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9 digital marketing rules we need to establish

9 digital marketing rules we need to establish Jay Friedman

One truism I've learned in assessing and developing people in the workplace is that people's greatest strengths are almost always their greatest weaknesses. Perfectionists, debaters, influencers, analyzers, you name it. People's greatest strengths are almost always too strong. Digital marketers are no different. Rather than continuing to be plagued by these weaknesses masquerading as strengths, let's establish nine rules in digital marketing to save us from ourselves.

We will not accept last click/touch attribution

We come in contact with a number of marketers and agencies who want to use last touch to measure conversions. We know this isn't right, so we ran research internally across billions of impressions to determine if last touch had any merit. What we found is that for every 100 signals provided by last touch, two -- yes, two -- are directionally accurate in actually driving a better outcome for the marketer. This isn't to say that optimizing to last touch won't make the campaign appear better, but it won't improve your ROAS much, if at all.

Because every ad server and site analytics platform is built on last touch or click, it's what marketers use. To drive real performance using online media, though, a multi-dimensional attribution model is required. But this doesn't mean a multi-six-figure study. Much simpler models can be built in-house or through your vendors and partners. However, it takes a commitment and more effort than just believing what the ad server says. With a bar of "2 out of 100," raising it is rather easy.

We will not freak out at every sensationalist headline

If we do one thing well as an industry, it's write sensationalist headlines that send every marketer (and, in turn, agency and vendor) into scramble mode. "56 percent of all ads are never seen by a human!" "$7.2 billion will be lost to fraud in 2016!" Of course companies use these headlines the way a teenage boy uses a horror movie on a date: to get marketers to jump into their arms for safety.

There are two reasons this is such a problem. The first is that these fire drills almost always cause the marketer and agency to stop the work they're doing on something important to address this perceived urgent matter. The second is that a quick look at the calculations or data behind the stories always show why the story is more hype than substance. As smart marketers we should not seek to be first to address every potential problem, but instead to understand the full scope of new information and prioritize it appropriately.

We will expect digital to be measurable, not magical

Each channel within a media plan should be measured to its fullest, but none should be expected to have super powers. Let's take a local business that uses TV advertising. When considering digital media these local businesses often ask, "Will I know exactly how many sales I make from digital?" It depends on what the business sells and the digital media tracking available. That said, there is absolutely no way the TV can measure this. While it's easy to think this is a local/small business problem, that's unfortunately not the case. There are many Fortune 500 marketers who still want more provable metrics from digital despite plenty of proof consumers spend as much or more time with digital than they do broadcast media.

We will focus on important metrics, not all metrics

It's 2016, and clients who provide us with specific meaningful KPIs before a campaign launches still lament a low CTR a few weeks into a campaign. In these situations it was never part of the pre-campaign discussions, and often it was even agreed that CTR would not be something measured at all. Just because it's measurable doesn't mean we should make it better.

This is a common example, but similar occurrences happen across a variety of metrics: a branding campaign launched only for the marketer to ask how much revenue has been driven, for example, or a direct response campaign launched only for the marketer to question why the campaign isn't generating email sign-ups. We've looked at our data internally and often see different metrics such as these mentioned here containing opposing characteristics for optimization purposes. This is to say that optimizing to one would directly lead to harming the ability to achieve the other. Think through the metrics before a campaign launches, both to know what should be optimized and what shouldn't.

We will look at all channels -- digital and otherwise -- as additive and not competitive

We've spoken with countless clients who are doing TV and paid search, but won't do display because "it never performs as well as paid search." This touches on a few of the rules we hoped to establish earlier in this discussion (last touch, magic versus measured), but there is another dimension as well. All media in the marketplace work together additively to create a customer for a brand. Individual media vehicles may work better than one another due to how well each is suited to the target audience. One channel may be more efficient for a brand than another given the state of the brand in the market and where consumers are getting stuck in the purchase process. If advertising targets the right audience in a channel that makes sense for that product and category, no one channel is "better" than another. They're different, serving different purposes throughout the purchase funnel, each catalyzing the other and augmenting results.

If the cost per sale in paid search is $8 and the cost per sale in display is $30, the cost per sale is $38 (assuming no other media are running.) It's not "sometimes $8 and sometimes $30."

Foundation first

We are not cats, and marketing is not a laser pointer. Yet marketing's shiny objects consistently distract us from our objectives and cause poorer performance than could have been achieved with the same budget.

Imagine a client who just discovers a new gaming app on their phone. They then see several other people playing that same game -- at the grocery store, on a plane, and at work. The marketer then wonders why that app isn't in their media mix. After all, it's a new game and they could be first! It's then left to the rest of the marketing team or the agency to remind the marketer that there are foundational elements of the marketing mix that aren't yet paid for: more robust SEO, an improved site experience, or a DMP installation. Sure, picking out a refrigerator for a brand new house is more exciting than approving blueprints, but handling foundational items first leads to achieving goals more quickly.

Medium + message + data

Data is an added component to a successful campaign over the traditional media "medium + message" equation. By being additive, it is now included in the foundation with the other two. While identifying and optimizing to the right data points around an audience is important, creative is a forgotten but crucial element of campaign success. Hours are spent planning and understanding digital media, but often a banner gets thrown together at the last second, or a 30-second video made for TV is used for an online video campaign. Several studies have been done showing the power of good creative in online media, and nearly every time that creative was developed specifically for the online medium.

Stop the pricing beat-down

A large agency with a large brand recently put out an RFP demanding rate reductions in its display and video. Having worked agency-side, I know how this goes. There weren't a lot of innovative ideas in the media plan this year, so the team needs some good ideas to go into annual meetings. Savings never upset anyone, and digital vendors are taking buyers to jeans and sunglasses parties all the time. They can afford the haircut!

In 2013, it was common for the buy-side of the industry to believe "there is just more quality supply than quality demand." We now know this isn't true. Between viewability, fraud, and contextual quality, quality supply is limited. This is causing the price of desirable inventory to go up because we can now differentiate it from the undesirable inventory.

Between inventory costs going up and the ANA-led rebate crackdown, marketers are feeling more worked over than ever. I understand this feeling, but reacting by demanding better pricing (in media or in an agency's fees) will have the exact opposite effect the marketer desires. Paying an agency less will get that marketer less experienced staff on their business or longer fill times on open positions. Paying less for inventory is not going to stress a DSP or SSP's margins; it will just net the marketer lower quality inventory. Marketers should focus first, next, and last on value, or what the marketer gets in return for what they're spending.

We will stop obsessing over perfectly researched and planned budgets

The reality is that in digital, success can be achieved with multiple budget levels. There are general guidelines though, and a nationally targeted $5,000 pre-roll campaign at $25 CPMs won't likely make any real impact. But the general ability to measure and optimize so many elements of a digital campaign means results can be better achieved through real-time optimization. Once a success threshold is achieved, it's simply a matter of scaling that strategy until there is no more inventory/audience, or the marketer hits diminishing returns. In other words, a marketer can plan the right reach and frequency all day, but if the results aren't happening, why spend the money? Plan for success, not a budget that needs to be spent.

So, what did we miss?

Surely there are more. Please contribute your thoughts below, and we can make this article the last we need for a while about ground rules to get on the same page when creating great digital marketing.

Jay Friedman is the COO of Goodway Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Follow the rules on blackboard with businessman wearing boxing gloves" image via iStock.

Jay Friedman is COO of Goodway Group, and a partner in the 3rd-generation family company founded by Milton Wolk in 1929. Friedman joined in 2006 to add a digital media component to Goodway’s offerings, beyond the existing print and promotional...

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