Digital Advertising Effectiveness: How do I know if it’s working?

As brand managers are spending ever-larger shares of their advertising budgets on digital display advertising, they are asking more and more questions about whether these investments are acheiving the desired results. There are many ways to measure digital campaign results – and in real time and while the campaign is underway. By paying attention to how everything is working, a campaign can be optimized while it is underway, trading out poorly performing creative units and media placements for better performing ones. Here is a checklist to help brand managers work with their media and creative partners to plan and evaluate a digital campaign. (And by the way, it is important to have this conversation while a campaign is being planned; the media and creative agencies need to put tracking tags in place, and establish check-in dates, before the campaign starts to be able to provide the results during and after the campaign.)

There are 3 basic questions a brand manager wants to answer with any digital campaign: (1) how are the media choices I’ve made working, (2) how are the creative units working, and (3) is the campaign acheiving my business objectives?

1. Media effectiveness. Your media agency works with each site on which your advertising is running to understand the results of the buy. These interim results can alert you to changes needed, and will allow you to shift dollars to the sites that are performing best, and to heavy-up on creative units that are proving to be most effective.  Interim reports should include:

  • Impressions delivered to date – is each site delivering as expected, and at a rate that will acheive the desired reach and frequency?
  • Engagement / click-through rates – are site visitors responding as expected? Is the plan delivering the consumer actions (video views, clicks, in-ad engagement) at the rate anticipated in the plan?
  • Conversion rates – are consumers engaging in the action the brand is seeking, such as registering with the brand, making a purchase, downloading a document? How do the conversion rates vary between sites; does it makes sense to reallocate any parts of the media investment?

2. Creative effectiveness: by tagging each ad, the creative agency can determine if some creative executions are performing better than others, and can suggest changes to the ad rotations or to the units themselves to improve performance. Questions that could be evaluated include:

  • Which images and copy lines are more likely to drive click through and / or conversions?
  • If using video, which units result in the highest percentage of completed views?
  • Do certain creative versions work better on certain sites?
  • If there were different offers in the ad rotation, which offer is driving the largest reaction from the target?
  • If the campaign includes social sites, what units are providing the best rate of earned social impressions?

3. Campaign effectiveness: by using a third-party research partner (such as Dynamic Logic or Research Now), you can compare the effect your campaign has on exposed consumers with a control group. This sort of study can help to determine:

  • rates of ad recall
  • consumer measures: shifts in awareness, intent, purchase rates
  • brand measures: shifts in attitudes and usage
  • how the target consumer reacted vs. other consumers in the exposed group
  • changes in these measures over time (to assess the optimum frequency level)

Woody Allen was talking about Your Brand

Woody Allen famously said: “80% of success is showing up”.  This is as true for brands as it is for people – the key to brand building in today’s environment is to be found by potential consumers when they are in a receptive situation. These days, each of us has an unprecendented level of control over the messages we receive. We can choose when and how to be entertained, get the news, or learn about what is happening with our friends. If we have a question, we can look up the answer. If we want to solve a problem, we can ask others who have faced the same challenge. As long as the source of the solution is credible, we usually don’t care much about where the solutions t comes from: it could be a person halfway around the world, or a brand that is in our kitchen pantry. Brand marketers need to find ways to “show up” in relevant places, with relevant content, to be successful in this evolving landscape.

We have all changed the way we consume media. Studies show that we actually consume more than ever, as the number of channels through which media is delivered has exploded in recent years. And because of this, brands are changing the way we market our products and services. Brand marketers can no longer choose the channels into which we place our messages and count on our messages being received. Brands must rely more on “being found”.  New phrases like “brands as publishers”, “content marketing”, “inbound” and “always on” are being added to our marketing lexicon to help us express these changing ways of marketing.

The premise behind these phrases is that marketers are moving away from an environment where the brand simply needed to create messages and deliver those messages to their consumers through a few mass market vehicles. Today the number of channels through which a message can be delivered has exploded to a size that makes it impossible for a brand to rely on placing its message in all the right places. We must make sure that the messages are compelling enough to be passed along to the channels we can’t afford to reach.

So how can brands be sure that they “show up”?

1. Understand your consumer’s decision journey and where they get information as they are considering and evaluating your brand and be sure that your content is in places s/he will be looking – at all stages along the decision journey, online and offline. Identify ways to “recognize” individual consumers as they interact with the brand at each stage and record each touch point.

2. Design content that will add value to the consumer’s life when they find it: make them smile, solve their problem, make their life easier. Provide consistent and relevant content at every stage in the journey, to increase the opportunity to be included in the consumer’s evaluation set and to reinforce a positive experience after purchase.

3. Identify the consumers that have entered the loyalty loop, and no longer go through the consideration and evaluation stages before they buy your brand. Develop strategies to help them advocate for your brand to others, in online and offline channels, and reward them in tangible and intangible ways for doing so. Seek to establish a relationship with them: listen to them, remember their birthday, let them get to know you – and I mean YOU, the real person(s) behind the brand, not some corporate entity. Help them to share their experience with and loyalty to your brand with others – in the thousands of channels a brand’s advertising dollars could never reach.

If Woody Allen is right, and 80% of success is just showing up, brands will be successful as they allocate their marketing resources to ensure that they “show up”.

Marketing to Millenials

I work in the Spirits industry, and our industry takes great pains to limit the marketing of our products to people of legal drinking age. Much of the segment know as Millennials (defined as individuals born between 1981 and 2000) is now part of our target market, so we need to ensure our current marketing strategies are relevant to this new group. This segment  is the largest generation since the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964).

A recent study by ComScore provides powerful insights to brands that want to build relationships with these consumers. Some good news, some bad news, some news that makes me realize the amazing opportunities we have before us. Unfortunately this study has segmented the data with an 18-34 cut rather than providing data specifically for consumers 21 and above, so the younger consumers may slightly skew the results. It is also important to note that only women were included in this study, as they are the primary purchasers of most consumer products.

  • These folks have never know life without the Internet or cell phones. 93% of these folks use the web and it is a normal part of everything they do.
  • Younger consumers are difficult to influence with advertising; this finding is consistent with studies of earlier generations, and implies that this is a result of life-stage rather than anything specific to the Millennial generation.
  • Influence of all advertising channels is lower for Millennials than for other age groups, but digital performs better than television in generating lift among this group.
    • the study doesn’t address it, but perhaps this means that we need to explore new ways of connecting with these consumers, beyond advertising
  • While Millennials have a lower level of immediate recall of advertising exposure, they are more likely than other groups to retain a lasting impression (they have higher rates of delayed recall).
  •  Millennials are highly engaged with the content that they choose to view; the study suggests that digital is a good choice for this audience because of its relatively higher ability to engage.

The study concludes that the creative approach is critical in connecting with these consumers (well, duh!):

  • Millennials are notorious for multitasking and short attention spans, so creative must have stopping power and draw the audience in
  • Millennials respond to a powerful and differentiating reason to buy as much as any other generation; the same core drivers of impactful creative strongly related to high ad effectiveness scores, so the creative for this generation doesn’t necessarily need to be different from for other generations.
  • The placement of advertising – the content in which it is embedded – has a significant impact on effectiveness.

You can download the full report here.

The Three Easy Pieces of Digital Marketing: Part Three

This post is the third in a series, in which I discuss the three basic elements of any digital marketing program: Landing Pages, Traffic Drivers, and Measuring the Results. The good news about digital marketing is that there is a wealth of data available for analysis. The bad news about digital marketing is that there is a wealth of data available for analysis. Where do you start?

Forgive me for stating the obvious: you start at the beginning. And the beginning of every marketing campaign, digital or otherwise, is the definition of objectives. What are you trying to accomplish, and  what are the business goals by which you will define success? Are you seeking to increase levels of brand awareness? A greater number of consumers engaging with your brand? Or maybe you happy with the number of consumers that are engaging with the brand, but you want to deepen the level of engagement to build their loyalty and advocacy? A clear definition of success is the first step in measuring results, because you need to set up the mechanisms to track the results that will answer your questions.

Measuring the results of traffic drivers is primarily a game of numbers: how many consumers saw the tactic, and how many did what you were seeking to accomplish with the tactic. Just because I’ve termed this group of tactics as “traffic drivers” doesn’t mean that the number of click-throughs to the landing page is always the primary objective. If a brand is seeking mass awareness, you may be more interested in the number of impressions, the reach and frequency delivered to your potential consumers. When that’s the objective, the bulk of marketing campaign dollars may be spent on online and offline broadcast vehicles. But if bringing traffic to your landing pages is the brand’s primary objective, measurements should focus on identifying the most efficient tactics that generate click-through from target consumers. When possible, marketers should seek to align offline and online measurements to get a true picture of campaign results; Microsoft has developed a white paper on this topic.

Measuring the results of landing pages focuses on consumer behavior once they arrive on the page: what they did, how long they stayed on the page, how they moved through the variety on content options provided to them. Did they come back later? Did they share links with others? Did they respond to an offer or download content? There are lots of things the marketer can measure, but the focus should be on only those actions that are relevant to the brand’s objectives. The most common tool used for measurement of web page activity is Google Analytics; Facebook applications (but not the brand’s Facebook wall) can also be monitored using this tool.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the volume of data available. To tame the monster, identify the three most important questions that you need to answer about your campaign. Clearly stating those questions up front, before the campaign begins, allows you and your agency partners to build the tools that will allow you to answer those questions once the campaign is underway.

The Three Easy Pieces of Digital Marketing: Part Two

My last blog post introduced the idea that any digital marketing plan consists of three elements: a landing page, traffic drivers that bring visitors to the landing page, and measurement of the results. This second post in the series will describe the many ways that consumers can be attracted to a brand’s landing page; Part 3 will address how to measure the results from both.

By “traffic drivers”, I mean any of the multiple tactics that can be employed to bring a consumer to the brand’s landing page. These tactics are listed below, and a brand manager should discuss each with their agency partners to determine the right choices for your business case. For an individual campaign, or as part of an “always-on” marketing strategy, each of the tactics can be used individually or in combination. The choice of tactics will depend on the brand’s marketing objectives and strategies, and on the behavior of the brand’s consumers.

Traffic drivers are not limited to brand-initiated tactics; consumer and professional comments (in person and online) can also bring consumers to the brand landing pages. Some of the tactics below have been linked to articles or blogs that provide more advice on the tactic.

  • Search Engine Marketing, which uses key words to position your brand into search results
  • Social Conversation initiated by the brand
    • posts on the brand’s Facebook wall can include links to content within the brand’s Facebook page or to other digital properties
    • tweets on Twitter can include shortened links to web pages, photos, or videos (and be sure the landing page is mobile-optimized!)
    • brand photos or videos on all sorts of content curation sites  (Pinterest, flickr, YouTube, instagram, etc.) can link back to other brand content
  • Word of Mouth: comments on relevant third-party blogs and web sites can provide helpful information to current and potential consumers, and the brand can include links for more detail (but be careful not to be pushy: the brand’s purpose in commenting is to be helpful, not to give a sales pitch.) Think about how the brand can use
    • ratings and review sites
    • industry / product / lifestyle blogs
  • Email Marketing: consumers continue to subscribe to brand emails to receive offers and information. These consumers have already given the brand permission to engage, and are very likely to click-through to your landing page when given a relevant message.
  • Advertising
    • Traditional advertising (such as out-of-home, magazines, newspapers, broadcast TV) should include calls to action to encourage consumers to come to the landing page URL.
    • Digital advertising (digital display and rich media ads, social ads, search) can be narrowly targeted to reach the most relevant consumer target for the brand message.
  • Promotions: In-store materials can include a QR code and/or the URL of the landing page, along with a call to action to tell the reader why they should check it out. An SMS text call to action can invite consumers to request a link to be sent to them for later use. Be sure the landing page for these tactics is optimized for mobile devices in case the consumer decides to engage right away!
  • Other landing pages: when using multiple landing pages during a campaign, they should link to each other to allow the consumer to easily move from one to another. For example, a video on a brand’s web site might be accompanied by links to other videos on the brand’s YouTube channel. Landing pages created on third-party sites should also provide links back to brand-owned landing pages for deeper engagement.

You may notice: not all of these tactics are digital tactics. At every consumer touch point, the brand should provide the consumer with an opportunity for deeper engagement by publicizing the URL of the landing page. For example, say I’m marketing a new line of cookie mixes. A campaign-appropriate “vanity” URL  (in this case, it might be something like “”) could be created and integrated into offline tactics: the URL is shown at the end of my TV commercial, in the magazine ad copy, on the shelf-talker or sign at the store. The URL can help deliver part of the campaign message, and by placing it on every consumer communication, consumer awareness can be increased. You can check on the availability of a URL at sites such as

When using any of the digital traffic drivers, work with your agency partners to be sure they are including unique tags on each traffic driver. This will allow you to identify what sources drive the most traffic. The tags can follow a consumer’s activity through their engagement session, and therefore can identify which drivers resulted in the behaviors you are seeking to deliver on the landing page. Which leads to the third and last part of this series: Measuring Results.

The Three Easy Pieces of Digital Marketing: Part One

With the galaxy of digital channels, platforms, devices and scary-sounding jargon, it no surprise that digital marketing can seem daunting. So many options, with new options added seemingly every day. How does a brand manager make sense of it all? How do you decide what digital elements to include in your marketing plan?

All these options boil down into three elements, and you need at least one of each as part of your marketing plan:

1. The Landing Page: the digital presence where the most robust and deep interactions between the brand and the consumer take place.

2. The Traffic Drivers: the tactics that bring the consumer to the Landing Page.

3. The Results: the measurements and analysis that tells you what happened.

Sounds simple, right? It is! This post and the next two will talk more about the Three Easy Pieces. Let’s start with

The Landing Page

This is the digital “place” to which you are trying to attract your consumers: it could be a web site, the brand’s Facebook wall or a Facebook application, a mobile site, a game, or sponsored content on a third-party web site. The Landing Page is designed for depth of engagement: it is the place where consumers can learn more about a brand or a promotion, view (and perhaps download) audio or video content, redeem an offer, read what other folks are saying and interact with like-minded people, register to win something or to receive future brand communications, play a game. This is the place when the consumer has the chance to really engage with the brand and the message, and the quality of engagement is what counts, not just the number of people who land on the page.

Think about the experience you want your consumer to have on this page, and what the consumer will be expecting when they arrive there. Most consumers will arrive at your page because of a traffic driver, and the messaging delivered by the landing page should be consistent with the tactic that brought them to the page. They should be able to immediately see “the rest of the story” that sparked their interest in the first place. Marketers sometimes want to say everything as soon as they are “introduced”, but it’s better to meet the consumer’s expectations consistently over time, build trust, and then – perhaps – the consumer will be ready to listen to other things you would like to say.

Think about this: Have you ever clicked on a digital ad and then landed on the home page of the brand’s website? How frustrating! You clicked on the ad because you were interested in the offer – and if you just land on the brand’s home page, you will now have to look for the offer. Chances are, you will say “forget it” – and move on to something else. An ad inviting a consumer to register for a contest should land on a registration page. A QR inviting a consumer to get a coupon should land on a digital coupon that is accessible with on a mobile device. A Facebook post inviting folks to view a certain video should link directly to that video, not a gallery of choices. It’s even possible to deliver differing landing pages based on specific key word searches. A brand may need to create multiple landing pages to deliver the best experience to the consumer.

The point of the landing page is to be of service to the consumer: solve their problem, deliver the information they are seeking, give them what they are expecting or looking for. When planning the content of the landing page, put yourself in the consumer’s mindset: what will they have seen before arriving at the page? What will they want to do when they land on the page? Deliver that to them, and they will appreciate the brand that provided them a good experience.

If your brand uses an “always on” marketing strategy, the brand will want to use the same URL over and over. As messaging needs change, the brand will want to change the content that is delivered when the consumer comes to that URL – not create a new URL. The consistent use of in all channels of consumer communication will make measurement easier and will improve search engine results for the brand.

Part Two of this series discusses traffic drivers: the wide variety of online and offline tactics that can be used to attract consumers to the brand’s landing page, and Part Three provides an overview of the measurement of the results for both.

Working with Agencies: Digital Advertising Creative

Many brand managers include digital advertising as part of their overall media plan. This outline describes the steps a brand manager can expect when working with their creative agency partner to develop digital advertising units, and will help the brand manager establish a project timeline and cost estimate with agency partners. These steps are based on the assumption that the creative strategy for digital is part of an overall creative strategy for all media, and that the brand has defined the landing page experience to which the digital advertising will deliver consumers. I have also assumed that the brand has already clearly defined the primary media objectives. This outline is not intended to be a discussion of what creative or media strategies or tactics should be used; it is intended to describe how the brand should work with its agency to execute already-determined strategies and tactics. In other words, this describes the “how”, not the “what”.

Digital media is somewhat unique in that, in addition to meeting the media objectives, the digital media planner needs to understand the creative objectives and strategy; the desired consumer experience will influence what publishers are right for the plan. A wide variety of creative assets can be developed for a digital media buy. Often, a digital buy will include custom content that is developed by a media partner, in addition to more standard banner ads and rich media units. Ideally, the creative agency and media agency have worked together on the RFP to media partners, and the final digital media plan takes the creative objectives into consideration.

The Brief. The brand manager must provide clear objectives and expectations to the agency team. What is the primary objective of the advertising? To build awareness? Encourage interaction with the ad unit itself? Drive traffic to a landing page? Make your expectations clear in the brief. If you have specific KPIs or success measures, include those specifications. Be sure to specify the budget the agency has to work with to develop creative mechanicals. The creative agency will work directly with the media agency to understand the specific units that need to be developed to support the media plan. In addition to display advertising (banner ads and rich media units), some media plans may include custom or site-specific content that will be developed by the publisher; the creative agency will provide supervision to the publisher’s creative team to ensure consistency with the overall campaign.

Initial Proposals. The agency will respond to your brief with rough ideas about how to execute the creative strategy within the digital environment, and may provide a few alternative approaches. The brand team will be asked to identify an overall look, feel, and tone for the advertising units. You won’t be seeing working versions of ads at this point, but more like storyboards, often in a PDF format.

How well do their proposals respond to the brief? Be sure you fully understand the user experience. How will the approach work in wide but narrow leaderboard ads as well as square 350×350 ads? How will the approach work in any custom creative content in the plan? Does the ad drive the consumer to respond? Does it meet legal and regulatory requirements in addition to meeting the brand objective?

The proposal should include a proposed project timeline and budget, and reflect all the creative work needed to meet the detailed media specifications. (This is often more detail than a brand manager is used to seeing with other media buys.) Be sure the timeline reflects: (1) brand and legal review (2) agency time for developing the creative and incorporating feedback (3) the date by which creative assets need to be provided to the media agency for trafficking to the publishers and (4) the live date for each publisher. Make sure the timeline is consistent with the landing page launch.

Working versions of the ads. Once you have agreed with the agency on the concept and approach, their next step is to create working versions in the sizes needed for the media buy. They will provide links to these working versions; review the look and feel of the ads, as well as the copy and graphics. Ask the agency to show you a mockup of how the ads will look on each of the sites on which it will be placed so that you can see them in context.
Custom content. Often a digital media buy will include creative content that will be built by the media partner. This might be a sponsorship or “skin” for a specific section of the site, a contest, a game, a video, or another element unique to one publisher. The creative agency will need to provide guidance to the media partner so that the content developed is consistent with other elements of the advertising campaign, and the agency’s fees will need to reflect this work. The review process for custom content is similar to the process outlined above.

Measure and optimize. Your brief outlined the objectives for the advertising campaign, and the timing and content of the reports that you are expecting from your agency partner. Your media agency will provide reports to you and to your creative partners that outline the performance of each creative unit and each site. The media and creative agencies should work together to develop recommendations for optimization, reallocating units and placement to the elements that are best achieving the campaign objectives. At the completion of the campaign, the media agency should provide a complete recap of performance and lessons learned.