Brand vs. Direct Response Marketing: How to End the War So Everybody Wins

Author Tim Ash excavates the solution

Let’s cut to the chase:

Both Branding and Direct Response are Right!

Image of quote by author Tim Ash about brand advertising

It’s just that each is blind to the strengths of the other.

Having worked at ad agencies that loved their creative awards as well as in the direct response industry where you are only as good as your latest return on ad spend, I am all too familiar with the tug-of-war between brand and direct response marketers.

In “Brand vs. Direct Response: Ending the War So Everybody Wins,” evolutionary psychology & digital marketing expert and author Tim Ash, who helped create $1.2 billion in value for clients of his Site Tuners firm, poses ways for brand and direct marketers to get on the same side.

"A brand is the underlying mental association evoked in people's heads." –@Tim_Ash Click To Tweet

Perceptions of direct marketing (DR)

Unfortunately, brand marketers see the few examples of  unethical practices by a handful of direct marketers that taint an entire industry and the inconsistency that stems from cramming in yet another feature, product and/or testimonial.

Perceptions of brand marketing

Couple that with the Branding’s unyielding adherence to brand rules and the sad assumption that all formats are created equal and you have the makings of a Mexican standoff. Creative for an outdoor billboard does not work for a twenty-eight minute and thirty-second TV infomercial.

The sublimely simple answer

In this interview with Thomas Haire, Chief Content Officer of the Performance-Driven Marketing Institute (PDMI), Ash says both sides must focus on the mind of the customer by aligning the presentation with how the brand satisfies implicit consumer goals, such as excitement, security or autonomy.

“Your brand is whatever your customers say it is.”

Aligning the compulsion of branding to keep it simple and bold ~ to get noticed ~ with

DR’s propensity to a more nuanced approach which most often takes multiple steps to lead consumers to the close is the perfect balance, according to Ash.

Branding and DR are on the same side

  • Listen to what people say about your brand
  • Craft an offer congruent with customer goals
  • Test triggers
  • Review reactions

I contend that many direct marketers have created brands. Think of all the brand names you know that came out of direct response advertising: George Foreman’s Grill, Guthy-Renker’s ProActiv and Tony Robbins Personal Power, to name a few.

Watch the entire video to get more of Ash’s wisdom and a huge list of marketing books he recommends, including his own “Unleash Your Primal Brain” (affiliate link in my favorites). Listen to his discussion about decluttering creative. It’s some really smart advice.

Screenshot of Tim Ash interview with PDMI's Thomas Haire
Video of Tim Ash interview with PDMI’s Thomas Haire.

Tips that Ash has for direct marketers: stop talking jargon! Enough with abandonment, bounce rates, etc.

Tips for brand marketers: talk the language of $$$.

And for brand and direct marketers alike?

He takes a quote from Isaac Asimov and adds a twist. Instead of “violence is the last resort of the incompetent:”

“Discounting is the last resort of the incompetent.”


Meaning, do your job, marketers: convince your prospects of your value proposition.

If you like this, you might like my business and marketing planning and productivity series that starts with my “Sharpen Business Focus Through Discovery” post and video. It includes a 200+ questionnaire to walk businesses through a self-assessment. Results of that soul-searching lead to better developed sites, elevator pitches, Mission, Vision and Values statements and more.


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