Conversion marketing is the mixed martial arts of the ad biz, a dynamic fusion of the most impactful elements from "above-the-line" marketing with the most efficient practices from "below-the-line." By bringing together the full force of these two traditional art forms, conversion marketers are wielding more power and achieving better results.
This evolution foretells huge changes for creative departments.
First, a little about conversion marketers: We engage people with an emotional brand promise while driving a resulting action beneficial to both brand and consumer. This is a combo of marketing communications objectives that have, until recently, been separated.
Above-the-line agencies focus on creating emotional connections between brands and consumers. With branding, advertising and digital properties, these agencies aim to make you feel. Watch the TV ad, feel the brand promise. Done.
Below-the-line agencies toil in the spaces closer to purchase, such as retail and online. Through promotions, shopper tactics and a host of digital ploys, these agencies compel actions such as click, post, share, rate and buy. See the offer online, click to learn more. Done.
Here's the problem with that separation: Creating emotional connections in certain places and then compelling actions in other places is based on an old saw we call the marketing funnel. This model clings to the notion that there is a series of steps people plod through as they are wooed by a brand and then led to buy. You know the dance: awareness, consideration, trial, purchase and advocacy.
But everything has changed.
Today a person can get excited about a new clothing line when she sees it in a video fashion show on her smartphone, tap on a skirt in that video to learn the color and size varieties, have one shipped to her house, then tweet it. That entire funnel just became a few taps.
In 2016, this behavior is not rare. People expect to be delighted by brands with new ways to engage their products and to be afforded the convenience of all manner of activation (share, buy, review, etc.). And they don't draw lines between media or separate emotions from actions. The result is so many consumers exploring, buying, sharing and shopping all at the same time. They have no use for our dusty old funnel.
Agencies would do well to pay attention. Consider this: Nine in 10 brand marketers want their agencies to focus more on driving people to purchase, while two-thirds of brand marketers want a higher level of proof that their marketing programs drive sales, according to the 2015 Catapult/Ad Age Consumer Conversion Survey. On the other side, Harvard Business Review says a "fully connected" customer—one who understands and values your brand—produces 52% more value to you than even a "highly satisfied" customer.
It's time for creative teams to understand what works in the various purchase channels, such as brick-and-mortar retail, e-commerce and call centers. We must grasp the unique opportunities of each—how people behave there, and the triggers and the barriers to purchase—and then solve for those challenges within our emotional message.
For example, a television spot should engender an emotional appeal ("Those headphones are cool"), but it can't stop there. It should also facilitate the viewer's next action that drives home the brand promise (sample the noise reduction, check the reviews, buy). When done well, this added responsibility affects not just your call to action, but your entire spot—indeed, your idea.
Now that every consumer-brand engagement is an opportunity to create both an emotional connection and an action, we need to tear down the old rules that have separated the way we approach our ideas and media tactics.
This requires an all-new creative team. It's a relearning that will affect ideas, execution and measurement. It's a new philosophy.
These are the core tenets of the new creative department:
- All media are fair game: Every creative team must include the variety of talent and experience that forms a renaissance dojo.
- Innovation is the currency: Lead with innovations that make a difference in people's lives. This is not limited to technology.
- Listen to the influencers: No more police tape around the creative team. Insights, account and production must all be welcomed in to help evolve the creative.
- Data works: It's not just about uncovering what people think and feel. Data must also reveal how, what and why they buy.
- It's all about ideas: This remains the one thing that has not changed.
It's a brave new world for marketers, and our success will depend on our ability to assemble creative teams that can come up with solutions for any media, that inspire appropriate feelings for a brand and compel rewarding actions, all in one touch. Are you ready for this? More importantly, is your creative department?
Dave Fiore is chief creative officer of Catapult. He has over 20 years of creative ideation and development experience in bringing fully integrated programs to life for some of America's largest brands. Before joining Catapult, Dave led digital creative for several General Motors brands. His teams also helped lead many Unilever brands to prominence, including I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!, Skippy and Wish-Bone. Dave has worked with TV, the web, gaming and mobile—and has won industry awards for Kellogg's, A&E TV, COTY and Scholastic.