What is your biggest challenge as a marketer?
- Proving the ROI of my efforts.
What is your biggest fear as a marketer?
- Measuring the ROI of my efforts.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had some version of the conversation above. I will try not to overcomplicate things and say it simply—marketers are afraid of measurement. So much so that they would rather have either
INCORRECT data, or even
DATA THEY CAN’T TRUST because they know it comes from a partner invested in the data conveying a certain story.
There are exceptions—after all, Knotch wouldn’t have gotten where it is today without organizations that believe in the power of data-driven marketing—but the industry at large is still plagued by gridlock between the need for better measurement and the fear of it.
When I moved from Silicon Valley to New York and relaunched Knotch as a Content Intelligence Platform, I went to a few conferences and read all of the ANA reports I could get my hands on. I was an outsider looking in. But the message I received was clear—
Marketers’ greatest challenge was a lack of actionable insights to measure and improve the ROI of their efforts.
It took me a couple of years to realize the difference between what marketers said and what they meant as well as the difference between marketers wanting to measure their efforts & improve versus wanting to PROVE the value of their efforts.
So in 2018 I set forth creating all of our messaging and pitch materials around solving for transparency by collecting independent, holistic content performance data across the entire content ecosystem. And the good news is that we attracted and resonated with some of the most progressive marketers in the industry who would go on to become our first customers.
It didn’t take long for the data to start showing not only what was working but also what wasn’t. With my data-driven mindset, I thought, “marketers want to measure so they can know what to double down on and what to cut. Now they do—so success!” But the reality was like an onion with many layers of teams, partners, technologies etc. who were not invested in “measuring and improving” but rather “proving” that the work was successful because their role or their partnership was dependent on that.
The irony is that digital has created more data breadcrumbs than ever before, so in theory, this is a fixable issue. In practice, digital gives everyone their own (proprietary or chosen) dataset to prove their point. So the real challenge is choosing THE RIGHT single source of data truth for each of your big marketing investments and sticking to it.
Years later the situation has only marginally improved, largely because no one is raising awareness around it. We talk about it at a high level when we discuss the short CMO tenures but we never drill down to discover why this bad equilibrium has not yet been fixed, who can fix it, and how CMOs can drive the change management needed to fix it.
I don’t claim to have the full answer, but here are the building blocks of a potential solution—one that matters more than ever now that everything we do as marketers is digital.
If you’re a CMO, you need to find out what data sources and metrics are being used to measure and optimize your efforts. Don’t stop at “we have a sophisticated attribution model and a complex BI dashboard that pulls in all of the relevant data.” The key is making sure that the data that is being collected is high integrity, high quality, and analyzed through the right lens.
Your marketing strategy should be reflected in the definition of the metrics you use to measure success—not just in the beautiful creative you have put together.
Here is what to start thinking about and some examples of questions to ask your team:
- Ensure Your Data is Not Biased: What is the source of the data we use to measure the performance of our content / marketing efforts? Is it an independent source or are we using the data delivered by the partners who are invested in telling us they did a great job?
- Connect To Business Outcomes: How do we translate the outcomes we are looking to drive along the customer journey into metrics? What metrics do we track at each relevant inflection point?
- Measure Failure: How do we know we have succeeded? How do we know we have not? Can you share some examples of leading indicators or metrics that we use to recognize what is not working early and adjust? Can you include examples of “failures” or key learnings into our updates?
- Demand Data Ownership: Who owns the data we collect through our digital efforts? Where is it housed?
Ultimately, your team needs permission to be data-driven. They need permission to fail and optimize. And they need to know you care enough to ask the questions that will police all bad behavior, data weaponization, and bias.
If you are a marketing or comms leader, especially a content leader, you need to own your reporting and your data collection. If you can’t control what is being collected, what is being measured, and what the ROI framework looks like, then you have already lost the battle of relevance within your company. You need to take the lead in setting up the right indicators for success before the tech team or the data team tells you what success looks like.
Think about it: You are the practitioner, creative, and strategist. Why would you let someone who is none of those things rate your performance based on the data & metrics they are used to looking at versus the metrics you know will drive the business.
It’s not just about attribution. Attribution tells you IF you have succeeded. It’s about optimization around the leading attribution indicators that matters. Take the lead in defining those metrics, measuring for those metrics, and optimizing for those metrics so you can influence the outcome, not just defend the outcome. That is how you can take control of your ROI, relevance within the org, and ultimately the impact you have on your company.
If you are a content leader and need help thinking through what the right metrics are, let me know. Even if I’m not able to help, the Pros & Content Community (a community of the content leaders from the top brands in the world) will be.
If you are still with me, thank you. If you have a few minutes, I would love to hear from you. How do you think we can combat this challenge around the nebulousness of digital marketing? Would love your feedback below!