October 24, 2013

The Importance of Impartial Digital Measurement in Marketing

Most agency award ceremonies reward creativity above raw performance. Its a subjective showcase of who is the most cutting edge, most creative, most immersive. It has its place and is a great way to show that South Africa is brimming with digital talent across the board. It is not, however, meant to be an objective benchmark of digital performance. Simple proof of this exists – Fuseware’s analysis of the top brands on social media and top content by digital performance have none of the Loerie social media award winners present at all. This isn’t a criticism though, but one must realize that these awards don’t reward what the end result should actually be – how much value has been created for the customer.

In light of the recent Loerie scandal where Metro Republic was stripped of their Grand Prix prize, it got me thinking (more so than usual). As the world migrates to the digital space and everything becomes measurable, surely there is a better way to measure marketing effectiveness. Scandals like these will always be present since they are a result of human error, greed or both. They shed a dark light across the entire industry. Brands lose trust in their agency partners and marketing as a whole is seen as more of a necessary evil than a meaningful way of understanding and engaging with consumers. There must be a better way.

Nobody can deny that marketing has fundamentally changed in recent years. New technologies and mediums have emerged that have empowered consumers with an influential voice and have changed the brand-consumer relationship and way of communicating. These same technologies have empowered brands to understand their communities and influencers in a manner never before possible, but they have been slow to adopt many of these analytical techniques. By and large, the marketing world in South Africa still clings on to old paradigms. Justifiably so, since they cater to where brands allocate budget – print, broadcast and online ad networks receive a large majority of marketing budgets. They capture the largest audiences, but are incredibly expensive and miss the mark with the vast majority of the audience. I believe there is a better way, and that is the way of understanding the consumer on their level. New measurement techniques are needed that focus campaigns to the exact audiences that are interested. New engagement techniques are needed that go beyond the creative ad to memorable content that truly resonates with the consumer.

The undeniable aspect of digital is that you can measure practically everything, and many companies do. The trouble is that they end up sitting on a sea of data that they have no idea what to do with. This sea of data is a goldmine of consumer insight that can position and innovate the brand on a level that was never before possible. However, to truly unlock its value it needs to be integrated across the enterprise and it needs to be connected to the hearts and minds of consumers. Social media data is the single most untapped source of consumer insights on the planet. With over 11m South Africans on Facebook and no slowdown in growth, brands need to capitalize on the opportunity afforded to them to engage on a much more meaningful level. To paraphrase the words of Vincent Magwenya, CEO of Magna Carta, social media has a major influence on traditional media as well as how media coverage gets escalated on a completely different level. The trouble is – almost every major brand is already on social media, so what gives?

As Seth Godin wrote in Purple Cow, “What could you measure? What would that cost? How fast could you get the results? If you can afford it, try it. If you measure it, it will improve”. Companies need to invest in their digital measurement strategies in order to fully understand their customers, brands, competitors and broader market. This data, when viewed from a strategic perspective and integrated holistically from an executive level downwards, empowers the organization with the kind of insight that gives real world results. Results that give customers exactly what they want, and give the business a significant boost to their bottom line. “Spending money on clicks to get traffic” should be replaced with “spending time on engagements to get advocates”. It sounds less tangible and less defined, but with the right measurement techniques can be highly effective, far less expensive with better overall returns.

The challenge I’ve found is that each company measures differently on different levels, and interprets the data in a different way. This is important as each company is fundamentally different at its core, but consistency is needed in order to properly understand and benchmark brands, industries and market segments. Organizations like the MMA and DMMA definitely go a long way to establishing these benchmarks, but I believe more dialogue should be conducted among the industry heads on how to best tackle this beast. The marketing problem has become a technology problem, and technologists need to work with marketers to create the perfect brand of the future.

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