The challenges of defining ‘returns’ in the digital age
28 September 2012
How digital marketing success is perceived, measured and reported remains a constant point of contention. In an industry that is still very much emerging, ever increasing pressure is being placed on agencies to define and demonstrate how, when and what the return on investment of a campaign should be.
While previously the success of a digital campaign has been very much tied to the activity’s ability to generate eyeballs, clicks and sales, it has become extremely clear that this approach is simply trying to fit an old key in a new lock. But if this is the case and there is an industry consensus that the way digital marketing and advertising is measured requires a serious rethink, where do we go from here?
Like any marketing campaign or, it is safe to say, wider business function, success can only be determined by comparing the overall results against the initial objectives that are set. Trouble is – what should those objectives be? Hard, soft, short, medium, long-term?
Then add the ever expanding breadth of mediums and opportunities requiring agencies to continually innovate, experiment and push the boundaries of what is possible – and it all gets quite messy and impossible to measure and evaluate – that is - if you try and measure against what the business wants - rather than how the shopper behaves!
In the same way that online advertising is no longer solely about generating click-through’s, digital marketing achieves much more than boosting sales because it is often part of an inter-connected journey along the path to purchase. Increasingly, digital activity is often about adding greater value to the shopper’s experience and relationship with a brand and changing their behaviour, step by step.
The shift from sales focused content to branded content that has resulted from an over commercialisation of online social channels is the perfect example of this. Facebook profiles, Twitter handles, online games all which are created by brands should not be designed to provide immediate sales boosts. Rather, these are about delivering a much less tangible return – increased engagement, brand affiliation and community. In other words - Return on Involvement along the path to purchase.
Instead of asking for something from the shopper in the form of a purchase, this type of activity draws them in by giving them something of value. The impact this has in helping shoppers take the next step on their Purchase Decision Journey can be measured, and the positive associations these interactions deliver are undeniable and increasingly feed into our daily lives. These will be the returns of the future.
The evolution of how we perceive and understand the return digital activity delivers is inevitable. However, the challenge for digital agencies and brands alike is aligning this with the wider business objectives to ensure it is enhancing overall marketing efforts. Achieving this alongside constantly staying on top of the innovations that are taking place and the opportunities these give rise to is no easy feat, but digital is the future and it is simply a case of how long until this happens instead of will this happen.
Phil White, planning director, G2 EMEA