Let’s Move Past Traditional Metrics and Take Risks on Intuition Again

By Jamie Gier, chief marketing officer of Ceros

Traditional metrics are failing us. Nearly none of them acknowledges real buyer behavior.

In our yearning to identify what drives digital engagement, we are often awash in numbers: click-through rates, impressions, unique visitors and any number of other metrics. But bobbing above that KPI tidal surge is a reminder of what truly determines brand success: creative quality. The quantity-over-quality era for brand engagement is nearing an end. And not a moment too soon.

For too long marketing professionals have been too focused on the wrong metrics, or the metrics they use can be misleading. Adding to the problem are tech giants such as Google or Apple that can shift a policy or tweak an algorithm and change the landscape.

What truly works for brand engagement is quality content, creative storytelling. Evidence — yes, even data — is mounting. Traditional metrics are OK at best. At worst, they’re sleight of hand.

Data Doesn’t Always Measure Up

The metrics we use most often now have limited value.

A May study by the Association of National Advertisers said marketers are mostly looking at the wrong performance indicators. Only one of the top five most important KPIs ranked by marketers is among the most used: return on investment. Yet marketers still fuss over CPM, CPC, unique reach and site visits. (The other four most important KPIs: exposed return on ad spend, brand safety metrics, customer lifetime value and conversions.)

Making matters worse are misleading metrics. The ANA survey also asked marketers about “head fakes” for media — KPIs that aren’t really useful and may even be deceptive. Most cited were likes, comments and shares on social media.

Throw in bot clicks, fake sites and shifting standards on privacy and the use of cookies and, well, metrics alone as guidance for your brand is a risky proposition.

What are we losing sight of in not recognizing the value of implied attribution behind other aspects of the customer journey, the creative content that cannot be so easily measured? What about something we heard on a podcast or the radio that sticks with us? What about some website interactive we put down a week ago but still remember today?

Even if we buy into what some of the metrics are telling us, what they’re telling us is we’re doing something wrong.

Shirley Macbeth, chief marketing officer of Forrester Research, recently told Renegade Thinkers Live that the number of touchpoints in the typical buyer’s journey has grown from 17 in 2019 to 27. Twenty-seven!

Clearly, the status quo is not connecting well with users.

Quality Pays Off

For the data-centered, there are reasons to refocus on the quality of content, which we know drives user engagement further down the sales funnel.

As the ANA report noted, the quality of the media exposure is more important than the quantity of the media exposure in driving results. Outcome KPIs, such as return on investment and conversions, are replacing output KPIs, such as cost per click or unique reach.

Dynamic, interactive content that drives further engagement also will bolster a brand’s first-party data collection, letting brands be less reliant on third-party cookies, regardless of whatever Google, Apple or others do.

Aside from data, which always will have some limitations, quality content is just plain good work. It informs and entertains. It is trusted and shared. It raises awareness and appreciation of your brand. Study your audience and understand what they need. Create ideal customer personas so you can create quality content that appeals to them emotionally. What motivates them? What inspires them? Let your broader knowledge of your audience be your North Star.

Marketers don’t give people enough credit. Researchers at Penn State earlier this year found that clickbait headlines — titles that ask questions, for example, or use superlatives to attract readers — aren’t any more effective than regular headlines and in some cases perform worse. Too many metrics reflect tricks used for metrics’ sakes rather than insight into actual buyer behavior.

Metrics — the right kind of metrics — still can be a valuable guide for marketers. But they are just one type of guide. And the zeal in which we embraced them — because the technology could validate our efforts — made us too often forget the critical role quality plays in content. It’s time for marketers to recalibrate.

Jamie Gier, Chief Marketing Officer

Jamie Gier for more than 25 years has been working with leading technology companies that are driving positive social impact to improve the way we learn, work and live. She has extensive experience scaling and growing businesses by creating impactful brands, designing revenue-generating go-to-market strategies, and leading high-performing teams across product marketing, corporate communications, public relations, digital marketing, and demand creation. Prior to joining Ceros, Jamie held executive-level marketing positions at DreamBox Learning, SCI Solutions (now R1), Microsoft, and GE Healthcare and was involved in a number of industry mergers and acquisitions.

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