ROI: It’s Not Always about the Money

When we talk about online marketing ROI (define), we’re usually discussing a monetary ROI. Most businesses try to find ways to use online channels to generate lower costs, increase margins, and generate additional revenue. The ability to drive conversions usually means pushing customers through a purchase path and have them buy something. The powerful monetization models my firm and others recommend for clients directly tie Web site behavior to dollars and cents.

Except when they don’t. It’s not always about the money. Sometimes, money may even get in the way.

Here are a couple examples that demonstrate ROI should be considered very broadly, and business goals aren’t always about revenue and profit. As you read these examples, bear in mind your nonfinancial business goals and consider if your online strategy fully addresses them.

ROI: Fast Information

To make the story more interesting, let’s avoid the classic non-profit as an example. Most of these organizations are very focused on monetizing behavior on their site. They want people to read the story, then click to contribute. Not much argument that ROI follows when donations come in. So let’s put these examples aside and look instead at a government organization.

Government sites often have tremendous amounts of content, multiple sub-sites (each with its own navigation model), and very little to actually purchase. Some site sections may be dedicated to collecting fees for licenses or taxes, whereas others simply exist to inform. Check out my state’s site. The top of the home page focuses on “How Do I?” instead of “How Do I Buy?” Success on this site is quickly finding the things you need.

What, then, is the site’s ROI? Here, it should be about satisfied customers, fast paths to information (remember to survey your users!), and the ability to easily update content. I don’t know the team working on, but I suspect their scorecards are driven largely by satisfaction metrics, not financial ones. Since state citizens (like me) fund this site with their taxes, achieving the right ROI affects lots of people.

ROI: Brand Loyalty

Now, consider niche cable-only TV channels, such as IFC and Current TV. What does their monetization model look like? They exist to inform, create brand loyalty, and get people to spend time on their TV channels in addition to their Web sites. Site advertising may be a part of the equation, as with IFC, but doesn’t have to be, as with Current TV.

What should these sites’ scorecards look like? What are the important key performance indicators, and does monetization really matter? I can’t answer for either of these sites, but I suspect the simple model of converting shopping carts into sales aren’t very relevant here.

Consider how the analytics and ROI models behind sites like these may be relevant to a site focused on e-commerce or something similar. The big point here is money is almost always one of several factors that can drive ROI. A site that efficiently converts visitors into buyers but does nothing to build brand loyalty isn’t a truly successful marketing vehicle. Online marketing must be multidimensional and always cognizant of the deep, complex relationship between Web sites and customers. Keep this in mind next time you review your scorecards and your business goals.

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