A strict adherence to conversion traps brands behind the eight ball

A strict adherence to conversion traps brands behind the eight ball

By Sean Stanleigh

By Sean Stanleigh

Apr 8, 2024

In the beginning, brand awareness was top of the food chain, not just top of the funnel. It nurtured the biggest, most creative marketing executions. It was the heart and soul of effective campaigns.

Over time, billboards, print advertising, TV commercials, in-store displays and radio spots were joined by websites, digital video, social-media posts and podcast sponsorships as distribution platforms. A brand needed to be active across multiple channels to eventually influence a new customer’s purchasing funnel. Or so the story went, for decades.

When the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut the world down, most buyers retreated to their homes, and began to live online. They got much more comfortable with e-commerce, but to get them there, brands had to work hard to attract them. With changes in behaviours came changes to marketing. Awareness remained a key tactic, but it almost completely shifted to the digital space.

Content marketing effectively primed consideration. Conversion reaped the benefits. The system was working.

Then came inflation and high interest rates. Buyers got nervous about the state of the economy and their own finances. Companies began to tighten their belts. Layoff notices were swift and extensive. When times are tough, marketing is typically one of the first budgets to be trimmed because businesses become blind to the value of spending that doesn’t generate clear, direct returns.

Which is code for cutting brand awareness.

The result? A primary focus on driving digital conversion tactics. “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” goes the old saying, and it’s appropriate here because a strict adherence to a single tactic has historically proven to be a short-term solution.

"We’re not doing enough to get heretofore non-console people into console gaming. We’re not going to attract them by doing more of the shit we’re doing now,” Shawn Layden, who used to run Sony Interactive Entertainment’s Worldwide Studios, said in an interview with GamesBeat.

“If 95 per cent of the world doesn’t want to play Call of Duty, Fortnite, and Grand Theft Auto, is the industry just going to make more Call of Duty, Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto? That’s not going to get you anybody else."

That last line in particular highlights the core issue. You need awareness in market alongside consideration to prime the pump to ‘anybody else.’

The traditional marketing funnel is no longer a funnel, maybe it’s linear, or even circular. The three principles of marketing – awareness, consideration and conversion – need to operate at the same time, in harmony, for maximum effect. The movie title Everything Everywhere All at Once comes to mind.

The challenge for marketers who have set brand awareness aside, whether intentionally or due to budget cuts, is that they won’t recognize the mistake until it’s too late. In today’s jump-up-and-down-to-stand-out society, the mantra has to be “always-on.” Otherwise you’re giving potential customers time to be exposed to competitors while you stay silent. You risk being invisible.

You need to continuously keep your target market engaged and informed, no matter the state of the economy. You don’t have to stop making them offers, but those become part of a larger campaign strategy. The new marketing requires test and tries, measurement, and doubling down on what works to keep customers loyal while attracting new ones.

When you’ve chased a customer base specifically to pry open their wallets for too long, you’ll exhaust their spends, and one day you’ll turn around and realize you don’t have a pool of new clients to lure. You’ll also have no loyalty. It could take months, or longer, to ramp back up to a point where awareness starts to have impact.

Play the long game. You don’t have time to waste.

Sean Stanleigh is head of Globe Content Studio at The Globe and Mail in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.