Measure and learn

I was involved in a conversation the other day around the current state of the digital media world, and specific media challenges around yield and extraction.

And my argument is relevant to anyone who undertakes advertising in any form to help satisfy some sort of business objective.

It was this – a bad campaign is usually the result of bad upfront metrics … or a lack of the right measurements.

In the context of the discussion it was around why advertisers continued to increase investment in pay-for-performance placements at the expense of better contextual and content placements.

My argument was because generally for digital, performance metrics are what people revert to, and hence they lean towards placements that are seen to deliver on these.

So here’s a question to a marketing director or a managing director.

How are you measuring success on your marketing and advertising spend, and how clearly are these expectations communicated down the line to those tasked to make it happen?

How consultative is the process? Are the standards of measurement or ultimate results realistic? Are you post-analysing, and constantly coming back to the upfront key performance indicators?

I am surprised at how often clear upfront metrics aren’t outlined. Or, if they are, it’s such a broad, macro-goal that is more an ambitious statement than a realistic target.

Sure, I understand that smart goals are single-minded propositions, but a goal like “sell more cheese/cars/burgers/websites” is so ambiguous I’m not quite sure what it means.

Let’s say you’re a small internet developer, and your company invests $5000 in Google search engine marketing … what do you expect for your investment?

Is it a case of dipping your toe in the water? Do you expect a certain number of leads? A number of web visits? A number of sales? Referrals?

How broad is the window in which you expect this to happen? How did you go about putting a value on an action? Pie in the sky? Past experience? Research?

Put simply, how are you going to measure whether that $5000 was a good investment, and what would you do next time? Spend more, spend less, change the destination page, change keywords, change creative? So many variables that can be refined, however these require clear upfront metrics.

If you’re a big technology company manufacturing some sort of consumer product, what do you expect for your quarterly marketing spend? Is it sales, brand uplift, sponsorship association? Noise? Category growth? Market share? All of them?

Are your brand managers on board, and do they understand what is required communications-wise to achieve this? Is the creative agency? The media agency? The search agency?  Media partners (that is, publishers)? The web developer? The sales team?

Is everyone working together to achieve the goal? If not, you can be assured somewhere it will break down and one piece of your communications puzzle will be at odds with the others. I’m not saying all elements need to be trying to achieve the same thing specifically, and be measured individually as such (that is, search and direct marketing may be judged on leads, whereas magazines more on brand positioning, TV on reach or time-of-day suitability) – but they need to working towards a collective goal or destination.

Yes digital is extremely measureable, but the key is knowing what to measure … and once you’ve done that, making sense of it.

But the first thing is what you need to nail. Otherwise you risk running directionless initiatives that you never really know whether they worked or didn’t work.

I’m all for the premise of test, learn, evolve – but it’s kind of futile if all you do is “test” and you’re not learning and evolving.



Ben Shepherd is National Director – Digital at Maxus (a groupm company), and can be reached via

He also authors the blog Talking Digital




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