What is the value of the time, effort and budget you invest in marketing? Whether it’s online or offline marketing, you, your boss or your client will always need to justify the return on that investment.
For bigger organisations that might be the cost of a full-time marketing role, a team of people, or perhaps an agency. For small businesses that might mean the time the owner spends, or money they spend outsourcing to a Digital Marketing Agency. That’s in addition to any advertising costs for ad placement or Pay per Click campaigns, of course.
Wherever there’s a cost, there has to be some value. That’s great when you have the benefit of directly attributable sales with a Google AdWords search campaign, or the increases in traffic and sales which can be measured easily with Google Analytics, but how do you measure the value of your brand activity with Social Media, PR, events, or Display Ad campaigns?
With direct action campaigns, there’s a clearly defined goal which can easily be measured. You set up a Google AdWords campaign, configure conversion tracking to track a completed enquiry form, phone calls generated or eCommerce purchases. You’ll get lots of lovely data about the conversion rate, the cost per conversion and even the value of the sales, if yours is an eCommerce store using eCommerce tracking. The result is directly attributable to the preceding click or a number of clicks which ultimately lead to a conversion.
That’s not so simple with brand campaigns.
Way too many advertisers try to measure brand activity using those same metrics. They run a Facebook PPC campaign and measure the sales they achieve directly from it, deciding whether Facebook works or not on that basis.
That’s just wrong.
To qualify that a little further, it’s not always wrong for every campaign. There are occasions when direct action can work from brand activity.
Let’s use an offline example: there’s a new sandwich shop which just opened locally and they want to announce their presence and generate footfall and sales.
They manage to get a story in the local newspaper. How many sales does that generate? It’s virtually impossible to directly attribute sales to that coverage – that’s brand activity.
The outcomes from brand activity are not direct sales – they can’t be measured that way. If they are, you’d never justify the cost of that time and effort.
Now, an ad in the local paper with a coupon or voucher which was time-limited could be measured. Customers bring in the voucher for a discount or free coffee, which are added to a pile and counted – we can easily see that there are sales generated from that campaign and calculate some of the Return on Investment or Effort.
A Facebook ads campaign often isn’t too dissimilar. The same sandwich shop could run a locally targeted campaign with the offer of a voucher and simply track the number of discounts given at the till using a promotion code – the customer just shows the code on their phone. Direct action. Simple.
However, driving direct sales from Facebook, Twitter, banner ads or PR activity isn’t quite so effective. There isn’t a special offer, there’s no limited time, no scarcity. It’s similar to the sandwich shop having a guy interrupting people in the street saying, “hey, we have amazing sandwiches! Come and try one.”
That activity is more about brand. Brand is about reputation, relationships and awareness. I don’t need a sandwich right now. Right now, you’re just interrupting me. But when I’m hungry and thinking where to go, your brand activity creates the desired thought; “maybe I’ll try that new sandwich shop”.
It’s virtually impossible to attribute the guy in the street interrupting me, your Facebook activity that I’ve seen, the PR coverage in the press and the recommendation from a friend, all of which contributed to that thought, that visit and that I became a regular customer twice a week. (You do make great sandwiches!).
As hard as you might try, you’ll get it wrong if you use the same metrics to measure brand activity as you do direct action. Those will fail every time.
It’s so tempting to create an event that you can measure from your PR activity or your social media efforts, just so that you can show your boss or client that it’s working.
Register so that we can send you offers. Download this thing. Recommend a friend and we’ll give you a discount. Those things can all work, but here’s the thing – you get a better understanding of what works and a metric that you can report on, but it’s possible that in creating that hurdle, the hoop for your customer to jump through, you made it more difficult for your customer to engage or interact with your brand. You made it hard work. (We don’t like hard work!).
Now you’ve something to measure, but actually made the results worse!
There isn’t always an absolute connection between a specific activity and a result. Sometimes, you’ll need to make some assumptions from the data that you have.
Be careful with this. Let’s say your sandwich shop gets some coverage in the press after winning an award and that same day, you double your average sales. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the press coverage did that. As that worked so well, you’re investing in a PR agency’s services to get more press coverage and to drive sales even higher.
But how about that competitor across the street that ran out of bread that day and that there was an event in town which increased footfall past the shop? Those are the environmental factors which produced the dramatic increase in sales – sure, the press coverage may have helped, but the investment in PR isn’t now quite so attractive.
We often cannot effectively attribute a specific outcome with a specific activity or event.
Offline brand activity and online brand activity will create brand search online. Significant events like local press coverage will create a spike in traffic coming to your website from search engines – those users will arrive having searched for your company name or brand rather than what you do – “Jim’s sandwich shop”, rather than “sandwich shops in Coventry”.
Brand search can be segmented in Google Analytics, making those spikes easier to identify without the noise of the regular traffic.
The first challenge is when you have several brand campaigns running at once – press coverage, Facebook and Twitter activity, the sign-writing you just got on your car. When all of those happen at once, you can’t attribute that spike to one cause, they all work together to create the resulting brand search.
The second challenge is that the spike needs to be big enough to clearly demonstrate the cause and effect. Spending £5 per day on Facebook ads for a month may not be enough to create an identifiable spike in brand search. Much easier to spot if you’re spending £50 per day for a week.
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In Google Analytics, add your own annotations to keep track of brand activity. Annotate when that press coverage occurred, when your Facebook activity started, or when that Instagram competition started and stopped.
That may well help make cause and effect easier to analyse and identify.
Online activity which contributes to sales and leads can be identified in the Multi-Channel funnel. Your Facebook Ads campaign may not create sales directly (maybe some, but not always profitably), but you can measure how many times Facebook PPC traffic is present in the journey to a sale.
Customers often visit your website a number of times before they convert into a lead or a sale (see Impression Share vs Conversion rate). The value of Facebook traffic therefore, isn’t the value of the direct sales it creates, but the value of sales it contributed to.
Facebook and Twitter both have their own Analytics and performance data, even for individual posts and tweets. How many users saw your posts should really be your first and foremost measurement of success. It may not be tangible, it may be difficult or impossible to attribute to actual sales, but it is a metric that you can measure month on month or year on year to make sure that you’re reaching a bigger audience with your posts and tweets, whether you’re paying for those or not.
The same is true of YouTube videos. YouTube is a fantastic branding opportunity for many brands trying to build a reputation. The metrics there are views and minutes spent watching videos across your channel on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
With Google Display campaigns, we’re more interested in View-Through Conversions than we are in direct conversions. A view through conversion occurs when a customer has seen your banner ad, has NOT clicked on the ad, but has converted from a different source. The ad influenced that conversion and therefore has value, but did not create the conversion directly.
Engagement often feels like the holy grail of Social Media and YouTube activity. It’s easy to get attached to the number of likes, favourites, replies, comments and mentions. And they are great metrics, metrics that can be easily measured from month to month or compared to previous years.
But there’s a lesson I’ve learned. The engagement data is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots (and lots) of “lurkers” who will read your posts and watch your video that will NEVER comment. You’re still influencing them and creating a (very one-sided) relationship. You’re still creating a reputation which leads to word of mouth and builds trust in your expertise.
The measurement of that? Walking into a room and complete strangers approaching you, saying how much they enjoyed your post or a video you created. They didn’t like or comment, but the unmeasured value is there nonetheless.
Using Google Analytics, it’s pretty simple to identify traffic referred from different sources, comparing performance weekly or monthly. I generally recommend creating specific dashboards for each, comparing monthly data with the previous month.
For more detailed attribution and analysis, be sure to tag shared URLs with specific campaign, source and keyword attributes. That way, you’ll be able to segment and analyse data from each specific campaign and establish the value it created in terms of traffic and contribution to the Multi-Channel funnel and ultimately to leads and sales.
These measurements are in order of priority for brand marketing activity. You’ll notice that the audience size isn’t the highest priority. It’s a common mistake that businesses and marketing folk make. The number of Twitter followers or the number of fans is NOT your primary measurement of success.
Those metrics are often the most identifiable, the easiest to get hung up on and the easiest to fake. Newsflash: 10,000 fake Twitter Followers is not going to increase your engagement, your brand reach and certainly not your sales. In fact, it’s more likely to destroy your credibility with anyone who cares to look more closely at your account.
If you focus on engagement, on providing value and entertaining or educating your audience, the audience will grow as a result.
Your brand activity will produce leads and sales. Yes, you should measure those and attribute them to the source or specific campaigns using Analytics URL tagging. But this is the lowest priority metric of them all and can distract you from the primary goals of brand marketing activity – using only this metric will most likely make you, your boss or your client feel like it isn’t worth the time, effort and money.
It is often impossible to attribute an outcome to a specific event or brand campaign activity. We can make some assumptions using the data we have available and the timing of peaks and troughs in visits and sales, and Google Analytics annotations will help make that clearer.
The strength of those brand value signals should help you identify which brand activities are valuable and which are not.
Above all, make sure that you’re using the right tool for the right job. Measuring how many nails you can bang in with a screwdriver isn’t going to make anyone happy.
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