Helping to bring quality education materials and services to schools for over 30 years.

Brand vs Direct Marketing

Different Strokes

Oct 6, 2016

By Bob Stimolo

Brand marketing and direct marketing are opposites.  Brand marketing can be extremely effective when conducted at an appropriate level.  But it requires a certain “mass” before its effectiveness kicks in.

Thanksgiving Dinner “On You”

A number of years ago SMRI did a market study of the brand awareness of several different publishers active in the school market.  The Scholastic brand registered far and above all the other brands in the survey.  Scholastic also had a very large promotion and advertising budget and their brand recognition came at a significant cost – a cost that most of the other brands in the survey simply could not afford.

As an example, many years back the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) held their annual conference over the Thanksgiving holiday (including on Thanksgiving day) and Scholastic was said to have provided Thanksgiving dinner for all of the attendees (hundreds of teachers and administrators).  That was one way of making sure that every member of the NCTE knew the Scholastic brand, but the cost must have been significant.  Even so, there are likely some educators still teaching today that remember that gesture fondly.

Build Awareness, Breed Confidence

Brand advertising accomplishes two important goals, it builds awareness of your products and services and it breeds confidence and enthusiasm in your sales channels.  Promoting your brand is especially important when you depend upon sales representatives (both internal and independent) and distributors to sell your products.  The level of marketing you conduct can have a direct relationship to their success at selling your materials.

How?  Part of the success in selling comes from the salesperson’s confidence in the product or service.  Being able to show a two page spread advertisement in a well-respected journal or magazine gives them confidence in the brand and helps them to sell.  Any prolonged marketing campaign whether in print or online that a salesperson can refer to and a potential customer can recall adds legitimacy to the sales pitch.

Like Nuclear Fission

But brand marketing is not for everyone.  It is most effective when it reaches a certain level or mass.  Think of nuclear fission.  A certain mass must be attained to set off a chain reaction.  That’s how brand marketing works.  It is most effective when it reaches a certain level or mass.  One trade show, one advertisement isn’t sufficient.  Sustained multi-media messaging is what is required to set off the chain reaction of sales.

Successful brand building requires maintaining a sustained presence in the marketplace.  While purchasing decisions in education do have seasons, building brand means sustaining your message through the off-seasons as well.  Purchase decisions often percolate in the off-seasons.

Brand marketing is not for everyone.  It is especially not for small companies or meagerly funded start-ups.  If you have to watch your pennies you should consider direct marketing.  Direct marketing can be very effective even when conducted on a small scale.  Its effectiveness is often diluted when it is executed on a massive level.

Target Shooting

Successful direct marketing requires good targeting.  All targets are not equal and the successful direct marketers know how to distinguish between good targets and bad.  The best targets are educators who are relatively new in their current position but not brand new to education.  These are the educators that have the greatest need for supplemental materials and supplies to facilitate the new teaching challenge they have undertaken.  Educators that have been in the same position for many years have most likely met their needs for teaching materials and supplies.

The best targets also have access to discretionary funds.  And that means they work in districts and schools that are well funded.  Educators in poorly funded districts and schools are limited in their ability to make purchases for their classrooms.

‘Tis the Season

Timing can be a critical factor in the success of direct marketing.  There are decision making seasons in education when more consideration is given to marketing messages than at other times.  The strongest of these seasons occurs in March and April – months that are traditionally devoted to purchasing decisions being made regarding the upcoming school budgets.

Direct marketing also needs to be precise.  A week or two difference in promotion dates can result in dramatic changes in results.  Take for example winter/spring breaks.  Approximately half the districts and schools in America close down the week before or the week after Easter, and the precise date for the Easter weekend changes from one year to the next.

If your promotion arrives at the beginning of a school break it is old news when educators return.  When they return from their break they are often confronted with a glut of direct mail and emails that they don’t have time for.  Consequently, your marketing message receives half the consideration or even less than it might when received at other times.

What’s the Deal?

Success in direct marketing is also dependent upon “the deal”.  Experts in the field generally agree that 80% of response can be attributed to the list selection and the offer.  The list selection is the choosing of the targets, the offer is “the deal”.  Take into consideration that more than 90% of elementary school teachers are female.  They are seasoned shoppers and they like to take advantage of sale prices.  Discounts get their attention.

A special offer is one that expires after a certain period of time.  Procrastination is the death knell for direct marketing. An expiration date gives the recipient a reason to decide now whether or not to make a purchase.  The more decisions you can prompt, the more orders you can generate.  This is one of the fundamental differences between brand and direct marketing.  Brand is about message, direct is about action:  “Act now to take advantage of this special offer”.

Don’t Mix and Match

As you lay out your marketing plans for 2017 ask yourself which form of marketing best fits your circumstances.  If you sell through sales representatives or dealer networks and you have the budget, brand marketing may make the most sense.  Otherwise direct marketing may represent the best ROI.  Whichever path you choose, resist making the common mistake of trying to execute direct marketing campaigns with brand marketing strategies and vice-versa.

Bob Stimolo, EDmarket’s Official School Market Consultant, is President of School Market Research Institute (SMRI) a full service marketing and research firm.  EDmarket members are entitled to ½ hour free telephone consulting with Bob.  Call 1-800-838-3444 ext. 205 or email to schedule your free session. Visit SMRI’s website