The most common mistakes digital practitioners and leaders make is to either do things in the wrong order, or to try and do too much at one time.
Progress in digital marketing and analytics in either scenario becomes painful (the organization / systems / thinking is simply not in the optimal position). People become frustrated (you hire smart people, they run off to build you the Taj Mahal, meanwhile you don't have a functioning toilet). Business results suffer.
There is something in humans that makes us want to do the hard things, to shoot for the most complex right away, to want to be challenged to infinity. In many cases, it is a tendency we have to learn to restrain.
More often than not, magnificent success results from executing a business plan that is rooted in a strong understanding of the landscape of possibilities, and a deep self-awareness of business capabilities. These business plans will contain a structured approach, do this, then do this2, then make sure we are really good at this3, then this 4 and so on and so forth.
In other words: Evolution. It works.
Said another way, digital revolutions more often than not fail. One day your leadership realizes you stink at digital (all of it or just Facebook or search and display or mobile or whatever). They find the closest industry leader (L'Oreal, Booking, Zyrtec, Innocent Drinks, CSC Consulting). They say: "Do whatever we need to in order to get there in 90 days. Go!!"
If you hear that, run. Else you'll be standing in a place where a flaming crater will appear in the near future.
I'll be the first to admit that selling evolution is hard. Revolutions just sound so darn sexy! Still, reality is reality.
In this post I want to arm you with the evolution you should undertake in your companies when it comes to marketing and analytics. Additionally, I'll make the hard tough difficult painful choices on your behalf and order things to deliver the highest possible impact, so you'll know exactly what to do and what you will get from it all.
In other words: Two inspiring ladders of awesomeness for you! One for digital marketing and one for digital analytics.
Your ladder might look a little different, but I hope the process I follow will help you make the hard choices most relevant for your company and the evolutionary position it finds itself in.
Digital Marketing: Ladder of Awesomeness/Sustainable Success.
My current title is Digital Marketing Evangelist so you can just imagine how absolutely excited I am about all the digital possibilities. Owning audiences, instead of just renting them. Earning time, instead of just buying it on TV. Creating persistent relationships, instead of just transient ones. Not letting budgets limit our creativity. And so much more. I'm like a kid in a candy store. I want to do everything right away. I want to go from single cell life to fully formed homo sepians in seven days.
I've also discovered that that is the easiest path to failure. : )
So, based on my spectacular successes and painful failures around the world, I've developed a ladder of sustainable success. Here is what it looks like:
Let's look at each step on the ladder in some detail.
The very first thing you want to do is create an acceptable website. One that reflects the customer expectations of 2013. A good example, for e-commerce and non-ecommerce sites, is http://www.csc.com/. Look at the colors. Look at the icons. Look at the way the text is laid out, how video is incorporated, the structure of the site and everything else. Your first job is to beat them at everything. During this stage you should also invest a lot in Search Engine Optimization. You will have great content, in a good experience, and focus on getting free traffic.
[To learn more about the Do in stage one please review my See-Think-Do-Coddle framework for content, marketing and measurement.]
Second, create the world's greatest mobile experience. Yes. Don't do paid search. Don't run to buy display ads. Definitely do not start Tweeting or embarrassing your brand on Facebook (we'll do that in a bit). Focus on the mobile experience. Because of this lovely graph from Business Insider and it's representation platforms people use to visit top destinations….
Scary, right? Exciting, right? Focus on mobile like crazy, tablets in particular. Beat CSC's experience. Beat Motrin. Beat Beneful. Don't be like IBM's tablet experience (old, substantially brand negative). Or Ford (it is amazing that in 2013, for such an expensive product, it looks so…. 2005).
Now that you have build a decent foundation and are getting a decent amount of free traffic you know what is working and what is not, you are ready to move to step three. Start investing in your email marketing strategy for extending relationships, and your paid search strategy for brand terms. Email allows you to start building a owned audience that you can (if you don't stink) start relying on (rather than constantly having to rent them from TV or Google). People typing a million variations phrases with your brand terms are looking for you, make sure you show up and capture the traffic you deserve.
Step four is focusing on expanding your reach to new relevant audiences. The cool part about display advertising is that we can build our brands cost effectively, introduce our products to a new audience, and create demand based on a number of intent signals (this last part is often missing from offline media). Based on what people read, what sites they've visited, their demographic and psychographic signals and so much more. Don't go all crazy with display ads, just focus on your brand, products and services. Learn, get better, try some more.
The site is now working well across platforms, we are starting to get a lot of free and some paid traffic, we are optimizing for conversions and task completion rate, time to move to step five in the ladder and focus on creating micro-outcomes on our website. Here is what it looks like for the Venetian hotel and casino in Macao:
In orange is the macro-outcome (number of casino room reservations), in purple are the micro-outcomes. All clustered into See-Think-Do. Less than two percent of people on your website will complete the macro-outcome (conversion). Having a robust cluster of micro-outcomes allows you to deliver something of value to the other 98% and establish a relationship with them (and get some economic value in exchange!). The smartest companies in the world are very good at this, step five. It does require working with your CMO, VPs, Directors, IT, Offline Sales, UX, IT, and more people than you could ever imagine. It is worth it.
Time to start kicking things up a notch in step six. Start investing in creating the world's most beautiful, functional, brand-enhancing, customer joy inducing website! You have content, you have traffic, you have micro-outcomes, you are making loads of money. Invest in the site experience now to differentiate yourself from the competition, and create irrational loyalty. Beat Bonobos (I. Love. Them!). Beat L'Oreal (except for their irritating 40 question survey in a single long window, they are nearly flawless). Beat Palms casino (try booking, try the menu, try anything, pretty awesome all around).
You are a big company and you can do two big things at one time. Now is also the right time to start investing in Facebook and YouTube. These two social platforms (eschew others at this point) allow you to learn how to earn attention in two different form factors. In both cases you'll learn quickly that pimping is the best way to fail. Expressed by me on behalf of all humans on earth: The world's greatest social media strategy: 1. Entertain Me 2. Inform Me. 3. Provide Utility. Nothing else works. Learn that in step six.
Now that your earned, owned and paid media strategies are in full swing, and you are the proud owner of the world's greatest desktop and mobile website, let's focus on enhancing your ability to get a massive audience. (Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod)
Step seven is to to build out an incredible category/industry/ecosystem targeting Search and Display strategy. This will result in you getting magnificent at brand marketing, at the See and Think stages. The result will be an even larger owned audience, less getting into dog-eat-dog Do stage fights. You'll have complete spectrum of coverage, being there from understanding customer intent at the earliest stages and converting that into demand for what you have to offer.
From step five on you were likely already delivering some multi-channel value for your company. Some of your micro-outcomes were likely already connected to your offline existence (maps, phone calls, offer redemptions, etc.). Now in step eight, we really kick things up multiple notches when it comes to creating a truly fantastic multi-channel (or the flavor of the month, omni-channel) execution engine.
The picture above is from my first book, Web Analytics: An Hour A Day, from page 235. It is a part of multi-channel analytics chapter.
There is a lot of difficult work to be done (systems, processes, integrations, optimizations) in order to ensure that your digital existence is driving nonline value. Now is the time to undertake that work. Not in step three. Definitely not in step one. Now. Step eight (after you've gotten the first seven things done).
The last step before nirvana, step nine, is to focus on getting better at loyalty marketing. (Cartoon by Tom Fishburne)
My definition of loyalty marketing, from the Coddle-stage, is to create unique content and to execute targeted marketing for those people/business entities, who have purchased from you two times or more. I have a higher standard for who our customer is. Not the person/business entity who's purchased from us once (they might not have had a choice), but the entity that's purchased from us twice at least (because the second time they made a choice to do business with us). Have a completely separate and focused set of people and work to deliver joy and delight to these entities. It is the only recipe for long term sustainable success.
Now you know the nine steps to nirvana. And you know exactly the order in which you should consider prioritizing your efforts. If you do step five before two, you can. But your success will be much more limited.
Understand the choices that resulted in what you are supposed to do in each step, then customize this, using the choices above, to create your own step ladder to deliver amazing digital marketing success to your company.
The cool thing about the web is that you don't have to do all of the above based on faith, you have a BFF in data! Let's go there.
If you open your copy of Google/Adobe Analytics or CoreMetrics or Webtrekk you'll notice that every single report has a gigantic number of metrics in it. And…. they have many reports!
So on day one, as soon as we get access to the digital analytics tool, we go all crazy. Not only do we puke out a lot of data to every breathing human up and down the chain of command, we treat every bit of data with equal importance. The first part is frustrating, the second part is deadly.
Regardless of if you are a B2B or B2C or A2Z company, regardless of if you are big or small, regardless of how great you think you are, I believe you can benefit from taking one step at a time when it comes to ensuring that data analysis drives business value. It might seem sacrilegious to suggest that you should worry about Visits first and not Profitability, but that is exactly what I'm going suggest because when we overshoot our capabilities, we fail to hit even our local maxima (forget about ever hitting the global maxima !).
My assumption is that everyone on this blog is smart enough to balance for focus and ensuring the company stays a viable entity as it climbs each step in the ladder of success. Hence none of you will mis-understand that recommending a focus on CPA in stage four means you run the company to the ground because you ignore business fundamentals!
[A tiny hidden agenda I have in this post is to share how to make hard choices. You can imagine how difficult it is to say focus on page depth, don't focus on conversion rate, or don't worry about any content metric, focus on clicks. It seems crazy. But a big part of being successful is being able to understand business reality and have the skill to make these hard choices. I hope you'll pick up a couple of tips about making those choices.]
Ready to read something outrageously controversial? ; )
Focus on Visits and Click-thru Rates first. Don't do anything else. Nothing. Just Visits and CTRs. Focus your analysis on looking at dimensions that help you understand where your precious visitors are coming from, if you are doing any kind of inbound marketing (in the digital marketing ladder I recommend SEO in stage one) then what is getting more clicks and what is not. Optimize for Visits and CTRs will help you focus your precious energy on certain geographies, certain referring sources, certain keywords, certain digital activities and optimize to get higher clicks. A very good thing in stage one.
Now that people are showing up, we are ready to see what content they are consuming and how well/badly our welcome pages are doing. Focus on Bounce Rates ("I came, I puked, I left!") to help you optimize your landing pages and the sources driving traffic to those pages. Calls to action, text, graphics, offers, bids, ad text, targeting and more. Your job is to get in front of the right person, get them to the right page, and entice them to stay.
In stage two also focus on Pages per Visit, or Page Depth, (don't use time on site, it is problematic) as in the sample table above. This will help you optimize both for mobile and desktop experiences.
It is time to make some money in stage three. (See what I mean by making tough choices? Obsessing about making money first will cause your company to make the wrong choices initially. Just make sure you are not losing money, then obsess about it only in stage three.) For B2B companies Macro Outcome Rate is related to lead generation, for B2C it is often the e-commerce Conversion Rate. Additionally in stage three focus on Page Value, with it you are not only optimizing for content consumption (stage two) you are also optimizing for which content most creates revenue. Then zero in on that content and people/teams inside the company that create that content.
Your business is now humming on all three of the initial key things you need to do for acquisition, behavior and outcome. In stage four become an insane fanatic about extracting the highest possible value you can from every dollar you are spending on marketing and advertising. Focus on optimizing your Cost per Acquisition (CPA).
This will not only reduce cost, if you do it right, it will force your company to invest more in activities that improve shareholder value and kill the shiny objects that our management teams chase due to advice from "marketing gurus." This effort is so important that I want you to focus on it singularly (unlike all other stages).
Stage five, as in the case of our digital marketing ladder of success, calls for stepping up our level of sophistication. Focus on cart and checkout abandonment rate (don't combine the two). Go buy a simple A/B testing tool (Visual Website Optimizer, Optimizely), go crazy optimizing every little thing to take money from the people who want to give it to you! It is also time to become more sophisticated about identifying the value of your marketing spend, focus on the Assisted Conversions metric (you'll find it in the Multi-Channel Funnels report). Make decisions based on last click conversions delivered AND the assisted conversions. Don't worry about attribution modeling yet. Just focus on the last column in that report, then optimize your campaign targeting, content and success measures.
We've nailed down what we are doing on our owned platforms, time to focus on our rented platforms. You are working very hard by this stage on Facebook, YouTube etc, stay away from awful metrics like Views, Likes, etc. So, in stage six, obsess about Conversation Rate and Amplification, two of my four best social media metrics ever.
The above metrics will force your company to use social for what social is really good at. Force them to execute my recommendation for greatest social media strategy: 1. Entertain Me 2. Inform Me. 3. Provide Utility.
Stage seven where you start to focus on the metric that differentiates losers from winners: Economic Value. We focus on all 100% of our visitors (not just the one or two percent that will convert), we will focus on all of the See-Think-Do-Coddle audience consideration stages. The surest way to do that is if we identify the micro-outcomes and the economic value each outcome adds to our business. This is so amazing because it will force your company to focus on what makes money now, what will make money 90 days from now and 9 months from now!
None of the above was really hard. Stage eight is hard! We are going to obsess about Profitability. Not just the fake "ROI" number in many digital analytics tool, but true profitability. At the very minimum, for a dimension you care about like campaign… Profitability = Revenue generated – campaign cost – cost of goods sold. You can add other costs if you have access to them.
Profitability is one of the main reasons I'm so excited about cost data upload into Google Analytics. Now you can measure what the actual amount of money each campaign/activity delivers to your business. You can do it for Bing, email, AOL ads, social, even SEO! You can finally see that the Conversion rate for Yahoo! ads is 10%, the Average Order Value is $200, compare it to Google ads conversion rate of 4% and Average Order Value of $100, and notice that the Profit per Order from Yahoo! is -$15 and for Google it is $163. #omg
Stage eight also includes improving the sophistication of analyzing the offline impact of our online activities. Multi-channel measurement and optimization. It is a long hard slog, but by the time you get to stage eight, you are ready, your company is ready, you are going to get so rich!
The last stage, stage nine, is also the most strategic and deadly awesome: Optimizing for customer lifetime value.
Asking you to wait until stage nine for LTV is like saying don't believe in Jesus until time x. It seems silly. It seems insane. The sad reality is that it takes a lot (from a data, people, process perspective) to be ready to optimize for LTV. But by this stage you've put all your ducks in the proper order, you've done your multi-channel optimization (and more critically data integrations required between your online and offline sources), you have moved away from considering cookies to be customers to changing your entire Google Analytics existence to focus on people (across devices, channels, online and offline). Now you are ready for LTV. And you are going to do it without frustration and with a huge fast impact on your business. [For more guidance see the LTV post and download the lifetime value model.]
Bish. Bam. Boom! You are there. You've achieved nirvana! : )
It is hard to have the discipline to systematically get good at one thing at a time. But evolution works spectacularly well. That is what we need.
It seems crazy that you are a large company with tons of people and money. Gosh, you have 25 people just in your digital analytics team and a two million dollar a year adobe analytics contract. Still, for all those people prioritize one stage at a time (while other things can happen, they just won't be a corporate priority), and move your company forward one stage at a time.
It is hard to get nine women to make a baby in one month.
I wish you all the best in climbing the digital ladder of amazing success.
As always, it is your turn now.
Do you agree with the step-by-step approach? Would you change any stage in the digital marketing ladder? Perhaps do Email before SEO, or Social as stage one? How about the analytics ladder? Would you make different choices in the order of the metrics? Is there a metric I'm over-valuing or completely missing from the ladder? If you've been successful getting your company to be good at many things all at one time, what's your secret?
Please share your perspectives, critique, life lessons, and insights via comments below.