Many providers of pay-per-click (PPC) search campaign management solutions – as well as analytics providers – are evolving their reporting and dashboards in a quest to give you a more complete picture of your marketing efforts. How actionable the information in those reports is depends on the accuracy of the data, as well as the willingness of marketing departments to move toward a more holistic way of managing resources.
A Mythic Vision
For years academics, deep thinkers, and even shallow thinkers in the marketing ecosystem have pondered the value and inevitability of the “unified marketing dashboard.” This mythic dashboard would not only contain big data on every touch point delivered to the consumer via paid, owned, earned, or shared media rolled up into an aggregate view, but also calculate the interaction effects among these touch points. This dashboard would put the NSA to shame, knowing all the in-store touch points, as well as the impact of the social graph and influencers. From this dashboard, marketers would run elasticity test simulations across paid media, as well as estimate the investment required to move the needle with earned, owned, and shared media.
This dashboard is impossible in many ways, yet many within the marketing technology community are building solutions that attempt to come as close as possible to this “holy grail” unified dashboard. Even if perfect information were available for earned/shared media and the social graph, there are major obstacles standing in the way of adoption and success.
The following five obstacles are the ones that would top my list as the most challenging.
1) Budgets, staffing, and agencies are still generally siloed. There are budgets, staff, and agencies working specifically against direct response (DR) metrics, with just a bit of latitude allowed for attribution. And an entirely separate group is typically working on changing brand perception and preference. Those investments are in “Brand Building,” and success is judged based on the metrics associated with brand awareness, preference/favorability, etc. Twenty years ago, when at McCann-Erickson, I inquired of several very senior people why this was so. The most common response boiled down to “inertia.” That’s a lot of inertia, but there are some additional reasons.
2) Messaging for DR and creative messaging for brand building are intrinsically different. The messages play on a different set of emotions and leave consumers with a different post-message-exposure feeling. It’s not as simple as the existence or lack of a call to action in a marketing campaign or initiative. Brand-building is more about creating a lasting perception among consumers that there is a value to choosing one product (or service) over another. Many people – myself included – define “brand value” as the ability for a brand to charge a premium for a product or service that is nearly identical to the generic. It’s an over-simplification in many categories, particularly where the brand is experienced, and so that experience molds ongoing brand perception.
3) Much of DR investment is about harvesting demand. That demand could be demand you created yourself through marketing efforts, natural demand, or it could be about harvesting demand that was generated by your competition. Think about your search campaigns.
4) Politics. Simply stated, in the status quo, many bonuses, raises, and promotions are based on the way metrics and objectives have been set up in the past. This issue goes beyond the branding and direct response silos and often exists within departments whose profits and losses are measured exclusively through a specific channel (even when the consumer sees the brand as omni-channel). Online vs. offline or catalog vs. online are just two examples of this.
5) The risk of getting it wrong. A unified dashboard system would likely call for some radical changes to marketing mix and media mix models. Does a chief marketing officer (CMO) (whose tenure is already too short) want to both hasten his/her departure and leave a legacy of “the person who tanked the brand”? Bold decisions come with a significant risk. For example, JCPenney is just one brand where a strategic marketing and positioning decision resulted in poor results and crushing media attention, even beyond the trade press.
It may seem that I’m quite negative about the idea of unified dashboards and analytics. I’m not. They have a place in the toolkit of every marketer. But I recommend that one use these tools – along with common sense – in validating the recommendations a marketing mix or attribution model spits out. Many of these hypotheses can now be split-tested geographically at low cost and low risk. If the model suggests halving your PPC search budget and putting it into social media, test that in a specific region. Then you’ll have achieved a significant milestone, and proved that a budget re-allocation resulted in positive changes.
Some of the above issues will be discussed at ClickZ Live in New York City as well as the co-located eMarketing Association track on April 3.