Measuring digital marketing’s ROI is infamously difficult. In fact, it was the number one challenge for marketers in 2018, according to Sprout, and then fifth-most difficult in 2019. After all, what is the dollar return of a user downloading an organisation’s free PDF, or viewing an in-stream ad one time?
To anyone tackling digital marketing for their organisation, it can seem that some of the most popular advertising goals seem to earn little to no clear return. But despite that, everyone around the world is still investing huge sums into them.
So that begs the question – are these companies losing money, or do they know something other people don’t?
Yes, measuring digital marketing ROI is notoriously difficult, but there are a few things marketers can consider to put it into clearer context.
Play the long game
Even goals that appear to generate no immediate revenue can and should be considered a smart investment given the role they play in the wider marketing context.
Consider a downloadable PDF. Customers want the document, so they offer their email and download the PDF for free. No dollar return for the company – apparently no ROI. Yet, now the organisation has this customer’s email, and has learned potentially more information about them (job title, organisation, maybe their interests, for example). With this information, the organisation can nurture their user towards a more important goal – for example, buying a product, attending an event, or donating to a cause.
Were a board member to look at this marketer’s spend on the PDF campaign, they may not be clear on the results. But, it brought a customer into the organisation’s marketing machine and began a potentially lucrative future relationship.
Waiting for ROI over the long term is one way to get results, but it’s important to note that marketers experimenting with digital should reconsider what they define as ‘valuable’.
It’s difficult to put a dollar value on brand trust, brand mentions, social media follows, video views and so on, yet these can all be incredibly powerful. They increase the likelihood that customers may convert in future, they spark discussions about a brand which leads to free word of mouth marketing, they can educate customers and build their confidence, and they can make users feel special, like they are a part of a community – a key component in building brand loyalty.
Plus, with the right tools in place, all of these intangible metrics can be quantitatively measured. Whether organisations use data analytics, social listening tools, semantics analysis, or a similar platform, intangible ROI can be quantified and measured, then reported to the board.
Compile data to create a full customer picture
Intangible ROI and playing the long game can then be compiled into a single customer picture with the right integrated data setup. If an organisation can use smart people-based measurement to track users from their origin point through the customer journey, however often they return to the brand, they will be able to put together detailed reports that measure the long-term impact (and, thus, ROI) of various marketing efforts.
In this way, marketers need not be afraid of investing heavily in any part of the marketing funnel. For instance, top-funnel goals often revolve around very intangible ROI metrics (i.e. brand awareness, video views, PDF downloads), but these are of course highly vital to nurturing customers further into the funnel, culminating in their conversion at the bottom.
So to return to our question: Are these big brands losing money, or do they know something others don’t? It’s the latter – they know that with integrated data and an understanding of what metrics are truly valuable at each stage of the marketing funnel, they can comfortably spend on different customer segments knowing that they can track results – and, so, ROI – over a period of time.