I am a mission/objective type of guy. If there's something I need at the mall, I want to get in and out. Quickly. Thankfully, practically every mall has a kiosk map that shows you where everything is-- all laid out neatly before you. It not only tells you where you are, it also shows you exactly where everything is in relationship to everything else. Consequently, the mall map is my friend. A quick scan of the brightly colored layout and I know exactly where I stand, and exactly where I need to go.
Similarly, a marketing landscape can be drawn that includes all of your marketing programs over time. The purpose of doing so is to identify and understand the relationships that exist between the various parts in order to minimize cost and maximize return.
Clearly, marketing is not conceptualized as discrete campaigns, but rather as potentially interacting parts where one component can -- for better or worse -- affect another. Your pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaign is only one part of the overall marketing effort, as is your natural search engine optimization (SEO), banners, email and offline media. Managing your PPC program, or any other initiative in isolation, without understanding the effects caused by other efforts, may yield less than optimal results.
A few years ago many marketers were concerned that their PPC campaigns might be cannibalizing their "free" SEO traffic. The fear was that if a paid search ad appeared on the same page as a natural search listing, some number of people would click on the paid ad, whereas if the paid ad were not on the page, all the clicks would go to the natural listing. This is just one potential interaction between programs in an overall marketing landscape that is far broader and much more complicated.
Landscape interactivity examples
Consider the following example: An offline radio campaign may cause a number of listeners to remember some key phrase they heard. Later the listener may search for the phrase and click on your paid advertisement. After reviewing your content, the listener may then be motivated to call the toll-free number you provided on your site. A number of days and phone calls later they convert. Without campaign coordination and data gathering and analysis, your radio ad may not get the proper credit it deserves, and your paid campaign may only pick up the cost. Sure, you'll know that you made a sale, but you may not know if it was caused by anything you did. Ideally, you want to understand the relationship between these campaigns. For example, if you know that when you run a radio campaign traffic spikes on certain keywords without an attendant increase in conversions, then you need to bid lower on the appropriate keywords to avoid the cost you know will come. If the inverse is true, perhaps you bid higher to capture more sales.
There are many more scenarios like the one described above that can occur as potential customers hop across concurrent marketing campaigns. As a result, data gathering and analysis that captures this behavior can be most helpful, but bear in mind that it can also be costly and time consuming. It is important to understand the extent to which you need to gather data and weigh the cost/benefit of doing so. The ideal situation would have you gathering and analyzing all the possible data, but the cost of doing so would make it prohibitive. As a result, you must decide where actual data needs to be gathered, where some estimation technique may suffice, or where you are willing to accept the uncertainty.
How to gather data
Gathering data on a paid program is fairly straightforward: engine cost data, cookies and pixels supply what's needed. If you have concurrent paid channels, the picture is a bit more complicated, but can usually be handled by using one unified data collection system, and there are a number of commercially available systems that handle this. Adding the ability to convert offline via a toll-free number requires a data gathering system that determines where the traffic came from, and captures the keyword where required. Again, there are commercial solutions available for this. However, keep in mind that your own back-end system must be able to link that first call to subsequent calls, and then to a sale, and I'm not aware of any commercially available offering that can help you with that. To capture the offline media, such as radio or print campaigns, you need the medium, date range, and time within that period, geographic region, possible dedicated phone numbers or URLs, and content. Then you need to bring all of the data together in a query-ready form for analysis.
By understanding your marketing landscape and data gathering needs, and analyzing the existing relationships, you will start to understand your unique dynamic system and how to coordinate marketing activities for maximum return and minimal cost. If you can understand the relationships that exist between your various marketing campaigns, you will begin to make more profitable decisions. But note that the process is not a trivial endeavor, nor one that you need to, or should, undertake alone.
Working with your agency
As you work with your current agency or search for a new one, look for an agency that understands how these pieces fit together. An agency that has the willingness and experience to build your landscape model with you becomes more than just your search marketing vendor-- that agency becomes an invaluable cost effective partner in your marketing effort. In short, they should be able to propose how to start capturing and consolidating data, and should help you understand the cost and benefits of doing so. In addition, they should have the ability to carry out meaningful statistically backed analysis.
Remember, unlike the map at the mall, your marketing landscape probably isn't as well known or laid-out in front of you when you walk in the door. Building a working marketing landscape takes time and effort, but doing so will give you the lay of the land, and allow you to start to understand where you are, and where you can reasonably expect to go.