If there’s a drumbeat among B-to-B marketing professionals, it’s grousing about cross-channel marketing attribution.

If there’s one common complaint among business-to-business marketing professionals, it’s about how difficult it is to measure and attribute the results of their campaigns across marketing channels.

Now, a new survey of marketing professionals conducted Demand Gen (sponsored by marketing forecasting firm BrightFunnel) shows that nothing has particularly changed in recent times.

The survey sample isn’t large (around 200 respondents), but the findings are quite clear.  Only around 4 in 10 of the respondents believe that they can measure marketing pipeline influences. As to why this is the case, the following issues were cited most often:

  • Inability to measure and track activity between buyer stages: ~51% of respondents
  • The data is a mess: ~42%
  • Lack of good reporting: ~42%
  • Not sure which key performance indicators are the important ones to measure: ~15%

And in turn, a lack of resources was cited by nearly half of the respondents as to why they face the problems above and can’t seem to tackle them properly.

As for how B-to-B marketers are attempting to track and report their campaign results these days, it’s the usual practices we’ve been working with for a decade or more:

  • Tracking web traffic: ~95%
  • E-mail open/clickthrough rates: ~94%
  • Contact acquisition and web query forms completed: ~86%
  • Organic search results: ~77%
  • Paid search results: ~76%
  • Social media engagements/shares: ~60%

None of these hit the bullseye when it comes to marketing attribution, and that’s what makes it particularly difficult to find out what marketers really want to know:

  • Marketing ROI by channel
  • Cross-channel engagement
  • Customer lifetime value

It seems that a lot of this remains wait-and-wish-for for many B-to-B marketers …

The full report from Demand Gen, which contains additional research data, is available to download here.

HubSpot’s Marketing Predictions: Hits and Misses

soothsayingOne of the things I like about SaaS inbound marketing firm HubSpot is the steady stream articles and white papers the company publishes on varied facets of marketing and communications. 

They’re often quite meaty and beneficial as informational resources.

Moreover, HubSpot isn’t afraid to go out on a limb and render a pretty strong “point of view” about various factors and trends in the fast-evolving marketing world.

The risk is that some of those perspectives can end up being “off” – or looking even a bit silly – in retrospect. 

But more often than not, HubSpot’s trendspotting is on the money.

Marketing Prediction Hits & Misses (HubSpot)Here’s a case in point:  HubSpot’s team of analysts made a number of marketing predictions for the year 2013.  Recently, it revisited those predictions to judge whether they’d turned out to be on the mark or not.

These are HubSpot’s 2013 marketing predictions that it feels were on target: 

  • Content and social will matter even more for search engine optimization.
  • Stop-and-start campaigns will fade, and real-time will be ‘in.’
  • E-mail will live on.
  • Inbound marketing will spread enterprise-wide.

At the same time, four other marketing predictions for 2013 didn’t pan out so well, as underscored by HubSpot’s own cheeky editorial commentary about them:

  • Mobile or bust … “Not so hot.”
  • Marketing becomes accountable for revenue generation … “Meh.”
  • ‘Big data’ becomes real for businesses … “Nope.”
  • Print is dead … “Not even close.”

HubSpot’s post-mortem discussion points on these “misses” are interesting.  Quoting from its report:

  • Mobile or bust:  “Customers pay attention to multiple screens … and smart marketers capture attention by adding value wherever a consumer pays attention  … we need to be prepared, not by targeting just [mobile] but by embracing them all according to our specific customers and data.”
  • Marketing becomes accountable for revenue generation:  “The biggest challenge … has been proving ROI.       Even more frustrating … has been the lack of sales and marketing alignment in many companies.  Tracking can also get tricky, thanks to trying to reach fragmented digital audiences against so many channels … As much as lots of us really want this prediction to be a hit, it’s still largely aspirational.”
  • ‘Big data’ becomes real:  “Big data remains mainly a buzzword to many companies and markets — and continues to be more of a prediction than a reality …”
  • Print is dead:  “Saying ‘print is dead’ has lost pretty much all of its roots in reality … nor will it die in the next few years.”

Ever intrepid, HubSpot isn’t shying aware from new forecasts for 2014.  Looking forward, what do its analysts predict for this year?

  • Podcasting will continue to grow substantially.
  • Marketing departments will become more like engineering departments.
  • Social listening tools will gain context and get smarter.
  • The economy will become highly collaborative.
  • Marketers will become more holistic and less channel-focused.

And one more HubSpot prediction that’s a particular favorite of mine:

We’ll check back again a year from now to see how well HubSpot’s prognosticators fared this time around.

Marketers Give Themselves Only Middling Grades on Understanding ROI

Marketing frustrationIt turns out that even the practitioners in the marketing field don’t think they’re doing a very good job of understanding the return on investment on key marketing tactics.

That’s a major takeaway fnding from the most recent State of Search Marketing survey conducted by digital marketing information clearinghouse Econsultancy in conjunction with the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO).

This survey of industry professionals is conducted annually.  The 2013 research cycle queried ~400 industry and marketing/communications agency professionals.

One would think that in an evolving field like digital marketing, the degree of collective skill in the discipline would be rising over time.  But the opposite appears to be the case – at least in terms of the professionals’ own self-assessment of their skills.

The SEMPO research report presents how marketers consider their level of understanding to be in terms of ROI factors.

What the research reveals is a pretty stark decline in self-assessment grades between the 2012 and 2013 surveys:

  • Understanding of paid search ROI:  ~47% consider their understanding to be “good” (down from ~79%)
  • Email communications ROI:  ~41% consider good (down from ~57%)
  • Digital display media ROI:  ~28% consider good (down from ~37%)
  • Social media ROI:  ~11% consider good (down from ~15%)

What’s the reason for the decline in these self-assessment ratings?

It could be ever-changing definitions of what each of these marketing tactics actually encompass.

… It may be that there is an actual decline in overall proficiency as more people are assigned these marketing tasks who have little or no relevant knowledge or prior training.

… Or if could be the rapid speed in which technology is evolving in the marketing sphere.  (Big data isn’t the half of it.)

Of the major marketing tactics addressed by the Econsultancy/SEMPO research, it’s clear that social media and mobile are the most mystifying to practitioners, judging from the percentage of survey respondents that profess to have a “poor” understanding of their ROI:

  • Social media ROI:  ~51% report having a “poor” understanding
  • Mobile marketing ROI:  ~35%
  • Search engine optimization ROI:  ~28%
  • Digital display advertising ROI:  ~26%
  • Paid search ROI:  ~19%
  • Email marketing ROI:  ~14%

Underscoring the admitted lack of understanding about ROI in social and mobile channels, the survey respondents reported that only ~11% of the digital marketing dollars in 2014 will be allocated to social media.

For mobile marketing, it’s even lower (~3% of the marketing budget).

This isn’t to imply that marketers don’t recognize the importance of these tactics.  For instance, more than eight of ten respondents consider mobile marketing to be a significant development in the field.

It’s just that many of them are having great difficulty going from Point A to Point B when it comes to quantifying the marketing payback.

[For access to the full report, which also provides interesting insights on the most popular marketing metrics, go to this page on the SEMPO website.]

What’s happening with marketing analytics right now?

MarketingSherpa logoWith so many promotional tactics available to marketers these days, figuring out how to measure the success of each may be just as challenging as choosing which ones to employ to begin with

That’s the reasoning behind the release of research firm MarketingSherpa’s first-ever marketing analytics research report

MarketingSherpa was seeking insights as to how marketers track metrics for a whole host of channels like PPC advertising, SEO initiatives, social media, display advertising, e-mail marketing and content marketing, among others.

2013 Marketing Analytics Benchmark Report from MarketingSherpaThe results compiled by MarketingSherpa are based on research and data collected during 2012 from more than 1,100 marketing professionals across a full range of industries worldwide. 

The research covers a wide variety of marketing analytics tools and practices, along with challenges and budget constraints faced by marketers in the course of carrying out their responsibilities.

The 2013 Marketing Analytics Benchmark Report is big – to the tune of ~325 presentation slides and 425+ data charts plus commentary – and rather costly as well. 

But it may be just the ticket for marketers who are looking for the latest insights on how to tackle measurement in today’s “smorgasbord” marketing landscape.

One set of data points that I find particularly interesting is in identifying the marketing metrics that companies routinely track.  The MarketingSherpa research has found that that e-mail open rates and clickthrough rates continue to be the most prevalent forms of measurement:

  • Open rate:  ~78% routinely track this metric
  • Clickthrough rate:  ~73%

Several other metrics are tracked by about half (or more) of the respondents:

  • Unsubscribe rate:  ~65% routinely track
  • Deliverability rate:  ~55%
  • Conversion rate:  ~54%
  • Clicks-per-link in e-mail:  ~49%
  • List size:  ~48%

On the other hand, several other metrics are being tracked by a distinct minority of companies:

  • ROI:  ~28% routinely track
  • Complaint rate:  ~25%
  • Social sharing rate:  ~21%

On one hand, seeing ROI tracking so far down the list is disappointing … until we remind ourselves that accurate ROI measurement is a function of having good data on 5 or 10 other factors.  If any one of them is off by a significant degree, it affects the veracity of the ROI conclusions.

Yet another example where “talk” is most definitely “cheap.”

But for more insights on measurement factors and other marketing topics, you can order and download the full report and see for yourself.

Marketing Measurement: Aiming Really High … Scoring Kinda Low

Marketing ROI - return on investmentThere’s clearly a disconnect in the world of business regarding the theory and practice of ROI measurement for marketing campaigns.

That’s the key takeaway from the 2011 State of Marketing Management Report, based on a survey of 200+ U.S. marketing professionals in the B-to-B and B-to-C realm.

The research was conducted by Ifbyphone, a Chicago-based developer of voice-based marketing automation platforms, with results published in December 2011.

More than 80% of the marketers surveyed report that their executive management expects every campaign to be measured. But fewer than 30% of the respondents believe they can effectively evaluate the ROI of each campaign.

Not surprisingly, e-mail marketing, with its robust reporting capability, is the program that is reportedly most easy to measure for return on investment … whereas public relations programs are most difficult.

Here’s how eight marketing techniques fared in the survey in terms of their ROI measurement “difficulty”:

 E-mail marketing: ~53% of respondents report difficulty measuring ROI
 Direct mail campaigns: ~59% report difficulty
 Online advertising: ~60% report difficulty
 Print advertising campaigns: ~66% report difficulty
 Tradeshow marketing: ~72% report difficulty
 Social media: ~74% report difficulty
 Search engine optimization: ~76% report difficulty
 Public relations: ~82% report difficulty

The survey found some correlation between the types of marketing tools utilized and greater ability to measure ROI. The most popular tools used by the survey respondents included these five:

 Web analytics: ~48% utilize
 e-Mail marketing software analytics: ~47%
 Lead counts from online contact forms: ~38%
 Social media monitoring: ~30%
 Call tracking: ~27%

The study’s bottom-line finding: Marketers have a good deal more work to do to meet senior management expectations for campaign measurement … as well as to meet their own high standards.

Now for the tough part …

Dealing with a Deluge of Marketing Data

Marketing analytics in the era of social mediaBelieve it or not, there was a time not so long ago when marketing professionals actually complained about a lack of data when it came to determining the success of sales, advertising or promotional initiatives.

Clearly, those days are long past. With the inexorable rise of digital and social media, many marketing managers now believe they can’t analyze and react to the sheer volumes of data that are now available.

That view comes through loud and clear in IBM’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Study, released in October 2011. In this large survey, IBM interviewed nearly 1,750 CMOs across nearly 20 industries in more than 50 countries … and ~70% of them revealed that they felt incapable of analyzing and responding to all of the data available to them.

For example, only about one in four CMOs in the survey reported that they are tracking blog content.

On the other hand, only ~36% reported that they still focus primarily on traditional sources of marketing information. Even so, ~80% continue to use certain forms of traditional management techniques to measure their success, such as competitive benchmarking and market research surveys.

As the newest activity – and perhaps the thorniest to measure – social media is a particular struggle, according to these CMOs. While just over 55% believe that social platforms represent a “key engagement channel,” an equal percentage say they’re not prepared to be held accountable for social media ROI.

Calculating the return on investment for acquiring Facebook fans, YouTube followers or LinkedIn company connections is really challenging, these respondents report. Instead, metrics that are typically tracked are new account signups, exits and cross-selling activity. For now at least, the commitment is to engage customers using social platforms without agonizing over ROI factors.

Thankfully, the hard-dollar advertising costs of using social platforms are modest … even though marketing departments must devote significant personnel resources to support the effort properly.

Monitoring social discussions, product reviews and other anecdotal information — and then compiling the data into actionable reports — requires daily focus and attention. But those actions are key to triggering timely alerts if something is amiss or there’s a change in the competitive picture.

What’s the prognosis for marketing data in the future? (Much) more of the same. For companies, the deluge – if not the fun – is just beginning.

Third-Party e-Mail Lists: Clicks to Nowhere?

Clickthrough fraudOf the various issues that are on every marketing manager’s plate, concern about the quality of third-party e-mail lists is surely one of them. It’s a common view that the effectiveness of a purchased e-mail data file is worse than a carefully crafted in-house list based on input from the sales team plus opt-in requests from customers.

Part of the reason is that there’s less likelihood for recipients to be interested in the products and services of the company, which only makes intuitive sense. But there may be other, more nefarious reasons at work as well.

Ever heard of a click-o-meter? It’s the way some e-mail lists are made to look more effective than they actually are. In its basic form, this is nothing more than people paid to open e-mails with no other interest or intention of further engagement. The more technical way is to have an automated click setting, usually done through a rotation of IP addresses.

To the casual observer, this gives the impression of recipients who are interested in a company’s offer, but the final analysis will show something quite different: near-zero purchases or other relevant actions. The problem is that for many campaigns, ROI will be slow at first, so the grim reality that the company has been punked comes later.

The growth of the autobot click-o-meter phenomenon tracks with the growing interest in purchasing third-party lists based on cost-per-click (CPC) performance rather than on the traditional cost-per-thousand (CPM) basis. Not surprisingly, when list vendors started being asked to sell lists based on a CPC versus CPM basis, for some of them the temptation to “juice the numbers” was too great. And since many of the databases come from other sources and are private-labeled, the problem is perpetrated throughout the system.

Many purchasers have wised up to this issue by settling on one or two list brokers that they know and trust, by asking about the data source, and by asking for client references for the lists in question. If an e-mail database has suddenly changed in pricing from a CPM to a CPC basis, that may be another cause for concern.

Another option is to hire a third-party traffic monitoring service to assist with back-end analyses of e-mail campaigns to see what’s working or not working in specific campaigns and nip any problems in the bud before they do too much damage to a marketing effort.

But like anything else, self-education is critical. Most companies who are victims of fraudulent e-mail practices become so because their staff members are unaware of the potential problems. But the information is out there for the asking, and that knowledge will soon become “intuition” – usually the best predictor of ROI!