An age-old debate in marketing that has begun to rear its head once more: are effective marketing and adverting campaigns born out of art or science?

Creativity lies at the very heart of bringing a campaign to life, but in an era where marketing budgets are under the watchful eye of the board performance has to be measured to demonstrate an impact on business goals.

Recent research brought this to my attention, which found 80% of CEOs believe marketers are “too disconnected” from the financial realities of companies.

The fact is that creativity should not suffer, every action a marketer makes should be justifiable. Performance KPIs are all important in showing accountability as to how marketing efforts are benefiting the business.

Every different industry has varying paths to conversion and these needs to be understood to deliver the transparency the board is looking for.

However, the conversion is only one side of the story. Perhaps the more important focus area is to show the board the importance of marketing actuating measurement data and learn how to optimise future campaigns.

More than ever before, marketers have to contend with a host of channels and understand how each fits best into the consumer’s purchasing path. The debate now is less about the feature of measurement itself, but more the insights that can be gained that enable better campaigns in the future and ever-improving return on investment as a result.

Understanding what happened, with enough data to see trends into why, and knowing what to do next is where the focus needs to lie. For this reason, A/B testing needs to be explained and justified to senior management.  

Why is the red banner better than the blue on some domains and not others? You don’t need to know why this is the case, but to react and optimise accordingly. Why do travel conversions increase on a Sunday? There are some fairly obvious reasons why, but the subsequent action is more important than the knowledge.

But the whole process rolls off the tongue very easily, extracting every piece of insight to be actioned on or used for measurement is easier said than done. Sometimes you could say creativity is the round peg that is trying to fit into the square hole that is measurement.

In this sense, performance isn’t a statistic in an excel spread sheet (CTR, CPC, CPA, CPL). Performance is linked to the brand, the offer and the real world impact it creates.

Where to begin?

With this in mind, how and where do marketers start tracking KPIs?

The first place to look is the point of conversion, or as far down the funnel as is possible. Conversions need to be understood across channel, time, total order value and the audience that responded.

Questions asked should include: are conversions coming from natural search? If so, did we do anything to influence that? Did dynamic re-targeting work on bringing customers back, or just add noise to the funnel?

Marketers need to understand everything that influenced a conversion, they need transparency across the whole display portfolio. Conversions are driven from not only just one media, or one supply side platform / exchange / specialist vendor, but from the whole mix, so knowing the domain and the sizes driving the conversions is also important. 

Once these points have been considered, the next actions then become more obvious. Bid more for what works, and bid only the price that delivers performance on the bits that don’t perform as efficiently.

Too many marketers have too little information to make this simple suggestion a reality. They might know that vendor one was better than vendor two, but they may not understand that performance on domain one was the same from both vendors, which is the piece of information that they could really use.

Optimising to click is also a very common idea. In lieu of other data, the high CTR, or the low CPC takes over. However, clicks don’t really matter, only when you can tie click trends to conversions can you use click optimisation effectively.

In this case you can use the extra data to build better models, and optimise more efficiently with the extra data that you can’t have from scarce conversions. If clicks really mattered, everyone would just buy flash game site inventory.

Frequency control is one of the keys

Understanding the frequency across all channels is also hugely important, but often forgotten. Marketers should be asking themselves, “How many interactions does it take to generate a lead?”

If after one exposure traction is made with the consumer, then lucky you! But for most marketers it is more likely that many more exposures will be required, in more if not all channels, not to mention offline influences (that TV ad on Wednesday night, did that cause the increase in activity on Thursday morning?).

Yet at the same time brands will need to work out what frequency is effective and what frequency is excessive. Subjecting the consumer to too many impressions from a company they already feel overexposed to, will only leave them feeling digitally bombarded and prompt the reverse of what the marketer is looking to achieve – brand damage.

Too many marketers have ceded the control of frequency to third parties, who naturally cannot have the brand’s best interests in mind when deciding which ad to show when. 

Therefore, to maximise the effect of these KPIs, marketers should use vendors who can share data across channels, and increase the transparency of what works and what doesn’t.

The biggest differentiator many marketers cite in delivering outstanding campaigns is efficiency. With every insight into consumers’ purchasing process across every digital engagement channel available in a single platform, an efficient online marketing strategy becomes more plausible with all relevant data at the users’ fingertips.

Data is the lifeblood of successful marketing campaigns and its value in consistently evaluating how campaigns can be improved should not be underestimated.

Every marketer would agree that times have changed. The days where easily KPIs are over and the concept of no is are long gone and as a result, the battle for brand exposure is getting increasingly harder.

So in response, the secret to meet ever-tougher marketing KPIs is to understand the path to purchase – something that is best achieved by eliminating outsourcing.

In this respect, it’s time for advertisers to step up and take control of their ship, so that they have their hands directly on the insight that will build increasingly engaging campaigns across channels and in the future.