Why It’s Time for Marketers to Rethink Metrics and Performance Indicators

Digital is changing the path to ROI

As media dollars increasingly shift to digital—rising another 22 percent to $27 billion this year for display ads alone—brands of all sizes are striving to extract greater value from their campaigns and to prove their impact on the bottom line.

In the well-intentioned race to show results, however, many marketers are focused on the wrong things—metrics that may be easy to measure, but don't truly drive desired business outcomes.

Matt Minoff

Take clickthrough rates, for example. Universally acknowledged by marketers and media companies alike as inadequate, clickthrough rates still appear in every campaign recap report, seemingly regardless of the campaign's goal. While research has shown time and again that clickthrough rates are usually the wrong metric to measure, they are easy to track and have remained an industry standard.

Or consider the move toward verifying audience demographics. As the success of programmatic advertising has shown, your best audience many not be who you think it is going into a given campaign. At a bare minimum, a brand's top-performing audience segment is usually much more nuanced than "moms" or "M18-34."

We've seen marketers grow myopic when it comes to newer metrics, too. Ninety-seven percent of marketers now say all inventory should be verified as viewable by an independent third party, while over 60 percent said they would shift their media dollars away from publishers who fail to provide third-party verification.

At Meredith, we now routinely receive RFPs from world-class brands that cite viewability as a campaign's main key performance indicator. Meredith and other publishers have made great strides to ensure inventory is viewable, but by focusing solely on viewability, marketers are missing the point: viewability may be a necessary prerequisite for strong campaign results, but in and of itself, it isn't sufficient, nor is it a KPI.

Moreover, some of the industry's most exciting new formats don't yet have standard measurement solutions. Shopper marketing units, recipe integrations and custom content experiences all play a role in building awareness and engagement, and driving purchase, but a maniacal focus on a single, standardized metric often limits their inclusion in plans. Marketers who care about real KPIs, like driving sales, may be missing out some of the strongest strategies, tactics and formats.

As the old adage goes, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." But in the world of digital media, we now have the capability to start to measure what ultimately matters most to marketers: business outcomes and ROI.

Innovations in the in-store digital experience, including new uses of beacon technology, along with better linking of online and offline data to help close the loop on attribution across desktop, mobile and the real world, mean we can actually show whether and how a campaign drives real KPIs for brands. At Meredith, we've taken it a step further, going so far as to guarantee sales lift for our strategic partners. We will not be alone. Smart publishers and brands will continue to partner to conceive, develop and deliver end-to-end campaigns that drive real business results.

Selecting the right goals and KPIs will be crucial to that process. Boosting brand awareness, driving consideration, increasing in-store traffic, purchase and loyalty—these are worthy goals that smart publishers can and should help optimize against.

They are also the KPIs that, while harder to measure than whether an ad is seen or clicked, will build not just your brand, but your business.

Matt Minoff (@mattminoff) is svp of digital platforms and strategy at Meredith Digital.