It’s completely reasonable to expect a return on money that goes out of your business, especially when it’s not a cost of doing business or mandatory to the running of your business. That’s why we demonstrate results wherever we can to our clients, using regular reporting on the factors we can measure.

However, there are some areas which are really hard to measure, and as a result they are in danger of being left out of the modern marketing mix. It can often feel like the Financial Director is the ‘enemy’ of the marketing company, because their job is to manage the money. If it’s hard to justify, it gets cut. This is especially true during times of economic uncertainty.

So in the following blog post I’m going to cover, in broad strokes, what you can measure, what you can’t and why you shouldn’t necessarily cut something because you can’t prove ROI.

In week one of my Business, Advertising and Marketing Communications Degree we were given the following quote from Lord Leverhulme:

‘Half of my advertising is wasted, and the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Lord Leverhulme died in 1925 but for a long time, especially during the ‘Mad Men’ era of the 1960s, that concern has represented the rationale to continue to sink money into marketing. This is due to a fear that if anything is cut, it may be the very thing that was bringing in sales AND that won’t be discovered until it’s too late.

But when I finished my degree it was 2005 – it was the dawn of digital marketing as a unified discipline. Facebook was 1 year old, Google was 7, YouTube had started that year and we were still using MSN messenger and Myspace. I have spent most of my marketing career specialising in digital marketing, and I favour that area for two reasons:

a. I ‘get’ technology
b. it’s so much easier to prove Return on Investment

Also, l’m drawn to digital marketing because I am a bit of a data nerd, I’m the office Excel evangelist,  I love research, doing x because of y and the one who teaches our Google Analytics courses (also see Are you getting the most from your Google Analytics account? 6 steps to optimise your data and provide meaningful reports).

So based on that, you might assume that I have no love for more traditional forms of marketing, the brand building, the PR, the hard to quantify or track.

You’d be wrong.

Around the same time that I learned the Lord Leverhulme quote, I also learned that it takes on average seven customer touchpoints before someone becomes a customer. That was then, it could be so many more touch points now and a ‘touch point’ could be 10 times as many things as well due to our daily ‘screen’ time on work computers, home computer, smart phones and tablets. So I don’t know what the average is but in today’s tech-led world it would be harder to track in any case.

When you look at your Google Analytics or other website tracking data and attribute a sale to pay per click advertising because the last thing the customer did was click on an AdWords campaign, you could easily be missing the:

  • 2 years they have been following your brand on social
  • The email marketing newsletter that they have been reading for the last 6 months
  • The two friends who recommended your product
  • The fact that your brand just ‘sits’ with how they feel about the world
  • That article they read in their favourite magazine while on holiday

If you use the website data alone it would be hard to justify PR, social media and email marketing. I have mentioned two other forms of digital marketing there, which, if they were responsible for the sale could be tracked, but when we’re dealing with brand building activities that haven’t led to a click through, it’s hard to attribute credit.

To get a real view of the impact that non-digital forms of marketing have on your business you need to take responsibility for measuring how customers came to you, using either qualitative research or surveys tied into your processes and which pass that data into your Customer Relationship Management system. Even then it’s likely that your customers don’t fully understand the impact that activities which improve the position of your brand in their minds really has. If you want to remain competitive in the marketplace, it’s likely to be those brand building exercises which are crucial when a customer has to pick between you and the alternative.

The following video may be old, but it demonstrates the point well:


Marketing tracking is so much better now than in Lord Leverhulme’s time, but marketing methods have also become a lot more complicated and the areas that you can’t track are still as relevant as ever. So don’t be tricked into thinking we can now track exactly which 50% of marketing that is relevant. That is still to come.


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