A recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly discusses how how poor metrics undermine digital marketing, something The Brain and I have been trying to tell you for a while now. (Hint: clicks and page-rank don’t matter!) The article notes that, at least as far as measurements are concerned, the digital world has developed faster than the tools needed to measure it and as a result marketers are failing to tap the digital world’s full power. This is a problem, because the old standby metrics usually tell you to spend the bulk of your marketing dollars in the worst way possible.
Traditional metrics, and to some extent even traditional web-advertising strategies, are very limited in their applicability. The realities are the following:
- Ad-words are only good when you’re selling well-known widgets.
They do nothing when you’re trying to make a conceptual sale, or even a sale of anything even modestly complex, because the universe of ad-words you would have to “cover” is impossibly wide. This is doubly true if the buyer doesn’t even know what to search for. If you’re selling a facial tissue product, you probably have to buy 3 ad-words: “kleenex”, “facial tissue”, and “facial wipes”. If you’re selling a spend-analysis enterprise solution, the universe increases to at least a couple of dozen ad-words, including: “spend analysis”, “data analysis”, “business intelligence”, “spend reporting”, “data reporting”, “spend visibility”, “transaction analyzer”, “transaction reporting”, etc. Now imagine that you’re a consulting firm trying to sell purchasing / sourcing / procurement / supply management / spend management / supply chain / etc. consulting. What ad-words do you buy?
- Ad-word and targeted-search clicks aren’t as relevant as you think.
There are three things you have to remember here. (1) Most surfers click on the top few links that are returned. (2) Many surfers don’t know the best term to search for. (3) Many words, especially in the English language, have multiple meanings. Let’s say you’re Bob’s Sponge Emporium, and you just ran a big ad campaign that you expect will entice people to search for your online store. Guess what, an average user searching for “Sponge Bob” WILL NOT be searching for you! They want the Nickelodeon character who lives in a pineapple under the sea. Of course this is an extreme example, but you get my point.
- Page views can be misleading.
For example, Purchasing gets A LOT of page views. But in addition to the buyers, vendors, and consultants you might expect to reach, guess who you’re also going to reach a lot of — sales people who are reading it because it is viewed (by those who think that numbers alone tell the whole story, as it has the largest distribution list) as the leading traditional print publication in the space.
If you’ve already reached the Purchasing audience, you might try a publication with a larger circulation that would include people affected by the purchasing profession — for example, Information Week, which covers all types of technology. But then the number of purchasing professionals who saw your ad would be an even smaller percentage of the total number of people who see your ad — for which you’re likely paying by the impression.
The reality is that only two types of sites get mega page views: sites that are generic in nature, or sites that are popular culture (gossip) in nature. Chances are that, unless you’re selling trinkets to travelers, neither is going to be very effective in reaching your target audience.
- Position and placement on the page is VERY important.
Consider your average companion web-site to a print publication. Banner ads at the top. Mini-banner ads on the sides. Small banner windows in the page. Banner ads at the bottom. Is anyone going to notice all those ads? Especially if average page width is wider than the average browser window (since not everyone surfs with a wide-screen with a maximized browser window, especially if they’re doing research and have their screen split to view on one-side and take notes on the other) or, as I find to be quite common these days, the page depth is four or five screens deep. Sure your advertisement might be displayed 25,000 times, as per your agreement, but if it’s at the bottom of the page, I doubt even 2,500 people saw it … and, if it’s on a site that gets generic readership, I doubt that even 25 of those people would be your target market. (Which means you’re paying a lot more per ad than you think you are!)
- It may be hard to quantify, but it all boils down to brand.
People buy the brands they know. If you want a sale, and in particular, a complex software or service sale, if people aren’t aware of your brand, you’re never going to be invited to the table. More importantly, new research shows that a very large number of people are never going to buy on a click anyway — instead, they “store up” your impression for later, and then navigate explicitly to your home page. Furthermore, many surfers are likely to combine on-line and off-line research before making a decision, and they may then contact you through a traditional channel rather than going through an impersonal web contact form, or what they may perceive as a “dangerous” click-through.
So what are the right metrics? That’s a good question. It’s very hard to capture brand impact from clicks, downloads, and “impressions” when you don’t know whether your ad was somewhere on the screen where a surfer would see it. What we do know is that repeat impressions matter (because impressions build brand awareness). And, those companies who have tried to rigorously measure the success of their on-line marketing efforts against traditional marketing efforts have found that digital marketing, done right, is successful. Per the McKinsey article, 55% of them are cutting their expenditures on traditional media in order to increase funding for their online efforts.
So forget about click-throughs and downloads and focus on brand. Ask yourself where you can place your logo so that your brand will repeatedly reach the largest percentage of your target market — and not just a random web surfer. Don’t forget “Web 2.0” blogs, wikis, forums, and social media sites that not only attract a large number of visitors in your target market but primarily attract visitors in your target market. Chances are, that’s where you’re going to get the exposure you’re looking for.