Blog post

The difference between lift and conversion and the role influencers play in both

23 Aug, 2021
The difference between lift and conversion and the role influencers play in both

Conversion rate’ is a traditional marketing measurement, but should we all be switching to ‘lift rate’ and can influencers benefit both, one or neither?

Woodsman and outdoors-types have agonised for millenia over whether ‘if a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?’

Now, marketers have their own version to philosophise over: ‘if 100 out of 100 people who would have converted anway convert after seeing an advert, is your conversion rate truly 100%?’

Of those two questions, the marketing one comes from Sinan Aral’s Harvard Business Review article which, amongst other things, questions the usefulness of advertising to existing loyal customers, highlights studies which have found ebay and Facebook advertising to be overestimated by around 4,000% and, perhaps most interestingly, introduces the notion of measuring marketing by lift.

Lift versus conversion

Aral explains conversion - and the problem with it - with a simple example that we can modify.

A group of your work colleagues go out for lunch and head to a specific restaurant. On the way to the restaurant they are handed a flyer promoting the same restaurant. All of your colleagues then walk into the restaurant, eat and pay for their meal.

When assessing the success of the flyer the restaurant would be correct in believing that it had a 100% conversion rate. All of your colleagues saw the ‘advert’ and proceeded to spend money.

What the advert has not done is create or cause a change in your colleague’s behaviour, which is called lift. This is not the same as simple conversion, which can mean getting people to do something they would have done anyway. Lift, by comparison, is intended to measure the boost in impact from any given action or the level of behavioural change it caused; essentially lift asks the question: ‘what happened because of our marketing action that would not have happened without it.’

Whilst the flyer had a conversion rate of 100% it created zero lift; everyone that was going to the restaurant went to the restaurant regardless of whether they saw the flyer.

Conversion can ‘get more people over the line’, but because those people, in our example, were already prepared to walk over the line at some point, it does not generate any new revenue. Our colleagues were spending money in the restaurant anyway. Lift, on the other hand, does generate new revenue and can be seen as the practice of getting people to purchase who weren’t already prepared to..

Influencers and conversions

Using influencers to generate conversions has long been seen as a holy grail of influencer marketing. Successful sales-driven influencer campaigns present significant opportunity and the added benefit of presenting relatively simple ROI calculations. Tracked sales campaigns, using affiliate links, for example, present simple conversion opportunities and clear metrics for agencies, brands and influencers alike.

But remember the idea of lift? Should you stop these actions immediately and shift to lift-generating campaigns? Far from it.

A conversion focus still produces the positive impact of generating revenue now. Whilst the people buying may have been prepared to buy all along, they may also have been stuck in another marketing concept we’ve written about recently: the ‘messy middle’.

The messy middle describes the point between awareness and purchase, where consumers engage in a potentially endless cycle of exploration and evaluation, until they have enough information to commit to a purchase.

Conversion focused campaigns, using influencers, are effective at getting people out of the messy middle, because influencers can be seen as trusted external authorities on their topics of choice and, therefore, providers of key pieces of information.

The conversion-focused influencer campaign isn’t dead then, but perhaps it’s success needs to be reframed. Conversion campaigns get audiences with an existing brand affinity or product interest to make a purchase.

Now, what about that concept of lift...

Influencers and lift

Given all that we know about influencers, their ability to impact their audiences and their ‘trusted peer’ status on topics of niche, they present perfect opportunities for lift campaigns, when a bit of lateral thinking is applied.

Using the lift concept we’re looking specifically for the opportunity to create purchases from audiences who would not have already purchased, so the product needs to be new to the influencer’s audience.

In actuality, this may describe some of your influencer campaigns already, in which case lift presents an opportunity to reframe the success of your campaigns.

But, for now, if we assume this is not how your current campaigns run, then creating lift-friendly campaigns could start with casting a venn diagram over your client and your influencers’ areas of interest.

Could fitness influencers be appropriately used to promote a fashion brand, perhaps? Or knitting influencers deployed to promote a new caravaning accessory? Or could your ‘outdoors’ influencers take a break by playing a new boardgame?

The logic is to use a trusted source (your influencers) to boost sales amongst audiences brand new to your client or brand. In successful deployments the lift generated here could be significant.

Lift and conversion thinking give agencies new options for influencer deployments

The thinking behind the problems with conversions and identifying lift as a progressive metric presents new options for influencer deployments.

Conversion rate, as a metric for campaign success, isn’t dead. Far from it. But agencies could solidify relationships with their clients by pointing out the problems with conversion and where it might not tell a 100% complete story. Conversion-focused campaigns to known audiences still carry the benefit of delivering expected sales quicker.

Lift presents a new option for agencies to quantify the benefit of their campaigns and may also give the option for more innovative deployments of influencers to wider-reaching audiences. Lift campaigns generate genuinely new revenue, which, over the longer term, may also give agencies more scope to increase campaign and budget sizes and report greater ultimate success.

Alec Harden-Henry
Managing Director

Influencer Marketing, Martech and Marketplace expert

Robust debate, constructive challenge, and a relentless pursuit of growth, improvement and efficiency enable Alec to cut to the core of the issue. Alec currently holds executive directorships at Influence Network an AI-driven influencer tech platform and equitable, The Private Equity Portfolio Talent Network, alongside non-executive and advisory roles at a number of marketing, ad tech and technology startups.

Executive experience in:

- Advertising, marketing, media, PR agencies - both independent and Big 5 agency networks in the UK, UAE (Dubai) and globally.

- Sales & Marketing strategy, planning and delivery

- Start Up and Scale Up with 400% YonY Growth

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© 2023 Influence Network.

Registered in England and Wales: 10815710

Registered Office:

20-22 Wenlock Road, London, N1 7GU