Big data is everywhere in business, and digital paid media is no exception to the trend. Tracking tools and systems capture everything, from initial product exploration to sales revenue (and all touch-points in between), associated with digital media placements and marketing dollars. But is there value in looking beyond what data has to offer to where
intangible measures can take over?
It is easy to overlook that data is only a tool that is as good as the context that we create out of the numbers. Susan Etlinger says in her TED talk, “Data doesn’t create meaning, we do.” Evaluating the return on investment (ROI) of paid media purely from data and metrics is as crippling to its success as isolating its performance to that of a single metric, like click-through rates. While a click-through rate can tell you about the persuasiveness of the messaging in a banner, it tells you very little else without also considering other metrics. So why then do media budgets and strategy rely so heavily on a few tangible measures of success?
Maybe it’s because the tangibles are clear and definitive, while the intangibles require a leap of faith in aspects that are not directly credited to paid media alone. Paid media is part of a larger marketing mix that, when balanced, leverages all other channels to achieve far greater results than a single channel can produce alone.
Intangibles that can affect the performance of a paid media program can vary from company-to-company and even between campaign launches, but some considerations include:
Awareness – Traditional display banner advertising is more expensive and generally produces less engagement than a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign, but the intangible value of awareness it generates is just as important as the tangible metrics. Display banner advertising creates awareness and presence for your product and company. Liken it to a billboard. You are not likely to pull over on the side of the highway immediately after seeing a billboard for a steakhouse, but you recall the billboard later that week when deciding where you’ll take your out-of-town friend for dinner on Saturday.
Brand equity and thought leadership – Brand equity and thought leadership require consistency in message and feel across all channels in a company’s marketing mix. Jennifer Connelly said in an Entrepreneur article that consistency in a company’s communication to its customer base lays the foundation for the perception of that company. In evaluation of paid media placements, look at how the program or placement helps to leverage your company as a thought leader or adds to the overall brand equity by reaching your audience consistently and within placements that leverage thought leadership.
Audience alignment – Paid media should represent a good cross section of your targeted audience. Consider the importance of presence on a site where a large percentage of your audience seeks content although engagement with a traditional display banner may be low. Be creative in ways to reach your audience in that environment. Are there other non-traditional programs or native advertising executions that might engage your audience on that particular site?
Untrackable data – Although we are able to capture so much with tracking tools and software, digital paid media still has limitations on what can be tracked and measured either internally or externally on publisher sites. Consideration of the value of what cannot be provided against the value of other intangibles and tangibles should be used in evaluating overall performance. For example, if the site is able to provide leads, but cannot provide for any engagement metrics through tracking. How does the value of obtaining leads compare to tracking engagement? Weigh the two in accordance to the overall objectives of your campaign or program.
Data and metrics should not be the only focus in the evaluation of paid media program performance. Strategic consideration of external, intangible factors in paid media evaluation is important in creating a balancing marketing mix. After all, in the words of John Adams, “Facts are stubborn things.”