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Death of a sales funnel


I come from an old-school, direct-sales background where leads are precious and few. It's been engrained in me to make sure that once a viable prospect expresses an interest in your product or service, the real work begins.

In creating and executing online advertising campaigns over the last 10 years, I have kept this philosophy in mind. I always try to build the user flow in an ad to lead the consumer to making a purchase decision. This hasn't always been easy, since many of my clients have hired me for "awareness" campaigns. But does an "awareness" campaign preclude us from bringing the consumer closer to an actionable commitment? If the bottom-line purpose of advertising is to generate sales, at what point do we stop focusing on sales as an ROI metric?

One of the challenges with online advertising is tracking a conversion to sale when the consumer ultimately buys through brick-and-mortar retail channels. While some online advertising successfully crosses the offline sales barrier, many brand marketers have simply given up on taking the consumer all the way through the sales funnel when advertising online. In fact, it would seem that the internet has killed the need for campaigns that have no more targeted function other than to make you aware of the brand.

This mindset has lead to many brand marketers to think of interactive display advertising as a "luxury" item that, while sexier than more-direct online advertising, doesn’t deliver the hard numbers. This, despite years of high-profile case studies that show the opposite is true.

The great majority of online advertising ads have the ability to convert and track users to a sale. Typically, we rely on third-party ad serving to help us determine whether our online ads are converting. This is certainly an important part of the process, but we also need to effectively build the user flow to make it easy to get consumers into the sales funnel.

Here are three tips in establishing a user flow that helps you better guide consumers into purchasing your products when experiencing your online ads:

TIP 1: ask for the sale
This homepage takeover ad has one glaring problem with it. There are approximately 786,000 pixels visible above the fold and this ad occupies more than two-thirds of the pixel space. Despite the graphic appeal and the high level of interactivity here, the ad has very little salesmanship going on. In fact, there isn't a visible call-to-action to click to a website, or even to buy the game.

In this ad, the marketer is relying on the game's content to do the selling. Not a bad strategy, but surely a more focused call-to-action to buy the game would help lift not only click-through rates, but conversions to a sale. With this much real estate, the ad needs to take advantage of the attention and create "intention" to click and to buy.

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TIP 2: get a pre-click commitment
Many interactive media and creative folks think that the job ends once the consumer clicks through to the website. They see the banner as a transportation device -- a means to get the consumer from here (publisher site) to there (product site). This kind of thinking kills conversion rates. Looking at the banners below, you can see the call-to-action to click to register/subscribe.  

Adding a simple form inside the ad will allow the user to take a step toward making a commitment prior to clicking. I'm not suggesting the entire registration form be contained within the ad itself. But certainly, the consumer can provide a minor amount of non-personal information then click through to the website to complete the registration process. The consumer, already having filled out a portion of the form, is more likely to complete it once they land on the registration page. 

TIP 3: keep the options focused
If you have read any of my previous iMedia articles, you know that I love interactive ads. Today's technology allows us to pack a lot of content inside an ad, and that can definitely build purchase intent. But cramming too many interactive options inside of an ad can confuse or even frustrate the user. For example, the expandable ad below features 12 different ways to interact with it.  

It's a clever spot, and it does a good job with branding. But I question how much purchase intent is being generated through interacting with this piece. The ad also doesn't lead the consumer to the purchase decision in messaging with the banner content. With this many navigation choices inside the ad, I suspect that many consumers might navigate through one or two profiles, then leave the experience without clicking through. Aside from remove a few navigation choices, this banner needs a panel devoted to bolstering the user’s intent to buy. Strong messaging and perhaps a printable coupon offer would do a lot to make this banner produce product sales.     
As you can see from these tips, there is a lot of work to do once the messaging and graphics are in place. User flow and functionality can add serious results to the bottom line. Be sure to place strong calls-to-action to buy or register in your ad copy. Try to get the consumer involved in the sales cycle by having them commit to something prior to the click. But don’t over indulge on functionality. Giving the user too much to do in an ad can cause fatigue and will ultimately lead to lost buyers. 

If we as interactive marketers are holding ourselves accountable for results, we need to focus our efforts on how our work impacts the sales of the products or services we market online. One thing is for sure, every company behind every brand wants to sell more products. Using these tips as a guide, you can give your brand a sales boost when you plan your next interactive marketing effort.

Scott Meldrum is SVP of Ant Farm Online. Read full bio.

As a veteran of Interactive Marketing and Social Media, Scott Meldrum provides digital strategy, creative and media solutions for leading brands. Leveraging 20 years of interactive experience, he has delivered award-wining digital advertising and...

View full biography


to leave comments.

Commenter: Catherine Mcquaid

2008, March 23

Hi Scott;
Pointing out that buyer behaviour and expectations are a constant, despite the channel is a very valuable observation. Thanks.

Since B2B buyers are still human, would it be safe to assume that the same principles would apply?

I'm developing a project in the B2B space. Might you have a moment to chat?

Catherine McQuaid
[email protected]