Why all brands need to behave like performance brands
A view from Charlie Davison

Why all brands need to behave like performance brands

Performance-focused brands like insurance companies that look beyond the click to better engagement afterwards can teach all brands a thing or two.

For years, brands have been wedded to the instant gratification of paid digital channels, with less thought to the post-click consumer journey. This is reflected in their digital budgets, with millions spent flooding websites with traffic, and a fraction invested in what happens next. A landing page is a means to an end. Post-click engagement metrics are monitored but hung on traffic quality alone.

It’s a one-way street.

With the rise of ecommerce as well as Amazon and digitally native direct-to-consumer brands, brands have begun to restructure with the realisation that the discerning modern-day consumer cannot be bought, and must be earned.

As a result, we expect brands to shift budget into providing better experiences and more useful content that answers consumers’ questions early in the path to purchase, and in user experience and conversion rate optimisation to lock them in thereafter.

Performance-focused brands in verticals like insurance, such as Axa and Direct Line, are advanced in their approach. The competitive nature of their verticals meant that they were forced to look beyond the click to deliver successful campaigns.

Brands in this space invest more heavily in post-click optimisation strategies like SEO, conversion rate optimisation and content, and innovate further around integrated approaches to search. These brands are able to attribute value to conversion metrics and equate value to performance campaigns.

As consumers demand end-to-end digital experiences, verticals that didn’t assign as much value to these areas are changing their approach. Take FMCG, a category where digital ad spend has long been high, but weighted more towards awareness-driving activity. The role of brand websites in the category has been questioned, with debate common over the merits of driving to Facebook pages and YouTube channels (and more recently, Amazon) over a barely maintained website. Without hard conversion metrics, it has been difficult to quantify the value of driving consumers to websites.

FMCG brands have been slow to embrace SEO. As a slow-burn source of traffic that requires internal manoeuvring and IT badgering, all to the end of driving traffic to websites whose role is unclear, it is a difficult sell. Especially when this traffic can be bought so easily.

Where brands do invest in SEO, they do so with the short-term goal of rankings and traffic, gaming search engines to land the click rather than ensuring a valuable landing page experience. However, brands like Johnson & Johnson, Nestle and Unilever are all becoming more progressive in this area.

The role of websites is changing as digital performance becomes more integral to business performance. Tactics that were once consigned to a technical SEO audit, like mobile page speed optimisation, are mentioned in C-suite conversations. Something that used to be done to appease Google is now a component in consumer experience. 

Keyword research, the practice of search planners to optimise performance, takes a broader remit. As brands look to engage high value audiences, what higher value than those actively searching in their category? Through keywords, brands can uncover the essence of consumer intent; the questions being asked and the barriers to purchase. With this insight, they can design the perfect content strategy to pique interest in communications, and ensure the softest of landings and best experience from performance activity.

The rise of ecommerce, Amazon and consumer brands going direct-to-consumer has magnified the necessity for investment beyond the click. Amazon has set the standard for designing landing pages that convert by making conversion rate a key factor in its algorithm. Brands go to lengths to optimise product pages with images, videos, descriptions, FAQs and reviews – providing answers to every consumer question and removing barriers.

Landing page relevancy is a key factor in Google’s Quality Score algorithm, which determines advertiser cost-per-click, incentivising brands to invest in producing engaging content. Throttling of organic visibility in search results across Google and Amazon suggests that the primary role of SEO will be in be in its influence on paid performance, rather than as a standalone channel. Its post-click influence stands to make it a more crucial component than ever as its ability to drive traffic in its own right wanes.

Conversion rate optimisation looks set for a more prominent role as brands look to drive outcomes. It will no longer be called upon as a last result when performance channels have reached the point of saturation – there are two ways of doubling conversions: driving twice as much traffic to a site, or doubling conversion rates.

As digital becomes more critical to business results, the techniques that used to be the preserve of performance verticals are being adopted universally. As brands make customer experience central to digital activity, they will drive laser-targeted relevance over reach from paid channels, nurture with pre-emptive content and convert through a click to sell owned channel experience.

Charlie Davison is head of strategic capabilities and product, EMEA at Reprise

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