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Using Conversion Optimization to Generate Online Leads

September 16, 2010

What does Conversion Optimization mean to a consumer brand sold at retail?

photo of a grocery rack with oreo food productsI started my marketing career managing cookie and cracker brands for Nabisco. These days, I spend a lot of time speaking to senior marketers who are trying to make sense of the changing landscape in marketing.

Conversion Optimization has a very clear connection to anyone who sells or generates leads online. But that’s leaving out a lot of big brands or consumer goods companies who don’t sell directly to consumers.

I will often get a question along the lines of:

We don’t sell our products online. We sell them in Wal-Mart (or insert a retailer here). What does conversion optimization or improvement mean for businesses like ours?

As a metaphor, the pipeline still works for consumer brands.

The primary difference here is that building a consumer brand requires a greater focus on communicating and evoking emotional benefits.

I’ll go back to one of my favorite examples – the OREO cookie.

The OREO brand is built on an array of emotional benefits and brand associations. You’ll note that OREO brand advertising focuses on a parent’s nostalgia, the “right way” to eat an OREO — all emotional territory. OREO brand communications don’t say much at all about the fact that it’s a chocolate sandwich cookie. Finally, when talking about food, it never hurts to add in that OREOs are delicious.

Because consumer brands have a lot of work to do to create and reinforce emotional benefits, they tend to need a richer, more consistent level of communication with consumers.

Today, much of that brand conversation takes place online, in social networks, blog posts, Twitter – an almost limitless number of places.

There’s a very important dynamic that’s enabled by social networks. Brands can’t just assume that they’re engaging a consumer directly. In fact, that’s probably never been the case. Emotions tend to be reserved for people. Emotional benefits of brands are those things that usually work on your relationships with other people or your self-image.

If I buy my son OREO’s, then I’m a good father.
If I get the iPad, I’ll have fun and my friends will think I’m cool.

Back to Conversion Optimization. So, keeping in mind that building a consumer brand means working in the domain of emotional benefits, you should think of the large section of the funnel to be wherever your consumers are found (usually where they’re consuming media).

So, how to gain insight into conversion long before your target sets foot in the retailer? You’ll need to identify those microconversions (interim metrics) that will help you understand if you’re building an emotional connection that will turn into the desired purchase behavior.

By tracking these microconversions (and ideally leveraging any insight into your target’s social network) and evaluating how they impact key metrics (those things that turn into sales, volume, and profits), you’ll have what it takes to engage in a real conversion optimization effort.

While some agencies would like to avoid the accountability of conversion optimization, it’s definitely within reach for ANY consumer brand. With the right tools and approach, you can identify the key components of brand building and selling–then work to optimize performance over time.