Is Your Digital Budget Big Enough?

At a high level, 2014 has been a year of questioning the productivity of digital marketing and related measurement of success.  For example, the most frequent C-level complaint about digital is not having a clear understanding of bottom-line digital impact. For background on this topic, see articles herehere, and here.

I’d guess this general view probably has not been helped by the trade reporting on widespread problems in digital ad delivery and accountability systems, where (depending on who you ask) up to 60% of delivered “impressions” were likely fraudulent in one way or another.  People have commented on this problem for years; why it took so long for the industry as a whole to fess up and start taking action on this is an interesting question!

If the trends above continue to play out, over the next 5 years or so we may expect increasing management focus on more accurately defining the contribution of digital – as long as management thinks digital is important to the future of the business.

If the people running companies are having a hard time determining the value of digital to their business, the next logical thought is marketers / analysts probably need to do a better job demonstrating these linkages, yes?  Along those lines, I think it would be helpful for both digital marketers and marketing analytics folks to spend some time this year thinking about and working through two of the primary issues driving this situation:

1.  Got Causation?  How success is measured

In the early days of digital, many people loved quoting the number of “hits” as a success measure.  It took a surprisingly long time to convince these same people the number of files downloaded during a page view did not predict business success ;)

Today, we’re pretty good at finding actions that correlate with specific business metrics like visits or sales, but as the old saying goes, correlation does not imply causation.

If we move to a more causal and demonstrable success measurement system, one of the first ideas you will encounter, particularly if there are some serious data scientists around, in the idea of incremental impact or lift.  This model is the gold standard for determining cause in much of the scientific community.  Personally, I don’t see why with all the data we have access to now, this type of testing is not more widely embraced in digital.

In drug testing, the “placebo” or sugar pill is used to create the time-locked baseline (called control) for measuring outcomes versus the test group taking the actual medicine. The difference in outcome, the incremental impact, is attributed to the medicine – since all else was equal.  Causation found.  Note this is a similar idea to the A/B test, where people are given different treatments at the same time.  But it’s not the same; in controlled tests, one group is not treated at all.  Controlled tests reveal a different set of behaviors, in particular for engagement metrics / predicted actions.  This new knowledge set has the potential to generate much more accurate definitions of causation and financial benefit.

If you would like more information on this idea, check out this explanation from the Think with Google effort here under item #4.  You may also know this idea from hearing about use of control groups, more here.  Where possible, given your tools and business model, perhaps now would be a good time to try out this more durable and reliable approach to measuring the success of digital marketing efforts.  What is the next level you can attain in the success measurement area, what new discoveries can you bring to the table?

2.  Got Alignment?  The definition of success

Once we get the analytical side on track and start using causation as the standard for the measurement of outcomes, we have to make sure the metrics we are using to define success are aligned with owner / C-level goals.  What should be measured using the causation standard?  For example, is it true that the owners / C-level execs really define success as “sales” in your company?  Perhaps at one point early on, using sales to measure success was the fastest, most logical solution.  And now, bonus structures and company culture have evolved to support sales as a success metric.  Changing all this would be a challenge, to say the least.  But are we doing the best we can do?

What if the C-Level actually would prefer the digital business to be optimized for a different metric, the one they really pay attention to?  Are you sure the preferred metric is not net sales (after discounts and returns), gross margin (after cost of product), contribution to overhead (after variable marketing and processing costs, including fulfillment), cash flow (however your company defines it) or some other metric?

Changing all this will not be easy, but the challenge with continuing to embrace sales as the metric to optimize for – particularly in retailing – is twofold:

a.  Using sales as the success yardstick likely severely distorts the hard money (net cash flow or profit) contribution of the digital effort.  This misalignment nurtures the C-level issue of not understanding the contribution of digital to the company as a whole

b.  More importantly for you, it’s likely that in several areas of the company, the estimated net financial contribution from digital is being used to set budgets.  The problem with this approach: Finance likely lacks the proper tools to determine the true financial contribution of digital; lots of cash creation may end up being hidden from their system

It’s up  to you to provide the analysis / data Finance needs to create a complete picture.

Often, the result of a. and b. above is what I call “can’t hurt us” budgeting – as long as the company keeps digital budgets below a certain threshold, if digital is a mess in terms of the metrics that really matter to the C-level, the company will still be OK.

To circle back to the top of this article, when C-level folks say they do not have “a clear understanding of bottom-line digital impact”,  you can bet some version of the “can’t hurt us” approach to digital budgets is being used.  If you would like prove to the C-level what the bottom-line contribution of digital efforts is, and open the door to bigger budgets, consider exploring the ideas above.

Standard(s) Time

In terms of maintaining C-level credibility, at some point if the core financial needles are not moving then the marketing or measurement story being told must not be relevant or accurate – regardless of what is going on with “sales”.  If C-level people do not understand the financial impact of digital to their company, then it’s probably time to bring the established scientific standards for the testing and measuring of marketing success to at least some digital marketing activities.

The good news lurking behind all the above is this: it really is pretty easy to get started and begin to prove the case for moving in this direction.  You do not need giant infrastructure projects, 360 degree views of the customer, or anything like that to gain valuable insight; we’ll be covering the “how to” over the next several months right here on the MP blog.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in poking around these ideas on your own, here’s a pretty good place to get started.  If you want to go deeper, here are some more detailed examples on Campaigns, Visitors, and Customers.  If you’re on the Finance side, here’s a book on this topic from the CFO perspective, which (surprisingly?) aligns quite closely with the customer-centric marketing view required to move up to the next accountability level.

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Omni-Channel Cost Shifting

One of the great benefits customer lifecycle programs bring to the party is unearthing cross-divisional or functional profitability opportunities that otherwise would fall into the cracks between units and not be addressed.  What I think most managers in the omni-channel space may not realize (yet) is how significant many of these issues can be.

To provide some context for those purely interested in the marketing side, this idea joins quite closely to the optimizing for worst customers and sales cannibalization discussions, but is more concerned with downstream operational issues and finance.  Cost shifting scenarios will become a lot more common as omnichannel concepts pick up speed.

Shifty Sales OK, Costs Not?

Why is cost shifting important to understand?  Many corporate cultures can easily tolerate sales shifting between channels because of the view that “any sale is good”.  On the ground, this means sourcing sales accurately in an omni-channel environment requires too much effort relative to the perceived benefits to be gained.  Fair enough; some corporate cultures simply believe any sale is a good sale even if they lose money on it!

Cost shifting  tends to be a different story though, because the outcomes show up as budget variances and have to be explained.  In many ways, cost shifting is also easier to measure, because the source is typically simple to capture once the issue surfaces.  And as a cultural issue, people are used to the concept of dealing with budget variances.

Here’s a common case:

Continue reading Omni-Channel Cost Shifting

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Does Advertising Success = Business Success?

Digital Analytics / Business Alignment is Getting Better

I recently attended eMetrics Boston and was encouraged to hear a lot of presentations hitting on the idea of tying digital analytics reporting more directly to business outcomes, a topic we cover extensively in the Applying Digital Analytics class I taught after the show. This same kind of idea is also more popular lately in streams coming out of the eMetrics conferences in London and other conferences.  A good thing, given the most frequent C-Level complaint about digital analytics is not having a clear understanding of bottom-line digital impact (for background on this topic, see articles herehere, and here).

Yes, we’ve largely moved beyond counting Visits, Clicks, Likes and Followers to more meaningful outcome-oriented measures like Conversions, Events, Downloads, Installs and so forth.  No doubt the C-Level put some gentle pressure on Marketing to get more specific about value creation, and analysts were more than happy to oblige!

Is Marketing Math the Same as C-Level Math?

Here’s the next thing we need to think about: the context used to define “success”.

In my experience, achieving a Marketing goal does not necessarily deliver results that C-Level folks would term a success.  And here’s what you need to know: C-Level folks absolutely know the difference between these two types of success and in many cases can translate between the two in their heads using simple business math.

Here’s an example.  Let’s say Marketing presents this campaign as a success story:

Continue reading Does Advertising Success = Business Success?

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Digital Customer Analysis Going Mainstream?

Is it possible the mainstream digital marketing space is about to finally move on from a focus on front-end measurement (campaigns, etc. ) to creating knowledge around how enterprise value as a whole is created?  And actually enabling action in this area?

Judging by the material coming out of the recent Martech conference in Boston, one would think so.  And it looks to me like I’m not the only one thinking “it’s about time”.

A couple of years ago I lamented:

It’s been very popular among marketing types to talk about “the customer” but seek metrics for affirmation other than those based on or derived from the customer. Digital analysts have followed their lead, and provided Marketers plenty of awareness, engagement, and campaign metrics.  As I’ve said in the past, this is a huge disconnect. Does it make sense (analytically) to have discussions about customer centricity, customer experience, customer service, the social customer, etc. and measure these effects at impression or visit level?

If you’d like to review some commentary on the conference, see a list of 5 posts here.  I found the list of tweets here particularly indicative of Martech’s potential, for example:

Continue reading Digital Customer Analysis Going Mainstream?

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Marketing Funnel Not Dead, Using Funnel Model for Attribution Is

It’s become fashionable to declare the “Marketing Funnel Model” dead.

For example, here is a post worth reading on this topic by Rok Hrastnik.  There are some very good points in this post on why using a funnel to attribute media value is really a troubled idea.  I was flagged on this post because it has a quote from me that seems to support Rok’s thesis about the death of the funnel model and the related idea, “Direct Response Measurement is a Wet Dream”.   The quote is from a comment I made on a post by Avinash where we were discussing the value of sequential attribution models:

There are simply limits on what can be “proven” given various constraints, and that’s where experience and a certain amount of gut feel based on knowledge of customer kick in.  If you can’t measure it properly, just say so. So much damage has been done in this area by creating false confidence, especially around the value of sequential attribution models where people sit around and assign gut values to the steps.  Acting on faulty models is worse than having no information at all.

But none of this means the Funnel Model is dead, or that Direct Response Measurement overall is a Wet Dream.  What’s (hopefully) dead is  people using the funnel model inappropriately for tasks it was never designed for, in this case multi-step attribution of media value to goal achievement.  On the other hand, if this specific funnel use case is what Rok was coming after, I agree, because it didn’t make any sense to use a funnel model for this idea in the first place.

Let’s unpack these ideas

Funnel thinking is based on a relatively reliable model of human behavior, AIDA.  This model from human psychology does not specify tools, channels, or media.  It simply says that there is a path to purchase most humans follow.  That is:

A – Attention: (Awareness): attract the attention of the customer
I – Interest:  (Intent) promote advantages and benefits
D – Desire: convince customers the product will satisfy their needs
A – Action: lead customers towards taking action / purchace

Example:  I’m Aware of tons of products I would never buy.  There are lots of products I think are Interesting but I have no Desire for.  There’s a short list of products I Desire but have not Acted on.  The list of products in my head worthy of purchase consideration gets smaller and smaller at each stage of the AIDA model.  This is the funnel.

The AIDA funnel has not changed and it’s not dead.

It’s a model of human behavior, not media consumption.

Continue reading Marketing Funnel Not Dead, Using Funnel Model for Attribution Is

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Marketing to Focus on Customer. Analytics?

It’s been very popular among marketing types to talk about “the customer” but seek metrics for affirmation other than those based on or derived from the customer.  Web analysts have followed their lead, and provided Marketers plenty of awareness, engagement, and campaign metrics.  As I’ve said in the past, this is a huge disconnect.  Does it make sense (analytically) to have discussions about customer centricity,  customer experience, customer service, the social customer, etc.  and measure these effects at the impression or visit level?

Is someone who visits or purchases or comments one time really a customer, for the purposes of analyzing “centricity” ideas and concepts?  I think not.  Visit metrics simply don’t work for understanding these customer concepts, because by definition they unfold over time, not as single events.   Add in the fact most web activity is 1x in nature – even buyers – and you begin to realize that analyzing “traffic” yields very little in the way of “customer” insight.

From a Marketing perspective, hey, happy to have the 1x revenue, but these are interactions I’m not really excited about increasing spend on, knowing they will be a one-night stands.  This is especially true when you also know re-allocating some of the funds spent on the 90% 1x-ers to the other 10% could double company profits!

If you have followed my writings over the past 12 years, none of the above perspective is new.  What might be changing is this: more people in the online world are beginning to think the same way.

Continue reading Marketing to Focus on Customer. Analytics?

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“Missing” Social Media Value

I have no doubt there is some value in social beyond what can be measured, as this has been the case for all marketing since it began ;)  The problem is this value is often situational, not too mention not properly measured using an incremental basis (as you point out).
For example,  to small local businesses who do no other form of advertising, there is a huge amount of relative value to using social media, versus no advertising at all.  Some advertising is much better than none, and since it’s free, the incremental value created by (properly) using social is huge.
On the other hand, I wonder why social analysis seems to forget that people have to be aware of you to “Like” you in the first place.  Further, it seems unlikely a person would “Like” a brand or product if they have not already experienced it, and are already a fan.  If this is not true, if people “Like” a company even thought they do not (paid to Like?), then the problems with social go way beyond analysis…
But if true, , the number of “Likes” doesn’t have as much to do with awareness as it does with size of customer base, and is much more aligned with tracking customer issues (retention, loyalty) than anything to do with awareness / acquisition.
Add the fact many companies are running lots of advertising designed to create awareness, and the incremental value of social as a “media” may be close to zero, or at least less than the cost to analyze the true value of it.
And this last, really, is the core of the issue.  It’s simply not possible to measure “all” the value created by any kind of marketing, and there are hugely diminishing returns as you try to capture the last bits.  I think it’s quite possible the optimism for “value beyond what can be measured” is less than the cost of measuring it *if* people keep looking in the awareness / acquisition field.
Folks who want to find this “missing” social value should start doing customer analysis, and look in the “retention / loyalty” area, where the whole idea of social is a natural, rather than a forced, fit.

Has to be There

I find it really interesting that whenever there is a discussion of measuring the value of social media, there’s such a bias towards believing there is value in social beyond what can be properly measured.  See the comments following this post by Avinash for a good example.  Speculation is fine, but the confidence being expressed that a new tool or method will uncover a treasure trove of social media value seems un-scientific (as in scientific method) at best.

I don’t doubt there is some value in social media beyond what can be measured, as this has been the case for all marketing since marketing measurement began.  These measurement problems are not new to social either:  Marketing value created is often situational, it depends on the business model and environment.  What works in one situation may not work in another.

For example:

To small local businesses who do no other form of advertising, there is a huge amount of relative value to using social media versus no advertising at all.  Social advertising is much better than none, and since it’s free, the incremental value created by (properly) using social is huge.  It’s also really easy to measure the impact and true value, since the baseline control is “no advertising”.  Lift, or actual net marketing performance, can be pretty obvious in his case.

On the other hand, many companies are running lots of advertising designed to create awareness, and the incremental value of social as a “media” may be close to zero for these companies, or at least less than the cost to analyze the true value of it.  Possible explanation:  Social events such as “Likes” or comments are simply representations or affirmations of awareness already created by other media, so by themselves, create little value.  In other words, events such as Likes might track the value of other media spending, but may not create much additional marketing value.

Continue reading “Missing” Social Media Value

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Defining Behavioral Segments

The following is from the April 2011 Drilling Down Newsletter.  Got a question about Customer Measurement, Management, Valuation, Retention, Loyalty, Defection?  Just ask your question.  Also, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll reply.

Want to see the answers to previous questions?  Here’s the blog archive; the pre-blog newsletter archives are here.

Q: I purchased your book and have a few questions you can hopefully help me out with.

A: Thanks for that, and sure!

Q: We have 4 product lines and 2 of them are seasonal. i.e we have customers that year in year out purchase these items consistently but seasonally, for example, every spring and summer.  Then they are dormant for Fall and Winter.  Should I include these customers along with everyone else when doing an RFM segmentation?

A: Well, it kind of depends what you will using the RF(M) model for, what kinds of marketing programs will be activated by using the scores. If you know you have seasonal customers and their habit is to buy each year, AND you wish to aim retention or reactivation programs at them, I would be tempted to divide the customer base so that seasonal customers are their own segment.  Then run two RF(M)  models – one for the seasonals, and one for everyone else.

Q: If I include seasonal customers, and I run RFM say on a monthly basis, these seasonal customers will climb / fall drastically with time depending on the season, so it seems like it may complicate the scoring process.

A: Sure, and you could segment as I said above.  Or, you could run across a longer time frame, say across 2 – 3 years worth of data. This would “normalize” the two segments into one and take account of the seasonality in the scoring – perhaps be more representative of the business model.  However, the scores would become less sensitive due to the long time frame so the actions of customers less accurately predicted by the model.

Q: Can you provide me with some examples as to how segmentation is carried out?  Let’s say I being with RFM and all my customers are rated 5-5, 5-4, 4-5 etc.  What are the next steps, do we overlay with other characteristics like age, gender, etc?  Or are the 5-3 etc. our actual segments?

A: This goes back to what you want to use the RF(M) model for.  In the standard usage, each score will have roughly the same number of customers in it, those with higher scores will be more likely to respond to marketing and purchase, lower scores less likely.

Continue reading Defining Behavioral Segments

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Increase Profit Using Customer State

The following is from the March 2011 Drilling Down Newsletter.  Got a question about Customer Measurement, Management, Valuation, Retention, Loyalty, Defection?  Just ask your question.  Also, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll reply.

Want to see the answers to previous questions?  Here’s the blog archive; the pre-blog newsletter archives are here.

Q: We’ve been playing around with Recency / Frequency scoring in our customer email campaigns as described in your book.  To start, we’re targeting best customers who have stopped interacting with us.  I have just completed a piece of analysis that shows after one of these targeted emails:

1. Purchasers increased 22.9%
2. Transactions increased 69%
3. Revenue increased 71%

A: There you go!

Q: My concern is that what I am seeing is merely a seasonal effect – our revenue peaks in July and August.  So what I should have done is use a control group as you described in the book – which is what I am doing for the October Email.

A: Yep, that’s exactly what control groups are for – to strain out the noise of seasonality, other promotions, etc.  But don’t beat yourself up over it, nothing wrong with poking around and trying to figure out where the levers are first.

Q: Two questions:

1.  What statistical test do I use to demonstrate that the observed changes are not down to chance

2.  How big should my control group be – typically our cohort is 500-800 individuals

A: Good questions…

Continue reading Increase Profit Using Customer State

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All Talk, No #Measure

Hypocrisy in Web Analytics?

Before every eMetrics (I’ll be in San Fran teaching Basecamp, at the Gala, etc.), I try to ask myself, what is the most critical issue facing the web analyst community right now?  Then, at the show, I ask everyone I run into what they think about this issue.

There’s lots of issues to choose from.  Career path I think is a big area of discussion, given the mergers in the space and trend towards outsourcing.  Then there’s the “we don’t get no respect” thing; senior management doesn’t seem to listen / understand / act on the information provided.  And one of my favorites from the past is still out there, data torture - people being pressured to manipulate data to reach a predetermined analytical outcome.

But seems to me, more important at this juncture is trying to resolve why there is so much written about the importance of “the customer” but very little measurement at the customer level.  Think about it.  Customer experience, customer centricity, the entire social thing, it’s all about customers.

But when folks wants to trot out “proof” that this or that approach is the road to the promised land, they analyze impressions, visits, clicks, etc.  Visitor-level stuff.  Does that seem like the correct approach to you?  Seems to me, if you want to provide knowledge about customers, you should measure customers.

Continue reading All Talk, No #Measure

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