As a "new age" digital marketer, I embrace the modern approach to marketing. I believe digital should come first. I believe that the online representation of your brand is as important as the physical representation. I believe the tools and trackability of digital marketing and advertising give small business owners an unprecedented ability to analyze the effectiveness of their efforts and to allocate resources accordingly.
However, there are areas where I am at odds with my new-age brethren; I don't believe in the singular focus on conversion tracking to drive strategy and tactics. I believe that hourly billing and bureaucracy in large agencies end up hurting most small businesses.
Many would call me a marketing heretic for these views, but let me explain.
My family recently decided we needed to make some changes to the configuration of our vehicles. As it turns out, a small SUV doesn't meet the demands of four outdoor enthusiasts living in the American West. We needed more space and determined a full-sized pickup was the answer.
Armed with my list of "wants" and "needs," I proceeded to research all the options, with the notable exception of Ford. There were a few reasons for this, but the primary factor was I had owned a Ford in the past, and it had lived up to its nickname of the "Exploder."
As we proceeded through our investigation period, we increasingly noticed that we were subjected to various targeted ads on YouTube and Hulu promoting regional auto dealers and their trucks-de-jour. We didn't pay much attention to them. Or, more fittingly, we didn't consciously pay any attention to them.
After months of investigating, I was driving past a Ford dealership. Some voice in my head told me I should check their offering. I wasn't sure why I'd had a change of heart. I just knew, somewhere deep inside the recesses of my psyche, that I wanted to give them a shot.
Fast forward a few weeks, and there is an F150 in my driveway.
After my family goes to bed, you can generally find me in one of two places: in front of my computer tweaking SQL queries or plunking away on my yellow Telecaster, emulating the sounds of famous bluesmen like Albert Collins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or my all-time favorite - the contemporary Gary Clark Jr.
Generally, I dawn headphones and connect to YouTube, where there is an endless supply of songs and licks to learn. This is where the first two threads of our story collide.
About a week after we purchased the Ford, I noticed I'd been served a YouTube Ad promoting Ford Trucks set over a Gary Clark Jr. tune. My interest was piqued. With a keen marketers insight, I began to pay attention to the ads I was being served, and I found this particular ad was hitting my stream about 25% of the time. Further research indicated the ad had been around for a long time - it was not new - and I'd likely been seeing it for weeks or months while waiting for a new song or backing track to course through my headphones.
I realized, to my own horror, that I'd been had. The smart folks at Ford had managed to associate something I didn't like (them) with something I loved. In turn, they had changed my perception of their brand. If nothing else, this opened the door for me to consider their brand. As it turned out, it got them a sale.
The Marketing Industrial Complex
Most modern agencies will approach small business in a certain way. In turn, their practices have informed small business owners about the "questions they should ask" when tracking marketing effectiveness. Mostly, this comes down to the client wanting to understand Return-on-Investment (ROI) and the agency quantifying this via conversion tracking.
This focus leads to a cycle of testing, tracking conversions, refining, and re-deploying. Any changes to a campaign are intended to lower the cost of conversions and reduce the veritable Cost Per Acquisition (CPA).
This is a noble endeavor, and I'm certainly in favor of reducing CPA in all cases to produce a higher ROI. But, relying on conversion metrics alone ignores too much of the equation.
Let's get back to Ford. Imagine if they were hyper-focused on conversions: they would have stopped showing me ads because I didn't convert. I didn't click an ad. I didn't visit their website. I didn't give them a single indication that their ad was working until I drove into the dealership that fateful day. Obviously, the team at Ford understands that conversions are not the end-all-be-all. They understand that an impression on a potential customer is valuable in-and-of-itself. Can you argue with them?
These modern digital tools that we use to pursue conversions are new. Realistically, they've been widely available to small businesses for only a handful of years. Before their invention, impressions were a key tool that marketers used to predict ROI. Remember when you asked the magazine publisher about their circulation? Remember when Neilson ratings informed the best shows to advertise on? Remember when Groupon told you how many daily deal subscribers they had? Remember when outdoor ad vendors told you the number of cars that drove by each day?
Impressions were once a key measure of potential. Now it is the opposite. Marketers are actively trying to reduce impressions to drive up conversion rates, even when those impressions are completely free.
Optimizing conversion rates is a noble endeavor, but the pendulum has swung too far. The marketing industry has decades of experience maximizing the value of impressions. It makes no sense to ignore that experience because we can now track click-to-conversion ratios. Both mechanisms should be valued in their own way, and it's up to marketers to balance the two. After all, a targeted impression has some value, regardless of how many impressions, or how long, a conversion might take.
Impressions have significant value on their own, and they are cheaper to deliver than ever before. Conversion tracking is a valuable new tool that should be added to our arsenal. They work better together.
If you need proof, you can look in my driveway.