Zombies Don’t Carry Credit Cards

If you asked most marketers, the goal of digital marketing is conversion.  For the sake of this post, let’s define a conversion as a purchase of an online product.  The word ‘conversion’ is used because the goal is to convert a web visitor to a buyer.  The more conversions, the more revenue.  The more revenue, the more profits.

Since not every visitor will buy (in fact, most visitors don’t buy anything at all), marketers typically study the ratio between buyers and visitors.  If you sell your product to 3 out of every 100 visitors, your conversion rate is 3%.  Naturally, the aim of efficient promotion is to increase that conversion rate so that you sell to as many visitors as possible.  There are several ways to influence this figure, but we will explore them more deeply in a separate post.

As a marketer that is striving to increase efficiency, you might measure the profitability of your promotional activity by analyzing the cost of attracting these 100 visitors and analyzing the overall viability of the investment.  If it costs $1,000 to attract these 100 visitors, the cost-per-conversion comes in at $333.33.  The marketer has to then evaluate this rate and decide whether the spend is worthwhile: that figure is a total failure if you are selling a $29 widget but a complete success if you are selling a $5,000 cruise to Alaska.

The scenario above is not particularly challenging to grasp and it’s certainly not new.  In fact, this concept of conversion is taught at seminar after seminar and relayed in blogs, tweets, and books on this subject.  And while most marketers would agree on the methodology, it’s inherently flawed.

Zombies Don't Carry Credit Cards

The scenario above is based upon the notion that buyers of products are Zombies with credit cards.  In other words, it paints a picture of 100 passive, ignorant consumers going through a line in lock-step while only 3 of them whip out an American Express and buy the product.  It also assumes that the ratio calculation will hold for the next 100 Zombies to come through the line.  While I wish the scenario was this simple, it’s not.  Not by a long shot.  The truth is, Zombies don’t carry credit cards.

Today’s consumers (the people that actually do have credit cards) have more options, knowledge, control, discernment and discretion than ever before. They are bombarded with more messages in a day (some estimates say 3,000 – 20,000) than they can possibly hope to process.  They look to friends for recommendations, make purchase decisions on their own time, and are reflective and thoughtful about financial decisions.  Assuming that a cleverly-crafted social media or Google ad campaign is going to consistently coax consumers to plunk down their credit cards to fit within the confines of a marketer’s metrics spreadsheet is inherently flawed.  Things simply don’t work this way.

The idea of data gathering, measuring performance, and optimizing marketing results are all good, constructive activities to embrace.  But assuming that the underlying results will emanate from a “set it and forget it” approach to promotion and results is asking for disappointment.

So how does the marketer move from the idea of a “hands-off” marketing funnel to a more practical and realistic approach?  While I’m not sure that there is a simple answer, there are some truths that marketers would do well to ponder and embrace.  Here are some of those truths that, when applied to a specific marketing challenge, would lead toward a more satisfying digital marketing approach:

  1. Conversions are rarely instantaneous – it usually takes multiple interactions with a brand before we ultimately pull the trigger.  The old marketing adage called ‘The Rule of 7’ tells us that it takes 7 interactions with a brand before most of us buy.  In today’s hyper-connected, always-on world, that number is probably closer to 77 than 7.
  2. Facebook Likes are worth something – it’s hard to say for sure exactly how much, but a consumer’s choice to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, or otherwise is an opportunity for you to build a relationship.  So don’t minimize or waste it.
  3. Your social media content must be worthy – People rarely subscribe to your social media content to be nice.  They do it to gain something:  an idea, a tip, to be entertained, a deal, or just to remember you.  Before they make that decision, they’ll look to see how valuable your messaging is.  So make it count.  Be informative, helpful, and/or funny–be of benefit.  And keep doing it so that they stay subscribed.
  4. Your product must be remarkable – This is tough for most marketers when they see disappointing sales figures.  But it is important to remember that the first ‘P’ in the four P’s of marketing is Product.  Your product must be valuable, indispensable, and a must-have.  If it’s not, the rest of the four P’s (price, place, promotion) won’t do you a ton of good.  Hint:  Part of social media really succeeding for you is that people speak well of you on social media because of how highly they think of your product.  So make the product so remarkable that people can’t help but tell their friends.
  5. Consumers are skeptical – People don’t often buy from people they don’t know or trust.  Brands must build that trust.  And that doesn’t occur in a Google Adword or a broadcast e-mail message.  It happens over time through their interactions with you, the recommendations of their friends, product reviews posted by strangers, and the content you create.
  6. Marketers must have patience – People don’t all buy immediately.  They think about it first.  Consumers like to flip through pages, kick tires, ask their friends, and go for test drives.  So have patience.  If your initial clicks don’t turn into dollars within the first nanosecond, it doesn’t mean that your promotions have failed.  It means that they’ve just begun.  Expecting otherwise may set you up for disappointment.
  7. Google rewards content – We all look for things on Google.  That’s how we behave.  Your product’s buyers are looking for you right now but don’t know it yet.  Google will introduce them to you if you provide thoughtful, relevant content on a consistent basis.  That’s the essence of how Google works–it rewards the authentic marketer who writes and produces content.  So write–well and often.
  8. Some diseases don’t have cures – so while hoping for a miracle is encouraged, expecting one is probably not wise.  In marketing, there are very few miracles–defined as a bunch of buyers logging on and giving you a credit card at a hefty profit.  Plan, instead, on a slower, more gradual process where sales are earned over time–not in an instant.  If you’re looking for quick and easy, well that’s akin to a asking a physician for a cure that doesn’t exist.  You can beat up the doctor all you want, but it won’t change the facts.
There are many more truths that we could discuss here, but the essence remains:  today’s consumers are smarter, savvier and more discerning than ever.  They’re the ones with the credit cards.  So if your conversions don’t come through a predictable, well-formed funnel, you’re probably doing something right–creating authentic, long-lasting customer relationships.