Marketers are always interested in demystifying the mysterious route consumers take to purchase. What did they look at? Why? What did it say?
Melted down to a science, it's called attributing conversions in the sales funnel. And two marketing professionals believe they understand it and can explain it to marketers.
This advice comes courtesy of Lon Safko, a Phoenix-based social media marketing consultant and co-author of "The Social Media Bible," and Patrizio Spagnoletto, Yahoo's vice president of business-to-business marketing:
1. Go wide
Spagnoletto says: "The most basic thing that you have to do is you have to make sure that across your entire media mix and, specifically, the online media mix you are fully tagged. You have full exposure on all the parts that you've bought, so you can track them. So if you have sponsored search, if you have a media banner, if you have an e-mail, if you're doing social networking—across all of them, you have to make sure that you're tagging them, because that's the top of the funnel, if you will. ... That will tell you which of these media mixes is driving the most clicks, which I know is not a conversion. But it's, again, the top of the funnel, right? You have to know who's driving ... the highest volume of leads."
2. Go deep
"Go deep ... within your conversion funnel," Spagnoletto continues. "For example, at Yahoo, in sponsored search, we have seven or so pages, from beginning to confirmation page. ... Track every single page so that you know if and where people are dropping off. So as an example, in our sign-up flow, we saw that we had the highest percentage of dropoff on step two, which happened to be collecting personal information. So through a variety of testing, what we did was we moved that towards the end. And the result there was a material increase in our conversion rate, because what we did is we let people come in and play with the sign-up form by choosing the keywords and doing all of the things that they need to do to sign up with us and really get them engaged—that's the key—before we start asking for their personal information, let alone their credit card."
3. Understand the difference and the connection between a conversion and an assist
Spagnoletto explains, "So here's what I mean by that: Most advertisers, especially the smaller ones ... will do a very simplistic view and look at: 'Did this banner ad or this paid search link drive to a direct conversion?' And if it doesn't, they'll basically assume that it was not effective. What that does is ignore the fact that all of your media pieces actually work in concert. So while the last click may have come from a paid search link, it's really important to know that that same user may have clicked on a banner or an e-mail link or a social link, whatever it may be, before ultimately deciding to take an action. It's those multiple touchpoints that educate and ultimately drive to that purchase."
Quoted in the January 2010 issue of Target Marketing, Esco Strong, director of the Microsoft Advertising Institute, made a similar point about considering more than the last click in attribution.
4. Test and refine, test and refine, test and refine
"You have to go back and you have to be able to optimize across all of these pieces," Spagnoletto adds. "If a banner's not working, try out a new creative. If banners, in general, are not working, try a test where you have no banners in your media mix. Same with search and across the board. If your funnel has big leaks, move them around and see which works best. If you're seeing multiple assists from, say, banners before [leads] go to an e-mail link, try and push for that path across your entire media mix."
5. Pay attention to where consumers do their research
Social media contributes the most to conversions, Safko says, because consumers seek out other consumers' advice. So marketers should be listening on social media and participating, he says. There are plenty of ways to measure how this content contributes to conversions, he notes. For instance, a tweet with a bit.ly URL is perfect—just track the statistics for that bit.ly mention. (The bit.ly site lists the tweets and then the metrics, such as clicks.)
Blogging, microblogging and social networking create conversions because that's where consumers do their research, he says.
"Corporations are pretty stupid right now," he opines. "I mean, they're sticking their heads in the sand; they're hoping that social media goes away. They don't have the resources; they're afraid of losing control of the message; if legal is involved, they don't want the SEC to come down on them. There's more excuses I've heard from big corporations. Only very very few of them really get it. The question isn't: Where are corporations today? What you've got to ask is: Where are the corporations' customers today? They've moved from search ads, they've moved from homepages to social networks. So where [are] the corporations? ... They're in stupid places spending stupid money. They're making huge mistakes. Because, for the most part, they won't accept the fact that there's been this fundamental shift in power."