Wednesday, July 16

Number Crunching Is Turning Marketers Into Tactical Bullies

A recent study that surveyed 380 American marketers reported 85 percent of its respondents are under increasing pressure to measure the value of marketing and its contribution to business (hat tip Danny Brown). But despite this increased press to measure, many marketers don't know whether or not their tactics are having an impact. Just one in four said they can measure their impact.

Even among those who do measure their impact, most of them don't know how to report on their findings. Many don't have a formal process to gather, handle, analyze, and report big data. And up to one-third of them don't know if their data is accurate or reliable. So what the heck do these people do?

No one is really sure, which increases the big data idiocy.

Most organizations are measuring something. Chances are they measure key performance indicators (KPIs), which is a fancy way of assigning any variable you want. It might be reach, impressions, qualified leads (which also has a broad definition), website traffic, click-through rates, conversions, direct sales, or anything really. Some people even count social scoring algorithms (sigh).

There is nothing wrong with all these numbers, really. But the sheer volume of data being lobbed at modern marketers is commoditizing the entire field while it distracts marketing from where its focus really ought to be, which is delivering a distinct brand promise to people who might care.

So while the right measures are important, they don't account for the customer relationship — need, desire, trust, presentation, value, reliability, ease of acquisition, satisfaction, market position, and so on and so forth. If any one of those qualities is broken, it doesn't matter how good your numbers are.

How marketing measures can be made quickly meaningless. 

Case in point. After returning from a family vacation that included a few hours of sports fishing off the coast, my interest in finding experiences for my children had piqued. But since fishing options are scarce in the middle of the desert, I decided to search for something else we've talked about doing.

We have an interest in horseback riding, but not just singular experiences. So rather than take a trail ride, I was especially keen to find horseback riding lessons so they could learn something about riding much like they learned something about baiting their own hooks when they went fishing.

Like many people, I started with a search and the engine delivered the usual list of trail ride suspects. There were a half dozen tour operators in the area, some of which I knew from my days as an eco-tour reviewer. I visited a few of their familiar sites. Almost none of them fit my criteria.

cowboysOf the few that did, some were priced too high, were located too far away, or had dismal reviews (including some that alleged animal cruelty). And, of course, there were plenty of third-party booking companies that offered these same tours with a prettier presentations (even the most dismal) to lure in those who don't know the difference. I do know difference. I readily dismissed them.

At the same time, I couldn't help but to make a few mental notes. All of these operators were winning on impressions, click counts, site traffic, and (perhaps) qualified lead generation depending on how they define that. Some might even have felt good assuming my lengthy visit was tied to interest (when it was really tied to not being able to find the right information). So what?

Most of them only succeeded by getting in my way. And a few of those, believe it or not, reinforced  the worst possible impression of their brand. After reading some reviews, I would have a hard time taking a chance with them no matter how many impressions, clicks, and site visits I left behind.

So, at the end of the day, I settled on the one operator I remembered from an in-person presentation I had seen a year prior and nothing from the search results. We'll likely hook up with them for lessons once our summer temperatures drop below triple-digits this fall. I also did bookmark a couple of other operators too. It's always good to have a backup.

The measurements marketers count is not what customers count. 

In this case, I was looking for reasonably-priced Western-style riding lessons that accommodated families and had generally positive reviews. Search, social, and content does not account for all of that criteria.

In fact, brands with better search, social, and content tactics were more likely to be in the way of providers who could meet it. And, as mentioned, some brands did little more than entrench a negative brand impression. They might not even know it. Numbers alone don't tell the story.

For some, they tell the wrong story. Looking at the data, they might be convinced that their content didn't connect or that they need to spend more on reach or their sales funnel needs improvement or that they have problems with their website layout. In reality, it wasn't any of those indicators that make numbers look like something you scoop off the shelf and put in a shopping cart.

They didn't offer what I was looking for. It was that simple (and honestly for the best).

Real marketing is more of an expertise and less of a commodity. 

Marketing from the ground up considers the market need (or desire), competitive price model, product or service mix, total customer experience, and how the marketing message is delivered so that it not only reaches people who care, but also manages customer expectation without complicating the package. In several cases, qualitative analysis not quantitative would have been the better teacher.

Just poking around, I could see many operators invest too much in capturing the wrong kind of traffic or creating content that is too broad for their offerings. Several are attempting to capture a low-cost lead position despite more market demand for a luxury ride. Only a few have figured out that the primary concern most customers have is for the horses, second only to their own personal safety. And meals, which are always touted as the best part of a package value, are the least appreciated and most often complained about aspect of any ride.

Marketing ought to consider all of this data and not just the growing list of marketing measures associated with maximizing impressions and conversions. If anything, the last thing any serious marketer wants is to increase exposure to an inferior offering when they have the means to make it right. Great brands are not made by exposing more people to an inferior offer.

They are made when you can deliver the right product or service to the right group of people. When that part of the equation is done right, the right numbers will follow and measurement will begin to shift from website traffic to something tangible such as public perception and customer referrals.
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