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Everything is measurable in marketing

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Everything is measurable in marketing

One of the most frequent cliches in marketing analytics is that there are things that simply can’t be measured. People will say, “Well, you can’t measure some stuff. It’s intangible. There’s no way to measure branding, the impact of public relations or any more complex forms of measurement.”

To which I say: That is patently untrue, completely false.

Everything in marketing is measurable, from top to bottom, from brand to customer satisfaction to purchases — you can measure 100% of marketing. People mean that not everything in marketing can be measured because they don’t have the budget and resources to measure what they care about.

They can’t measure using the resources available to them, whether time, personnel, hard dollars, or organizational skills. Some organizational constraints prohibit them from measuring effectively, but those constraints are not the same as saying something can’t be measured.

So, let’s clarify these two questions about any given metric to be measured.

First, is it worth measuring or not? If the answer is yes, but only up to a certain point because of resource constraints —and those resource constraints prevent you from a complete measurement — then the actual answer is no. Your organization has decided that it’s not worth measuring that metric to the level of investment needed, no matter how important we think it is as marketers.

For example, something like brand strength is measurable, but it’s expensive to measure. As a result, people will say, “You can’t measure the strength of a brand.” That’s untrue — brand strength is measurable, but companies are unwilling to invest the time, money and people needed to measure brand strength effectively.

The second question we have to ask is whether we can collect the data needed to measure effectively. The further up the marketing operations funnel, the more challenging measurement becomes from a data availability perspective. Revenue? Sales? Those are metrics the CFO can provide, and they’re as certain as anything in business can be. We have total control over those systems and the ability to measure them thoroughly.


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Online and offline measurement

Marketing automation makes it straightforward to measure sales qualified leads and marketing qualified leads. Further up, we have digital traffic, which is also relatively easy to measure — web analytics, individual channel analytics like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. These systems provide robust data that tells us what’s happening on those channels.

Offline traffic is where we start seeing resource and financial costs begin to escalate. Things like foot traffic in stores need hardware like foot counters, cameras, aisle counters, even technologies like beacons and WiFi triangulation — but it’s still measurable. For other out-of-home and offline measurements, there are hybrid response tracking methods.

For example, when you send someone a piece of direct mail, there should be a unique, tagged URL and a custom phone number tied to that piece which allows you to measure its performance. This is another area where underinvestment causes problems; offline direct marketing is measurable but has higher costs. If you send out a postcard with AcmeMarketing.com and no other form of tracking URL, you’ll be unable to measure the impact of that piece because there’s no tracking to disambiguate it from other traffic sources.

The same is true of channels like terrestrial radio. If a radio host says, “Go visit AcmeMarketing.com,” you’ll have unattributed traffic, the origin of which you can’t determine. Compare that with the radio host saying, “Go visit AcmeMarketing.com/spotify” or “Go visit AcmeMarketing.com/KNBC,” you’ll get trackable responses. It won’t be perfect; some people will remember AcmeMarketing.com and nothing else, but it’s substantially better than nothing (especially if it’s tied to a promotion).

Let’s talk about brand next — brand awareness and brand strength. This is the layer of marketing where things like awareness spending, brand campaigns, and public relations operate, and it’s the layer that people often say can’t be measured. The reason, of course, is that measuring brand strength is very expensive compared to other metrics.

There are a few metrics around brand strength: low-cost digital metrics such as branded organic search – when customers search for our companies, products, and services by name. Still, otherwise, brand strength requires classical market research techniques.

These are techniques like focus groups, one-on-one interviews with current and prospective customers, customer shadowing — when researchers accompany customers in their homes and offices to observe their behaviors and see how they make decisions.

Other techniques include surveys and panels, incredibly powerful methods for measuring brand strength by asking people, “What is your intent to purchase a blender in the next 90 days?” or “Was your intent to purchase a firewall in the next 90 days?”

Why is market research so expensive? First, you must conduct enough research to obtain a statistically relevant sample size. Second, particularly for B2B marketing or complex sales, if the decision-makers are senior folks in their organizations, it may take considerable time and expenses to reach them. You’ll be springing for many steak dinners and rounds of golf to get in touch with them.

Again, this doesn’t mean your brand is unmeasurable with that specific audience — it just means your organization may be unwilling or unable to invest to the level necessary to obtain the information.

Read next: How marketers can measure success

The value of measurement

Data analysis is the final hurdle that leads people to say, “X can’t be measured in marketing.” The data needs to be brought together and transformed into a single model, typically an attribution model. This is the domain of techniques and disciplines like exploratory data analysis, data science, statistics and machine learning. We take all these data points and inputs and then transform them into a coherent model with sophisticated techniques like uplift modeling, propensity scoring, and multiple regression to determine what works.

So, to review: a metric is strategic if an organization provides the time, people, and funding to measure it. If the organization does not, then it’s not a strategic measure. That doesn’t mean it can’t be measured — it means the organization doesn’t value it enough to measure it.

Everything in marketing is measurable, but executives and stakeholders must commit the time, people and resources to measure what they ask for. If they don’t, then it’s our obligation as marketers to push back on them and ask for the resources to measure it properly — and tell them when they’ve underinvested and thus no valid measurement is available.

Marketing attribution and predictive analytics: A snapshot

What it is. Marketing attribution and predictive analytics platforms are software that employ sophisticated statistical modeling and machine learning to evaluate the impact of each marketing touch a buyer encounters along a purchase journey across all channels, with the goal of helping marketers allocate future spending. Platforms with predictive analytics capabilities also use data, statistical algorithms and machine learning to predict future outcomes based on historical data and scenario building.

Why it’s hot today. Many marketers know roughly half their media spend is wasted, but few are aware of which half that is. And with tight budgets due to the economic uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are seeking to rid themselves of waste.

Attribution challenges. Buyers are using more channels and devices in their purchase journeys than ever before. The lack of attributive modeling and analytics makes it even more difficult to help them along the way.

Marketers continuing to use traditional channels find this challenge magnified. The advent of digital privacy regulations has also led to the disappearance of third-party cookies, one of marketers’ most useful data sources.

Marketing attribution and predictive analytics platforms can help marketers tackle these challenges. They give professionals more information about their buyers and help them get a better handle on the issue of budget waste.

Read Next: What do marketing attribution and predictive analytics tools do?


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Everything is measurable in marketing

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on analytics, digital marketing, marketing technology, data science, and machine learning. A recognized thought leader, best-selling author, and keynote speaker, he has shaped five key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, modern email marketing, marketing data science, and artificial intelligence/machine learning in marketing. As co-founder and Chief Data Scientist of Trust Insights, he is responsible for the creation of products and services, creation and maintenance of all code and intellectual property, technology and marketing strategy, brand awareness, and research & development.
Penn is a 2020, three-time IBM Champion in IBM Analytics, a Brand24 Top 100 Digital Marketer, an Onalytica Top 100 AI in Marketing influencer, and co-host of the award-winning Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. Prior to co-founding Trust Insights, he built the marketing for a series of startups with a 100% successful exit rate in the financial services, SaaS software, and public relations industries. His work has served brands such as Twitter, T-Mobile, Citrix Systems, GoDaddy, AAA, McDonald’s, and many others.
Penn is an IBM Watson Machine Learning Certified Professional, a Google Analytics Certified Professional, a Google Ads Certified Professional, a Google Digital Sales Certified Professional, and a Hubspot Inbound Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as AI for Marketers: A Primer and Introduction, Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero, and Leading Innovation.


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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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