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Originally Published in MediaPost
February 2, 2024
Authored by Casey Soulies

How Marketers Can Shape Up, And Slim Down, With Measurement

Once again, physical fitness goals topped the Forbes list of most common New Year's resolutions among U.S. adults. But rather than dropping a few pounds, marketers looking to improve their performance in 2024 might want to start by shedding some KPIs.

Today’s marketers are often tempted to overload measurement plans with a litany of campaign metrics that tell a positive story for their brands. While such data is valuable for measuring advertising ROI and planning future campaigns, it does not necessarily gauge overall marketing effectiveness or provide an accurate reading of whether marketing is driving real value for the business.

With so much recent attention on how artificial intelligence allows marketers to do their jobs better and faster, it is easy to lose sight of the ultimate prize—creatively inspired data-driven marketing that translates into better business results. In this age of AI-driven efficiency, the common refrain of “how to do more with less” can and should extend to measurement: how to show more with less.

Vanity metrics are not enough

There are many reasons why marketers have bought into “vanity metrics.” And while there are valid places and purposes for these metrics, they alone are not enough. Without a hypothesis or way to establish a connection with the desired business outcomes, the value and impact of the marketing becomes less clear. Currently, only 8% of marketing effectiveness metrics are related to business outcomes, while 41% are linked to campaign reach and media delivery, according to research from the Data & Marketing Association.

A thorough assessment of every brand’s measurement strategy will begin to reveal how to close this gap. Marketers will require a more focused and restrained measurement approach that can address the complex challenges of a privacy-first world.

Privacy solutions: No silver bullet for attribution

Attribution modeling, never an exact science, is only becoming more complicated in the current digital media environment. Privacy restrictions have forced major changes to the way marketers track online behavior and target and measure digital advertising. Google, Facebook and TikTok have all introduced new reporting tools and measurement solutions to address marketers’ concerns about a lack of transparency into ad performance on their platforms.

Each of these channel solutions is critical for optimizing spending and validating a full-funnel media strategy. However, none should be considered a silver bullet or used to rationalize a kitchen-sink approach to measurement. On the contrary, the more complex the landscape becomes, the more important it is for marketers to reduce the noise in campaign results and focus on delivering outcomes that are the most meaningful for their business.

Keys to a successful measurement program

Rather than adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to measurement, every company and brand can refine their choice of metrics and customize a measurement strategy with these keys to a successful program:

Establish confidence in media delivery as a first step toward a desired outcome.

Ads that appear in digital mediums like DOOH and CTV allow brands to gain a more verifiable exposure, but by themselves do not necessarily lead to an attributable impact or business outcome. Awareness tactics—even in a digital environment—need to work together to achieve the business objectives. An effective measurement plan will illustrate the impact of each campaign element, and marketers in charge of those plans must resist the temptation to optimize elements in isolation of overall performance.

Build a bridge between online and offline metrics, or between campaign metrics and business results.

Survey data, lift studies and digital attribution used in combination can help establish these connections. Start with metrics that define success (e.g., hotel reservations made, concert tickets sold). Then use campaign data to draw correlations and identify the best path or sequence of engagements that will return those results. This can be done, for example, by trending TV ad exposure against search behavior or lift in intent or purchases.

Level set goals and expectations to create a shared vision of measurement success.

Cross-functional alignment on how to optimize and define success is just as important as the chosen metrics. Marketers need to set clear expectations on platform roles from the outset, paired with a hypothesis on how this impacts the business objective.

One simple technique is to devote a portion of the kickoff session to a discussion of what success looks between the marketer, agency and third-party vendors. Ask up front, “When we regroup a month into our program and report on findings, what data is going to indicate success in your mind?” to avoid any disconnect in storytelling around success down the road.

It is worth remembering that the nature of measurement, like marketing itself, is dynamic. What we hypothesize may not end up being what drives results. The techniques we employ are not perfect, but they can always get better. The more we close the gap between marketing performance and overall success, the better shape we’ll all be in throughout the year.

Originally published in MediaPost.