Measuring Digital Marketing Success

According to Blue Kai, I’m a tech-savvy, social media-using bookworm in the New York DMA, currently in the market for “entertainment.” At least that’s what my cookie says about me. Simply by going to the Blue Kai data exchange’s registry page, you can find out what data companies and resellers know about you, and your online behavior and intent.
 
In this brave new world of data-supported audience buying, every individual with an addressable electronic device has been stripped down to an anonymous cookie and is for sale. My cookie, when bounced off various data providers, also reveals that I’m male (Acxiom), have a competitive income (IXI), three children in my family (V12), a propensity for buying online (Targusinfo) and am in mid-management of a small business (Bizo). I’m also in-market for a car (Exelate) and considered to be a “Country Squire,” according to Nieslen’s Prizm, which is essentially a boring white guy from the suburbs who “enjoys country sports like golf and tennis.” Well, I’m horrible at tennis, but everything else seems to be accurate.
 
As a marketer, you now have an interesting choice. Instead of finding “Country Squire” or “Suburban Pioneer” on content-specific sites they’re known to visit, now I can simply buy several million of these people, and find them wherever they may be lurking on the Web. This explains why you suddenly see ads for BMWs above your Hotmail messages right after you looked at that nice diesel station wagon on the VW.com Web site.

Today’s real-time marketing ecosystem works fast and works smart. But, how do you decide whether to buy the cookie or the site?
 
Most marketers insist that audience buying is meant for performance campaigns. This is largely a pricing consideration. Obviously, if I want to sell sneakers to young men, it makes sense to buy data and find 18-35-year old males who are “sneaker intenders” based on their online behavior and profile, and reach them at scale across the ad exchanges. Combined data and media will likely be under a $4 CPM, and probably less since both the data and media can be bid upon in real time. For most campaigns with a CPA south of $20, you need to buy “cheap and deep” to optimize into that type of performance. It sounds pretty good on paper. There are a few problems with this, however:
 
What are they doing when you find them?
OK, so you found one of your carefully selected audience members and you know he’s been shopping for shoes. Maybe you even retargeted him after he abandoned his shopping cart at footlocker.com and dynamically presented him with an ad featuring the very sneakers he wanted to buy, and you did it all for a fraction of a cent. The problem is that you reached him on Hotmail and he’s engaged in composing an e-mail. What are the chances that he’s going to break task and get back into the mind-set of purchasing a pair of sneakers? Also, what kind of e-mail is he composing? Work? A consolation note to a friend who has lost a loved one? Obviously, you don’t know. 

Maybe you reached that user on a less than savory site, or perhaps on a social media site where he’s engaged in a live chat session with a friend. In any case, you have targeted that user perfectly—and at just the wrong time. This type of “interruption” marketing is exactly what digital has promised us it wouldn’t be.

Perhaps a better conversion rate can be found on ESPN.com, or a content page about basketball, where that user is engaged in content appropriate to the brand.


How do you know where the conversion came from?
Depending on your level of sophistication and your digital analytics tool set, you may not be in the best position to understand exactly where your online sales are coming from. If you’re depending on click-based metrics, that is even more true. As a recent comScore article points out, the click is a somewhat misleading metric. Put simply, clicks on display ads don’t take branding or other Web behavior into account when measuring success.

Personally, I haven’t clicked on a display ad in years, but seeing them still drives me to act. Comparing offline sales life over a four-week period, comScore reports that pure display advertising provides average lift of 16 percent and pure SEM provides lift of 82 percent—but search and display combined provide sales lift of 119 percent. So you simply can’t look at display alone when judging performance—and you have to question whether you’re seeing performance lift because you’re targeting, or because your buyer has been exposed to a display ad multiple times. If it’s the latter, you may be inclined to save the cost of data and go even more “cheap and deep” to get reach and frequency.

How do you value an impression?
Obviously, the metric we all use is CPM, but sometimes the $30 CPM impression on ESPN.com is less expensive than the $2 RTB impression from AdX. Naturally, your analytics tools will tell you which ad and publisher produced the most conversions. Additionally, deep conversion path analysis can also tell you that “last impression” conversion made at Hotmail might have started on ESPN.com, so you know where to assign value.

But, in the absence of meaningful data, how do we really know how effective our campaign has been? I believe that display creates performance by driving brand value higher, and some good ways to measure that can now be found using rich media. When consumers engage within a creative unit, or spend time watching video content about your brand, they’re making a personal choice to spend time with your message. There’s nothing more powerful than that, and that activity not only drives sales, but helps create lifetime customers.
 
For today’s digital marketer, great campaigns happen when you understand your customer, find them both across the Web and on the sites for which they have an affinity—and find them when they are engaged in content that’s complementary to your brand message. Hmmm . . . that kind of sounds like what we used to do with print advertising and direct mail. And maybe it really is that simple after all.

Chris O’Hara is svp of sales and marketing for Traffiq. He may be reached through his blog at Chrisohara.com.