It may be based on a medium that is all about connections, but online marketing has grown up in a series of silos. For most of its 15-year history, the various disciplines of online marketing – search, email, display and so on – have existed in isolation, with only lip-service being paid to the idea of integrating them properly. But now the economic climate and the increasingly central role of interactive media in business are driving marketers to do more to make digital channels work together.
“I don’t think integration is a problem, but you have to work hard at it,” says Paul Say, head of marketing at First Direct. “It all comes down to how you plan your activity.”
Interactive marketing has, to some extent, been a victim of its own success, or at least, the success of some of its component parts. Its measurability led to it being lumped in with direct marketing, quite literally in the case of some agencies’ offerings, while the power of search to drive results focused everyone’s attention on the last click to complete a purchase.
This is now changing as the benefits of synergy between channels become more apparent and more essential. It’s been known for some years that the cost of your paid search goes down for the duration of your TV campaign, but now there’s a growing desire to go further and understand the links between all the touchpoints along the consumer journey. This is the discipline known as attribution modelling.
“Attribution modelling is very important for the industry,” says Alex Tait, digital sales and marketing manager at the Post Office. “Last click is over. We work across all disciplines and we want to tie them all together through attribution modelling. Tying brand advertising at the top of the funnel to conversions at the bottom is very interesting and we want to do more of that.”
David Isherwood, manager, digital communications and Renault TV at Renault UK agrees. “We’ve not made a lot of progress with attribution modelling, but we need to move beyond the last click,” he says. “We’re right at the beginning of a project to remap the customer journey, but we also have to understand what we would do differently.”
Attribution modelling is easier said than done, even for a business that is predominantly online. When people are researching a purchase, you might be able to keep track of the visits they have made to your site, or even to third-party sites, but how do you work out the importance of each of those interactions in the final buying decision? And as Renault’s Isherwood explains, it gets a lot more complicated when the final purchase happens in the offline world.
“Our final purchase is offline and it’s very expensive, so it creates a grey area,” he says. “Matching up the digital journey with the final purchase is very difficult.”
The other issue is the amount of data that interactive channels generate.
“Everything we do is spitting out loads of data,” says Isherwood. “We’re quite data-driven already and digital is giving us much more.”
It’s all about understanding the data to drive performance. Understanding the use of the technology to drive up the efficiency and effectiveness of online communications.
First Direct’s Say emphasises the tactical benefits of all this information. “We measure our traffic via WebTrends and we’re always looking at where people are dropping out of the journey so we can fix it ’in campaign’. We’re tweaking from the start. Also, if we’re not getting the pick-up we expected, we can change things; do another burst of advertising with different targeting, for example, or tweak the creative.”
In order to understand what matters amid all this data, companies are looking back at their key performance indicators (KPIs) much more carefully when planning their digital marketing. At Cadbury, the digital department works with brand managers across the UK and Ireland. According to interactive manager Joy Armitage, everything starts with the brands’ KPIs.
“We could drown in data, so we have to think about the KPIs from the beginning so that we can be nimble and flexible,” she says. “The KPIs come from the digital team looking at what we want to achieve through the year. This can be very broad, such as traffic figures for the sites, or very focused. We decide what they look like, then we feed them into the brand managers and go away and think about what needs to be done to achieve them.
“Then how often we revisit them depends on the brand. For Creme Egg it might be weekly, other brands fortnightly, or we might do a deep dive into the data monthly.”
At the Post Office, Tait is also a firm believer in KPIs. “What we’re looking to do is link back to our scorecard KPIs,” he explains. “We’ve evolved our KPIs to give us a focus on everything we’re trying to do and to focus on the key levers. They’re agreed with the executive team and most ofthem are around profit.”
For Tait, this focus on KPIs also gives him a way of dealing with the new technologies the interactive space regularly throws up.
“There’s always lots of new stuff popping up, causing problems,” he says. “We look at it by tying it back to the scorecard KPIs. For example, we’ve been looking at how we tie our social media strategy into them.”
The other big problem for marketers trying to bring their digital channels together is the number of different agencies and service providers they work with.
“We’re very open and share as much as possible, but we also validate who’s measuring what and how they’re doing it,” Renault’s Isherwood explains. “Our use of social media, for example. We’re working on the launch of our electric vehicle, and we sat down with our media agency, our social agency and so on, and the first thing we did was listen to what people are saying on the subject. Then we went back to our social media strategy to deliver what each of the agencies needed to move forward.”
Armitage at Cadbury is also a firm believer in sharing as much data as possible with the company’s agencies.
“We don’t give them access to the raw customer data,” she explains, “but we do give them access to the web tools so they can access the data they need without coming through us; that would stop us being viable. They don’t have access to everything, just to the stuff that enables them to do their job.”
In the end it all comes down to the data.
“It’s all about understanding the data to drive performance,” Tait says. “Understanding the use of the technology to drive up the efficiency and effectiveness of online communications.”
Jonathan Burston, sales director, CACI
Integration is about more than just digital channels; the challenge is to integrate all channels, be it digital and offline.
Many organisations talk about being customer-centric, but there are not many that are actually doing it. Digital marketing has grown up in a separate silo with its own technology and language, and it’s now an aspiration for organisations to integrate it with the rest of their marketing.
It is not uncommon to see organisations focusing on the technological side of integration in the belief that by pulling all their data together, they can tick the integration box and move on. But it’s a challenge in terms of the fragmentation and proliferation of technology, the volume and complexity of the data available and the skills and structure of the organisation being fit for the future.
Organisations have more data than ever before and they can drown in it. We are spending more and more time talking with clients helping them understand what data is relevant for them across all channels and what they can do with it.
Nowadays customers have so many touchpoints with brands that organisations need to see a holistic view. That’s a huge headache for marketing directors, but creating that view is something they have to do in order to see how effective their marketing budgets are. However, while technology is an important component of bringing this data together, organisations need to understand whether their structure can deliver the results.
Organisations need to have in place metrics that can allow them to understand the customer journey from the initial point of interest to its completion and attribute a proportion of the sale accordingly.
However, that relies on getting all the information back, which isn’t always easy when organisations work with many different agencies. They are invariably paid in different ways according to different KPIs and are competing with each other to get a bigger share of the budget.
Organisations need to consider how to target their agencies appropriately and measure their success. So the challenge for organisations isn’t just about digital. It’s about all their marketing across all the channels they use and integrating it with the right skills and structure within their business.