Does brand truly drive revenue for every company — even if it’s not Google, Nike or Apple — or is it just a marketing department’s raison d’ê·tre? Is it really as powerful as marketers think it is?

The latest MarketingExperiments Web clinic answers this question with (of course) testing. Be sure to watch it to learn why it’s critical to be thoughtful about how and when you use branding elements.

Consider this anonymized test:

Background: A regional marketing commission.

Goal: To raise awareness of local activities and events, increasing number of travelers and tourist spending in [City].

Research Question: Which sign-up page will generate the most responses?

Test Design: A/B split test

The Plain and Simple Control

The Control was a landing page that encouraged people to sign up for a free guide.

The New and Improved Treatment

The Treatment added details — font, images and design — that better reflected the brand.

Results: Testing matters

The Web clinic audience overwhelmingly declared the Treatment as the winner. After all, more branding should drive more conversions, right?

Here are the revealing and surprising results: the Control had a 51% higher conversion rate than the Treatment.

This demonstrates the importance of testing, and the dangers that lie in the mindset that more branding automatically equals more conversions. If this organization would have replaced the Control with the Treatment without testing, they would have lost more than half of their leads.

Fortunately, they did test. The outcome made this organization realize that when they incorporated more brand images, fonts and colors into the Treatment, it made the page very difficult to read — so much so that people didn’t want to bother filling out the form.

Conclusion: Branding is only as effective as its application

Branding is powerful with a critical caveat: it must make moving forward in the cycle easier for prospects by enhancing the patented heuristic below.

This heuristic is a guide that MarketingExperiments and its parent company, MECLABS, derived from analyzing tens of thousands of sales flows. It explains what it takes to convert (C) a prospect into a customer and shows how the five variables — motivation (m), value proposition (v), incentive (i), friction (f) and anxiety (a) — relate to each other. The numbers next to the variables identify how much power they have to affect conversion.

Ineffective branding typically increases friction and increased friction detracts from value. Friction is, essentially, anything that causes customers to work harder to move forward in the sales process.

In the case of the regional marketing commission, prospects were being forced to decipher text through hard-to-read fonts and dark images, which caused 51% of their leads to leave the sales cycle. That’s significant, and emphasizes why it’s critical to use branding with care.

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