Now more than ever, marketing success is less about the number of leads delivered than it is about actual sales realized, as marketers are being held accountable to drive bottom-line results. In keeping, we are increasingly seeing marketing becoming part of the sales organization.

In this fragmented, fast messaging environment, where marketers are being tasked with and held to taking consumers through the purchase process quickly and effectively, how are they achieving this task?  We have long been talking about the art and science of marketing and conversion marketing is one such science. It is the act of converting shoppers into buyers and the impact marketing has on the series of decisions it takes to get there.

It’s no longer realistic, affordable or achievable to approach each step within the purchase funnel as distinct stages. The purchase funnel has collapsed. Smartphones and mobile devices that demand our attention immediately connect people to brands, retailers, and to each other. As a result, consumer behavior changes. Someone visits a site, pokes around, and they are retargeted with an offer or follow-me ad showing them the exact item they just looked at. As the interest and consideration stage collapses, the timeframe to acquisition is shortened. It is this hyper-connected, digital world that has changed the entire sales cycle.  And it has done so in a relatively short time frame – the last 5-7 years.

It is because of robust data from systems talking to systems (something we talked about in a past issue of this newsletter), that activities from outbound marketing efforts can share bi-directional data with your CMS. Doing so provides a richer picture of your prospects and customers, their interaction with you, and their purchase behavior.   With this information marketers can get better at targeting, offers can be tailored for relevance, testing can be employed and conversions quickened and improved. An understanding of buying triggers is gained and on the flip side, barriers to purchase can be addressed to continue to improve the likelihood of conversion.

Why is this just being talked about?

The adoption of conversion marketing tactics underscores the importance of making every single customer impression count. The ability to close a sale more quickly can also be thought of as a way to win customers before you lose them. In our media environment, with so many messages coming through every channel, you may have only a couple of shots at a given consumer, so it’s important to try to close them at every opportunity.

In a survey conducted by Ad Age, many marketers demonstrated that they are taking advantage of the conversion marketing model. Currently, 48% of respondents say they are using new technologies that improve marketing ROI by shifting focus toward conversions. Marketers under increased pressure to show ROI and accountability are shifting their focus to performance-based metrics from less action-oriented brand awareness efforts. In the Ad Age survey of marketers, 45% of respondents report they are now using tools that offer greater transparency into attribution and ROI.

The challenges that conversion marketing can tackle and improve, namely sales growth, attribution and accountability, are not new. Conversion marketing is being driven by three powerful factors: changing consumer behaviors, availability of new marketing technologies and the increasing accessibility of good data.  The consumer purchase cycle used to play out over a gradual time span defined by the physical world- brick-and-mortar retail, snail mail and 30- or 60-second ads that viewers had no way to skip. With relatively few channels competing for attention, marketers could take their time shepherding people through each stage of the funnel to an eventual purchase.

In this hyper-connected, immediate-gratification world, consumers can find, research, select and buy in a matter of seconds, and most importantly, all through a single screen.  Consumers can get information about just about anything in the palms of their hands, and they can move into shopping mode anytime, anywhere.

So what about brand awareness.

All the brand awareness in the world can’t create offers that connect to transactions. Branding and buying must now be envisioned and planned for as part of the total marketing plan to drive towards next steps —driving consumers to take action, and moving them closer to the brand and closer to making a purchase. These experiences need to transcend channels of delivery from online to offline because it is these interactions that lead to relevant and actionable data. However, taking this approach to crafting this experience is a major shift for most companies. To craft a conversion-focused engine that maintains overall brand considerations you need a cross-discipline approach, tapping departments like marketing, sales, technology and analytics. Marketers must be able to navigate organizational silos separating branding and promotion. Years ago most companies were separating branding campaigns and direct response campaigns, often being worked on by different agencies. This is no longer efficient nor effective. A branding campaign would focus on building awareness but stop there, with no mechanism for continuing through the purchase process. With conversion marketing, marketers now create physical and digital paths consumers can follow all the way from awareness to advocacy, aligning branding and buying in a more fluid and real-time way. A TV spot can invite interested viewers to turn to a microsite with special offers. A mobile display ad can include a store locator that delivers a coupon for the nearest brick-and-mortar location. In short, companies need to begin by asking how they’re going to convert customers and build the rest of the marketing plan around that.

The Approach

Solving key challenges marketers have faced for years: improving accountability, gaining insight into marketing investment return and driving sales in a crowded and chaotic messaging environment, means a focus on the funnel. But traditional marketing practices were generally confined to separate activities for each stage of the funnel. Now it means designing every touch point with a clear path to the next stage of the funnel, from awareness through interest and decision to action, while using data to make each interaction more intimate and work harder than ever.  These results must be measured by the cumulative effect on actual conversion to purchase, the essence of conversion marketing. New technologies, data and insights must be deployed to enable more response-driven, one-to-one communications.

Data Informs Conversion Marketing

The importance of data in conversion marketing can’t be overstated. Marketers can identify consumers based on behaviors such as prior purchases both online and offline, time spent on apps, websites visited, social media engagement; as well as insights specific to channels, categories and demographic profiles. Conversions at each stage of the funnel can be tracked to inform continuous optimization: Which messages saw the best response? Which offers are being used, and by whom?

Maintaining data ongoing and leveraging the data at hand is allowing marketers to begin to predict a shopper’s needs prior to consideration. The most popular example is Amazon’s preemptive recommendations and ordering program.

Delivering Relevancy to Increase Conversions

In theory, marketers can know hundreds of things about each consumer, but at the end of the day they’re still serving the same creative to everyone because they don’t have the resources to keep up. Yes, data is the fuel that drives relevancy and accountability. But there is a very important point about why relevancy is so important. Because consumers are able to control virtually every aspect of their media consumption, consumers increasingly demand the same kind of experience, personalization and relevancy in the services, messages and promotions they get from marketers. A new generation of technologies helps marketers meet this expectation with targeted, one-to-one conversations spanning channels and stages of the funnel.

Supported by programmatic technologies that now exist, marketers can dynamically assemble ads and promotions with messages and creative automatically tailored to specific consumers. Ultimately, marketers are building a conversion ecosystem. That is when storytelling, from the very beginning, is powered by a customer experience that authentically invites, even lures, consumers down the funnel at every stage, using data, targeting and technology to enable transactions. Delivering a relevant, one-to-one message to each consumer depends on more than just demographic segmentation.

In closing, what defines conversion marketing is simple, yet complex: from storytelling to transactions, and from broad demographic targeting to increasingly refined targeting based on behavioral and transactional data. A thoughtful, conversion marketing practice streamlines and accelerates the purchase funnel by meeting both the consumer demand for relevance and immediate gratification, and the marketers need for better accountability and ROI. Companies that continue to keep branding and awareness efforts disconnected from direct response marketing leave their prospects vulnerable to competitors that can close more quickly and effectively. The opportunity now exists to link every message to an invitation to act, to use data to target and drive behaviors all the way down the funnel- and to capture valuable data to further refine marketing performance.