The Epic Battle: Conversion vs. Brand


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two rhinos facing off

We’ve been witnessing an epic battle between long term brand-focused marketing and short-term conversion-focused marketing for quite some time now.

The movement away from traditional marketing channels and towards digital, and mobile, and our subsequent reliance on Google and Facebook-owned marketing opportunities has prompted a huge shift in the way marketers work at a tactical level. Unfortunately, some marketers have allowed this to spill over to operational and strategic decision-making.

Samuel Scott asserts that many digital marketers are too channel focused, and that this approach is to the detriment of:

  • Finding an effective Promotion Mix,
  • Delivering a strong, relevant and consistent message, and
  • The development of well thought-out positioning supported by impactful marketing collateral.

This, as Doc Searls argues, means that we are no longer focusing on bringing value to customers and potential customers, which is the true essence of marketing.

Many factors have conspired to push marketers away from traditional processes and towards channel-based approaches. Furthermore, entire organizational structures within marketing teams and technology have reinforced this mindset.   

But why might marketers be tempted to focus on short-term conversions as opposed to longer-run results? 

1. Short-term conversion-focused marketing initiatives are less risky, especially through digital channels.

You could take a strong brand stance and risk not appealing to, or even offending, particular segments. Or alternatively you could take a small segment and run a test on an iteration of your message. So what if you negatively bias the opinion of 0.0000000000001% of your target audience, right?

This thought process may be easier to justify immediately, but that does not mean it is preferable. After all, every interaction is an opportunity to build brand value.

Digital channels have allowed us to segment and target to the extreme. The more targeted our messages become, the lower the payoff per interaction, but also the lower the penalty for a misguided action.

Risk aversion naturally dictates that short-term conversion-focused marketing initiatives will be favored by marketers looking to protect their jobs where transparency and accountability inevitably come into play.

2. Short-term, conversion-focused marketing collateral may be quicker and easier to produce

In line with the idea presented above, where the risk of exposure or negative fallout from a misguided brand message and payoffs from initiatives are lower, there will be less of an incentive to spend time and effort on producing quality content.

3. Short-term conversion-focused marketing is easier to justify

The popularization and proliferation of Google Analytics, among other accessible analytics tools has meant that ‘cost per interaction’ metrics are always at hand.

While revenue retains its title as ‘the ultimate KPI’, attributing this to specific departments, initiatives and processes remains extremely difficult.

Short-term conversion-focused marketing, however, produces instant results.

  • Ran a sales promotion on a digital channel for 3 months? No problem, let’s check revenue for that particular campaign via click throughs.
  • Spent two years exploring various publicity opportunities? Unable to give me the direct dollar impact of that? I’m not surprised! Nor do I think the entire impact of that will be felt for much time to come. And, I’m very sorry but I’m not able to accurately define that ‘much time’ timeframe I just mentioned.

Long-term brand-focused marketing initiatives will always be easier to discriminate against as their impact is harder to ascertain. Try as we might, we still haven’t found a transparent, open, standardized and simple way to put a value on brand.

Until we do, short-term ROI will always be easiest to measure, and short-term initiatives easier to justify.

It isn’t, however, impossible to quantify the value of investing in longer-term payoffs. Ben Davis shares some key findings from Binet and Field’s The Long and Short of It and notes that “long-term investment in advertising delivers double the profit of a short-term approach”.

4. Short-term conversion-focused marketing works better

Much has been written on changes in journalism practices and attention spans.

VentureBeat points to a Microsoft survey that “claims that the human attention span is 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000.”

So let’s produce some short-form text, an interactive option or visual/video collateral and slap a call to action on it. Consumers will like that, right?

Well… actually no.

With all that hype, you might be forgiven for thinking that your 15 second YouTube ad is a good idea. But, perhaps that’s not the case. Apparently longer blog posts are more shareable than shorter ones.

Additionally, have you considered the negative brand impact an unsolicited advertisement can have on an individual who you are assuming is in ‘consumption mode’, but is really in ‘relax mode’, or ‘learning mode’? Even if you had, where you can’t accurately measure the negative impact this has on brand value (and hence this seems negligible), it is very easy to ignore.

As Scott Brinker has argued, too much emphasis on one area of marketing encourages us to lose sight of true marketing goals. More specifically, the over-reliance of many modern marketers on advertising is preventing them from creating positive customer brand experiences, irrespective of the channels through which marketing messages are delivered.


So, to conclude: while short-term conversion-focused initiatives are likely to be less risky, easier to justify and could potentially be quicker and easier to implement, it cannot be so flippantly asserted that they work better. Finding the best balance of long-term investment in your brand and short-term revenue generation activities will likely lead to optimal results.

In the end, however, throughout every single initiative: brand always needs to be the focus. In the end, every single initiative you develop will have an impact on an individual’s experience of your brand.


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Megan Wilcock

VP of Business Development for Sweetspot. Responsible for strategic brand development, marketing and business development. BA/BComm graduate from the University of Melbourne. My passion lies in finding creative solutions and encouraging collaboration.

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