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The Art (and Science) of Conversion

In marketing today the creative process is both an art and a science. The art is designed to build irrevocable bonds between consumers and brands, while the science is about precisely understanding the shopper’s conversion into a buyer. This is not a new tension, but one steeped in history and the confluence of great thinkers of marketing’s recent past.

In the earliest days of “pre-modern” marketing, the idea was simple: Identify the brand proposition; get the word out through a limited number of channels and mass publications; and let the monolithic public beat a path to the brand.

This was the basic formula for success until the early 1960s when two competing schools of thought tangled for the mantle of communication leadership. Rosser Reeves, who with Ted Bates founded Ted Bates Advertising, introduced the notion of the unique selling proposition (USP). This ushered in the idea of promoting scientific, claim-based, demonstrable brand benefits. The strategy held that communication should showcase the tangible value of a product—the one clear reason that a product should be purchased—not the cleverness of a copywriter.

The USP led to great advertising such as M&M’s “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand” and Anacin’s “Fast, Fast, Fast Relief!” It was the era of product differentiation.

It wasn’t long before Bill Bernbach, one of the founders of DDB and a pioneer of the creative revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s, posited that communication was the art of persuasion, not a science. The creative revolution ushered in a wave of image advertising based on the creative idea, and swung the pendulum strongly away from product differentiation and towards emotional connections. Bernbach’s creative approach led to Volkswagen’s “Think Small,” and Avis’s “We Try Harder” campaigns.

New ways to engage

Today we live in an environment where product differentiation, attention, and emotional connections are both in-the-moment and fleeting. Which brings us to the “art of conversion,” the blending of the art and the science of creative. Consumers and shoppers, empowered by digital, social, and mobile communications technologies, have access to more product information than ever before. They’re empowered by technology that enables them to go instantly from passively receiving messages to actively shopping for what suits them. This fluidity and power is unprecedented. It calls for a new way to engage the consumer and the shopper, founded on creating a sense of urgency and value to inspire action. Brand communication needs to blend and balance equity and call-to-action messaging to align with the new “shopper is always on” mind-set.

Because the shopper is always on, creative solutions must deliver on the art of conversion. Equity and call-to-action messaging are necessary to establish shopper trial and consumer loyalty; the blend of art and science is required to break through the creative clutter and allow a brand to be distinctive.

The driving force behind the “art of conversion” is that today’s consumers demand it. Customers want companies and brands to speak to them in a way that makes sense to them—personally.

It sounds simple, and yet consumers obviously have a great variety of needs and attitudes, as well as behaviors and communication preferences. They’re also vastly more educated in the process of product information gathering and evaluation than ever before. So, the key to success is relevance and response, not just reach.

The premise behind the “art of conversion” is to assure that all communications combine the art of image-building creative with the science of compelling and engaging consumer offers. Today’s technology makes it easier to bridge the art and the science.

For example, Dodge Truck is effectively combining image advertising with compelling engagement via interactive television. A brand-image commercial for its Ram pickup features the iconic voice of Sam Elliott and the headline “Guts Glory Ram” that is designed to build brand equity and engage the viewer (the art).  The commercial includes a callout to turn to another channel to learn more and schedule a test drive. On the “other” channel is more product performance–oriented messaging touting torque, load capacity, and HEMI engine benefits, and an opportunity to schedule a test drive (the science).

The essence of the art

The “art of conversion” is not just about the brand; it’s about the consumer and focuses on content, curation, and customized communications that are personal.

Infusing creative platforms with insight into customer opinions, attitudes, behavior, and brand interaction creates a “scientifically” based and targeted communication. Balancing these insights with the art of creativity—the engagement that attracts consumer interest—is its essence.

The creative world has grown more complex and competitive, demanding that communications must work twice as hard to create and reinforce a brand’s reason for being while driving sales.

Effective creative development is found in the careful blending of Reeves’ unique selling proposition and Bernbach’s art of persuasion, as well as the balance of the art and the science of consumer marketing.

In a world where the creative is both an art and a science, look no further than the “art of conversion” for creative inspiration.

Paul Kramer is CEO of CatapultRPM.

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