All, Tech Marketing

Digital Marketing’s Massive Measurement Lies

Eric Wittlake is a digital and B2B marketer with a background in analytics and online media. Based in Portland, Oregon, he runs the media group at Babcock & Jenkins. To read his original post on email list guides, click here.

Digital marketers are getting hooked on reporting bigger numbers, but in the process your marketing may actually be making a smaller and smaller impact.

Marketers are making a land grab, including in their reporting big swaths of results that were not driven by their marketing efforts. Many even count the same results twice, all to show that marketing is contributing to results. No wonder 8 in 10 CEOs don’t trust the work marketing is doing.

The problem starts when you begin measuring your programs based on the companies or individuals you reached and what they did. Unfortunately, this is the easy, and almost universal, way to measure digital marketing today.

With all of the data available today you can identify more of the people reached through your marketing than ever before. In turn, that means your reporting is more inflated than ever before. Yikes!

Here are four common culprits.

1. Branded search
If I’m looking for a computer, search for Dell, click the top organic result and buy a new laptop, is search the reason I bought a laptop from Dell? No. I was already looking for Dell, search was simply an easier way to navigate.

When you report this as a sale driven by marketing, you are taking credit for a sale even though marketing didn’t cause it. In my particular case, it would be because I have had two very long-lived Dell computers. My next computer will likely be a Dell because of that experience, not because of my navigational search.

How important is search as a navigational tool? According to Wordstream, the #1 and #2 keywords based on search volume are facebook and youtube. The top 25 includes google, hotmail, facebook login, yahoo, ebay, yahoo mail, craigslist, aol, gmail, and amazon. That’s a lot of navigational search.

Unfortunately Google makes it difficult to identify branded search traffic today, ensuring marketers will continue to credit search for what would have happened regardless.

Sorry to break it to you, but brand followers on social media have the same bias.
2. View-through Reporting
I still remember when DoubleClick first rolled out view-through reporting. In one day our reported results increased by an order of magnitude across nearly every client we were working with. What had really changed? Just the reporting methodology, the actual impact of our marketing efforts hadn’t changed one bit.

Marketers today still report on view-through, or post-impression, results. Some even still use the default 14 or 30 day reporting window many ad management providers still default to. This introduces two major issues:

  • Double counting results. How did think that view-through visitor got to your site? Many turned to Google. A few may have been on your email list. But since most B2B marketers measure view-through results in an ad management platform using cookies that cannot be read by the rest of marketing technology stack, the same activity can be independently attributed to two or three different marketing activities.
  • Counting what would have happened anyways. If you have a well-known brand and run a well-targeted campaign, you are reaching people who would buy from you without your marketing. In controlled tests, I’ve seen programs where 95% or more of view-through activity was simply counting what would have happened anyways.

And don’t forget that you are reporting on view-through activity from ads that often aren’t even viewable!

3. Marketing Influenced
Like view-through reporting, marketing influenced revenue, sales or leads counts who your marketing had the chance to reach, without any indication that your marketing made a difference in the outcome.

To your credit, the label at least indicates that your marketing wasn’t responsible for the activity, but you improve this metric by increasing your volume of marketing activity, not improving the performance of your marketing.

This is the equivalent of a supermarket buying a billboard in front of their store and then claiming the billboard was driving all of their sales. Let’s stop the ridiculousness.

4. Retargeting
Retargeting is nearly de rigueur for digital marketers today but it will almost certainly contribute to over-counting your results.

You are marketing to people who have already found their way to your site! Many are customers already!! If you managed to completely suppress this group from all of your marketing, they would probably still be far more likely to come back than the average person you reach through your programs.

If you add view-through reporting to retargeting, you can nearly guarantee that you will be double-counting.
It’s Time to Forget Attribution

For marketers that want to earn the trust of the CEO and the business, put aside attribution. Fancier counting isn’t nearly enough. It is time instead to focus on understanding the difference marketing actually makes in your business and then start improving those results.