Politics Aside, At Least Folks Are Focused on the USPS – Let’s Keep It Up

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is a vital institution in our economy, democracy, and history – and future. It provides for confidential communication in a timely and affordable manner, paid for entirely by ratepayers rather than taxpayers. And, while we were on summer vacation, the ugly state of today’s politics brought it to the top of the news cycle.

Well, maybe that’s a good thing.

The U.S. mail stream also is a vehicle for millions of properly cast votes during primary and general elections, a process that even President Trump’s campaign knows is true, and in the frenzy of this moment, that reality must be promoted and protected. And although the 2020 U.S. Census is primarily an online event this year, mail notices have gone to all residential addresses to drive populations to the counting website. Earlier this month, the Census reported that self-reporting has accounted for an estimated 63.3% of all U.S. households thus far – so now field operations are underway to count the rest before Sept. 30.

As citizens, being counted in the Census ranks up there with voting and serving on juries. As non-citizens seeking citizenship, being counted may be the only voice one has at all. Many of us in direct and data marketing know how crucial, too, Census commercial products are to business. For all the billions spent on targeted advertising, and billions more on general advertising, understanding Census statistical areas provides valuable insights and informs strategies.

All of this only underscores the role USPS has in executing all of this. If dirty politics is what it takes to call attention to USPS operations and “fix” what needs fixing at the Postal Service, then so be it. Floating loan guarantees is a crucial start, in my humble opinion. A reinvigorated attempt during the next Congress at a postal reform bill might help, too, to soften the blow from the 2006 law – with its outrageous healthcare pre-funding mandates, for one.

It’s wrong to summarily dismiss the Postmaster General or his intentions. If his goal is to increase USPS efficiencies, then all parties can rally around that objective – as long as service levels are maintained. Privatization, however, is likely a non-starter, and may even require Constitutional changes. If the goal – as some critics maintain – is to throw an election, let’s uncover the truth of it. In the least, many states have been conducting elections by mail for years with integrity – which the Secretary of State in Oregon, a Republican, maintains. At least, the Postmaster General has halted mail processing cuts, with his stated goal of long-term sustainability, until after the November election.

Direct Mail – With Integrity

So what does all this mean to direct mailers? I love John Miglautsch’s message: “Direct mail ain’t dead.” Miglautsch says too many marketers are still prone to “digital delusional” thinking that digital can replace direct mail altogether. (Please, folks, test first – you’ll see the mail moment is real.) The Winterberry Group in January predicted a small uptick in direct mail spending in 2020 to $41.6 billion, but reported in June a Q2 drop in USPS mail volume of 33%. It’s clear that at least temporarily, marketers slashed direct mail budgets much more than their digital counterparts.

Yet direct mail has supreme advantages: It’s personalized, and free from identity challenges that still exist in digital. (See the latest Winterberry Research on data spending on digital identity management.) It’s secure and confidential. Direct mail also is a direct relationship – there are no intermediary infrastructures where audience, measurement, and attribution data can be unavailable to the advertiser. In many, many ways, direct marketers hope for an addressable digital media future that matches the offline addressable direct mail realities of today. We’re making progress in addressable media across all channels, but we’re not there yet.

From a direct mail perspective, perhaps the best contribution of digital is that (1) it has taught more U.S. households to shop direct; and (2) it has lessened competition in the mailbox. The two media work in tandem powerfully. Less clutter in the physical mail box opens the opportunity for increased response. All this assumes, however, that direct mail delivery can be predicted in-home reliably. That’s why we cannot monkey around with USPS service standards.

So fill out your Census form, if you haven’t already. Vote in the November election. And make sure USPS (and direct mail advertising) is getting the attention – and protection – commensurate to its powerful contribution to our nation.

Influencer Marketing Can Have Great ROI and You can Prove It

In my previous post, I discussed how influencer marketing will become a prominent marketing tactic in 2020. In this post, I would like to share what is working and what influencer marketing needs to do to become a trusted channel.

In my previous post, I discussed how influencer marketing will become a prominent marketing tactic in 2020. In this post, I would like to share what is working and what influencer marketing needs to do to become a trusted channel.

Designing an effective influencer-based campaign must take into account the objectives of the campaign, whether it is a product or service, and the length of the product purchase cycle. As a result, execution varies. However, a clear consensus is emerging that the most successful campaigns focus on co-developing content, where the influencers are given the flexibility to determine the right way to introduce their audience to the sponsor’s brand. In these instances, brands work with influencers to design content that interacts with their product or service in an entertaining or informative way. When done well, the influencer’s credibility transfers onto the sponsor’s brand. A great discussion on this can be found on Scott Guthrie’s podcast.

A Successful Influencer Marketing Campaign

One example of an influencer campaign that I really love is the Liquid- Plumr “Will it clog” campaign. In this campaign, Liquid-Plumr worked with Vat19 to create funny and interesting clogs for Liquid-Plumr to tackle, like a pile of gummy bears. For Vat19’s audience, this was completely aligned with their theme of creating entertaining experiments. For Liquid-Plumr, not only was it great brand exposure, but it also built significant brand trust among viewers. As the challenges became more and more insane, viewers were impressed with how effective the product was at tackling tough clogs. I recently had the opportunity to hear Bryan Clurman, brand manager for Liquid-Plumr, share the team’s experience, and the lift in sales he showed was impressive.

I assume Liquid-Plumr detected the increase in sales because it was an impressive viral campaign lifting historically flat sales. In this aspect, this case is atypical. Many influencer campaigns are effective, but struggle to show it. Ask a typical marketer working on influencer campaigns and they will confess their most pressing challenge is measuring impact. Currently, most common attribution metrics rely on the same pixel/cookie-based tracking that has been used for digital ads over the last two decades. While this method has some clear benefits, we also know that there is usually a non-trivial gap between actual impact and that which can be directly attributed using cookies. (Let’s forget, for the moment, that the industry-wide death of cookies has already begun.) In my experience, this gap increases with longer sales cycles or when driving brand recognition is the primary goal, as opposed to immediate sales. The further the sale is from the ad exposure, the greater the chance that direct attribution will be lost.

The Magic of the Middle Funnel

An important part of the total ROI solution lies in the middle of the sales funnel. Activities here are closer to the initial ad/brand exposure. For example, assume you are looking for a washing machine for a new home, where your actual purchase may not happen for weeks. While conducting research, you come across a recommendation from a trusted influencer. You interact with the content and may click on a link to the brand website. There, you might look at reviews and product features, but you are still not ready to purchase. These engagement activities have economic value. We know this, because as engagement with a brand increases, sales should increase. However, middle of the funnel measurement is often neglected.

While paying more attention to middle funnel metrics is one step, the other is generating more compelling middle funnel activities. If an effective influencer campaign leads to a clickthrough, can the brand extend that co-branded experience on its own digital property? Not only will that cobranded experience keep the viewer engaged, it is also great for ROI tracking. Even if pixel tracking is lost at this stage, a statistical algorithm can now be employed to correlate the increase in co-branded engagement with eventual sales.

The truth of the matter is, influencer marketing does not have a measurement challenge. Influencer marketing ALSO has a measurement challenge.

What that means is there is nothing uniquely perplexing about influencer marketing ROI. However, influencer marketing is still very new and therefore, the burden of proof is higher. As with all successful marketing ROI plans, it requires a focused approach that clearly defines the objectives and actively seeks opportunities to encourage measurable engagement.

For Measurement-Oriented Marketers: The Best of ‘Here’s What Counts,’ 2019

Over the past year, “Here’s What Counts” opined on several topics. But the ones that gained the most traction involved Gen Z’s views on privacy, social media data collection, and 1:1 marketing.

Over the past year, “Here’s What Counts” opined on several topics. But the ones that gained the most traction involved Gen Z’s views on privacy, social media data collection, and 1:1 marketing.

The most popular post, “Have We Ruined 1:1 Marketing? How the Corner Grocer Became a Creepy Intruder,” was reposted on LinkedIn by Don Peppers, co-author of the book, “1:1 Marketing.”  The idea grew out of an assignment I gave my students at Rutgers School of Business in Camden, N.J. The students had to compare the 1996 version of database marketing, as described by Arthur Hughes in the introduction to his watershed book, “The Complete Database Marketer,” with the current state of online direct/database marketing. Hughes likened a marketing database to the Corner Grocer, who kept mental notes on his customers’ names, personal preferences, and family connections. Specifically, the students had to tell me how marketing technology innovations have enhanced database marketing since 1996.

The Takeaway:

While they concede that the targeted ads they experience are usually relevant, several of them noted that they don’t feel they have been marketed to as individuals; but rather, as a member of a group that was assigned to receive a specific digital advertisement by an algorithm. They felt that the idealized world of database marketing that Hughes described in 1996 was actually more personal than the advanced algorithmic targeting that delivers ads to their social media feeds.

It’s not surprising that Gen Zers expect a more personalized marketing experience. As I wrote in “Gen Z College Students Weigh-in on Personal Data Collection — Privacy Advocates Should Worry.”

Some Gen Zers don’t mind giving up their personal data in exchange for the convenience of targeted ads and discounts; others are uneasy, but all are resigned to the inevitability of it.

Student comments included:

Resignation

“I do not feel it is ethical for companies to distribute our activities to others. Despite my feelings on the situation, it will continue — so I must accept the reality of the situation.”

 Rationalization

“… I feel as though consumers gain the most from this value exchange. Marketers can do pretty much whatever they want with the information that they collect, but they do not really ‘gain’ from this exchange, until people actually purchase their products …  Even if this exchange allows marketers to play with people’s vulnerabilities, it is ultimately consumers’ choice on whether or not they want to buy something.”

 And, in response to a New York Times article about Smart TVs spying on people, one student expressed:

Disgust

“Marketers are gaining money and information through various means and have the ability to do so without risk, because consumers are not going to read [a] 6,000-word privacy policy just to be able to work a television.”

Lest we think that the younger generation is alone in eschewing concerns about privacy, take a look at “Getting Facebook Sober: What Marketers Should Know About Consumers’ Attitudes and Social Data.”

While people claim to be concerned about privacy, they’re not willing to pay for it.  A Survey Monkey poll done for the news site Axios earlier this month shows that three-fourths of people are willing to pay less than $1 per month in exchange for a company not tracking their data while using their product — 54% of them are not willing to pay anything.

As we charge into 2020, we need to carefully consider how the data we give up so willingly is used to manipulate not only our purchasing behavior, but our beliefs and values. In the post, “A Question for Marketers: Is it Social or Is it Media?” I recount Sasha Baron Cohen’s speech at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calling Facebook “the greatest propaganda machine in history.”

I sent The Guardian’s publication of Cohen’s speech to my children, two of whom have given up their Facebook accounts. My daughter replied, “Did you learn about this on Facebook? If so, irony is dead.”

Actually, I did. RIP, irony.

Purging (and Blocking) Bot Traffic From Email Reporting Metrics

How many “fake” email metrics are out there — spurious traffic measured in opens, clickthroughs, and other engagement metrics? How many of these email reporting metrics may be built into service-level guarantees offered by some email service providers (ESPs)? And what should we do about it?

How many “fake” email metrics are out there spurious traffic measured in opens, clickthroughs, and other engagement metrics? How many of these email reporting metrics may be built into service-level guarantees offered by some email service providers (ESPs)? And what should we do about it?

For those of who pay attention to such metrics (thank you for reading this far), perhaps we need to do more data investigation, working closely with our ESPs to make sure there’s nothing “fake” in our marketing performance reporting.

This was essentially the point of Stirista Global CEO Ajay Gupta in a blog post he shared after a competitor’s operations were reportedly shut down by its new parent company this summer. I’m using this post to share some of his observations  which may be helpful as we look to our email campaigns, and read the engagement data in order to best ascertain accuracy. [Disclaimer: Stirista is a continuing client. My interest in amplifying this content is intended to serve email marketers, at large.]

A Cautionary Tale: Take 5 Media Group Shutdown

Gupta gave permission to share his Aug. 9 post:

Ajay Gupta
Ajay Gupta

Stirista Global CEO Ajay Gupta has something to say about email reporting fraud.

“Tongues have been wagging in the marketing world ever since the New York Times’ shocking exposé in early 2018 about how easy it is to buy social followers. And, how most of the followers you buy turn out to be ‘bots’ or fake accounts, and not real people.

“I was not surprised, because I work in digital media and knew about this practice. So, I cried, screamed, and wrote about an even bigger epidemic in the world of email. My articles were received with polite applause and not much more in terms of action.

“But then last week happened. One of our competitors, Take 5 Media Group, shut down operations with a ‘ceased operations’ message on its website. While details are still murky, one of our partners shared an email from them that mentioned the parent company had completely shut down the business after discovering inconsistencies in how open and clickthrough rates were inaccurately reported to its clients.

“The parent company did the right thing, in after discovering these inconsistencies, took immediate action to first, take responsibility, and subsequently, offer its clients reimbursement for payment of services already rendered. Kudos to them for standing up for the right thing, but there are still at least a half dozen companies masquerading as legitimate entities that continue the practice.

“This incident is but a sobering reminder that bots remain a big problem in email marketing today. Sadly, when you order up a prospecting campaign from an email service provider, chances are that the large part of the campaign is being sent to fake bot accounts. And nobody seems to care.

“We have, as an industry, created a fake floor of 10% open on acquisition emails. When marketing managers of Fortune 1000 companies ask Stirista to guarantee 10% open just because some guy from Florida said so, we know we have a problem.

“Now, it should be clear to any marketer worth his or her salt, that if the bulk of the clicks come through bots, that conversion rates will be dismal. So, I can only assume that the marketers ordering up these campaigns aren’t keeping their eyes on conversions. They must judge them on clicks and opens. Or, maybe they don’t care. We are here today because many large data companies that outsource email campaigns have subsidized fraud.

“Let Take 5 serve [as] a cautionary tale, but realize that this is not an isolated incident. The pressure to deliver fake open, fake clicks, and fake form fills transcend one company and one incident. Collectively, this industry has turned a blind eye to fraud, just because ‘so and so’ is a nice guy and a vegetarian who loves animals.

“These fraudulent providers often work quietly, behind the scenes, for a reputable agency or data provider. Many times, marketers are shielded from the dirty dealings underneath the hood. But all parties involved — the providers, their partners, and the marketers themselves — should be ashamed of themselves. And, the FCC should be on their case. Until then, we must all be responsible for fighting back against bot fraud.

“I urge all marketers to shun this practice. It’s wasting your company’s money. And it’s given honest, transparent providers like me a bad name. Open rates are a terrible metric to track as in you can’t track it that well.

“So, if you hear a guarantee that sounds too good to be true, very likely it is. Walk, make that RUN, the other way, FAST.”

Back to Chet. I remember the first time I saw a data provider advertise a way to “buy” 5,000 followers on this-or-that social platform for some CPM, some 10 to 12 years ago and I thought then, “here we go again with the shysters living on and off the fringes of direct marketing.” In each and everywhere data is in play, and the compensation from it, we must guard ourselves from the “fake” and the “fraud.” Better to measure conversions, sales, and metrics that are real.

4 Tips Aimed at Defending Digital Marketing’s Value

For B2B marketing, it isn’t always as easy to quantify success as we would like, even with the near-infinite measurability of digital marketing. Here are ideas for defending your digital marketing’s value.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

John Wanamaker’s famous quip may be less true today than it was when he said it — we have so many ways to track and assess advertising and marketing performance. And yet, those same tools — largely digital tools — have also created unrealistic expectations for many marketers. This especially true for B2B marketers for whom sales aren’t consummated after a website click.

So we’re left in a state where the data available to us (and boy, there’s a lot of data!) doesn’t tell the whole story. This can often put marketers at a disadvantage when talking to the C-suite crowd.

Their interest is in profit and loss. Clicks, likes, and follows aren’t a currency they care about.

The question is, what can you do as a marketer to demonstrate the value your team’s work delivers?

Tie Digital Marketing to Business Outcomes

Begin by admitting that you can’t rely on process metrics alone – the clicks, likes, and follows I mentioned above. You must tie your work to business metrics. Ideally, that’s profit, but you can also demonstrate a positive return if your work impacts other key performance indicators, like revenue, cost savings, lead quality, or lead volume.

Admit to Marketing’s Uncertainties

Get your peers and upper management to buy into the fact that nearly all B2B marketing includes some amount of uncertainty. As noted earlier, our sales are more complex and there’s rarely a “Buy” button for prospects to click after consuming a piece of your content or connecting with you via social media.

Make Metrics Work for You

For many of us, this is the holy grail. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy.

You may have to work backward by, for example, diving into your CRM data to examine the profiles of converted prospects.

  • How much content have they consumed?
  • Where have they interacted with you on social media?
  • Are they email subscribers?
  • Have they attended industry events at which your executives have presented?

This won’t necessarily paint a causal effect, but can help you make the case that your marketing work is making a difference.

Seek Ongoing Incremental Improvement

Though this again will require metrics data that can be hard to establish with confidence, it’s worth tracking your progress any way you can. For example, is the percentage of converted leads who began their relationship with your firm via the website increasing or decreasing, compared to other methods? If you don’t know, can you create the tools you need to gather this information?

Ideally, we’d all spend 100% of our resources on reaching and converting our ideal prospects. But don’t shy away from investing in the systems that will let you do so more consistently, and with more accountability.

How to Use Google Analytics to Improve Google Ads Performance

Google Analytics can be a treasure trove of information to help improve the performance of your Google Ads campaigns. However, trying to figure out all of the the various metrics within Google Analytics can be a big stumbling block for advertisers.

Google Analytics can be a treasure trove of information to help improve the performance of your Google Ads campaigns. However, trying to figure out all of the the various metrics within Google Analytics can be a big stumbling block for advertisers.

The sheer volume of numbers and data available can quickly get overwhelming.

The Key to Finding Value in Google Ads Metrics

Both Google Analytics and Google Ads metrics and reports should be looked at in the context of your business. Are you using the platform effectively enough in ways that benefit your business? What is it you value most, when it comes to your company?

These are a couple of questions you might want to focus on as you comb through your Google Analytics metrics. Understanding what you want to accomplish with your ad campaign can help you narrow down metrics that matter to your bottom line.

  1. What audience demographics do you wish to attract?
  2. Are visitors able to find the thing they are looking for after clicking your ad?
  3. Is your landing page delivering the type of conversions you are after?
  4. From which channels would you like to direct most of your traffic?

Let’s look at how certain Google Analytics metrics and reports can help with Google Ads.

Give Visitors a Great Experience

Do you know what visitors hate the most about clicking on an ad? Not finding what they need. This can ultimately hurt your brand, if your Google Ads campaigns are frustrating prospective customers.

Sure, your Google Ads conversion rate can help give you this insight, but it doesn’t give you the full story. If your ads are not converting as well as you’d like, then you need to dive into Google Analytics to see what’s going on.

First, take a look at your your landing page bounce rate. That’s the number of visitors who see your landing page and then leave without clicking to a second page. A high bounce rate means your landing pages are not living up to the promises you’re making in your ads.

Gain Insight Into Your Website Design

What good does it do to drive prospective customers  to your website, if they have a difficult time with the navigation?

If you are having difficulty getting your conversion rate up to where you would like, it could be an issue with website design. Part of the problem might be that your website design makes completing the path to a conversion overly tedious.

You can review this using the Google Analytics Users Flow report. The Users Flow report will show you how people are navigating through your website, starting with your landing page. You may see that prospective customers are getting distracted and clicking to pages that are not in your sales funnel. Use this information to redesign your landing pages and subsequent pages in the sales funnel to reduce drop off and increase the overall conversion rate of your Google Ads campaign.

Find Your Top Performing Audience Demographics & Interests

The Google Analytics demographics and interest reports can you give you great insight into your top performing audiences. Review these reports to see which audiences are performing best.

Then use the audience data to improve your Google Ads campaigns. Modify your demographic targeting, adjust bids, and even launch new campaigns to target the audiences you know perform best based on the Google Analytics data.

Summary

To be successful with Google Ads often requires using data that’s not available within the Google Ads reports. But one of the best sources of advertising performance-enhancing data is Google Analytics.

Review your landing page bounce rates to see how well you’re matching your landing page message to your ad copy. Use your Users Flow reports to see if your prospective customers are getting distracted on your website. And use your demographics and interests reports to improve the targeting in your Google Ads campaigns.

Want more tips to improve your Google Ads performance? Click here to grab a copy of our “Ultimate Google Ads” checklist.

 

 

Political Marketing That’s Fooling Some of the People, Some (or All) of the Time

Increasingly unable to escape the deluge of hysterical ill-directed political marketing that is overflowing my inbox, I’ve jealously started wondering what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are guiding these communications consultants to justify their million-dollar fees.

Increasingly unable to escape the deluge of hysterical ill-directed political marketing that is overflowing my inbox, I’ve jealously started wondering what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are guiding these communications consultants to justify their million-dollar fees.

Are their efforts fooling all of the people all of the time? Or just some of the people some of the time?

In product marketing initiatives, there can be lots of bottom-line winners — all of the brands whose clickthrough numbers exceed the company’s KPI targets and show the kinds of bottom-line sales results that bring smiles to shareholders’ faces and money to their pockets. But political marketing is a zero-sum game.

The ultimate KPI is winning or losing, becoming Senator, Governor or even White House occupant. Along the way, political marketers, like all fundraisers, especially those seeking campaign funding contributions, are no doubt watching to see all the obvious KPI metrics. They’re looking for percentages contributing, range of contribution amounts and average contributions, first-time or multiple “givers.” One can’t help but wonder: In the last analysis, do they really want to see more than the KPI which says “WIN” or “LOSE”?

I don’t know about you (and given our growing desires for privacy, I’m not sure I have any right to know about you) but I’ll bet my inbox gets more political fundraising and petition-gathering mail than yours does. Every day, mine displays a stunning collection that sorely tempts me to invoke the Spam solution.

But I hesitate, because I guess I’m a political junkie. Otherwise, I’d figure out a way never to hear any word that rhymes with “rump” again. (All readers’ entries will be gratefully considered, published and/or deleted.) You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Way back in early 2017, I wrote a column here venting my frustration with the tsunami of inviting, pleading, and threatening emails I was receiving daily from the Democratic party’s octopus of units, the DCCC, the Democratic National Committee, Maggie for NH, National Democratic Training Committee (the worst and most outrageous), Progressive Turnout Project and the imperious commands from House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi: “Not Asking for Money“ (which always end up asking for money) and the order, “READ NOW” “(don’t delete)”.  Here are some others:

  • URGENT — 20K SIGNATURES NEEDED: Women’s reproductive rights on the line
  • Add your name to hold Big Pharma accountable
  • Fwd: ? NOT asking for money
  • Sign this petition re: Trump’s golf course
  • Need Peter’s signature to STOP TRUMP
  • You have been selected to represent voters in your area

It appears that fooling the prospect into believing he/she is one of a very select group and asking for the target to complete a survey or a petition is this year’s most effective political marketing and, dare I say it, fundraising tool. I guess we all want to feel special; even if deep-down, we know that everyone has been “selected.”

Can I be the only person offended when assaulted by a subject line: “Peter is committed to vote for Donald Trump!?” Only after having voiced a few favorite expletives do I notice that “?”. But by then, I’m hooked on the rest of the message.

If the KPIs must first, be the number of surveys or petitions completed and the number abandoned and second, the contribution generation from the pitch at the end of the survey, I must be screwing up the political marketers’ dashboards. Given the number of headline changes, you’d think that either nothing works or everything does.

Can the almost daily surveys do anything more than fool a certain number of people into believing their voices reach the ears of anyone? Especially anyone who really cares what they think, more than whether they will pony up some money?

The hardly impartial rhetorical questions: “Donald Trump recently lied by claiming millions of voters cast their ballots illegally this year. Do you think he will use this lie to try to further suppress minority voters in future elections?” are always quite reasonably followed by, “Will you make a $3 contribution right now to help us advance our data-driven strategies to help Democrats win?”

What Data-Driven Marketing 101 teaches must be true, or they wouldn’t keep using the technique. And as pointed out recently in Forbes:

The amount of money invested will be in the billions of dollars — all spent within roughly a calendar year. The degree of sophistication, customization, micro-targeting, and proliferation across media channels is unprecedented. The goal is to create a lot of content that is both pushed to people — who then share it with others — and made available so that people find it on their own. What this means is that the authority of TV ads has diminished. At POOLHOUSE [an agency serving the Republican Party] we have to approach getting a candidate’s message out to voters in a much more complex manner, and that makes political marketing more challenging. But more interesting, as well.

The old way of marketing political candidates no longer works, as the exponential increase in information leads to higher consumer/voter intelligence.

How to develop KPIs to follow the complexity and drive strategic changes depends to a great extent on political judgement calls as much as traditional brand marketing experience, and may actually justify those sky-high consultant fees.

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical and should signal that at least some surveys have a grander purpose. Sky Croeser, writing in The Conversation opined:

Online petitions are often seen as a form of “slacktivism” — small acts that don’t require much commitment and are more about helping us feel good than effective activism. But the impacts of online petitions can stretch beyond immediate results.

Whether they work to create legislative change, or just raise awareness of an issue, there’s some merit to signing them. Even if nothing happens immediately, petitions are one of many ways we can help build long-term change.

The possibility of building “long-term” change is not without its merits; although, building the KPIs to measure the change is a daunting task.

Now imagine if that change means that political and general marketers could no longer fool all or even some of the people, all or even some of the time. But hold on a sec. Then we need to consider how many of us might have to change our ways or be out of the game.

3 Ways to Better Manage Marketing Automation So the ‘Shiny Object’ Doesn’t Stab You

I presented at the All About Marketing Tech Virtual Conference & Expo on the topic of targeting and automation. One of the themes I hit upon was about how companies are hindering their marketing automation success with needless complexity.

On Thursday, I will be presenting at the All About Marketing Tech Virtual Conference & Expo on the topic of targeting and automation. One of the themes I plan to hit upon is about how companies are hindering their marketing automation success with needless complexity. This topic falls squarely in the “land of shiny objects,” which is a recurring theme in many of my posts.

This theme in my posts and the 1:10 p.m. ET session, “Using Automation + Targeting to Engage and Convert,” focuses on how tempting technology can be to the marketing practitioner and how it can lead to the desire to do too many things — to detrimental effect. However, there are three things you can do to manage automation better.

Step 1 in Marketing Automation

First, make sure you have a customer strategy. If you do not have a solid strategy, then you will be automating a bunch of tactics. Unless these tactics sit under a cohesive strategy, they may work against each other.

For example, a price-focused customer acquisition program may hurt long-term brand development or pricing power. When you add automation to this scenario, it will supercharge the tactic and potentially cause greater harm.

Step 2

Second, make sure you have a test-and-learn agenda. Automation is a very data and metrics-driven process and it is managed by humans, using those same data points and metrics.

Successful marketing automation involves iterative learning to drive growth. Therefore, knowing what you are trying to achieve through automation and running multiple tests to better understand the underlying dynamics is critical.

What tends to happen, however, is that too many objectives are pushed through the automation system and the ability to learn is muddled by an excess of data and a dearth of focus.

The advice I often give is:

“Because you can do something through automation, it does not mean you should.”

Creating a learning agenda you can manage and identifying the critical metrics needed for evaluation are critical first steps before automating a marketing function.

Step 3

Third, make sure you have a pivot plan. A pivot plan anticipates how you will modify your automation program and lists the levers at your disposal.

For example, if results are not coming in as expected, you may alternate content, alternate segments or redefine the automation goals.

Doing all three at once will most likely leave you as clueless as when you began. While this seems like marketing management 101, it is easy to lose sight of this with automation. Automation generally promises rapid decision-making over volumes of interactions and self-learning capabilities.

As a result, it is tempting to get out of the way and let it do its magic. In the near to mid-term, despite automation’s usefulness, this will not substitute for strategic and management thinking.

Conclusion

I am in no way discouraging the use of marketing automation. It is not only the future, but it is also the present and is driving positive results.

Successful marketers need to start experimenting with the technology now.

However, marketing automation is also not so wonderous and awe-inspiring that we forget that it needs management and strategy. That, in turn, means balancing lofty automation goals with what you can managerially digest.

Why KPIs Lack Insight and What Marketers Can Do About It

I have a love-hate relationship with KPIs. When done right, they are mission-critical to defining success and can focus the organization on the right priorities. When chosen poorly, KPIs can be disconnected with ground realities and be a constant source of frustration for team members trying to impact them.

I have a love-hate relationship with KPIs (key performance indicators). When done right, they are mission-critical to defining success and can focus the organization on the right priorities. When chosen poorly, KPIs can be disconnected with ground realities and be a constant source of frustration for team members trying to impact them.

However, poorly designed KPIs are not my primary gripe, at least not in this post. My main concern is that even well-designed KPIs are simply not deeply insightful, but they are often used as if they are.

Well-designed KPIs are full of contradictions. On the one hand, they are expected to be simple, easy to communicate, and intuitive. On the other hand, they’re expected to provide actionable information and be a reliable measure of important success criteria.

Anyone who has worked on developing KPIs knows that it is a game of balance and compromise, based on business objectives. The need for actionable information battles with the desire for simple metrics. The desire for intuitive metrics battles metrics that push status quo thinking or properly reflect the diversity of business interactions.

After many years working with and helping clients identify KPIs, I have found ways to manage their dichotomous nature, but never overcome it. If there is a brilliant mind out there who has solved for this, I would love to hear about it. For now, I will assume that this dichotomous struggle is a law of nature.

This leads me back to my main point. Marketers need to stop viewing KPIs as major source of insights. They are, as the name illustrates, only “indicators.” While this seems like an obvious statement, it is surprising how often KPIs have become the primary source of insights for most companies.

Take digital analytics, for example. Most companies using the web analytics platform use default metrics, such as clickthrough and page views, as their primary measures to understand web activity. While these metrics may indicate increased interest in content, they rarely tell you how satisfied the visitor was with the content or how valuable it was in decision-making. It is rare for companies to set up custom metrics and reporting, which might provide better insights. It is even rarer for companies to download raw web data into a data management tool and truly analyze visitor interaction with content, even though these solutions exist. Instead, most companies use the default web KPIs to derive custom insights into behavior on their website.

Another example can be found about how companies use social channel data. There are some great social analytics tools out there. When I come across most implementations, however, they are mostly set to track high-level sentiment analysis and rarely deliver deep insights. However, the underlying data is often volumes of highly informative, unprompted, free-form feedback. It has the added benefit of being free of interviewer bias or agenda-setting.

Recently, I was working on a project for a client that viewed their products as very innovative. Yet, when mining nearly 1,000 instances of social data, we found only one unprompted mention of innovation. Upon further investigation, we found that innovation was meaningless to the consumer. Instead, it was performance, excitement, and fun that consumers talked about most often. The customer was conveying what innovation really meant to them, while the company was still thinking in terms of engineering sophistication. This insight was un-minable from the standard social KPIs. Even traditional survey-based market research may not have captured this insight, as it would have relied on coming up with the right questions to uncover this disconnect between the company and its customers.

These examples demonstrate the need to dig deeper for better insights and I risk the label of “Captain Obvious” by making this assertion.

So, let me add to this. Well-designed KPIs, because of their simplicity and action orientation, often lull us into overestimating their insightfulness. This link is unconscious and habitual.

When I have asked marketers “What is your (Social, Web or Customer) data telling you?” A common response is, the (relevant) tracker is telling us [fill in the blank].

In reality, the answer to the question is rarely found in the tracker or KPIs. Even if they can point to a KPI that is helpful, the underlying explanation is still often conjecture or a hypothesis. In fact, the better aligned the KPI story is with commonly accepted wisdom, the more likely it is to be seen as data-driven thinking.

In other words, we find an interesting KPI trend and create a believable story around this trend and that becomes data-driven thinking when it is still just conjecture. It takes great discipline to put on the brakes and look for deeper and corroborating evidence and that is what KPIs really calls for.

I want to make clear that this post is not advocating for the elimination of KPIs. They are very helpful tools for aligning the organization and most of us understand that they are only indicators. When done well, however, they are insidiously brilliant at creating the illusion of deep insight; especially if the resulting story is a good one. Truly data-driven marketers should be aware of this and be ready to dig deeper before letting a KPI drive strategic decisions.

Viewability: How to Act on This Gift to Advertisers and Return to Advertising Transparency

Viewability and engagement signals provide advertisers with the right tools to measure ad effectiveness and to determine whether or not they’re spending their media dollars effectively. Two of the most powerful signals for determining effectiveness include viewability and, of course, engagement.

Smart advertisers need the right tools to measure ad effectiveness and to determine whether or not they spent their media dollars effectively. Two of the most powerful signals for determining effectiveness include viewability, which launched onto the digital scene in 2014 and, of course, engagement (clickthroughs, time-on-site, shares, likes, follows, etc.). But how should advertisers interpret and act on these signals? And when, if ever, do these metrics overlap with each other, when it comes to buying and optimizing media?

Depending on the advertiser’s objective with a given media initiative, the answers will become far clearer.

Determine Strategic Objectives

The fact is, engagement signals should be leveraged differently and at various times, based on overarching strategic objectives. For example, advertising initiatives designed to foster product or service evaluation may rely on clickthroughs and time-on-site as measurements of ad effectiveness, out of necessity. Because of the targeted nature of the initiative that aims to elicit a response, engagement signals make sense. Optimizing for high-engagement ads, while buying viewable impressions, will likely result in a more qualified audience … at a price that may, or may not, be worth it. The advertiser simply must decide what makes economic sense on a case-by-case basis.

If an advertiser wants to drive inspiration and consideration among potential customers, then getting in front of as many viewers with whom the advertiser’s product or service could resonate becomes the primary objective. In this case, engagement metrics may fall short, as would cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) since an impression, whether viewable or not, gets factored into that calculation. Relying solely on CPM gives only a partial indication of the effectiveness of the ad spend and no indication of the ad effectiveness, whatsoever. Enter viewability.

The Importance of Measuring Viewability

While still an imperfect measurement of ad effectiveness, viewability gives advertisers the option of only paying for impressions that were, in fact, “viewable.” While there has been some ambiguity around what qualifies as “viewable,” the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Rating Center (MRC) have made strides in standardizing the industry’s definition (opens as a PDF) of “viewable.” According to its definition, an ad is only viewable if “a minimum of 50% of the ad is rendered on a user’s browser for a minimum of one second for display ads and two seconds for video ads.”

This improved transparency and common benchmark is critical, in order to continue growing upper-funnel channels and tactics by restoring advertiser faith in the impressions reported. By differentiating between impressions-served and impressions-viewed, advertisers at least have the choice to optimize toward impressions-viewed (at a higher CPM) vs. the opaque alternative.

Viewability Tools for Publishers

Now, even Google’s instituted a “viewability” signal for publishers in its Ad Exchange called “Active View.” Accredited by the MRC, Active View measures impressions generated across publishers’ websites and apps in real-time. Because advertisers increasingly opt to buy viewable impressions, Active View provides publishers with the information they need to increase the value of their display inventory, over time. Publishers with the most viewable inventory will benefit from this buying trend.

Viewability Is Long Overdue

It’s safe to say that viewability is critical and long overdue. It does not, nor should it, devalue engagement metrics. Viewability and engagement metrics can be leveraged simultaneously or irrespectively. Again, it’s important to consider what the advertiser aims to achieve and understand the broader shift in transparency viewability offers.

In full disclosure, I was reared as a direct response marketer, so I am naturally inclined to lean on engagement signals as measurements of ad effectiveness. However, the reflex to solely rely on these metrics can be myopic. If you, too, classify yourself as a direct response marketer, performance marketer or any other flashy way to describe advertisers who care about the bottom line, then I challenge you to question what those lexicons really mean.

Be on the lookout for viewability buzz to continue gaining steam and momentum. This data signal offers much more than a simplistic measurement of ad effectiveness. It provides a return to advertising transparency that has been long under siege in the world of display. It’s a positive step and has its place in enhancing the way we think about buying media.