Don’t Invest Without Solid Success Measurement

Often, when a new client asks me to look at the work done by a prior agency, I know I’m in for some cringe-worthy moments.  But not for the reasons you might think.

Sometimes, the prior agency recommended a program that wasn’t half bad from a tactical perspective.  And that’s what makes me cringe – the notion that someone wasn’t very far off with the program, but recommended a really crummy method of divining whether or not it was working.

When I see some of the prevailing wisdom concerning measurement these days, I can’t help but wish that agencies and program stewards would be more careful with their measurement recommendations.  Marketers that can’t see evidence of a program working are going to be biased against running that program, or anything that looks like it, ever again.  And if the program wasn’t all that far off with to start, but it just screwed up the job of demonstrating that success to senior management, well then you understand my issue…

Here are some nuggets of wisdom that keep me from forgetting the importance of measurement’s role:

  • All marketing conversations begin and end with measurement.  They start with a discussion of “what does success mean for this product or brand?” and they end with either you or your client standing in front of senior management showing why your investment was a good one.

  • Metrics that have no bearing on your program objectives are an expensive distraction.  People who ultimately approve marketing expenditures look to the agency to tell them whether something is working or not.  If you direct them toward unimportant metrics, they’ll begin to falsely believe in their importance, and they’ll wonder why you’re not optimizing to them.  And when you optimize to metrics that don’t matter, you do damage to your program.  Remember that the next time someone asks, “What’s the harm in showing [Irrelevant metric X]?” in a meeting.

  • If you can’t measure something, don’t recommend it.  I wouldn’t suggest that everything correlate directly to sales with 100% certainty.  Not everything is directly measurable.  But your measurement strategy should get as close as possible to the objective of the program.  Just as importantly, all of your stakeholders at the client and the agency should understand and agree that they’re comfortable measuring the program in the way you’re recommending and that doing so will give them the insight they need to be able to judge whether it worked or not.  And if you’re ever in the position to influence an investment that won’t yield results that are measurable, your recommendation should be “Do not invest.”

  • Measurement defies standardization.  As much as we like to automate work and workflow in the digital marketing business, metrics are not one size fits all.  What works for one client or one program won’t necessarily work for another.  If you’re doing a good job with measurement, your measurement strategies will be custom-engineered like a hot rod and not cookie-cuttered like a Honda Accord.

  • “Digital Only” metrics matter more to Digital Only businesses.  If someone’s business is selling cans of tuna fish at retail, they’re not going to care if your digital campaign lifted total searches for “tuna” or “Brand [X] tuna” over the norm for the month.  They’re probably also not going to care about how many people you drove to their website or how you optimized the unit cost of getting them there.  They’re going to want to know how many cans of tuna you helped them move off the shelf at their retail partners.  The situation is much different for e-commerce companies.  If you waste too much time developing digital surrogates that are too far removed from the business objective to be useful, the best thing that could happen is that you’ll invest in a program and not be able to prove the investment was warranted.  The worst thing that could happen?  Don’t ask.

  • Display ads have exposure value.  If you’re recommending display, digital or otherwise, your job is to marry that exposure value to the business objective of the program and show the relationship.  Yes, this applies even in the age of low viewability, increased awareness of fraud in programmatic display and everything else going on in the digital display market.  Gian Fulgoni can jump up and down on my bed, screaming about viewability while pointing to PowerPoint slides all day.  It doesn’t change the fact that display ads change our perception of products and services.  Even if no one goes to the website, or immediately heads over to Google to search for the product, or tries to buy the product online.  Remember that display ads can improve standing within a consideration set, get us to think about a product’s new features even if we’re already aware of the product, improve intent to buy it and more.

Keep some of these close, and don’t forget them.  But above all, remember that measurement strategy isn’t a scattering of tactical approaches on the table followed by a recommendation to measure the digital industry’s KPI of the Month.  It’s sitting down with the people responsible for making the investment in the program, asking them what they would consider successful, and then bringing the best way to measure that to the table.

Tom Hespos is a contributor at The Makegood and Founder and Chief Media Officer at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Look for Tom’s column the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month.