Whose Neck Should You Choke When Digital Campaigns Underperform?

In today’s complex digital ecosystem, brand marketers are often working with a plethora of agencies. But when campaigns underperform, the different agencies are often quick to point the finger. Leaving the brand marketer unclear as to who is actually responsible for optimizing certain metrics. (i.e., necks to choke)

Coming from a media agency, we’re usually the “numbers people” compared to our creative and PR counterparts. Hence, the majority of the digital metrics fall directly on our shoulders. But we have to recognize that effective digital marketing is a combination of the right content/message and media selection. So let me draw a clear line separating common digital metrics that creative and media agencies are responsible for.

From a measurement perspective, digital metrics can usually be separated into the following categories:


Reach Effectiveness

These metrics measure the effectiveness of your front-end media performance. The data will come from your ad servers, or third-party tracking vendors. A few key metrics are:

1. Impressions. It’s a no-brainer that this metric is solely the responsibility of a media agency, so we’ll leave it at that.

2. Clicks. While we can argue that a good creative will result in higher clicks, the fact is this is still largely a media agency KPI. Because we can easily control this metric through buying efficiency.

3. CTR (click-through rate). This metric is a shared KPI for both media and creative agencies. On the media side, CTR can be very high using extremely targeted buying, or incredibly low using a bunch of low-cost impressions. So brand marketers should establish a CTR KPI with their media agency based on the campaign objectives. On the creative side, there can be drastic differences on CTR depending on the creative copy used. However, every campaign and product is different, so there are rarely any applicable benchmarks that we can set for CTR. Therefore, A/B testing is the only way to hold creative agencies accountable for their work.

Conversion Effectiveness

These metrics measure whether the media was on target, content relevance, as well as specific conversion goals. The data will come from back-end web analytics tools. Key metrics are:

1. Bounce rate. This metric measures both landing page relevance and whether the media is on target, hence it’s another shared metric between media and creative. A high bounce rate may indicate low content relevance to the consumer. But it may also indicate that the consumer found exactly what she’s looking for. This situation is especially true for scrollable single page campaign sites. Therefore, a high bounce rate is not always a bad thing. From a media perspective, a high bounce rate may indicate that the media is not on target, causing the consumer to leave right away. We can narrow down the problem by looking at the bounce rate across different media channels. If the bounce rate is high across all media channels, then the problem lies in content relevance (which the creative agencies have to fix). But if the bounce rate is high for only one of the media channels, then it may very well be that the channel is off target.

2. Time on site. This metric is often misunderstood by many marketers so let me first go over how it’s calculated. Contrary to popular belief, time on site does not come from a timer that starts ticking soon as you load the page. Instead, it’s calculated from timestamp difference from the weblog files. Again, in the case of those single page campaign sites, your time on site will most likely be zero (see below for explanation). From an accountability perspective, creative agencies are solely responsible for this metric, because media have already brought the consumer on to the website. If there’s a particular important page for audience engagement, for example, a video or interactive game, then the creative agency should add custom event tracking to reflect true time on site.


Image courtesy of Occam’s Razor

3. Conversion rate. This metric is the hardest to draw lines between creative and media, for it’s very much a combined effort that makes or breaks this KPI. From an optimization perspective, media agencies should focus on driving more targeted consumers to begin the conversion funnel, and creative agencies should focus on pushing consumers to complete the conversion funnel. For example, in a lead generation campaign if a consumer reached the lead form and immediately bounced, then the media agency should optimize channel selection to bring more relevant consumers to the page. However, if the consumer starts filling out the lead form, but abandons the process mid-way, then creative agencies should analyze the user experience at high abandon rate steps and make changes.

Cost Efficiency

These metrics measure the efficiency of how media is bought. Hence, the media agency is solely responsible for these KPIs through both trading negotiations and targeting tactics. But an effective creative/copy can also boost the efficiency of these metrics.

1. CPM. If the media is bought on a CPM basis, then we should strive for a high CTR to get the most clicks from our investment. The media agency can optimize through channel and position selection, while the creative agency can test different creative.

2. CPC. If the media is bought on a CPC basis, then we should look at back-end metrics like conversion rate in conjunction. Because we want to get the most value through higher conversions for the consumers who have already clicked through.


Below is a summary of the various metrics along with the agency that should be held acountable. Now you know exactly whose necks to choke 🙂


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