Measuring What Matters: Missteps in Marketing Reporting (and how to fix them)

By Ellie Jackson, Chief Client Strategy Officer

One of the fascinating things about being in marketing in the last decade or so has been the evolution of digital marketing and how that’s affected measurement and reporting. For the first time, we have been able to link campaigns, content and coverage to shifts in the quantity and quality of web traffic. That data not only shows us what has and what hasn’t worked but is also a directional steer for future campaigns.

The seductive nature of short-term metrics

Take media relations, which has traditionally been considered hard to measure. Efforts like AMEC’s Barcelona Principles have made good headway, but when you get into the details, it’s still an area of much debate. Against that backdrop, the transparency of digital marketing reporting has been seductive. There’s been a drive to measure more and more marketing activity in this way – assessing short-term ROI based on clicks and conversions.  A recent study from the LinkedIn B2B Institute found that of 4,000 B2B marketers, just four per cent were measuring the effect of campaigns beyond six months. 

It’s tempting. And there’s no denying that it’s useful to see when a piece of coverage has prompted a rise in traffic or branded search, and how that traffic has performed. We can see that the coverage is being seen by the right people and prompting immediate engagement. 

But this is where we need to be careful not to overreach. What we’re doing here is using short-term, lead generation metrics to assess a tactic from the long-term brand-building stable. This is valuable information, but it’s only part of the picture. It’s like judging a marathon by how fast the runners cover the first 100 meters. 

The Long and the Short of it

If you’re familiar with Binet and Field’s work The Long and the Short of it, skip on down a couple of paragraphs. If not, let me explain what I mean. It’s useful to think of marketing as having two broad elements: long-term brand-building, and short-term ‘performance marketing’ or sales activation. Success comes from the right combination of the two, which both feed and feed off each other. 

The ‘long’ is about brand-building: strengthening your brand awareness and perceptions over time to increase brand salience – the likelihood of your brand being top of mind at the point of purchase. When it comes to big B2B purchases – an area in which we specialize, the chances are that only around five to ten per cent of your audience is actively looking to buy at any given time. So, a big part of the game is ensuring that your brand is first to mind when your prospect moves into the buying cycle. Because even for high-mental-involvement purchases, supported by buying committees and procurement teams, lots of research indicates that being one of the top brands to spring to mind initially has a high correlation with eventual purchase. 

Another central value of brand-building is the price premium you can command. Price is generally considered to be one of the biggest levers of profit growth, and one of the biggest contributors to price insensitivity is brand strength. So, it’s about future sales and the margin you can make on those future sales – which is of course a major part of how stock valuation is built. (For more on how to win internal conversations on the value of brand investment, see here.) 

Of course, all of that takes time, and must be complemented by the ‘short’: lead generation – the type that’s naturally more measurable because the path to purchase is more direct. 

Long-term metrics for long-term tactics

So, to pick up the thread: when we assess long-term tactics like brand-building – which is generally the primary aim of B2B media relations – by short-term metrics, we risk missing part of the picture. The truly meaningful measures of long-term brand-building efforts, such as media relations, are growth in brand awareness or salience, and brand perceptions versus direct and indirect competitors and how these change over time. 

Choosing the right reporting for you 

Where does that leave reporting? The first thing to say is that almost all reporting is valuable as long as you’re using it in the right way. A monthly list of coverage with details on the publication’s reach and overall view on KPI progress is a really helpful way to assess whether your media relations team is delivering what you agreed. Plenty of our clients opt for this route and it works well for them. 

If – as a growing number of our clients choose – you can get an integrated report that considers the full range of marketing tactics in the round and links aspects like coverage to web traffic, that is even better – as long as you recognize that this is only part of the value of the media relations program. 

Best of all, of course, is proper independent audience research, completed annually. That will show you the real impact of your activities and shape your future strategy. Of course, that costs money. Money well spent, I’d argue, since it allows you to optimize your broader marketing investment, but it’s not feasible for all. We’re a pragmatic bunch and are always exploring options to fit all budgets – whether that’s using Share of Search or smaller focus groups. 

Whatever route you choose, the key is to be intentional in the way you use it to ensure you’re not missing part of the picture.  

If any of this has whetted your appetite for more meaningful metrics, contact our team of strategists.  

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