Have A Little Faith: Don’t Just Focus on What You Can Measure

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We were eating lunch with the online marketing team for a $1 billion consumer brand.  Their sky high conversion rates on paid search and retargeting ads would put your jaw on the floor.  They’ve carved out a nice niche that drives several hundred thousand dollars in sales a year.  The only problem is  they can’t actually grow online sales.  I asked about awareness building activities like non-branded keywords or display ads.  “Are you kidding?  We could never sell that in to upper management.”   Too many marketers fall into the trap of only doing the marketing programs they can measure– and they wonder why their online sales are flat.


Google is part of the problem of perpetuating this idea that if you can’t measure it, it’s not worth doing.  With AdWords and Google Analytics we have access to free tools that tell us exactly how many conversions we drove from a particular ad execution.  I was pretty excited to see Google Analytics now tracking the conversion path with their new multi-channel funnels tab.  I was absolutely shocked to see that the multi-channel funnels only takes into account exposures of a brand message for just the last 30 days leading to a conversion.  The only problem is that we know that, especially for durable goods, adventure travel, luxury, and other high ticket items, the purchase cycle is much longer than 30 days– try a year or two.   Even for shorter purchase cycle items, because there’s so much information available on conversions for some media vehicles, it’s tempting to not even bother with other less measurable awareness-building media… until you look at your sales growth.


Perhaps we could take a lesson from the offline world.   Network TV advertising is expensive.  A :30 single Super bowl ad now costs upwards of $4 million.  Add on top of that this it’s a Sysyphian task to attempt to correlate TV spending levels with sales and you’ve got the foundation for one of the classic arguments brand marketers will have with their CFO.  Years ago, in the marketing department at Pizza Hut during an especially challenging year, our CFO got the bright idea to cut TV spending.  He asked me to prove to him that TV spending correlates to sales.  I couldn’t.  He eviscerated the budget.   Interestingly, for the first 6 months, sales didn’t decline and that CFO was a hero.  Then, at about the 6-month mark, sales dropped like a stone.   When the CFO got tired of seeing red ink, we turned TV back on in a big way.  It was another 6 months before sales growth finally went back up.   We learned that awareness-building media like network TV has a latency to it.  This is why awareness-building advertising actually works but why it’s so impossible to prove.


One of the reasons we often drive high double digit online sales growth for our clients is because we have faith.  We have faith in awareness-building advertising.  We don’t cling just to programs we can measure.  We certainly go for conversions where we can, but we realize that a conversion is very, very far down a very long road that’s seeded with many other less measurable forms of advertising like Facebook ads, Tweets, Facebook posting, and display ads.   If we just relied on programs and campaigns with measurable conversion data we’d be out of business because out clients sales would be flat too, like that $1 billion consumer brand.

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