Brand and Direct Response – It’s About Time We Have the Conversation (Part 2)

At every point in the customer’s journey brand is essential. This article discusses why a brand is important in pre-purchase, mid-purchase & post purchase.

In Part 1, I discussed the need for direct marketers to be intentional about the concept and building of a brand. In this part, we’ll get into how and where that happens.

(If you missed Part 1 of this 2-Part article, click here)

Building a Brand

At what point in a customer’s journey do you build the brand?


Pre-purchase. Post-purchase. In advertising. You name it.

We can do our best to create a brand. But ultimately, the buyer (and non-buyer) defines what the brand stands for.

Whether they are “right” or “wrong” is beside the point.

But affecting that perception and experience is where the overlap between brand and direct response can exist. Because in trying to generate income, the concept of “brand” can get lost. Sometimes we can get so focused on maximizing revenues on the front-end that we lose sight of a) the concept of “net”; of net revenues (post-refund) and net margin (especially when considering the cost of managing an irate customer); and b) the impact on the brand and future revenues when a buyer has a negative experience with it.

Let’s take a look at the customer journey and how we can affect the brand.

By the way, here’s the short version of how to build a great brand:

  1. Create great products.
  2. Get them into the hands of your customers, presumably on a profitable basis so you can actually continue to exist as a business.
  3. Do as much as possible to take care of your customers, including doing your best to create some sort of community so that your customers feel like they are a part of something and amongst other like-minded folks.

Back to how we affect brand…


Too often the product is de-emphasized. Yes, great marketing can help to overcome all kinds of obstacles. And bad marketing can be the ruin of a great product.

But over time, a crappy product is going to get known. Especially in a day and age where social media is the norm, reviews are left everywhere from Amazon to Yelp, it’s less likely that a bad product (or service) can last nearly as long as it might have previously.

Not to say that everything has to be a Mercedes. There’s, of course, a place for lower-end cars. The bigger problems arise when the marketing message does not match the customer experience.

Pre- and Mid-Purchase

At the same time, when someone wants to purchase, how difficult and painful is the buying experience. Whether on the phone, online, or in-person, not giving a buyer the option to get out of the sales process when they want is another way that we, as direct marketers, have hurt brands even while we thought we were maximizing income.

And then there are always concerns about how clear buyers are for what they are buying. What is hidden in the fine print? What may surprise a customer 45 days down the road? Anyone who has seen unexpected charges on their credit card statement knows exactly what I’m talking about.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t push when we sell, or shouldn’t try increasing prices or LTV. But it might mean doing so in a different way. Or having a different time horizon in mind.

If you think about Amazon, this is how they operate. They certainly are not shy about their marketing, but at the same time, they give as much relevant selection as possible and then allow people to make their own choices. Even their recruiting process reflects their values. Candidates are often asked to give an example of giving up a short-term win for the long-term gain. That concept is pretty much the opposite of what most marketers, particularly direct marketers, think. But it’s line with the Amazon brand. Which has always been about the long-term.


Nordstrom has built a phenomenal reputation in part because they take amazing care of their customers. They allow them to return nearly anything. Contrast that with companies that don’t allow you to cancel online, even though you purchased there. Or I’m sure we’ve all experienced the frustration when calling for a refund and knowing our call time was just made longer because we “hit 5 for refunds or to cancel.”

What we do with unsatisfied customers absolutely affects our brands. If we’re lucky, we can turn an annoyed or unhappy customer into an evangelist. Perhaps, they come out of the experience neutral. But when the refund process is miserable, be clear that customers will tell their friends.


There is often a strong negative association with DR marketers to continuity offers.

But let’s also not forget that “continuity” is just another way of saying “subscription.” And there are plenty of subscription models out there in companies that have a strong brand. Think Netflix, Slack, and Birch Box. Each has a continuity offer that is a core component of their business model. And arguably, all three have strong, positive brands. Because of what they deliver and how they take care of their customers.

There’s something to be learned from social media personalities  

Take Kayla Itsines. 5.9mm Instagram followers and making a killing selling a $120 e-book in the health and fitness category.

How about Casey Neistat? 5.8mm YouTube subscribers. Averaging over 2mm views on each of his daily Vlogs recently.

Each share a few things in common:

  • Connection – they have found a way to connect with their audience. To engage with them. And to keep that relationship going.
  • Trust – whatever their promise, their followers trust them.
  • Likeability – People will follow you if they like you. Sure, your products have to be good, but none of us should forget just how important being liked can be.

Who is your brand?

Beyond the “what is your brand” and “what are you doing to be intentional about building your brand” lies the who.

At best, you have advocates and evangelists who aren’t even customers. Think about how people who’ve never met them, speak about Richard Branson, Elon Musk, or the late Steve Jobs.

At worst, both customers and non-customers actively discourage others from engaging with the brand. Think Time Warner Cable or Bank of America.

Assuming you care to build something substantial and sustainable, are you asking and enabling your customers to be evangelists?

At Beachbody, we were fortunate that people simply took it upon themselves to upload videos with their results to YouTube. But we also encouraged people to get results and then to share them, by offering prizes, or “just” a T-shirt for sending us their results.

When your fans, your customers, and even those who haven’t touched your product directly, are the ones sharing positive stories, that’s a sign that all the work you’ve put it to get to that point, is starting to pay off. And when the value of your business moves to the next level.

We are no longer in an either/or world.

Performance marketing AND brand each need their due attention.

It’s time.

Babak Azad Brand Direct Reponse

About the Author

Babak Azad helps performance marketers to scale by identifying hidden profits in their businesses. He is the former SVP of Media & Customer Acquisition at Beachbody. He can be reached at:

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