Back in the day, I used to secretly bristle at the branding guidelines I'd receive from enterprise clients.
Why? Because the "brand guidelines" I'd get always limited the kinds of messages I could use on the page.
And the fewer persuasive tools I'd have at my disposal, the harder it would be to beat the client's control.
Basically it just felt like the client was handing me an arbitrary series of hoops to jump through just to do my job.
(If I'm being perfectly honest, I kind of dismissed it as an overblown, overpriced aspect of agency-based graphic design.)
I used to be so skeptical of the importance of branding I even started asking other copywriters:
"Seriously, what is the difference between BRAND and REPUTATION? Aren't they fundamentally the same thing?"
(Love him or hate him, I've always considered Jeff Bezos' definition of branding to be the most succinct one: "Your brand is whatever your customer says about you when you leave the room." In other words: Brand == Reputation.)
But no matter whom I asked, I was always told that in business, your brand is actually "more than" your reputation, but no one could actually articulate how.
In the land of CRO, "you-focused" direct-response copy is King and carries MUCH more weight than brand copy (which tends to manifest, to the detriment of your conversion rate, as "we-focused" copy). If you're in the business of maximizing in-the-moment sales and leads, you need language that makes people act and commit in the moment.
In other words: you need direct response.
So it goes without saying that as a CRO copywriter, you want to be free to use as many of your cherished, tried-&-true direct-response copy hacks as possible to generate the most traction ... right?
Well ... yes and no.
Because let's be honest: Some "tried and true" direct-response hacks work incredibly well at getting people to say "yes" once and only once.
Whether they'll work in the future, depends on how strong, cohesive, and consistent your brand and value-prop messaging is.
For example: What if your best-performing lead-gen campaigns consistently use "bait & switch"-style offers?
This is incredibly common among B2B and B2C companies that rely on aggressive, high-touch sales:
First you entice prospects with some kind of ebook, quiz, or other freebie that's barely related to your actual paid product/service (if it's related at all) in exchange for a phone number.
Then, lead quality be damned, you have your sales team wear every contact down with non-stop calls until they finally convert — or angrily block your business from their contact list.
(Call it the Salesforce Approach, if you will.)
Now, does this strategy work?
Sure, if you have the money to maintain it. But it's a high-overhead approach to conversions, because:
- You need a dedicated sales team to keep chasing those tepid, low-quality leads;
- The more annoying & aggressive your outbound sales tactics are, the more likely prospects and customers will avoid you in the future;
- Your value proposition — dominated by bait & switch offers only loosely related to your business's core product or service — will be indecipherable to most prospects, even those who would pay hand over first for what you actually sell. Because all they ever see in your ads and on your landing pages is a Frankenstein's Monster of patched-together, unrelated offers and promos they're not interested in.
THIS is where the role and importance of brand comes in. If your brand, as Bezos says, is what people say about you when you leave the room, you don't want your brand to be comprised of sentiment like:
"Oh, I reached out to that company once. Worst decision ever. Wouldn't leave me alone. Avoid them, they're sketchy."
"Watch out, those guys are scam artists. All I wanted was X, but then all they did was push me to buy Y. Waste of time."
"Who? Never heard of them. What do they do?"
This is what happens when all your marketing efforts are focused on maximizing short-term, single-action persuasion and zero effort is put into making sure your customers have a stellar post-conversion experience and walk away with clear, memorable understanding of WHO your company is and WHAT IT DOES.
Worst-case scenario? Customers end up wandering back into the crowd after buying once, forget about your business completely, and become just as hard and expensive to convert in the future as they were the first time around.
Moreover, because you relied so heavily on short-term, overly-manipulative persuasion tactics right from the start, many customers won't trust you even if they DO remember you.
The end result? Your company ends up stuck on a hamster wheel of sky-high acquisition/conversion costs and aggressive, expensive outbound sales — and not just for first-time customers, but returning customers, too.
Now let's look at the flip side:
What if your company's brand is healthy, cohesive, and aligned with the values, attitudes, and culture of the right audience?
Maybe in the short term you don't get quite as many leads per month as before. This could very well happen. But if you track your funnel conversions all the way through from lead to purchase, you'll often find the leads you do get convert far more easily, with less outbound elbow grease.
When your brand is clear, likeable, and well-differentiated, it's easy for anyone to understand what you actually offer, who it's for, and why it's better than Options X, Y, or Z.
The end result? Your inbound leads go up, which translates into less money & effort that needs to be spent on aggressive outbound sales.
And over time, your conversion & brand-awareness efforts get significantly easier and cheaper — across all channels.
Call me a convert, because I get it now.
I finally get the importance of branding and how it relates to CRO.
Direct response is all about getting people to choose you in the moment.
But branding? Branding is all about getting people to love you and remember you enough to come back.
Until next time,