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The Decision-Making Funnel, Stage 1: Awareness

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In "Landing Pages and the Decision-Making Process," I described the well-known AIDA conversion sales funnel and how it governs all Web conversions. The AIDA stages are:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

Let's examine the first of these in more detail.

Awareness, and its close cousin attention, are scarce commodities in our fast-paced world. We're constantly bombarded by information and strong sensory impressions. Unceasing advertisements haunt us from our first waking moments to our exhausted slumber at the end of the day.

The pace of change keeps increasing and threatens to overwhelm us. The Internet has given us access to a vast wealth of information, but hasn't helped us to organize or make sense of it.

There's only one possible response: build walls. People learn to tune everything out.

You can call them cynical, jaded, or media savvy. But it really boils down to the same thing: they have to get desensitized to survive. So it takes more effort for an advertiser to break through the clutter and noise to reach their target audience.

Permission Marketing

As Seth Godin points out in his excellent book "Permission Marketing," this type of interruption advertising may still be necessary to make initial contact, but it should only be followed up with voluntary permission marketing once a visitor lands on your site. Permission marketing is a selfish and voluntary activity on the part of your Web visitor. Over time you can trade things of greater value to the visitor in exchange for more information and a deeper level of relationship with them.

Permission marketing has three key attributes:

  • Anticipated: Your prospects actually want to hear from you.
  • Personal: Your messages are tailored to each person.
  • Relevant: Your messages relate directly to visitors' needs.

Let's look at the mindset of visitors during the awareness stage. They have just arrived at your site. Their level of commitment is very low and they may click away at any moment.

They're looking for reassurance, recognition of their needs, and a clear path to follow. If something catches their eye, they may stay and explore further.

The Rules of Web Awareness

  • If the visitor can't find something easily, it doesn't exist.
  • If you emphasize too many items, all of them lose importance.
  • Any delay increases frustration.

Unfortunately, instead of going into a permission marketing mindset, most companies stay in interruption marketing mode on their landing pages. The elements of the landing page continue to scream, shout, and demand the visitor's attention. This is done through the use of bold color blocks, bright images and graphics, and large font headlines -- all trumpeting different items to click on.

Banner Ads

A big awareness thief is the third-party (or in-house) ad on your own landing pages. It's an invitation to throw away your visitors' attention and transport them to another Web site. Ads are specifically designed to grab awareness.

Banner ads in particular are known for using bright, dramatic colors and provocative headlines. Many banner ads include animation and flashing colors to get noticed.

Because most Web sites don't control the exact ads that will run on their pages, this is an invitation for disaster. A single banner ad can radically shift the attention away from your intended conversion action. Unless your primary business model is advertising supported, ads should be eliminated from your site, or at least radically deemphasized.

Entry Pop-ups

The absolute best way to destroy someone's attention is the use of entry pop-ups. These are floating windows that appear in front of your landing page as soon as it loads into the visitor's browser. Such pop-ups typically include a call-to-action, such as filling out a form or clicking on a link leading to a special offer. Regardless of how they are technically implemented, they require an interaction by the visitor in order to deal with them.

This means that the visitor must complete the intended action, or at least click on the pop-up in order to close and dismiss it from your computer screen. In effect, entry pop-ups prevent you from getting to the content of the landing page and are seen as an unwelcome surprise by most Web users.

Entry pop-ups represent the most blatant kind of in-your-face interruption advertising. They will anger, annoy, frustrate, and distract your visitors before they even see your landing page. Worst of all, using entry pop-ups shows really poor thinking on the part of the marketer responsible for their creation.

If the pop-up's desired conversion action is your most important one, then it properly belongs on the landing page itself. If the conversion action on the landing page is different than the one in the pop-up, then the two can be displayed on the landing page side by side, instead of resorting to use of the pop-up. By emphasizing one or the other through the use of visual cues on the landing page, you can control their relative importance and steer people toward the more desirable one.

Entry pop-ups are an indication that your ability to prioritize is severely impaired and that you don't trust your actual landing page to get the job done on its own. It's absolutely unnecessary to compete with your own landing page, and in the process alienate the vast majority of your visitors.

Exit Pop-ups

The effect of exit pop-ups isn't as clear. These are similar to entry pop-ups but appear only when someone is clicking away from your landing page or Web site. Exit pop-ups may try to entice you with a last-minute promotion, ask you to sign up for an e-mail newsletter in exchange for your contact information, or gather survey information about your reason for leaving.

All of these can be seen as secondary conversion actions that have value to you. Because your primary conversion action didn't happen, you can at least try to extract a little extra value from your visitor stream (especially if you're paying to get them there).

This may seem to contradict what I wrote earlier about competing for attention with your own landing pages. But it doesn't -- you're competing for attention with your Web visitors' next destination. They have already made the decision to move on, and in a sense you have nothing to lose. A final dose of interruption marketing may salvage a tiny fraction of these people.

Of course, taken to an extreme this may frustrate people and leave them with a negative impression of your company. So be judicious in your use of exit pop-ups.

Home Page Awareness

Single-purpose landing pages are relatively easy to streamline for attention. By contrast, home pages are hard. Home pages are often burdened with demands put on them by every functional department within a company.

One of their many duties is to serve as a landing page (for type-in traffic, SEO traffic, some PPC traffic, and inbound links from other Web sites). Because of their many other legitimate functions, they are often severely compromised as landing pages.

Next time, we'll examine the interest stage.

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