No Visibility, No Accountability, No ROI

A recent study by IBM says that 56 percent of CMOs are not ready to be held accountable for marketing ROI – including web ROI. According to the study, a minority of them are looking to the web as a source of market intelligence. Most continue to rely on other marketing reports of a more traditional nature, and the article especially notes a lack of adoption of digital marketing analytics.

One’s first reaction has to be: “Come on guys! Get with it!”

After all, web analytics is not some newfangled eruption in the mind of a crazed software engineer. It’s been around for a while. Doesn’t everyone use it these days? Could it be a generational thing? Are the surveyed CMOs tied culturally to what used to comprise the entire spectrum of marketing before the digital revolution?

Of course, there is also the possibility these CMOs are on to something: they don’t want to be held responsible for web ROI because they suspect there isn’t any. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that there are intrinsic problems with the web as a marketing device. Perhaps it will at some point be revealed that the web really is an overvalued channel, and will turn out to have been the “flavor of the decade.” Maybe this whole “information wants to be free” business isn’t so great for business. The digerati cannot point to a robust economy and try to take credit for it. In fact, it sometimes seems that our entire world is being atomized into a “cloud solution,” and the vapors, perhaps, are not much in the way of nutrition.

But maybe something else is going on.

Maybe marketers simply have not evolved to match the capabilities available to the true practitioner of web analytics. Put another way, they’ve been winging it.

On the wing, they have not been able to optimize their sites for ROI. This is because, if they are not looking at the performance of their sites against defined behavior goals, then they also don’t know what works on their sites and what does not. That lack of knowledge can come at an enormous eventual cost.

Think of how much money is wasted in order to create content that does not convert. Without measurement, you’d be forced to put all the content out there, every bit of it. Because you would not know what content helped convert visitors to customers; what content wasted everyone’s time and money.

There is every chance this may be the reason the surveyed CMOs don’t want to be held accountable – because they have not used the web efficiently (and they know it). Perhaps they are not aware of how measurement can be used to optimize content and generate ROI. Or, perhaps they are worried about the disruptive nature of sunlight shone upon what to date has remained a rather murky landscape of IT, CMS, SEO, SEM, CRM, Flash, Facebook, Twitter, tagging, cookies, and the mysterious “unique visitor.” Perhaps in this Halloween season, someone may arrive at a party costumed frightfully as the “unique visitor” and scare the iPads out of everyone’s hands. But that is another topic.

The reason for the rather appalling statistic about no-ROI CMOs comes down to two realistic possibilities.

First, the cultural aspect cannot be underestimated. At a recent Direct Marketing Association summit in Boston, I found far fewer digital participants in the show than I had expected. And, at a convention devoted to a form of marketing that has always prided itself on being measurable, it was even more surprising that web analytics itself was near invisible. So it is no mere conjecture that we in the digital realm may far overestimate the penetration of our discipline into the massive market of marketers. Without looking for evidence to the contrary, we may tell ourselves that the whole world is riding in the same streetcar of desire for quantifiable data about digital marketing efforts. But according to IBM’s study – maybe not so much?

Second, the disruptive nature of truth cannot be underestimated. “Not ready for ROI” may be a polite way of saying “I don’t want to tear my organization apart and rebuild it” – forcing it to dance, as it were, to the tune played by the numerical piper. For if the CMO is accountable, then equally accountable are all those who work for the CMO: the content creators, the developers, even the almighty ad agency with its “center of excellence” loftily perched above a street somewhere in the warehouse district. And telling those folks the facts about whether their content converted might be rather daunting.

This “don’t wanna be measured” trope can only go on for so long. CMOs will be held accountable at some point, and they will need comprehensive, accurate, and actionable analytics to answer for it, because the web is just another channel in the portfolio of marketing efforts. It has a line item in the budget just like the other channels. And if you’ve been pouring dollars into that channel because the other guy did it, you’re at some point going to need some better reason. The possibility held forth by the entire digital marketing industry is that “it’s measurable” and therefore more valuable. In the end, that has to be part of the reason the organization puts money into it. And from that simple acknowledgement comes the full spectrum of benefits (via web analytics and optimization around quantifiable results).

These are real dilemmas for the CMO. So I take back my sarcasm about “getting with the program.” But I follow it up with a sincere admonition: time to shine a light.

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