wear them because of their brand. Or as Seth says, you wear them because you’ve told yourself a story that’s true for you. You’re an athlete. Athletes wear Nike.

Is Mercedes tracking the number of car purchases from the latest Premier League game they sponsored? Nope. That’s not the point. It’s about building their brand, being more recognized, being more trusted.

Don’t be afraid of the unmeasurable.

So my advice to you is, do things that are unmeasurable. Invest in your brand. Don’t be afraid of marketing ideas where you can’t track every little detail.

Look at your own behavior. Do you buy the first time you hear about a product or service? Not usually.

You find them through a Google search, YouTube video, or on Instagram. Or maybe a prominent newsletter, blog, or podcast mentioned them. You might check out their social profile to learn more about their business. Then you browse their site, and leave without purchasing. Then a friend tells you about them a month later, and you go direct to their site, and buy.

In their attribution, you bought from the “direct” channel. But in reality, all their engagements with you online (what you posted on social, the way you sounded on the video or podcast, and the friend’s recommendation) is what built their awareness of you and trust in you, until they were ready to give you a try.

Which part could they have “done without”? None. Each one built trust. Each one communicated more to you about their values.

It’s funny to me that as marketers we do one thing professionally, but we act completely different when we’re on the receiving end of marketing.

Ultimately, all that lasts is brand.

You only have 2 options when it comes to gaining customers. You can pay to talk to someone else’s audience (aka Google ads, Facebook ads, podcast ads, sponsoring newsletters, etc.) or you can build your own (your own newsletter, your own podcast, your own YouTube channel).

So it is with brand.

Either people find you because they search your company out by name (which means that they know your name to begin with), or they search for what you do, and you pay to get their attention over competitors.

If you’re only relying on measurable, direct marketing channels, know that the price will always go up, and the audience’s attention will always be changing.

So ultimately, all that lasts is brand.

And that doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t use paid ads. You can. It just means that if you only use paid ads, or other marketing channels that can be fully measured, you probably won’t end up building your brand.

So when the price gets too steep to advertise, or your audience has moved on to a new platform, you’re not being found. Because you didn’t build your brand, and people aren’t seeking you out by name.

A personal example.

While going through the adoption process, my wife decided from the beginning that she wanted a WildBird sling.

If you Google “baby sling” they don’t show. And my wife didn’t see any ads. She just found them through Instagram. Maybe they were recommended by someone on there, maybe they used “influencer marketing”, I’m not sure.

Either way, my wife saw their product, loved it, and followed them. Months (maybe a year later), she bought a sling. This was after dozens of posts, which showed her:

  • What they valued
  • What made them unique
  • The quality of their product
  • Their support of mothers
  • And I’m sure a lot more values I’m not aware of

How will my wife’s purchase be shown? A direct visit. She typed in WildBird.com, found a sling, and bought.

Of course we’re familiar with social, and so no marketer in their right mind would expect for every Instagram post to look like: post image > customer taps to site > customer buys > attribution = Instagram.

That happens, but it’s not the norm. You post to build your brand. Throughout that year, my wife was hanging attributes (as Seth says) on the peg of WildBird’s brand. Attributes like “pro mom”, “quality” , “beautiful”, “comfortable”.

So don’t be scared of investing in things that can’t be measured. You look at things, hear things, watch things that some marketer on the other end has no idea you saw. But you saw it. And if it was good, it conveyed something to you.

Channels like social, podcasting, video are amazing tools you can use to build your brand now, so that some day, you become a company that people search out by name - rather than being found only through paid channels.

Talk to future customers, on podcasts they love.