Data Management… Are you doing it wrong?
Media metrics and data on paper can be deceiving. Often, they are reported incorrectly or just simply being embellished to look better.
Over the course of the last couple of years, north of 80% is the percentage of cases where forensic auditing of campaign tracking, analytics, and attribution data was found to be inaccurate and poorly architected. Suppose you realized one day that your media investment decisions could be that far off, and your house of cards could tumble at any moment…what level of panic or anxiety might set in at that moment?
Data… that is the story we will talk about today and how to ensure integrity and trust in your data will help you shape future investment decisions and avoid the panic button!
When it comes to running a quality digital campaign, data is the lifeblood of any quality effort. It provides the blueprint and directions needed to make the right decisions to consistently improve. It’s what allows media buyers to make informed decisions instead of “guessing” or “assuming”.
All the “strategy” and machine learning in the world cannot compensate for poor data that leads to wrong decisions. Without good data, a campaign will never achieve maximum effectiveness and in fact, most will struggle to achieve any degree of real effectiveness.
The problem is that data is not as easy to collect or use as it is often portrayed. While it is easy to place pixels, there are many complex layers that need to be inserted to ensure that data is collected properly and accurately. Whether it is ensuring that Google Analytics is setup using the right data layers, naming conventions, and firing rules, or making sure that hard coding versus tag managers are done right.
Beyond even these basic concepts, which are critical and often only as far as most media agencies bother to go, there are a myriad of advanced data options out there that can bring value to the table depending on the goals and objectives of a campaign.
Determining what data options to use, what costs to consider, and how to make sure that all data is not only informative but actionable, you must have a skilled, knowledgeable, and motivated team that knows the landscape and is empowered to dig deeper to create a more accountable campaign. It is not enough to “talk” about data, it must be a core value. Truly knowing the landscape requires experience and time.
The reality is, data and analytics is quite difficult to implement and maintain. It requires specialists to spend a significant amount of time creating the right environment for data to be collected and used. The costs and time associated with these processes are prohibitive for agencies to incur. The darker truth is that often it is in a media agencies best interest to limit the amount of data and tracking available because the more insight there is, the more accountable they have to be. It is much easier to talk about data than it is to truly execute on it. The closer an agency can stay to media delivery metrics, the easier it is for them to “look good” and maintain clients and billing based on perception.
The problem is these “wins” exist only on paper and do not translate to the bottom line. These media metrics do not push the business forward, at best they might maintain status quo of just good enough, missing out on key opportunities, at worst they waste a lot of a client’s money.
Inaccurate or insufficient data is probably the most common and most detrimental issue facing most digital media campaigns. Unfortunately, data is most often a talking point, something used to secure a new client but falls by the wayside when it comes to executing. Whether it falls short in reporting, leading to a lack of valuable insights, in application, leading to poor targeting or optimizations, or falling short in setup and accuracy, leading to misinformation and inaccurate perception of effectiveness.
Make sure you have the ability and expert knowledge to know how media metrics are generated, tracked, and most importantly how the data is structured and collected. It’s very easy to skew or misrepresent numbers.
Three questions to ask yourself:
- Has your data and campaign structure been through a forensic audit and gap analysis?
- Has your data and tracking structure been engineered with the proper architecture to measure business impact in addition to media delivery metrics?
- Do you have a regular quality assurance plan and system for ensuring data integrity?
How to Properly Report on Data
Almost all media reporting is overly focused on delivering metrics that are often manipulated, failing to focus on what the actual business metrics are that should be impacted by any media investments.
So, what are the key things to look for when trying to determine if data is an effective component of your media spend?
Reporting is the first line of defense and the first area to find where shortcomings may exist. Reporting should be a mechanism for an agency to convey more than just numbers, it should be a vehicle to connect the dots for clients, to help them understand not only what is happening, but why it is happening and the plan of action to react to it appropriately. Beyond simply looking at data, it should provide insights and takeaways that connect back to whatever the goals and objectives of a campaign are. Those goals and objectives should be tied to the impact the campaign has on the target audience and the actions they should take after exposure, NOT just media objectives.
If reports are overly focused on media delivery metrics or easily manipulated metrics like CPM, CPC, CTR, with little focus on business oriented outcomes or actionable insights like audiences, data, inventory, and other meaningful components, then this shows there is more focus on spending the dollars than creating tangible influence.
Business metrics that show actions consumers are taking should be heavily layered into reporting. Metrics like sales, CPA, Offline actions, traffic trends, new vs returning users, etc. The key is looking at how media is influencing behaviors to justify the value of the investment.
In the absence of focus on these business metrics, when media metrics are the focus, it opens up a world of concerns like media being more focused on “taking credit” than creating influence. This means that a campaign is more interested in serving as many ads to as many people as possible so that if consumers take an action, the campaign can take credit. The problem with this is, this leads to campaigns that simply piggyback off momentum instead of helping to create it.
Simple media metrics are extremely easy to manipulate and inflate, there is no shortage of easy to secure sources of low CPC, high CTR, low CPM inventory that looks great on paper but creates little to no real value in the market. As long as the inventory makes it through basic checks and balances during setup that overly relies on machine learning, if a knowledgeable team isn’t watching and tying spend back to business objectives, then money can be wasted quickly.
We have seen many clients who have suffered from these types of poor setups and misleading reporting practices, completely unaware of any issues due to the rosy picture painted.
We have seen clients where previous agencies created and showcased case studies about their work with a client, touting the “incredible” media results achieved, only to conduct an audit and find that for all the “amazing” media results, the business was flat or even down.
We have seen clients who were led to believe that things like impressions, clicks, engagement, were the end all be all. Only to dive deeper and find that data opportunities exist that allow for sales match-back that ties media exposure to retailer sales data to validate performance.
We have seen clients with agencies that wasted 7 figure budgets bidding on Search terms focused on keywords where the client already owned the top organic spots and there was no competition in paid, but the agency wanted to “take credit” for existing activity because it looked better on paper.
We’ve had clients who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in CRM systems only to find just of fraction of the capabilities were ever utilized with their agency taking no steps to engage with the system, or significant sums spent on Data Management Platforms only to talk to reps at those companies and learn that they had never been contacted by the previous agency. These are all instances where the focus on spending media budgets blinded everyone to the meaningful rationale behind spending media budgets. The focus became creating positive perception over creating positive results. All energy and time was spent on campaign execution, usually applying cookie cutter strategies rather than thinking about the individual needs of the client, their unique business, and the nuance that might make the difference for them. It’s a one size fits all approach and the people working on the campaign typically have tunnel vision for their channel or tactic and the bigger picture gets lost.
The worst part is the agency who should know better and whose responsibility is to “guide” their clients, failed to do right by them either due to their own lack of knowledge, a lack of resources, or a blatant choice to not prioritize data and accountability. In every instance, the client was either completely unaware of the issues and only discovered after enough time passed for them to conduct a review or in worse cases believed wholeheartedly that the “best” work was already being done because they were intentionally led to believe so.
Look well past media reporting and delivery metrics that can falsely take credit and into what numbers and data actually showcase trackable influence that ultimately impacts sales. Make sure your team is investing in influencing real returns, not media automation scale and efficiency.
Three questions to ask yourself:
- Have you been focusing on the delivery metrics over business metrics with your media campaigns?
- What measures are in place that you can identify to be solely tied to tracking business metrics from the media delivery?
- How do you know the very best work is being done?
How to Utilize Data to Prove the Real Value of a Campaign
Very few, if any, consumers ever click on the first ad they see and buy. Conversely, the last ad they click on and buy from is rarely the only ad that influenced a purchase decision.
So how can these pitfalls be avoided? Well a great starting point is data
A great campaign should leverage data and insights to expand the momentum a brand or product already has. It should be structured to create a user funnel where awareness is at the top but re-engagement and additional touchpoints help support an action through consideration and conversion. It should match target consumer’s digital habits to tap into these behaviors to create exposure that has a tangible impact.
Consumer’s digital behaviors are not isolated to seeing a single ad, clicking on it, and taking an action. The way that consumers really experience their digital lives is they are exposed to messaging across multiple platforms, across a period of time, that tells a compounding story that reinforces value propositions. This market exposure has crossover between channels and therefore must account for the value of a view through, a click through, first touch, last touch, and other attributions. A campaign focused on last touch will assign too much credit to certain platforms, a campaign focused on click through will miss the impact of ad views, and everything in between. Consumers generally need to see multiple ads in multiple environments and different formats, then they will either click on an ad eventually, conduct a search, or type a URL in directly. All of the touchpoints that exist prior to this action all hold value in the overall campaign, but if a single KPI or attribution method is assigned then many touchpoints will be overlooked. It is impossible to know if a video view prior to a search made the difference between action or inaction. However, with the right data you can see trends and correlation that help inform better investments.
The only way to properly structure and optimize a campaign to account for complexities of the digital ecosystem, is to create data streams and feedback loops capable of showing consumer behaviors that happen AFTER they are exposed to an ad campaign. What behaviors are valuable to measure should be considered uniquely for each client. Once the behaviors are identified, it is critical to determine how they can best be measured and then ensuring that the measurement process is properly implemented for accuracy. With measurement in place, accuracy validated, it then allows for a strategy of data utilization to be applied to media spends. This is a much deeper engagement, that requires time and investment, inserts more accountability, and is likely to identify hard truths, but it is a worthwhile exercise to get better about media investments and set a stage for positive growth and improvement over time. Would you rather spend $100 on a truly new customer with a long LTV or $50 on a paper customer who was already planning to buy? Would you rather spend $100 generating exposure to many new customers who have never seen your brand and will buy in the next 30-60 days or $100 generating exposure to retargeting users, showing them the same ad over and over only to have them buy within 1 day when they were most likely already going to buy? Cheap results rarely deliver high value. Data helps you discover where the real value is.
Avoid a myopic view of how individual channels or ads can take credit. Instead, develop a full-funnel feedback loop that addresses the entire consumer experience and journey, and yields insights into what messaging and channels work together to influence behavior.
Three questions to ask yourself:
- Are you focused only on last-click attribution?
- Do you have visibility into the complete funnel exposure profile and how all digital media channels are contributing?
- Do you have a system in place that feeds a full 360 data feedback loop from media to sales results?
Obtain Holistic Influence Across the Entire Digital Ecosystem
There is too much reliance on promises from technology that proposes the ability to track and measure everything. Most of these companies have failed or pivoted because they ultimately cannot predict human behaviors.
With this level of sophistication, it becomes important to understand just how accurate attribution is and what is really possible.
There is a lot of market chatter around all the amazing and revolutionary attribution and tracking capabilities available. The truth is, there is great technology and options in the market, but there is no silver bullet at capturing the full picture of “why” consumers do the things they do, it is nearly impossible to ensure that every component of a campaign is 100% accurately measured and given the right credit for the role it may or may not play in a decision. This is why hundreds of attribution companies have come and gone over the years, all of them promising the next big thing only to fail to provide the perfect outcome.
Rather than relying on grandiose promises from technology to try and be perfect, we are better served accepting the limitations and instead structuring a plan that operates within the limitations the best way possible but applies common sense and deep reasoning. This means leveraging the best technology that makes sense based on the specifics of a brand, campaign, or media channel. Layering in different data and assigning different KPI’s that indicate different influences media may be having. This might mean view through attribution for Video, CTV, banners, and click through to Search and Social. It might mean last touch for Google and multitouch for Programmatic. It might mean measuring site engagement after some ad exposure and purchase behavior after other ad exposure. It definitely means accepting there is no 1:1 perfect model. Seeking perfection will certainly lead to making poor media decisions. Last touch models will always diminish the value of upper funnel channels and overinflate lower funnel channels, multitouch can struggle to account for nuanced consumer behaviors, and all models struggle to strike a balance between immediate performance value and long term growth value. Throw in offline behaviors to go with online, and it can become muddy quite quickly.
We have seen clients that refused to assign value to view through conversion tracking because it is “not reliable enough”. This stance was taken without acknowledgement of how much missed opportunity it creates by completely discounting the value that ad exposure can have on long term results. It handcuffs an entire campaign by limiting it to the few channels and strategies that produce click through activity and eliminates all opportunity to leverage ad exposures to create awareness, consideration, and even conversion driven through lower funnel channels like Search. It ignores the idea that a video can create a behavior where a consumer who is newly introduced to a brand or product, is then that much more likely to click when served a Facebook ad or that much more likely to conduct a Google search, filling the branded search term bucket that gets so much last touch love. It places a ceiling on positive growth driven by broad strategies applied intelligently in favor of the comfort of certainty. Rather than taking a blanket stance against view through, these clients can work with a partner capable of developing better data models that can show stronger correlation between these ad exposures and increased business, rather than assuming they cannot deliver value commensurate with investment. Once again, it all comes down to data and how it is used to make better decisions.
Instead of perfection, the goal should be a measurement plan that is capable of highlighting the value of media investments and enabling media teams to make more informed decisions to impact the macro business metrics in a positive way. This might mean slightly less “effective” campaigns on paper, but the bigger picture succeeds due to holistic influence across the entire digital ecosystem, that matches the way consumers really engage and how they are really influenced by marketing.
It allows room for the subtlety that can be missed in more rigid systems that are not built bespoke for individual clients. After all, the goal of spending money on media is not the prettiest report, it is the greatest growth to the bottom line.
Know that consumers are influenced by many different exposures, develop models, and KPIs that are specific for each channel and tactic, that all aggregate to provide macro attribution analysis tied to actual business revenues.
Three questions to ask yourself:
- Are you relying on a single source of attribution technology that promises to tell all?
- Do you have a holistic attribution funnel that assigns trackable and measurable KPI’s for each strategy and tactic?
- Do your digital media strategies and tactics serve to provide a complete picture of influence versus only what can be measured 1:1?
Conclusion: Data Needs to Be A Part of the Bigger Conversation
Not enough time, knowledge, and money is invested beyond the act of buying media with technology that is designed to simply create automated efficiency. The key is understanding what the desired user behaviors are, how the user experiences their journey and determining what data points can be collected and how they can be used. With all of this mapped out, then a realistic picture of what is possible to track and measure can be formulated and implemented for the campaign. There is no one size fits all, perfect solution for every campaign option, the process must be bespoke to each effort and the tracking needs to be a major part of the overall strategy that informs how a campaign will be run.
The biggest concern of all is when data is not a major part of the conversation at all or when data is setup wrong. It is extremely common for data to be collected in flawed environments where actions are missed altogether, double and triple counted, duplicated, assigned wrong, and more. The frequency and common existence of these errors is rampant and often never detected. Due to complexities, data errors are almost never found, and campaigns can go on for years using misinformation, either creating waste or at the very least significant missed opportunity.
The sooner data is evaluated and improved, the sooner it can be leveraged for improvements. There is likely tremendous untapped potential lying in wait for the vast majority of campaigns. It just requires the right questions and the right time and energy applied for discovering and applying this approach.
Three Final Questions:
- Is trackable and measurable data at the center of your investment models?
- How do you know for sure your data architecture is structured properly?
- Is your digital media agency aligned and incentivized to produce returns versus buying media?