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Direct Response Ads vs. Brand Awareness Ads

April 2021

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Different ads serve different purposes in the sales cycle, from introducing customers to your brand and building trust, to driving customers to your site and converting them. There are two primary types of ads to know how to deploy effectively — direct response and brand awareness ads. Used in conjunction with one another at various different parts of the funnel, they can drive powerful growth for your brand. Here is a closer look at how you can maximize your results from these advertising options.

Branding Ads

Branding ads, or branded content, is about defining who your brand is and what makes you different from your competitors. It isn’t directly selling a product. Instead, it is selling the idea of what your company does and what makes you unique. 

Often, branding ads aren’t focused on your products or the free shipping weekend you have coming up. Instead, branding ads tell your brand’s story. And there are best practices and quick tips for making these work (see our other writings on the subject).

As Elizabeth Smithson writes for Branding Magazine, “Your brand is built to be a true representation of who you are as a business, and how you wish to be perceived. […] A professional appearance and well-strategized branding will help the company build trust with consumers, potential clients and customers.”

Why Branding Ads?

Branding ads may not lead to a direct sale right now, but they are crucial for building a long-term audience for your company, and often times, not having a RoAS centric strategy, can lead to better long-term results.

One key trend sticks out when evaluating branding ads — authenticity. While one research report found that 86 percent of consumers felt authenticity was important in determining brand support, 57 percent of those surveyed said that fewer than half of brands created authentic content.

Branding ads must be true to who you are as a company. It should speak to the ideal user of your products in a way that is natural and appealing — not forced and fake. When done right, branding ads will create the positive perception of your brand that is so important for generating word of mouth and sustained loyalty. Even if seeing an ad doesn’t prompt an immediate purchase, that strong impression will linger in a potential consumer’s mind and help them remember you when they are ready to buy.

Direct Response Ads

While direct response ads should still invoke the imagery and principles of your brand, they are less concerned with creating a general impression and instead more focused on prompting a response (hence the name), a click, and ultimately generating sales.

These are the ads that are highlighting current promotions, offers, or sales. They are trying to get people to buy right now. But not always, they can be value proposition-based ads that simply incite responses with compelling calls to action.

It’s often perceived that there isn’t any time for storytelling or metaphor with a direct response ad, but when done right, you can incorporate varying visual identity and storytelling ideas within an ad that may tie a campaign together. Nonetheless, these ads should hook your attention right away with upfront information about the current offer, paired with a clear call to action that encourages viewers to make a purchase or take an action. 

The most effective direct response ads also utilize a measure of scarcity. Whether stock is limited or the special offer expires at the end of the day, this helps prompt an immediate reaction from consumers. In other words, it taps into our inherent FOMO (fear of missing out). When people know that a deal isn’t going to last, they will be more emotionally compelled to buy now rather than later. You can tap into this in a variety of ways. When done well, it can increase lift in meaningful ways.

Ultimately, direct response ads serve as a type of “follow-up” to, and further down the funnel than, your branding ads. The branding ads engage the interest of your target audience and build awareness. The direct response ad comes in with a highly enticing offer that will encourage them to buy.

Case Study: BOOM!

WIll use a case study in its simplest form to illustrate the concept: cosmetics brand BOOM! used phased direct response campaigns to target users who had abandoned their online shopping cart. The campaign started with a standard email urging shoppers to complete their purchase, achieving a 9.4% conversion rate.

To target those who still didn’t convert, the campaign then sent a 10% off coupon a few days after the initial abandoned cart email. The coupon was valid for only 48 hours, combining the sense of urgency and scarcity that can improve any direct response call to action. This follow-up ad provided the lift BOOM! wanted, bringing in thousands of dollars more in sales that might otherwise have not been completed. Simple enough.

Direct response ads don’t always have to be focused on product purchases. However, they all rely on targeted messages meant to drive a very specific action. This could include reading a new blog post, signing up for an email list, or scheduling a business consultation.

Developing a Winning Campaign With Direct Response & Branding Ads

There is no “one size fits all” approach to designing a winning ad campaign. When used strategically based on the needs of the brand and the interests of the audience, both direct response and branding ads will play a key role in helping your company get the results it needs. By using both types of ads, you can build long-term cachet for your company while also generating more immediate sales.

If you’re not sure where to start with your campaign, reach out to us to learn more. We’ll be your partner, helping you develop a unique ad strategy to drive revenue and growth for your brand.


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