The Problem with a Conversions-First Mindset

There’s a huge problem with how brands look at their digital messaging. It’s widespread. And it won’t be fixed overnight.


What is it? An obsession with conversions. While results matter, you can’t produce them without the right approach. And in the case of digital marketing, investing your ad dollars wisely requires taking the long view. You need to be speaking to people year-round if you want to convert them to become your customers. And what you say has to go beyond the immediate demands in your CTAs to help them understand and connect with who you are and the value you offer.

So many brands leave oodles of brand awareness on the table because they only attempt to create it during certain time periods, focusing most of their messaging on a push for conversion.

Of course, conversion is the ultimate goal. But there’s a journey there, and the winners in digital marketing know how to tread that trail effectively and elegantly.

One helpful framing is to remember the old ways of doing things. Before digital, TV and radio were huge brand awareness mediums. There was no place you could click a button—brands had to depend on creating attention-grabbing, memorable messages that people would recall when it came time to fulfill a need, whether it was for a new vacuum or the latest innovation in TV dinners.

Here’s the hitch: you still have to do that. In their excitement over the new tools digital advertising provides, brands have often given up on creating awareness and affinity altogether, drowning with their competitors in a sea of ignored (even pesky) CTAs at very limited times of the year.

It’s the equivalent of calling your friend—but only at the moment you need something. If your audience only sees you when you’re asking them to do something, they’re a lot less likely to convert.

Instead, you should be engaging in a conversation year-round, one that educates and informs through blogs, case studies, influencer marketing, emails and more. When you’ve been talking all year, it’s a lot easier to help people understand what you offer, but more importantly, you’ll be armed with a better understanding of who they are, too, by asking them for information along the way (collecting emails, for example, for content-driven and useful messages).

When the time comes, you want people to search your brand’s name and go directly to your website because there’s no other brand in their mind. That’s really what we mean when we say “conversion”—a far deeper, more rewarding achievement than measuring clicks on buttons. Building brand awareness will help you achieve that.

So I’ve (hopefully) convinced you that you need to be educating and speaking with your intended customers throughout the year. What else should you be doing?

Four things to think about:

1. Learn about who they are

Gathering information from your audience must be a priority. This way when the time comes for the “buy now” message, you’re targeting first party data—talking to an audience who has formed a relationship with your brand. It makes getting over the hurdle between message and action that much easier. In our digital campaigns, site retargeting tactics have at least twice the CTR click-through rates that third party or prospecting type display ads have

2. Speak directly to them—even on video and audio

Hulu and Pandora are completely different places to buy media than Channel 4 and 1120 AM radio. But many brands are still looking at these opportunities in the exact same way—falsely assuming a video or audio ad means having to speak to a broad audience that’s too large and generalized. You can now target your audiences on these mediums and speak more directly with the people you know would benefit from your message. On both connected TV and streaming audio, you should have year-round messaging—a strategy a lot of brands leave out of their buys.

3. Be practical about where you expect which actions

Empathize with your audience. How many times have you seen an ad on your screen—whether it’s your phone, television or laptop—and taken the action requested (to call, click, or even more demanding, scan a QR code from a TV commercial). Don’t fall into a false perception of the value of advertising—impressions count just as much as clicks when you think of the long game you can (and should) play.

4. Never forget the journey

Some brands focus solely on the 30 customers converted that month, seeing that 29 of them came from Google AdWords and focusing all their energy there. But how many of the 29 came through word of mouth or referral and Googled you, but Google got credit for it? The consumer buying journey is more nuanced than a sponsored search ad. You need to build a relationship to make this person a customer. Take Mercedes-Benz for example. They focus on a 15- to 20-year strategy that tracks and targets people today who will be able to buy a Mercedes in two decades. And it works.

the bottom line

You want people to search your brand’s name and go directly to your website because there’s no other brand in their mind. That’s the true conversion we’re all working for. Educate them on your brand’s products and who you are throughout the year, and you’ll have a much higher chance of achieving it.

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