Design for conversion, not impressions

Designing for conversion, not impressions

By Justin Bahr

September 13, 2021

Off the bat I will say that impressions are an important KPI when measuring the success of marketing content, but why are so many marketing strategists hyper-focused on just one KPI? In this article I’ll dive into what I think, is a more important KPI that will help reframe the mindset of so many designers, marketers, and brand strategists.

What is a KPI?

Let’s start off with, what is a KPI? A KPI or key performance indicator is a measurable statistic or metric used to gauge the success of a given action, piece of media, or product is doing. Meaning a KPI is a measurement of the success based on the items intended use.

Defining the use case.

In market research, it is essential to define a marketing goal or use case so we can begin to answer the question; how do you define a successful project. Is the goal of the project to better understand the buying persona of a customer in the market for a new tent or to quantify the buying power of fishermen in the southwest? Both examples ask a clear question that can be broken down, measured, and ultimately answered with a clear response that supports the overall project goal. The success of both projects relies on a measure of success in answering those questions.

So why do so many marketers and designers attempt to answer the question, how do I get more sales with impressions with the impressions? Impressions are a KPI of noticeability, and conversions are a KPI of sales.

“Impressions are a KPI of noticeability, and conversions are a KPI of sales.” – Justin Bahr

Taking a step back.

Alright, so I know many sales and marketing professionals’ first reaction here will be, “you can’t have sales without impressions”. Yes, that is correct, it’s sales one-o’-one. Casting a wide net will, by sheer numbers, will inevitably produce sales. But why cast a large net in a large space with small gains when you can cast a small net in a small space with major gains? The basis of market segmentation, targeting, and an introduction to conversion ratio.

What is a conversion ratio?

It is a KPI that measures the number of sales by the number of impressions; a high ratio means that you have more sales per impression.

Bringing this full circle, the point I’m trying to make here is that we as designers and marketers need to focus less on the impressions KPI and more on the conversion ratio KPI. Our measure of success is tied to the overall business goal, which is growth, and in most cases, sales.

If your organization is struggling with the ability to make more sales when the marketing team is insistent that the marketing efforts are “worth it” because “we have X number of impressions from Y campaign.” then it’s probably time to reevaluate because something is not quite connecting. The benefit of market research firms like Cairn Consulting Group is that we can dive into situations like this and identify where the mark is being missed. Where during the customer buying process are you losing interest and how do you change your marketing strategy to fit the data. It’s one of the first steps in data-driven decision-making.


Please note that every organization may have different project goals, but the conversion ratio still holds true. If the goal of the project is to “get your brand name out” then impressions is the success criteria of the project, but ultimately the goal of marketing is to persuade others to take action in response to a campaign. So if the goal is to get the word out, then the conversion ratio is that people do remember your brand when mentioning a specific topic, product, or event. Repurpose key demographics with the aim to get buy-in. Execute bleeding edge with a goal to disrupt the balance. Leveraging stakeholder engagement to, consequently, improve overall outcomes. Executing below the fold so that as an end result, we make the logo bigger. Demonstrate below the fold with the possibility to innovate.

Designing for conversion, not impressions