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Digital marketing, the good, the bad, the measurable.

Just about as long as marketing has been around, CEOs and marketers have debated how to measure success, which tools are the best and which proportion of marketing actually works.

Even with the arrival of digital media, marketers cannot yet measure outcomes with perfect certainty because of environmental and human variables. However, marketers are getting better at understanding ROI since digital marketing is more measurable than most forms of traditional marketing (aside from direct marketing or outgoing sales calls) ever were.

As always, great content drives marketing.

Relevant, entertaining, newsworthy, and authentic content connects with consumers in any channel. It gets noticed and shared, whether it’s a good PR story or a great TV placement. Great stories are even more important now.

What has changed is that you can no longer buy captive audiences with weak content. Buying your way into TV primetime will not benefit you if your content isn’t good. Indeed, it may harm you by means of social media mockery and criticism. And your audience is so fragmented that primetime will no longer guarantee the reach it once did.

Now, you’re competing with YouTube, Netflix, social media, outdoor signs, shop displays, news sites, pay-tv, online radio stations, music streaming and more for consumers’ attention. It’s harder than ever to break through the clutter. While the explosion of content will not reduce the volume of weak content as information explodes, it will ensure great content becomes even greater.

Outside of brand quality, distribution and logistics, creativity is the strongest variable in marketing.

The campaign winners at Cannes show a high correlation to sales results, for example. In the social world, we see social media shares, search words, search sentiment and search patterns all correlating highly with great content.

Great creativity can only be achieved through insight into people. Whether through observation, listening or research, insight drives content.

Great creativity can only be achieved through insight into people. Whether through observation, listening or research, insight drives content. Really excellent content has a granularity that only stems from deep insight, albeit in actuality, idiom, words or tonality.

To observe consumer behaviour is simpler, cheaper and easier to do now.

We can reach individual consumers with greater ease and measure with more precision.

In the past, you could talk to one individual at a time through outgoing call centres, CRM and direct marketing. But now, data sophistication and digital technology allows you to take personalised marketing to a whole new level.

Organisational complexity and legacy systems mean it is still complex to reach a market of one with a precisely targeted message. Yet you are able to segment your customer bases at a more granular level and improve the relevance to your target market by reaching people with the right message.

In time, more mature analytics tools and other technical advances will make the dream come true of one-to-one marketing that is based on a single, cross-channel view of the consumer decision journey.

Yet, the conduit for the individual is now often the collective: through credible and meaningful direct human relationships through social media, content gets shared and attains a shared meaning. This creates exponential benefits to marketing not possible before. All meaningful individual conversations are now filtered through communities of friendships, peers and personal issues. This means the brand becomes a companion to the consumer rather than an encounter.

Data always was – and still is – critical to consumer reach and impact.

Data was always central to marketing. Marketers segmented the market, compiled profiles of consumers, measured how many were available to convert to their brands, measured their attitudes and needs, probed tonality, concept-tested brand ideas, and measured brand health. Then, they used this data to define advertising messages, tonality and reach as well as to model consumer behaviour. So even if we argue that consumer centricity was often more preached than practiced, consumer insights were always used at some level. Yet, human centred design principles place the consumer centre-stage to a far greater degree now. Insight into consumers is immediate, unmediated and uncensored.

Now, you have more consumer data than ever and more sophisticated ways to use it to determine what drives consumer retention, growth and acquisition. You need to understand this data at a quantitative and qualitative level so you can know who to talk to, where, what to say and how to say it.

Thus, it’s important to understand what you want to do with the data rather than gathering it for the sake of it. As an example, brand differentiation is decreasing in almost all categories, so its ability to drive behavioural change may become increasingly irrelevant. Yet many marketers spend disproportionate amounts of money measuring irrelevant brand metrics rather than what matters more today – the customer experience journey and how that connects with consumer touch points.

What keeps a brand salient and drives trial? What data drives business growth in your company?

The best marketers will focus on using data to understand how consumer experiences can be understood and layered across touch points. The deeper this level of engagement, the more a brand creates competitive barriers and drives growth.

The fact that only a small percentage of marketing spend currently goes into digital, makes its potential impact upon consumer behaviour difficult to assess. Yet, every marketing pillar needs to work, on its own and in combination with other tools. By using predictive analytics, we can understand what factors drive the relationships between communications channels, methods, content, and engagement level (i.e. a “like” versus a “retweet”). The better we can inter-relate these, the more we can manage better impact, channel integration and outcomes.

We can now integrate marketing across devices and channels.

Theory and empirical experience show that integrated marketing works – for example, when you connect communications with in-store activations. The research done on digital marketing to date shows that multiple usages of the same channels (compared to a single use) as well as the use of multiple touch points across channels drive incremental behaviour and deliver ROI.

We can reach specific consumers with more than one channel and know whether they responded.

In the past, it was hard to know whether a given individual was actually exposed to marketing messages at one or more touch points, unless it was a competition or brand activation where the consumer gave you a phone number or address. Most mass media used aggregated data, you could never say a particular person saw an ad unless you specifically asked him/ her.

Now, you can layer touch points to a large degree. Connecting e-commerce to a range of digital marketing touch points is easy; connecting bricks-and-mortar behaviour to touch points is more complex. How the two relate, is more complex.

Yet, this is an area that requires dedicated attention.

Consumer responses are real and immediate.

Great content gets shared quickly in a digital world. Weak content fades into oblivion. You will know, without conducting research, which of your campaigns worked and which didn’t. This means you can quickly reduce spend on futile activities, compared to traditional marketing where it could take months to realise a campaign was failing.

Digital media gives you the ability to experiment and pilot, on a small scale. You can optimise your messages and campaigns, building on your successes incrementally and letting go of your failures.

Once the “recipe” works, you scale it.

Marketers have unrealistic expectations about digital outcomes.

Data can help you reduce risk and make better decisions. It cannot eliminate risk or enable you to make perfect decisions. So, when you use digital media, you need to set clear objectives, know what to expect and be realistic about the outcomes.

You can measure the cross and incremental impact of social media and other channels. You can ascertain what combinations work best for your brand, what message types get the best incremental results, and what profile of consumers gets the best incremental results. Whether any of these seem to lead to desired consumer behaviours can be measured directly in some cases.

You can also gauge how mobile devices can be used in-store to multiply the impact of upfront brand interest or awareness, as well as how online and offline channels complement one another.

You can set and establish norms of behaviour across measures. For example, what does a “like” measure? At the very least, it measures brand awareness. But even that is arguable since you may like something a friend asked you to without knowing what it is you liked.

It is also debatable whether this is a meaningful measure for large brands as they already have awareness. Hence on this measure, smaller brands have more to gain. However, perhaps a ‘like’ is at least an implicit endorsement by a credible person?

Many channels achieve very little in building awareness. This is partly because big brands already enjoy high levels of awareness and partly because their messages are simply not disseminated far enough to achieve much impact.

Reach therefore remains important to really impact awareness. The multiplier effect of great content across a large base of relevant consumers can be very powerful, if you assume reach is a prerequisite for behaviour (it isn’t always since consumers do buy on impulse in retail outlets and online).

Frequency of reaching the same consumer time and time again is as important. Analytical capabilities in digital technology help make this an easier goal to achieve than reach. So building an incremental profile for a brand is easier achievable and manageable with digital channels.

Significant brand differentiation in traditional product categories is difficult to achieve today. Hence brand talk ability, mentions online, issues talked about around the category, brand, and the tone used when talking about the brand may be far more important now than traditional brand differentiation. Understanding what drives people to love and talk about your brand can be ascertained fast now.

This ties back to my earlier comment about relevant, talk able content. Today, brands can understand what matters to customers by listening to social chatter and analytics data, and then rapidly produce high-quality (yet affordable) marketing material to address their concerns and interests.

Achieving brand trial by non-users of a given brand has also become easier with digital technology. You no longer need to grab consumers in-store to get them to try a product – you can prompt them online.

Even brand activation has been made much simpler and faster. This enables much easier ‘layering’ of consumer touch points, as well as far better targeting. The greater the understanding of brand touch points, the easier it becomes to offer a seamless experience.

Engaging with existing brand users has become a lot easier, too.  Retweets, shares, Amazon or Tripadvisor reviews and those kinds of participative variables increase brand engagement and implicitly serve as brand endorsements.

When you get to participative commentary, mentions, blogs, reviews, you are entering the realm of consumer advocacy for you brand. You may even correlate that to net promoter scores.

But testing these too soon for them to have had a significant effect may mean we abandon great potential tools because of unrealistic expectations. As with all marketing, a level of critical mass is important to drive behaviour.

Then it gets to buying. Retention and growth in a brand is made much simpler through great relationship management campaigns and brand experience campaigns. Loyalty campaigns can be made more relevant and better able to drive incremental behaviour through improved consumer insights and targeted campaigns.

Conclusions

Compared to traditional marketing, digital marketing
  • Is potentially more measurable. Actions resulting from measures, easier and faster to determine.
  • Enables a brand to reach a specific consumer and knowing whether it did. Being able to adjust messages and channels, even “layering” them better.
  • Enables deeper levels of consumer understanding. More spontaneously, intuitively and more immediate.
  • Provides a richer and more personal consumer experience. Linking expected and unexpected touch points.
  • Enables deeper and wider consumer engagement than ever before. The brand is a companion rather than an encounter.
  • Relies even more on relevant, exciting content. Boring consumers in a digital age is simply not possible.
  • Is easier and cheaper to experiment with.
  • Depends on incremental learning through degrees of trial and error.
  • Requires a degree of risk, but less so than remaining wedded to old methods that are losing their effectiveness.
  • Must be built on a sound technical and business architecture.
  • Will to a fare greater degree expose business inefficiencies and faults.
  • Because it can be “proven”, will elevate the status of marketing in companies.
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