Can Conversion Optimization Change The World?
We’re incredibly fortunate to play a role in one of the largest transformations of a profession in the history of modern business: the shift from “old marketing” to “new marketing.” We’ve all heard the big themes of this metamorphosis—speed, agility, testing, transparency, measurement, accountability, customer-centricity, micro-targeting—driven by waves of innovation with the web, search, social media and mobile.
Yet in the frenetic rush of executing in our warp-speed world, it’s easy to lose sight of the significance of the future we’re forging. Every now and again, we should step back for a moment and view the horizon—to fuel our inspiration and to reaffirm our bearings.
In that spirit, I’d like to share with you three thoughts about “the big picture,” rising on the updraft of, among other things, the art and science of conversion optimization.
Marketing As A Technology-Powered Discipline
For pretty much its entire history, marketing has been a non-technical discipline. Sure, marketing piggybacked on new channels, media and tactics as technology produced them. But marketing strategy and management had little concern with the technical details. Over the past 30 years, marketing relied almost entirely on IT and outside vendors for its technology needs.
But that’s changing rapidly. Between the dozens of software applications now used in marketing operations—of which, conversion optimization and landing page management are just one category—combined with the dozens of web, social and mobile platforms used to build creative experiences for global audiences, marketing departments are suddenly up to their necks in technology.
And as you know, as conversion optimization practitioners, you can’t separate the technology from the marketing any more. They’re now symbiotically entwined. Conversion optimization thrives when marketing insights and creative ideas are commingled with the technical savvy to implement and test them, quickly and economically. You can’t divide that across departments without sapping its virility. The same is true for SEO, data-driven advertising, marketing automation and more.
So a new breed of marketing and technology professionals—marketing technologists—are emerging to apply technical and engineering talents natively in the marketing department. In conversion optimization, odds are that you already work with—or are yourself—one of these hybrids. And as these roles become better integrated into the organization, including senior management (see The Case for a Chief Marketing Technologist), you’re poised to lead a broader technology-powered marketing movement.
Agencies Paid For Creative And Conversion
Last month, I spoke at two very different marketing conferences: Conversion Conference geared towards conversion optimization professionals and Pivot focused on brand marketing for millennials. Agencies at Conversion Conference mostly get paid for their performance, increasing conversion rates. Agencies at Pivot still get their revenue primarily from media buys—the more advertising they buy for clients, the more money they make.
It was a stark contrast, and I was surprised—shocked, really—by how far behind some of the thinking on Madison avenue still is.
One of these approaches is on the ascendency. Conversion optimization services, and more broadly pay-for-performance marketing services, are growing. Client by client, they’re achieving success in ways that “ad agencies” aren’t even quite able to conceive yet. And because the revenue of a conversion-oriented shop is directly tied to the real value delivered to clients, the incentives for growth are properly aligned.
The other approach is near decline. To be sure, advertising agencies can deliver tremendous value with creative and strategy. But their reliance on large media buys to fund that work has long hindered their evolution in digital. And as media and advertising continue to shift from mass communication channels to an aggregate of laser-targeted, personalized engagements, their underlying economic engine is in grave danger. Their fundamental misalignment of incentives is careening towards a day of reckoning.
Mitch Joel recently wrote a great post, The Agency of the Future Is…, which claims that the agency of the future is the digital agency of today. I’d take it one step further and say that digital agencies who have directly connected performance (i.e., conversions) to their value proposition are the best positioned of all.
Conversion optimization isn’t about improving landing pages. It’s about improving marketing, writ large. That is the agency of the future.
The Economic Power Of A Million Entrepreneurs
Finally, as the U.S. and much of the rest of the world continues to struggle economically, I think it’s time to acknowledge that the solution will be very different than the past. Ultimately, moving jobs around, from high wage populations to low wage populations, hits a wall: the world is flat. Similarly, the so-called financial “industry” can only scrape so much off the top of other people’s real work before their top-heavy house of cards collapses (again and again and again).
The only escape from this economic “heat death” is innovation and entrepreneurship—on a much larger scale than ever before in the history of the world.
Here too, I believe conversion optimization points us in the right direction. It’s about systematically finding new niches, addressing those needs deeply and genuinely, and efficiently turning those interactions into profitable business relationships. It’s about testing bold new ideas and then quickly iterating those that show promise. If something doesn’t work, get right up and try something new. That is an interchangeable definition of entrepreneurship and conversion optimization.
And when you look at these past couple of years, which have been tough for most businesses and professions, it’s heartening—and no accident—that conversion optimization firms have been growing fast and delivering double-digit and triple-digit ROI to their customers. Not a bad role model.
To me, conversion optimization at its finest inspires the future of business—and a new world economy.
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