As the digital marketing world continues to expand, it can be harder for those not involved in the day-to-day to lose sight of the value of each piece of the total marketing scope. It can sometimes be easiest to segment all the platforms and engines and judge them in a silo, but the truth is that all those engines work together to contribute to the machine.

For those of you reading from the C-level point of view – I get it. Business is about profit, and profit is gained from positive return on ad spend. The more direct the measurement, the better. So those channels that aren’t directly producing revenue appear less valuable. Anyone would agree reallocating that indirect revenue producing spend to a directly producing channel…except that’s not how the digital marketing world works.

I know some of you are aware of this (we have some exceptional CMO-level relationships with clients that have excelled because this understanding is mutual), but a majority of the time the agency-side contact isn’t that high up the chain.

Which brings me to my next audience: those of you reading from the in-house manager-level point of view and those of you from the agency perspective. Similarly, there are plenty of you/us who understand this formula and want to make the long-term plan start to fall into place with digital marketing channels all working in a harmonious state. The challenge on that end is the need to present a united front without stepping on toes. This can be overcome, but it can also be an uphill battle until your voice is heard.

The first construct you must accept is that those in leadership in-house positions have gotten there on many of the practices of the non or less-digital age. Their stuff worked, and some of it still does. Ultimate success will be found once those two tool sets can come together.

Let’s dig into the typical channels where these discussions take place, how the current digital landscape is contributing to an expansion of the direct-return debate, and potential ways to measure and present the multi-channel funnel necessity.

Usual Suspects

The vast majority of marketing channels have ways of tracking performance against themselves, but not all of them get along well with reporting across other channels on the full path of revenue production. Engagement or branding-based campaigns on social, display or programmatic engines can and do contribute tremendously to ROI – but the direct correlation isn’t always there.

Let’s review a sample scenario for “Tim,” who is looking to purchase a lawnmower.

  1. On his social channels, Tim talks about looking for a new lawnmower and then starts seeing Facebook Ads for a hardware store.
  2. Tim goes to the store’s Facebook page to check the location, hours, if there are any promotions going for lawn mowers, etc.
  3. Tim finds out they are indeed running a special on one of the mowers in their top three and ‘Likes’ the post with the discount information.
  4. Tim sees another ad, but in his news feed, for the same store and sale a couple days later.
  5. Tim searches on Google for the name of the store.
  6. In the first ad space, Tim sees a result for a different store and without any apparent specials running.
  7. Tim clicks through to the competitor site and signs up for the email newsletter.
  8. A week later when Tim is checking his email, he sees a Gmail ad for the first store he engaged with on Facebook. The ad talks about how their competitors aren’t offering any Spring specials and again mention their lawn mower sale.
  9. Tim clicks the ad and scrolls through the landing page, which is focused on the promotional lawn mowers only. Tim views the mower he had his eye on previously but looks at two others as well. Overwhelmed with the choices and seeing that the sale is on for another week, he decides to think about it later.
  10. A few days later, Tim gets an email from his favorite lawn and garden blog about new mulch options coming out this season.
  11. Tim opens the email and goes to the blog, seeing a Display ad with the three mower models he had previously reviewed. There’s a reminder that the sale is just days from ending.
  12. Tim clicks the ad and selects a mower.
  13. As Tim is about to purchase the mower, getting through the account sign up process and currently on the checkout page, the phone rings and he has to leave.
  14. The next day Tim gets an email about the abandoned cart.
  15. Tim clicks the email and finishes the checkout process.

Did we all follow that? Can we all agree that’s by no means an out of the ordinary scenario for an online purchase? And I left out the extra link when there’s a brick and mortar location involved and Tim stops in to get a good look at the mowers he’s considering (but the sale price isn’t available in the store…unless he has a coupon code from the website that’s linked back to the lead source that produced the website visit…). I won’t keep boring you with the spectrum of options to explore, but there were so many steps & channels involved in that situation, I lost track mid-way through!

There were at least seven touchpoints, and some of them can be micro-segmented to credit for a couple different contributors. Looking at the path, it can be reasonable to assume that the competing brands could be out there at any point and try to scoop up the customer, so it’s crucial that you stay in front of them every step of the way.

“There Isn’t Really A Traditional Funnel Anymore…”

“…It’s all about the micro moments.”Jeff Allen

If there’s one drum beat I see our industry hammering this year, it’s that competition is just going to increase so getting creative and opening up your marketing scope will be the surest way to profitable campaigns. Each year there are more advertisers in the space, which drives up costs for the competition and then on top of that – the engines themselves change things fairly frequently (see: sidebar ad removal) and not always in a way that works out well for brands.

To complicate things further, as the search & digital landscapes continue to evolve, the consumers on the other side of the screen are maturing, as well. They know to research in more detail to make sure they’re getting the best deal and so on. The buying cycle is longer and starts earlier than it ever has before so the key is to solidify your position in every segment of the sales cycle, from consideration to purchase. This is a fact, and you can see it in the number of platforms, engines and technologies at the digital marketing industry’s fingertips. And they are all massively important to achieving continued and increasing profitability.

How Do We Promote Alignment And Understanding?

There are a number of resources in recent months and years that report CMOs and similar C-suite positions want agencies that can offer them true partnership support. These items include:

  • The agency taking time to educate themselves on the brand/products,
  • Agency participation in regular business reviews (sometimes with other departments in their company)
  • The agency team consistently bringing new strategic ideas to the table and being ready to help tackle data, performance and analysis issues.

Final Thoughts

The thing that gets me here is that when agencies or in-house teams do that, it’s these somewhat experimental tests to do just those things that get the ax first. Social channels may not start delivering direct conversions right away, but they can start a larger conversation about your brand and products. Display ads may not even get clicks, but you can target them to an audience you know would buy your product and be an option when they begin researching to make a purchase.

Think of it this way – if your business had grown from success via billboard or catalog marketing, would you risk pulling them completely and simply hoping sales and revenue stayed level? Or would you maybe only test pulling back on them slightly to see if profits were maintained?

I’ll not deny there is always a point of diminishing return, even in branding or engagement-focused campaigns, but you also cannot deny the importance of those campaigns to cap either end of your sales funnel. Time and time again we see client contacts that are not typically part of the conversation pop in and not see the big picture. Again, there are those that do, but those of you struggling need to take a step back and look at changes in your customer purchase habits, sales cycles, and most productive channels. Apply that knowledge to ensuring your place in your market at every stage of your prospective customer funnel.

Chime in! Tell us your thoughts on the ever-changing customer journey, no matter what perspective you’re coming from, and how you’ve adjusted your thought processes around measuring ROI accordingly. We look forward to hearing your experiences and questions!