Making Sense of It All

The hardest thing in marketing is to make sense of it all. The data, the conversation, the customer complaints, the customer kudos, product features, service definitions, all of it is an overwhelming cacophony to the audience trying to synthesize and make sense of it. The best marketers are the ones who can take those inputs and create an easy to understand story that gives context to the information. A story or framework that allows customers, business owners and the community at large to make informed decisions and sense out of the noise. If you do that in marketing, you win.

In this post I want to talk about applying this idea to the measurement of marketing campaigns.  Because while it’s easy to throw in some Google Analytics code and say you “measure” the truth is it’s much more complex and nuanced than that.  And those marketers that can get past those one-sized fits all measurements and to the true measurement of success will be the ones standing in the long run.  So let’s look at how this applies to measuring online campaigns.

Data is Messy

In most instances the inputs are messy, nonsensical and contradictory.  The data is tough to grok and make sense of.  If you leave your audience to figure it out you’ll miss a key opportunity to help inform their thinking by providing a fact-based context, a lens in which to look at the data.  This can lead to poor decision-making and lead to choices that are misinformed.

Take Web analytics for an example.  The detail available on Web analytics can make them cumbersome and difficult to properly assess.  Traffic sources, visits, referring URLs, keywords, ad variations, organic versus paid traffic, goal conversions, bounce rates, CPA and CPC by source, (and the list goes on) creates a very complex picture of what is really going on with any one ad buy or campaign.  In an integrated online campaign with email, search, display, social media, PR and more the data set gets more complex and to the untrained eye muddier and less satisfying in terms of pointing to clear wins and losses.

This complexity makes it difficult for executives without a background in online marketing and analytics to digest the data and make strong recommendations.  The lack of clarity in the data picture presented makes much of the data inactionable.  It’s almost like it was never measured in the first place.

Providing Clarity

A good marketer provides clarity and context to results to give executives a frame of reference and an easy way to review, digest and act upon.  This means distilling complex data down to meaningful, high-level overviews backed by detail that can be reviewed a section at a time.  Providing clarity does not mean whittling down the data to nothing. That has the same negative impact as too much data, you’ve stripped relevance and meaning out, leaving you without the richness and granularity needed to make smart business decisions.

Creating a hierarchical story is an approach that I like to use to provide the clarity of a campaign while still providing robust and rich data to glean insights necessary to make good business decisions.  Here’s how I do it:

  • Give the big picture first. How are we doing? At plan, behind plan, ahead of plan.  Which way is the wind blowing and how are we doing.  Get that out of the way first and don’t sugar coat it.
  • Address key wins and losses.  Identify the big “needle moving” items. An email that went flat, a keyword that is going bananas, ad creative that has 2x click through of everything else, Scoble retweeted something.  Pick a couple.
  • Provide campaign element metrics. Summarize campaign elements in a top level reporting.  I like to show by element:
    • Budget
    • Clicks/impressions
    • CTR
    • Conversions to Goal
    • CPA
  • Optimization opportunities.  Identify areas to optimize, recommended adjustments in spend, scope, etc. These should be tactical adjustments to address the key loses as well as tweaks to the winners to turn them into homeruns.
  • Support data. This is where you have access to the backup that tells a more detailed story to the campaign element metrics.  Want to drill down in to a CPC campaign on Bing?  You need to have keyword and ad performance, both CPC and CPA.

Prep Work is the Key

Just as football coaches say that playoff games are won and lost during the two-a-day practices in August, the ability to tell a clear story that provides the data business owners need to make important decisions relies on prep work up front in setting up your measurement and analytics.  And the key is go beyond the out-of-the-box analytics measurements that come from Google or another provider.  You have to be able to tie the whole picture together.  Cost per click isn’t enough. You need cost per acquisition.

What is the desired outcome of the campaign? A new customer, an email sign up, a new fan? Whatever the end acquisition is, that is what needs to be measured against.  Without a clear tie to CPA the data is incomplete and it leaves a gap in analysis which makes the exercise less useful and relevant.  That blind spot can render data useless or worse, just plain wrong.

Don’t let the challenge of tying analytics down to the CPA level keep you from doing that work.  By eliminating that last mile blind spot (from cost per click or impression to cost per acquisition) you’ll be able to provide a much clearer story about what is working and not working.

Marketers Need to Tell Stories

This doesn’t just apply to their customers. It applies to everything they do.  It is crucial in creating a lens through which other business owners can analyze and view the data that you’re generating from your campaigns.  Without good data, and without a framework that makes the data manageable you’re unable to tell a good story, and ultimately succeed as a marketer.

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