At the turn of the century, one of the most successful business people in America, John Wanamaker, famously coined the phrase: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”.
Wanamaker is credited with being one of the pioneers of modern marketing, using the cutting-edge technology of his day: billboards, print, and merchandising to build the department store empire that’s now known as Macy’s.
Those were exciting times – new types of commerce were available, advertising opportunities were popping up everywhere, and there were as many skeptics as there were success stories.
A century later, the cycle seems to have repeated itself. New developments in the digital marketplace opened up opportunities that some businesses have capitalized on, building huge, profitable brands. Meanwhile countless others have been left with a bad taste in their mouths after being burned by over-promised results and under-delivered returns.
The advantage that we have in the 21st century is that we can take control of our results. Digital tools make it possible for us to measure a previously unimaginable amount of behavior, but that comes with its own challenges: When there is so much data available, how can an already overworked marketer possibly sort through the irrelevant to get to what’s meaningful to their business?
Fortunately, there are some fundamental elements to digital analytics, numbers that will always matter, and some simple ways to cut through to the online stats that will have a meaningful impact in the offline world (even a few that can use online tools to measure offline marketing).
The first step in any exploration of data is to get familiar with the tools, and to make sure that we have access to the best possible data. When it comes to digital marketing, the easiest place to start is with Google Analytics. It’s a free tool, but don’t let the price tag fool you: It’s an incredibly powerful suite of tools that take the behavior that’s happening on your website and turns it into a set of well-organized reports.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the platforms, you’re ready to start pulling numbers that matter. Start out by taking a step away from the computer and looking around the business. What is the number one way that your online marketing can affect what’s happening in the offline world? Don’t worry yet if there isn’t an obvious way to measure it.
Write that outcome down. How can you quantify it? If you said “bookings”, then your task is an easy one. If your opportunity is to educate guests, or change reputation, or attract a different type of guest, then your work is to envision exactly what success looks like, and then identify what changed. Was it an increased average nightly rate, or a higher occupancy during shoulder season, or more group/event bookings?
That change in outcome is now known as your Primary Business Metric (PBM). From this point on, everything that you measure, every improvement and adjustment that you make in your marketing (online and offline) is focused on moving that number in a positive direction. Focusing your efforts on a simple number that actually matters may be all that you need to make a fundamental shift in the way that you allocate your marketing time and resources.
In order to get real insights, we need a stronger connection between what we’re doing in the business and the results that we’re seeing, so that’s why we define a set of Contributing Business Metrics (CBMs). These are numbers that measure not our business outputs, but our marketing inputs. They track the successes or failures that we’re seeing in our various tactics, and the way that we figure out if they’re leading to a stronger business is simply by putting them side by side against our Primary Business Metric. When our CBMs went up, did our PBM also increase? Is that consistent over time? Then how can we do more of what’s working and less of what’s not?
What we do with these numbers is the real outcome that matters. Even the best intelligence, without action, is just a spinning wheel.
To turn these numbers into real lessons that make a difference, create a simple weekly practice. Making measurement a practice turns abstract data points into meaningful trends, and you’ll start to see patterns over time. The following is a great place to start – feel free to modify and adapt it to best suit you and your business:
Setting aside time for yourself not only makes your digital marketing more effective, it allows you to pull together all of the different parts of the business’ marketing strategy to consider how they’re working together, what’s truly valuable, and which experiments deserve to be cut. Most importantly, you’ll never have to wonder which 50% of your advertising is delivering all of your results.
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