When advertising is the enemy of sales


15 Dec 2011

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Gareth Dunlop

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Web theory has much in common with retail theory because they are joined at hip by one dominant customer behaviour: the desire for convenience.

FMCG sales and marketing is an impressive science. Its marketing is dominated by above the line, brand building, creative, memorable campaigns which build associations and loyalties in our minds at the point of purchase. Its sales efforts are focused on having their products in the right stores at the right time, and crucially, in the right place. Subsequently, their salespeople spend a lot of time building relationships and offering incentives to retailers to give their products prime position in store.

Their sales and marketing is all predicated on the realisation that the customer’s purchasing decision is made almost subconsciously in the moment they reach their arm out towards a supermarket shelf. The battle between Brand A and Brand B is won depending on how well both brands have been marketed, and the quality of the placement of their products. Brand A’s marketing rarely beats Brand B’s marketing by a unanimous decision or a knockout in the eighth round; the results are usually much closer and the split decision result means that even if Brand A is a customer’s favourite, they are unlikely to care enough to suffer inconvenience if Brand B is easier to access. As an FMCG marketing director once put it to me, “if your product is not on the right shelf at the right time, you may as well not exist”.

To summarise it crudely, the above the line marketing creates the itch, and the in-shop convenience provides the scratch. The focus of retail marketing is to create desire, and focus of sales is to fulfil it as easily as possible. FMCG brands know when to advertise and when to fulfil.

Online learns from retail

Retail theory has enjoyed more than a century of scientific- and evidence-based testing which allows them to maximise sales. On the web we’ve only had a decade and a half and so we could do worse than to embrace the learning from retail, particularly in understanding when to talk and when to listen.

When your potential customers are on your website they don’t want to be advertised to, rather, they want their information needs fulfilled. They feel so strongly about this that they are less likely to buy from you if they think you are trying to advertise to them.  And just as importantly, you will get a much better-performing website if you help them do what they came to do in the first place, rather than shoehorn their experience to seek to get them to do what you want them to do.

Consistently, online tests show that menu links outperform button adverts for click-through rates and conversion. Template Builder increased the number of customers buying templates when they changed their calls to action from buttons which looked like adverts, to text-heavy buttons with light graphics. Customers expect to engage with you through your menus and their desire is driven by what they want to do, not by what you want to throw at them.

If Swiss Tony had branched from selling second-hand cars to improving the performance of websites, he would have reminded us that building an effective website is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman. Success is more likely if you talk less and listen more.

In your online marketing mix, be clear about when the talking stops and the listening starts. In social media, email and search channels, you have lots of opportunities to gain attention and attraction, but when your customer gets to your website it is time to give attention, not gain it. Stop advertising and increase sales.

Gareth Dunlop has been fixated by the internet since 1996 and has extensive commercial experience advising the senior management teams of blue chip organisations in Ireland, the UK and Europe on internet strategy, usability and best practice. Specialist areas include digital strategy development, usability and user journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Confetti, Irish Internet Association, WeddingsOnline.ie, Enterprise Ireland and the Digital Marketing Institute.

Read more by Gareth Dunlop: 

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Why Michael O’Leary should run your website

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Clear Facebook success trends starting to emerge

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Learning to say no

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New Media Opinion: Online reputation optimisation

Offline marketing isn’t dead …

The unaffordable cost of irrelevancy

Urgent need for new online metrics   

Electricity and the gold rush

The real reason the recession is good for marketing

The class of 2009 wants your job!

Firms need to be customer zealots, not technology zealots

Firms need to put aside their fears and embrace the web

Online advertising overtakes TV advertising

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