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.]

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!