David Kirkpatrick

Marketing 101: What is conversion?

March 15th, 2012

I recently attended an event on social media for film and video professionals. There were four panelists: two social media experts and two video pros who are very active in using social media to market their work. The crowd ranged from very green on the topic to a few power users.

What stood out to me was that when the questions got started, one of the social media experts went off on a marketing riff and threw out the term “conversion.” A hand immediately shot up and asked, “What is conversion?”

Flat out the best question of the evening.

Sometimes as marketers, we get lost in a sea of acronyms — CRM, SEO, ROI, CTR, etc. — and it only took one word to remind me that not everyone gets all of these references.

To be a truly successful marketer, you want to be as transparent as possible as well as provide clarity. If your message is anywhere in the world of insider esoterica where the audience might be confused, that message is lost. And maybe worse than just ignored, the audience might even feel left out.


What is “conversion”?

The definition in the MarketingSherpa glossary that appears in MarketingSherpa handbooks defines conversion as, “The point at which a recipient of a marketing message performs a desired action.” In other words, conversion is simply getting someone to respond to your call-to-action.

Getting someone to open an email is a conversion. Having them click on the call-to-action link inside that email is another conversion. Going to the landing page and filling out a registration form to read your content is a conversion. And, of course, buying your product is the ultimate conversion.

For consumer marketers, conversion can be relatively fast and simple. A possible customer scans a QR code to get a coupon (that’s a conversion right there), and then they immediately go to the restaurant to get their free french fries with a burger and soft drink purchase. (That’s the key conversion.)

In the longer and more complex B2B sale, you want a steady series of small conversions. Engage with your lead nurturing email sends, engage on the website, interact with your social media efforts, and hopefully do a lot of these activities on a mobile device.


Empathize with your audience and customers

At the end of the day, acronyms and insider terms are fun, but to be successful, you want to reach as many people as possible with as much clarity and transparency as possible. If your message is not understood, it is wasted.

That’s why I loved that quickly raised hand when the word “conversion” came up during the panel discussion. I knew what that expert meant, but most of the audience didn’t. I learned a lot from that discussion that the expert didn’t even intend to convey.



Editor’s Note (1/2/2017):

MECLABS Institute (parent research organization of MarketingSherpa) recently published the following on its Conversion Sequence Heuristic page that serves as a good addendum to this post. Here it is:

Optimization does not start with the Conversion Sequence Heuristic. It starts with determining the best objective — what is the right “macro-yes” to apply your resources to? Once you’ve answered this, the heuristic is a way to answer the next question: “What is the best way to achieve the objective?”

Many students of MECLABS Institute immediately start with the heuristic elements on the right side of the equal sign and ignore the “C” — the probability of conversion. They proceed with optimization without truly understanding:

  • Who am I trying to convert?
  • What am I trying to convert them to?
  • It can be dangerous to immediately begin working on tactics (adding, removing and changing things) before stepping back and asking yourself what the true objective you are trying to accomplish is. This approach applies skill before strategy.

Before looking into motivation, value, incentive, friction and anxiety, first define what your ultimate success, or conversion, is. Maybe it’s not even your conversion rate (orders/visits) at all. Maybe you are much more successful with a lower conversion rate and a higher revenue number.

Marketers have a blind spot: self-interest. They are wired to miss the mark when it comes to customer communication. The Conversion Sequence Heuristic is a methodology to remove that blind spot and see marketing collateral through the eyes and understanding of the customer.

Related Resources:

Lead Generation Confessions: 17 B2C and B2B marketers in 12 different industries share their lead conversion rates

How to Prioritize Your Conversion Marketing with a Simple Heuristic

Silent Conversion Killers: Your peers share elements that are hurting your marketing performance right now

Incentive: The bacon of marketing tactics

Friction: 3 simple optimization tactics to get more customers from headline to call-to-action

Conversion Rate defined

Webinar Replay: Research from Harvard, MIT Pinpoints Hard Lead Conversion Lessons with Easy Solutions

New Chart: How Do Your Search Conversion Rates Compare?

Email Marketing: Triggered emails that target the conversion funnel boost revenue

David Kirkpatrick

About David Kirkpatrick

David is a reporter for MarketingSherpa and has over twenty years of experience in business journalism, marketing and corporate communications. His published work includes newspaper, magazine and online journalism; website content; full-length ghosted nonfiction; marketing content; and short fiction. He served as producer for the business research horizontal at the original Office.com, regularly reporting on the world of marketing; covered a beat for D/FW TechBiz, a member of the American City Business Journals family; and he provided daily reporting for multiple LocalBusiness.com cities. David’s other media and corporate clients include: USA Today, Oxford Intelligence, GMAC, AOL, Business Development Outlook and C-Level Media, among many others.

Categories: Marketing Tags: , , ,

  1. March 15th, 2012 at 08:28 | #1

    Great article, David. We have faced challenges with our clients when it comes to marketing lingo and what it actually means. Some might think of a conversion as a potential customer converting into a customer, but as you pointed out, it can actually mean a number of different things! We’ve found that it helps to give examples of different conversion tactics and what each goal would be in creating a conversion.

  2. March 15th, 2012 at 09:41 | #2

    David, love seeing this in print! Especially considering we discussed this exact fact after the event! Conversion means so many things and can be misinterruped easily! Awesome reminder for all of us – and especially for us marketers to make sure and speak the language that the audience can understand when presenting / answering questions!

  3. Ishtiyaq
    March 25th, 2015 at 01:38 | #3

    I like this article. Thanks.

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