Start with the conversion and work backwards

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Rory Sutherland is a consistently useful source of good advice about marketing.

I have read his books, attended his talks, and even taken a course he helped create.

I suppose I am a bit of a fanboy. But it has served me well, as I often find myself sharing what I have learnt with our clients, and the results have tended to be excellent.

So I have little hesitation in sharing a recent post Sutherland published on LinkedIn (which is not usually a place to seek wisdom, but there are exceptions to every rule).

“If you have anything sequential going on in behaviour, it makes sense to optimise from the end, and work backwards,” Sutherland writes.

“If you haven’t got ‘your end’ right, then everything else you do further up the funnel is correspondingly less effective.

“If you create the best direct marketing ad in the world, but your website isn’t converting, then you won’t make much money.”

This is something I have seen some otherwise very smart people get wrong.

Huge advertising budgets are wasted on encouraging people to visit a website and perform a task, such as buying a product or subscribing to a service. Often this is not as fast and simple to accomplish as it should be.

Websites that are poorly designed or slow to load. Menus that are confusing to navigate. Pages that are full of waffle and jargon. Websites that are just not fit for purpose.

“Back in the day I worked as a copywriter, and when working on direct response press ads, I was taught to start with the coupon,” Sutherland goes on to say. “It seems counter-intuitive and I wanted to start with the big idea, or the headline, but in a way starting with the coupon is right.

“If the coupon left out an important detail, or was ambiguous, then you didn’t get a response, no matter how great the big idea or copy was.

“It makes sense to start with conversion, then focus on direct response, and then brand advertising in that order

“Start by fixing the end, and work backwards from there.”


A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette, Lancashire Post and other titles. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.

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