Over the years, marketing has evolved drastically, thanks to the explosion of data, social media, the proliferation of channels and devices, and a shift in customer demographics.

This evolution has led many CEOs & CMO’S to feel anxious about the level of complexity involved in their job duties. But this anxiety is, actually, a good thing, because it suggests that there is a consensus among marketers that there are areas of the industry that need to be improved. Specifically, these areas include:

  • How to deliver value to empowered customers
  • Creating lasting relationships with these customers
  • Determining how to measure marketing’s contribution to the business in quantifiable terms

While each of these components is key, it’s that last bullet point that we want to focus in on for the moment.

Whether you have a CMO (chief marketing officer) on staff or are looking to partner with a marketing agency, the marketers charged with expanding your business reach have to show a real return on their marketing expenditure.

Several years ago, IBM conducted a study with 1,734 CMOs to get a better understanding of the world of marketing, and its future.

As part of the study, Rob Colwell, Executive Manager of Commercial and Marketing of Qantas Frequent Flyer had this to say:

The success of my role is far more about analytics and technology than it is about hanging out with my ad agency, coming up with great creative campaigns. We must increase campaign ROI.

Colwell is not alone. When the CMOs interviewed were asked, “What are the 5 most important measurements you (will) use to gauge marketing success?”, marketing ROI was the top response:

The 5 most important measurements you (will) use to gauge marketing success

Great, so marketing ROI is an important indicator of success. Good to know. But, with that understanding comes a frustrating realization:

Humans now create as much information every few days as we did from the dawn of civilization to 2003. That’s just staggering. Not only that, but that’s just an overwhelming amount of data for anyone to sort through.

Think about the various data repositories that exist, just within your own organization. How well is your team extracting relevant insights that help shape your future choices?

Are you using your access to data to discover how your customers stumble upon your website? Do you know how to use your data to learn why someone converted (or bounced)?

From keywords to ad copy, landing pages, purchase funnels and beyond, do you or your CMO really know what your customers want and expect from you?

Are you using Google Analytics to gain true customer insights? Or are you merely comparing traffic levels year over year?

Stepping up your ROI game

At Cardinal, we’ve found that many organizations don’t track ROI at the granular level the way they should.

There are a number of reasons why this happens, but often times it comes down to the fact that all of the connected systems organizations use make tracking ROI challenging. Think of the software in place to run your online ads, content marketing, and social media. Often times, you have one piece of technology for each of these channels, none of which talk with one another.

It’s actually why we crafted a proprietary system to help businesses with multiple locations track their campaign performances for each individual location.

Tracking Paid Search Ads Performance for Multiple Locations

And while this deluge of data and flurry of marketing software makes tracking a return on your marketing investment a challenge, it doesn’t make it difficult.

Let’s take a look at how organizations, and marketing partners, often fall short on truly measuring the ROI of their marketing efforts, specifically in terms of paid search.

Measuring the TRUE ROI of Your Paid Search Ads

Paid search ads (think PPC and display ads) through Google AdWords are an extremely effective way to bring traffic to your website. Fortunately, AdWords provides a wealth of data and metrics to help you track the performance of these ads.

Unfortunately, many marketing agencies focus much of their success (and decisions) on the click through rate (CTR), which is the percentage of people who saw an ad and clicked on it to visit your site.

But here’s the problem with reporting on this metric: it only measures clicks through to a website and doesn’t take into consideration the results of that visit. But isn’t a click from an ad just one small piece of the puzzle?

Don’t you want to know what happened next?

That next action is exactly what’s missing from most marketing reports. Did your visitors sign up to receive a newsletter? Did they download a content offer? Did they convert with a purchase?

Sure, you can attain this information across several channels. For example, if you use MailChimp for your email marketing, you can tell how many people filled out a form. But that isolated piece of data doesn’t present the whole picture. It doesn’t tell you the entire journey of your individual visitors. It doesn’t tell you how many of those new contacts came to your site from your ad. For that, you’d have to close some gaps between AdWords’ data and MailChimp data.

And that’s not easy.

As a result, your business is likely miscalculating its ROI on ad spend. Understanding what your site visitors did after their initial ad click will help you determine the revenue your ads have actually earned.

But far too many marketing partners focus on the wrong metrics when it comes to your paid search and, frankly, throughout your marketing mix.

Still not convinced? Let’s see how poor ROI measurement can be traced back to your social media marketing as well.

Measuring (or not Measuring) the ROI of Your Social Media Marketing

There is no shortage of social media tools out there aimed at helping you manage your social media efforts. Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social (pictured below) are just a few:

Measuring ROI for Your Social Media Advertising Campaign

Most of these tools make it incredibly easy for you to schedule messaging. The problem is, they don’t often tie back into the systems companies use to manage campaigns, customers, and leads.

What this does is create a gap, making it all but impossible to prove ROI for your social media efforts.

Sure, one of your Facebook posts got 50 clicks. That’s great! But what did those users do once they clicked?

Without knowing that, you can’t really measure your success.

Just think of what you could do if you had a marketing partner that knew how to close all the gaps between your social media and CRM. You could, for example, know where a lead originally came from, and have historical data to show the rate at which leads from various sources are likely to become customers.

With that data you can gauge how much revenue you should expect to generate from these lead sources.

Not only is this data key to determining the ROI of your social media, but it’s key toward measuring the ROI of your overall strategy.

Living and Dying by the Marketing Software Sword

We know why measuring ROI is hard: there’s a lot of data out there coming in from all sorts of channels, making it hard for marketers to close the gaps and understand the true contribution of each marketing channel toward your growth.

It pains us to say it, but marketing software is to blame.

There is no question that 21st-century businesses have far more access to a customer’s mindset and behavior today, than ever before. The suite of tools Google freely offers contributes to this access. As do endless other software solutions you may or may not use, including:

And so on.

These tools have elevated our access to data, but they’ve also taken us further away from understanding how modern-day consumers act.

Few, if any, of your prospects rely solely on social media to find – and choose – a company to do business with. In fact, according to research done by Salesforce, it takes 6-8 touches to generate a viable sales lead. These touches often occur across a myriad of channels, from social to paid advertising, blogging and more.

Just because one of your customers made a conversion after reading your blog doesn’t mean that it was the blog – alone – that turned that prospect into a customer.

More often than not, several of your marketing assets contributed. In order to repeat the successes of your conversions, you want to know:

  • Which of your marketing assets contributed to the conversion
  • And in which order your customer interacted with these assets

The average marketing agency touts its knowledge and expertise of all things digital marketing, but in reality, what they mean is that they use the tools listed above (and more) to give you isolated reports highlighting the ROI of individual channels.

That’s not ROI. That’s just pie charts and graphs.

Here at Cardinal, we’re not easily wowed by click through rates, number of likes on a post, or even the increase in traffic to a web page.

Those are all positive indicators that something good is happening; however, all that really matters is can we show how each of our efforts contribute toward growth?

That’s why we don’t rely solely on third-party software to deliver reports to our clients. We do our own research. We look at a customer’s journey, from first touch to conversion, to determine how the assets and strategies we implemented aided in that conversion, as well as to see what we can do to increase this action.

There is no marketing automation software on the market, yet, that completely erases data gaps between channels. Some come close, and these tools are what many reputable higher education marketing firms use.

But through our experience working with some of the most recognizable – and successful – brands on the planet, we’ve learned that if you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself.

While we use a variety of tools to help us gather insight and reports, we as a team take it upon ourselves to develop the type of data-acquisition environment that truly reveals the ROI of our marketing efforts.

But why don’t other agencies and partners go to this level? We hate to be cynical, but the reality is most marketing agencies are nervous to unveil this type of granular data. It’s really easy to fake success when all you do is harp on vanity metrics.

Take, for example, one of our posts on Facebook:

Digital Marketing Campaign ROI - the Importance of Gathering the Correct Data

Given the size of the audience we were targeting, these results are pretty impressive. It’d be easy, then, to impress stakeholders by focusing in on numbers such as the fact we reached more than 1,000 of our prospects, or that this one post garnered 13 clicks.

But what does it all mean? What are those people who saw this ad – but didn’t click – doing now? Have they ventured to another agency? Are they just not in the market for this type of information yet?

If not, then what type of content can we give them that they’ll value?

And what about those 13 clicks? How much time did these folks spend on the blog article? Did they read the whole thing? Did they download our free offer attached to the blog? Did they click from that article to other parts of our site?

And once they did leave our site, what then? Where’d they go?

When the presentation of marketing metrics leaves you with more questions than answers, you can be certain you don’t have a true grasp of your marketing ROI.

And, until you do, you’ll continue to throw more money at strategies and campaigns without knowing how much of your investment you’re getting back.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. When choosing a marketing partner to work with, focus in on ROI. How does the agency measure ROI? Do they use vanity metrics? Do they rely, solely, on a hodgepodge of 3rd-party software designed not to talk with one another?

Or, do they follow in our footsteps and use these tools and metrics as contributing factors toward the bigger picture – understanding the full journey of your audiences, from strangers to customers.

Alex Membrillo Cardinal CEO

Alex Membrillo

Founder and CEO

Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal also recently earned him the honor of being selected as a 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year (Rising Star), and the 2015 Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).