Metrics That Measure Up

Not all marketing metrics are created equal. So knowing which metrics will reveal the most accurate marketing campaign performance can be tricky. Are likes or shares the best measures of social engagement? And will email opens or clicks give marketers a better sense of customers’ true interests?

There are seemingly innumerable metrics to track—from Facebook likes and email opens to app downloads and website impressions. Marketers today, however, need more revealing metrics that expose when a campaign is working, and, of course, when it’s not. “The old metrics just aren’t viable anymore,” says Tim Jenkins, chairman and CEO of 4INFO, a mobile advertising technology company. “The [marketing] industry has been in transition. We need to get past just clicks on an ad.”

Jenkins and company CMO Chuck Moxley agree that just because a metric is strong doesn’t mean it’s valuable to marketers. “We need to sort out which metrics are the real sales drivers,” Moxley explains. “If the metric is actionable, then it’s great. If not, you can actually end up in data overload that may cause you to lose the right signals and indicators [of a successful campaign].” The two data wranglers say marketers need a different, smarter approach to measuring performance. That approach, they say, should begin with distinct marketing goals and should always lead to a lift in sales, brand awareness, and other qualitative and quantitative objectives. “Don’t try to justify ad spend just because a metric looks good,” Moxley says. “Know the actual objective. Too often marketers don’t determine what success looks like before they spend.”

Of course, objectives change from company to company and campaign to campaign. Here, several data analysts give marketers insight into what metrics they should measure—and which to avoid—for six specific channels: email, mobile, social, websites, display ads, and direct mail.

Fifty-two percent of marketers plan to increase spending on email marketing, and 68% believe email is core to their businesses, according to marketing software companies StrongView and ExactTarget, respectively.

So without question, measuring that investment in email is crucial. Kevin Mabley, SVP of strategy and insights for Epsilon, says the lifetime value of an email address, long-term loyalty and satisfaction, and unsubscribe or complaint rates are the top metrics to measure. “When you’re looking at the lifetime value of an email address, determine the cost to acquire it, how much revenue it’s driven, and predictions of future sales.”

Mabley notes that marketers can get stuck in a campaign-centric mentality without considering the long-term impact of each campaign on customer satisfaction and loyalty. “Collect the feedback on a campaign through tools such as surveys,” he says. “When you measure, you want to see more positive impressions.” And when positive feedback outweighs negative reactions, marketers can then repeat effective campaigns, Mabley says.

Although potentially discouraging, unsubscribe rates are another important metric, Mabley points out. “This one may be more negative, but it’s important,” he says. “Unsubscribes and complaints are a great way to know if you’re reaching the right people.” Marketers not targeting the right audience will see the negative effects in their list size and deliverability.

As for email metrics that don’t matter, Mabley warns there aren’t any. “No metric is meaningless,” he says. “But focusing on just one metric is worthless. Use several metrics to get a holistic picture.”

The hugely popular messaging application WhatsApp, launched in 2009, reached more than 465 million users this past February, according to CEO Jan Koum. Compare that to the 38 years it took for radio to reach 50 million people. Even more sobering, analysts predict worldwide mobile transactions will hit as much as $1 trillion by 2015. Kim Ann King, CMO of mobile and Web tech company SiteSpect, says now is the time for mobile marketers to measure the effectiveness of their mobile campaigns, and in effect, boost their bottom line.

“Marketers need to measure traffic sources, in-app purchases, and device overview,” King says. In other words, marketers need to know where app users came from, what they’re buying and when, as well as users’ different buying habits on varying mobile devices—what King calls device overview. “Tracking in-app purchases is huge for marketers,” she adds. “Know what channel customers are using, and then customize the experience for them.” The information from these metrics will allow marketers to cater to their customers’ specific interests, needs, and preferences.

She warns that marketers should avoid vanity metrics—such as a huge number of downloads with few purchases—and focus on actionable metrics, like the amount of mobile phone numbers acquired. “Once you know your mobile customer, give them the experience they’re looking for,” she says. “That should affect sales.”

Metrics from social media are some of the easiest to measure, and that’s why marketers tend to focus on the wrong stats, says Jack Macleod, SVP and general manager at MXM Social. “There’s this erroneous prioritization of followers,” Macleod explains. “It’s the most public metric, but there’s too much focus on fan and follower growth.” He stresses that quality is more important than quantity and tells marketers to veer away from the number of followers, fans, and impressions. “These can be a conduit to understanding reach,” he says. “But you need a reaction from followers and eventually should be able to take action on a metric.”

Macleod says that with social campaigns, marketers tend to have unfettered access to customers, and as a result can measure engaged reach, customer sentiment, and audience demographics. “Engaged reach is more than just the number of followers, but rather the volume of engagement,” he explains. “Comments, shares, and retweets show the reach of the content, and are good indicators of awareness and favorability.”

Measuring engagement by tracking customer sentiment helps marketers understand their brand affinity, Macleod points out. “You can see favorable or unfavorable comments about your brand,” he says. Macleod encourages marketers to use social listening technologies that use automated listening algorithms, and then add human oversight. “It’s a great way to measure true intent,” he says.

Social media, he adds, also is a great platform to measure audience demographics. “The demographics from social platforms lead to smarter targeting,” Macleod says.

The importance of any website metric is directly connected to the related marketing goal, says SiteSpect’s King. “Traffic numbers simply show how many people visit a site, but unless you’re selling ads, what does that number do for the company?” she asks.

King suggests that marketers concentrate on loyalty, frequency of visits, and the length of visits. “Loyalty is key,” she says. “[Marketers] spend a lot of money acquiring traffic, but it’s fruitless if consumers don’t come back on their own.” She says when customers do come back of their own accord it’s much less expensive and gives a gauge of loyalty.

Loyalty is also linked to the frequency of visits. “If there’s a long lag time between visits, you’ve got an engagement issue,” King warns. “You may need to motivate consumers with incentives, such as coupons.” Of course, the length of the visits matters, too. “The length of the visit can show the depth of the visit,” King adds. “You can see what the user did while on the site.”

Along with general website traffic numbers, clicks and rankings—such as Klout scores or Alexa rankings—don’t mean much for marketers. “These don’t matter if your business model isn’t affected,” King says. “Your key performance indicators should generate leads and provide a traffic source that converts to sales.”

The average click-through rate (CTR) of display ads is 0.1%, and about 50% of clicks on mobile ads are accidental, according to HubSpot. Those numbers are, at best, abysmal for marketers trying to reach an attentive, engaged, targeted audience.

Bill Lederer, founder and CEO of digital media trading firm MediaCrossing, says CTRs don’t matter if they don’t get you to the right audience: “Numbers of clicks or impressions are not the most important measurements because it’s too easy to defraud marketers with statistics.” Lederer says with these measurements there’s too much room for error. Instead, he steers marketers toward engagement metrics; for example, the time spent with ad or information such as emails, age, and gender culled from consumers who click the ad. “You want metrics that help you specifically get to the audience that you care about,” he says.

Lederer gives one other tip for marketers who use display ads. “Measure as you go along,” he says. “With display ads, the results are instant. So feed what’s working, and cut off what’s not.”

Rethinking marketing metrics isn’t just for digital channels. Daniel Rodic, managing director at Exact Media, which sends targeted product samples through postal mail, says traditional marketers need to use smarter metrics to determine what’s working and what’s not. He says measurements such as the sheer volume of collateral or samples or the amount of money spent don’t reveal whether a campaign is effective. “Not to say [marketers] shouldn’t measure these numbers,” Rodic explains. “But just not as a success measurement. It’s the biggest faux pas.” He underscores three metrics he says will help marketers to measure true impact, especially in terms of sampling: percentage of trial, percentage of conversation, and percentage of new buyers.

“Percentage of trial is simply what percentage of consumers decided to try your product,” Rodic says. Percentage of trial is a measurement of several factors: relevancy, context, timing, message, and even attractiveness of the packaging. Percentage of conversion, he explains, measures how many samplers actually bought the products. “This is a great measure,” Rodic adds, “because sampling is meant to drive sales.” The third metric on Rodic’s list, percentage of new buyers, encourages marketers to create plans that will boost retention. “You’ve got them to try your product,” he says. “Now marketers need to use other tools to keep customers loyal.”

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Voting on the Right Marketing Metrics

Digital marketing strategists created a winning campaign for Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe.


Alex Kellner, director, Bully Pulpit Interactive

It’s all or nothing in politics. You either win an election or you don’t. It was those high stakes last November that motivated digital marketing strategists to create a winning campaign for Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe.

Adding to the pressure, the 2013 race for the governor’s office was far from typical. “Virginia happens to be a state that holds its statewide elections in odd years,” says the campaign’s former digital director Alex Kellner, now director of Bully Pulpit Interactive, a digital marketing agency. “That means even people who have lived in Virginia for a long time aren’t necessarily in the habit of voting.”

Kellner says the McAuliffe team needed a strategy that would galvanize supporters to show up at the polls on Election Day, persuade undecided voters to support the Democratic candidate, and underlie a digital marketing campaign to track and measure along the way.

The team first identified likely voters and volunteers through focus groups, polling, historical data, and consumer data. Once the members of the campaign knew who to target, they put a cohesive digital campaign in motion—using targeted Pandora Internet radio ads, Facebook game apps, online ads that pushed people to pledge to vote, preroll ads, and other digital strategies using technology from Bully Pulpit.

“The metrics that we ultimately looked at were ROI—such as how much money would [potential voters] donate, and would they volunteer by knocking on doors and making phone calls—and cost per acquisition, which was very important,” Kellner says. The return on investment, he adds, needed to come sooner rather than later, with a looming November 5 deadline.

“We looked at other metrics, too, like conversion rates, to make sure we were reaching the right people on those platforms,” he says, adding that campaigners didn’t care about impressions because the goal was to turn someone into a donor. “We measured how long it took that online contact to become a donor.”

That carefully crafted campaign, Kellner says, motivated more than 90,000 people to look up their polling stations in the last four days before the election. “Simply by having people look up their polling places, they’re much more likely to vote,” he says. And those who pledge are up to 7% more likely to vote.

Boosting donations, rounding up volunteers, and getting people to vote were clear signs of success. “Governor Terry McAuliffe won with about a 60,000-vote margin,” Kellner says. He adds that throughout the entire campaign, strategists were able to track metrics that revealed if people donated, volunteered, looked up their polling stations, and eventually voted. “We could measure if we were delivering the message to the right people, and most important, did they take action,” Kellner says. “Obviously it worked. We won the election.”

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