"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

So said the most famous physicist of them all when discussing how best to strive for numeric perfection. His fundamental point was to state clearly for the rest of us that seemingly insurmountable empirical challenges should never stop us from trying to overcome them. With overwhelming data available on the numbers of people online, making use of the massive penetration of a myriad of access devices and the ever improving broadband & mobile network to support them, Digital Marketing has long-since proved its worth. It’s just that you may not know by how much!

Consider for a moment, the worst piece of advertising you remember seeing. And then think about the hundreds of thousands of Euro that are likely to have been spent getting you to the point where it registered sufficiently – however badly – for you to recall it in the first place. And finally, draw your own conclusion. Did the brand just take a punt on some truly awful creative, or was there data available in advance that said the work would resonate and the product would sell?

I think we all know the answer, but I’d argue very few of us think of why this is important for our industry. My issue isn’t the poor quality of any particular piece of advertising. That’s subjective and even bad ads can be loved with time. My point is that research and predictive KPI and sales impact modeling would have existed in the first place and would most likely have been used to get the campaign away. It may have been flawed, but it almost certainly existed and was still accurate to some degree. Contrast this with Digital campaign planning & evaluation, and we see a very different picture. We simply don't make the effectiveness argument in the same terms.

Well, I’m with our aforementioned scientific luminary. If Digital Marketing in Ireland is to grow up and really challenge traditional thinking and those responsible for it, then it has to recognise that the numerical rigour that traditional channels rely on to get campaigns off the ground simply isn’t there for Digital. And it needs to be.

What We Have Isn’t Good Enough

We see metrics bandied about that are largely useless when viewed in isolation. Likes, Shares, Views, Dwell Time, Expansion Rates, Open Rates or my own personal favourite – the click-through. They are all crucial to what we do. But, they are dead-ending of themselves. While traditional advertising can sell an awareness building rationale that ultimately delivers consideration and purchase, the model doesn't appear to extend on-line. Consequently brands struggle to determine the real sales effect of their sometimes very worthwhile efforts in the digital arena, and some real opportunities are missed to deliver truly effective campaign integration.

But Digital Is Growing Isn’t It?

Yes, but look closer. Upwards of 88% of digital related marketing spend in the US in 2013 was on Search Marketing and Display Advertising. Why? They tick a certain box for a certain way of thinking. They have to be on the plan and are almost self-contained in terms of their practical application. Search is easily understood in terms of the traffic benefits it delivers, particularly when on-line selling is available, and Display is a surefire way to deliver creative that is “integrated”.

But they can do so much more. Display in particular comes in for criticism and struggles to power past the budget thresholds usually granted it. Why? Because of “low click-throughs”. Is this valid? Only partly.

Think about the last time you clicked on an ad? Most of us won’t remember! But then also think about whether you see on-line ads day to day. Of course you do, and of course they drive awareness & consideration. It’s just no-one can tell you by how much or how this influences bottom line. Surely we don’t believe that no click equals no sale. And yet, where’s the research? Compare that to Television and the deductive divide is brought into sharp relief.

No marketer expects someone who sees a TV ad to run out and buy the product immediately. Instead, they rely on the knowledge that awareness will drive sales at some future derivative. So why on earth do we expect an on-line ad to perform to a higher standard and paradoxically do so with far less robust empirical data to back it up. The answer? Our own inertia in developing robust models has weakened our case for effectiveness. We’ve been happy to let a metric like “click-through” define the effectiveness of our work and it’s not representative. But it’s there and we’re not addressing it.

The Content Conundrum

As creative marketers, content creation is what we do. Where we do it is both the problem and the opportunity for Digital in Ireland. If we take our twin tracks of Search and Display, they can lead you to a digital destination that is pre-ordained by the brand. As such, the brand can prepare by both engaging and rewarding on-line. Make the journey worthwhile, and consumers will stay. Better still, they’ll tell others. Sound familiar? It should. It’s what we’ve been doing and tracking for 50 years. We now just need to provide the case for more of this content to originate online. It’s the exciting part of what we do, it's the real growth area and something we simply have to determine the consumer effectiveness of.

Anecdotally, you have to believe that as device proliferation continues apace and as consumers spend more and more time on-line using them, then a consequential sales uplift has to occur if a brand has an interesting and engaging online content platform. However, this should be empirical not anecdotal. And until it is, then digital wont realise its glorious potential.

So What Has This Meant For Digital In Ireland

The unfortunate consequence is the provision of a lazy get out of jail free card for those who want to use it. The result? Traditional channels still claim the lions share of campaign budgets despite overwhelming evidence of massive numbers of digitally active consumers and the missed opportunity this currently represents for both to sit more closely together.

It’s also why we continue to see such bland native app development despite the overwhelming research that the vast majority fail, and those that don’t have such a high cost per contact as to make the case for responsive design irrefutable. App’s are safe, clean and best of all self-contained. They’re easy to buy as they’re easy to understand. It’s also why search & display dominate. They’re safe, and easy to pigeon-hole.

Worst of all, it has understandably led some brands to pull back from investing in the proper and more complex content strategies that they will very soon need to become expert in. The outcome can be seen in the proliferation of somewhat pedestrian posting on social platforms that will not provide the basis for real long-term engagement.

But We Will Get There

How we create a deep dive into a far less manageable world will determine how successful we can all become as we move forward to the inevitable convergence of the traditional and new media channels.

The good news is that we’re not alone. The industry globally is in this boat and grappling with the same issues. Case studies exist, but they require a level of investment that is sometimes perceived to be beyond most Irish brands in the context of small and somewhat homogenous market. That said, we’re not powerless and some brands are taking the leap.

With Coke seeking to double global revenues by 2020 through channel neutral content deployment, you will see empirical modeling and case studies very shortly. Indeed, some of the more progressive Irish research agencies are now looking more closely at digital effectiveness tracking and brands themselves are investing heavily in their digital offering.

To really move forward, we need to use the data harvesting power of digital communications to build data pools and do some original research. Relevant content will facilitate fast and inexpensive data collection. From there, track engagement, monitor response and look at purchase behavior over a period of time and build the case. Better still, brands who have their own managed data pools can enjoy response rates on average up to five times higher than those who don't. And who better to ask about campaign effectiveness than your own loyal customers.

We may not be able to identify everything, but surely something is a start. And that’s what really counts as we move forward.

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