Over the last couple of years we’ve heard a lot of noise about marketing becoming a “revenue center, instead of a cost center.” I first heard this particular soundbite in 2014, skillfully laid out by a very engaging and data-savvy presenter. I was attending one of those huge annual marketing conferences in Las Vegas. It was a great event — I learned a ton. But there was also a pep rally feel to some of the keynote talks. While I, and many others, walked away with a new understanding of the Accountability Horizon that the digital marketing industry is moving toward, in retrospect our celebrating seems premature. It was as if someone shouted, “Hey, we’re Marketers — in Las Vegas… Woo-hoo, we see the Digital Future! Let’s party like we’re already there!” And we did.
The hangover has lasted three years.
That’s because getting to true Marketing Performance Measurement is a lot easier said than done. We’ve made progress, don’t get me wrong. On some days, the landscape seems to shift so quickly it makes you dizzy. And within specific channels (e.g., the Facebook ecosystem), we’ve reached impressive thresholds for measurement and accuracy.
But when it comes time to try to integrate your Facebook data with your other channels (DCM, AdWords). Eh, not so much.
I’m starting to think that a part of the challenge is that many Marketers have conceived the whole idea of “tracking” incorrectly, an impression that was reinforced as I perused the recent Brand Innovators + Origami Logic survey of 252 global brand marketers. Consider this finding: “The survey found that marketers face a core set of challenges inhibiting their ability to adopt marketing performance measurement. In particular, 52 percent of the respondents cited the complexity of managing the necessary infrastructure as being extremely or very inhibiting, 49 percent noted the same for integrating data from different activities. Internal resource alignment was indicated by 47 percent.”
- Managing marketing performance data is still in its infancy, with 48% of respondents saying they are on par but not leaders or innovators.
- Most marketers (80%) realize marketing measurement must be improved, and 50% intend to make modifications to their measurement infrastructure in the coming year.
- The need to measure ROI and a desire to optimize campaigns are driving adoption of MPM initiatives.
You see what I mean? Responses like these — from brand marketers at the web’s largest advertisers — give the impression that we still have a way to go before Marketing is the revenue center we know in our bones it can be.
And it all comes down to tracking. Too often, tracking only comes to mind after the fact. It gets tacked on at the end of a campaign; of secondary importance. Tracking, we think, is something that happens automatically — someone else’s job. “Everything is trackable” we might say, without any thought for the complexity packed into that statement. We gloss over how the data is tracked. We don’t question our assumption that it’s tracked accurately. We don’t consider what mechanism creates data symmetry, enabling comparisons of one set of campaign variables to another across platforms. When new variables enter our tracking conventions, as they always do, we may fail to think about how to measure new data against older data.
It’s long past time for marketers to stop thinking that this is someone else’s problem. In fact, we should be thinking of data first. If we’re pushing something across multiple platforms, the first question should be, “how are we ensuring that we can arrive at the end of this with comparable data sets?”
If we’re not thinking ahead, and planning our campaigns for tracking from the first instance of data collection, we’re just re-creating the garbage-in, garbage-out problems that have always existed. If the first instance of data collection is corrupted, all our fancy tech marketing stack tools won’t save us. And the point at which we cross over from being a cost center to a revenue center will continue to tease us from somewhere off in the future.