Why is it so hard to know if marketing is working?

By: Jan Kelley

The best metrics and KPIs can fall flat without a clear view of the end goal

Measuring the value of marketing has been a problem our industry has been trying to solve since the world’s first newspaper was published in the mid-1700s. So much has changed since then – so much and, yet, so little. What’s changed? The world is more complex, more connected and more trackable and traceable than ever. With all this data at our fingertips, you’d think our measurement problem would solve itself. And yet, I still hear this famous John Wanamaker statement from businesses today:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”
John Wanamaker (1838 – 1922)

Here’s where we get to what really hasn’t changed. It’s true, we have more data. It’s also true we can track buyer behaviour through most of the path to purchase. And, it’s true we’re still trying to solve the age-old question of the value of marketing.

The challenge in Wanamaker’s day was the lack of any ability to accurately and meaningfully connect advertising to sales because the infrastructure didn’t exist. There were no tracking pixels, ecommerce websites or customer databases. We definitely don’t have that problem today and yet we’re still struggling to figure out which marketing tactics are working and which ones aren’t. The problem today isn’t the lack of data or measurement infrastructure—we’re drowning in data, metrics, tracking tools and dashboards. The challenge for the modern day marketer is knowing how to effectively leverage this wealth of data in a meaningful and actionable way. So, how do we do this?

It goes back to pinpointing the problem we’re trying to solve in the first place.

Getting started on the right track
The best first step is to identify the end business goal. In channel networks, the sale is usually so far removed from the people in charge of marketing decisions it’s easy to lose sight of the challenges and business goals, and instead get caught up in simple marketing metrics (social media engagement, digital ad impressions or Google rankings). For example, we spend time and money trying to get more followers on Facebook or a high number of ad impressions and consider it successful marketing. Although these metrics are strong indicators of marketing effectiveness in filling the top of the sales funnel, without connection to the business goal they don’t tell the full story. These numbers alone lack insight into whether the tactics are effectively moving people beyond being aware of your product to considering your product or service as something they would purchase and eventually to purchasing your product or service.

Starting with the end in mind allows us to achieve two important things: first, we can start to look beyond the top of the marketing funnel to the end goal, no matter how complicated the journey is to get to that point, and second, identifying that end goal provides an objective benchmark for success or failure.

Aligning objectives with the purchasing process
Equally important to confirming that end business goal is identifying objectives at each stage of the buyer’s journey. We know that from the time someone becomes aware of your product or service to the time they purchase it, a long time may pass. It could be that they’re not yet in the market for what you’re offering, and then, even when they are in the market, the decision is likely a complex one involving many stakeholders and research on their end before they are even ready to engage with you.

Measuring against goals from a buyer journey perspective allows us to track how many marketing qualified leads (MQLs) we are able to convert through each stage, pinpoint when people might be disengaged or lose interest and optimize to ensure efficiency. This is essential because it allows you to cut through the clutter of data and metrics and forces you to focus only on those key metrics that measure how people are moving through your campaigns.