I don’t usually write columns like this.
This one is more philosophical than usual, but I think it’s an important topic for everybody in search and modern advertising and marketing to read and comment on.
I want to discuss what I’ve realized is my bias against traditional PR and marketing- in an open-minded way, as one who understands those things still have value- and also discuss the divide between digital and traditional marketing, as well as web analytics and accountability.
If You Learn PPC Direct Response Marketing First…
I started my advertising and marketing journey in PPC (2005) and SEO (2002′ish)… during the infancy of the shift from traditional to digital/interactive marketing. That major shift – about which I think many traditional marketers are still in denial – has also led to a shift toward greater accountability in results, and increased emphasis on marketing ROI.
I’m an outsider to the PR and TV and other traditional media industries, but I read the big journals like AdAge and others, and it doesn’t sound like the shift toward ROI has affected them too much. Or maybe they’re just not advertising it. We see charts that show marketing dollars shifting toward digital and toward the highest ROI digital channels (pay per click and email marketing), but the discussions that those in traditional marketing are having seem blind to the larger shifts toward digital and ROI.
So, as someone who learned marketing and advertising in PPC, a highly trackable, highly accountable channel, and learned by reading about Claude Hopkins’ scientific advertising and the methods and results of direct marketers like direct mail experts, I initially was very judgmental of traditional marketers.
Misgivings About Traditional Advertising
For example: I watch TV and see beer ads and later realize I remember the ad but not which beer it was for.
Does this increase sales of that brand’s beer? I doubt it. I suspect it reinforces the brand affinity of those who already drink that beer, but I doubt it brings in too many new customers. And you can’t track it to find out, can you?
I was definitely jealous of the money agencies were getting to produce these commercials, often fun ones that were probably fun to conceive, possibly to win awards and be thought of as standout agencies, and yet not be held accountable for whether these campaigns produced any uptick in sales at all.
Emphasis on ROI
Meanwhile, in the early days of my PPC education back in 2004, I could produce remarkable ROI for an advertiser, tell them they could spend more and make more profit, but they wouldn’t divert the funds. Either they had an annual budget and bureaucracy that made it impossible to spend more- senseless to me, because where was that unexpected profit going? Just reinvest it in PPC!
Now times have changed, not only with more understanding but also with economic forces. Now it’s not hard to find an advertiser that wants better ROI. Now we have different problems…
The Double-Edged Sword of Analytics
The most trackable advertising is also the easiest to hold accountable. And our tracking isn’t perfect. So PPC could bring in great ROI, or it might be mediocre. Even if it’s mediocre, some of its effects could show up in other marketing channels and it doesn’t get the credit.
Most savvy marketers know that every channel in a marketing plan makes the others more effective because of multiple exposures to the same prospects. But many of us in the digital ad industry are stuck with analytics that leave us blind to these multitouchpoint paths, and unable to prove the full value of PPC to our clients.
The outcome is that advertisers ask us to pause part or all of their PPC campaigns, against our advice. And we find that subsequently, their other channels do not perform worse- sometimes significantly worse. (reference value of brand ppc post) This is another indicator that PPC deserves partial credit for sales often not attributed to it.
Why Is Traditional Advertising Not Held Accountable
Bringing it back to traditional marketing and PR… they are generally not as trackable as digital marketing channels. But my skepticism about their effectiveness is not enough to dismiss them. If scientific marketing has taught me anything, it’s that even experienced, effective marketers are surprised by what does and doesn’t work.
It would be heretical to suggest that genius and experience in advertising are not effective- they are, and inspiration is where the ideas you test come from- but they must be tested scientifically if you want the best results.
Lets combine Ogilvy’s genius with Claude Hopkins’ scientific approach.
How to Track Traditional Media ROI With Web Analytics
So the question is, can we evaluate the effect of traditional media at all, and if so, how?
The easiest way to do it is to use a custom URL… but there are other ways to leverage web analytics to judge the effect of offline marketing and PR. For example, we had a client that was purchasing billboards in Charlotte, NC- the billboard gave both a phone number and a website URL. First, we looked at the volume of web traffic to the client in the months before the billboards began. Second, we set up call tracking and a unique phone number to track phone results.
A much more vague method, but still better than none at all, is to begin a traditional marketing campaign after you have benchmark web stats for all your other efforts. Analyze your web results before, after, and during the traditional campaign. If there’s an uptick, but it varies by channel, consider whether it makes sense that the traditional campaign would have affected specific ones more and others less. This, again, is imperfect- hindsight is not only 20/20 but also infinitely rationalizable. Explanations of cause and effect behavior can seem compelling but be completely inaccurate.
So good luck :-)
A More Sane Approach to Accountable, Measurable Advertising
But my point is, our tracking is imperfect, so we should use it, but lightly- don’t judge any channel too harshly since we don’t have completely clear 360 degree vision of all touchpoints, nor do we yet have a crystal ball to look into customers’ heads, nor are all customers the same, which is obvious when we look at human beings but we seem to forget when we plan campaigns.
The best marketing will be a combination of genius, science, inspiration, luck, and guesswork. Avoid the temptation to believe we have all the answers or are omniscient. Our analytics are not good enough yet to start thinking you’re some kind of advertising god who can see all and control all prospects.