A few years ago the notion that digital marketing would have the upper hand in campaign measurement was about as fanciful as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic flights ever getting off the ground.
Stats about “customer involvement”, “brand recognition” and “awareness” seemed to be about as good as it got. But, much like Virgin Galactic – which recently signed up its first brand sponsor Jaguar Land Rover – has started to edge closer to launch, digital channels are now being held up as the beacon of measurability.
In the second of our series of articles DecisionMarketing asks our group of experts whether this is indeed the case, or are we still being hoodwinked by digital “smoke and mirrors”?
For TNT Post’s managing director of DoorDrop Media Mark Davies, one of the major issues is that many of the digital channels are so new that there is no long-term view on what they are doing to lifetime value.
“We live in a short term cost per response or cost per acquisition world and in some cases that is where it is falling down.” He cited recent research by Mike Colling & Company, “Balancing long and short-term effectiveness”, which highlighted the merits of customers acquired by different media channels. The study showed that customers attracted to a brand from TV or online channels are under 60% likely to be retained. Yet after four years from the date of acquisition, customers recruited via a door drop were 80% more likely to have remained loyal.
Davies added: “The problem seems to lie in the marketing department because all too often the perception is that the digital element of any campaign is delivering the customer. This is because so much of the measurement is based on search.”
The fickle nature of today’s consumer is also proving challenging for all brands, according Acxiom European marketing director Jed Mole. He believes the rise of services like price comparison sites encourages customer churn and disloyalty. But, ultimately, “the consumer votes with their feet”, he added.
And TNT Post sales communication manager Helen Hall believes it is crucial to understand the short and long-term impacts. “Yes, digital is realtime and has immediacy, but are you keeping those customers loyal to you in three to six months’ time. There simply hasn’t been enough research into how multiple touchpoints work together to make brands understand and measure behaviour. And it is only going to get more complex as we use our mobiles to do everything from paying for goods and services to opening our houses, and putting on the heating.”
This is a point which chimes with Jacob Bailey executive director Lucy Stafford, who explained: “One of the problems is that digital is measured in a different way. It is identifying who that ‘cookie’ is. It is very difficult to identify the journey and whether they eventually go on to purchase.
“Once you’ve engaged them, and know who they are, the stats are incredibly accurate, and you can track the journey, when all you’ve got is a cookie, it’s not. When TV first came out we had similar issues. It’s all about test, learn and evolve.”
Google UK industry director Ian Morgan sees similar issues with offline media, however. “Big organisations are still ploughing millions of pounds into sponsoring events, often simply because the chief executive or chairman like a particular sport and want to go to the event. Sponsorship is incredibly hard to measure; the world hasn’t changed.”
Mike Cavers, executive creative director at The GIG at DST, agrees in some respects. He said: “Maybe I’m just cynical but marketing has never changed. But while brands were continually trying to reinvent themselves every year, it is now almost every day. The pace is relentless and that’s where digital can help.”
Another concern that Stafford raised was the rise of mobile. She said: “The measurement is a different ballpark, and it is nowhere near as advanced as it is on desktop.
“OK, you’ve still got the linear tracking if they are responding to a QR code or a text message, then you’ve got the bit in the middle…econometrics, the ‘halo’ effect, etc, which is a much more complex area. It depends on the level of client investment as to what you get back.”
It all goes back to a lack of investment within client marketing departments, reckons St Ives Group group marketing director Helen Robinson. “Mobile phone penetration is way higher than desktop, but most clients are so obsessed with building content that measurement seems to be getting forgotten.”
And Stafford pointed to yet another issue: “Everyone’s desperate to get involved in social media channels but no-one has yet worked out what the value of a ‘like’, a ‘share’, or a ‘comment’ is. You could argue that a comment is probably the most valuable to a business but how are you getting a return on investment from that?”
However, Morgan sees a much more deep-rooted problem for marketers: “Everything is changing at such a rapid pace; not just technology but consumer behaviour. The challenge most organisations face is how on earth can they structure themselves culturally to be able to change at the same pace as the environment around them?”
Whether all this will be done and dusted by the time Branson finally gets into space is, of course, a moot point. By then marketers could have a whole new set of measurement issues. But one thing is certain, ROI is likely to remain at the forefront of all marketing for years to come, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work that one out.
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