Marketing is about creating success. Why, then, are marketers so often reacting to the numbers, rather than using the numbers to create success? Here are some of the current challenges in numbers-based digital marketing, with an eye to solutions.
Low-Cost Eyeballs vs. High-Value Actions
Historically, media was sold by the eyeball. In a business model based on “reach”, there was little opportunity to optimize on the fly, so traditional media was negotiated only to achieve the lowest cost. This was smart. Giving limited opportunities to improve, you had the best chance of success in being profitable if your media cost was low.
Digital auctions changed all that. Today, going after low-cost media online simply means that you cede an audience to other advertisers who are willing to pay. In AdWords, the advertiser with the best ability to monetize will win. In order to compete, marketers have to highly value actions tightly related to sales and profits, and nothing else. Only then can marketers and advertisers can make intelligent decisions related to value creation, which is the point of marketing.
Action-Centric Advertising is Breaking
While smart marketers moved from eyeballs to actions, fundamental shifts in user behavior were simultaneously breaking the ability to measure actions with total certainty. Cookie-based tracking is falling short in a world of multiple devices per person. Better tracking of multi-touchpoint data and more sophisticated measurement of “influence” is revealing that strict action-based tracking is not wrong, but may be very limited.
The impact on advertisers is immense. Companies that thought they were smartly valuing only conversions are now finding themselves increasing uncompetitive and left to fight it out in the ever-smaller world of desktop-based search.
What Next, Then?
More sophisticated tools are opening the doors to opportunity, while creating new challenges in execution::
1) Holistic measurement. The days of isolated channel behavior, assessment, and budgeting are gone. Cross-channel and cross-device behavior mandates a different view of performance, but one still rooted in value creation. Get used to Venn Diagrams and flow charts. Yes, it is more complex, but it yields better results.
2) Proactive Optimization. Too many companies use their numbers for reporting up, rather than as action points for improvement. Smart companies will isolate key points of the customer story, and will focus on improving them. They will view things that don’t work as opportunities, while recognizing that moving the needle on the things that are working will be faster and take less time.
3) A Segmented View. Marketers need to recognize that behind every average value are the good and bad segments of that audience that can be addressed individually. Sweeping “black and white” decisions based on average performance should be challenged, so as not to throw out the part of that campaign that is working.
Marketing is evolving and becoming more complex. Media diversity, multi-channel measurement, multi-device behavior, and data overload all contribute to difficulty in crafting a strategy and executing it efficiently. But as difficult as tactical execution is, the core challenge is still in how advertising is viewed. Companies that view every day as a new test and every metric, page, and ad as improvable, and who root everything in the reality of sales and profit, will excel.