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What Marketing Data Doesn’t Tell You About Digital Campaigns

A close reading of an April 2012 survey of digital marketers’ favourite digital campaign tools tells us a lot of very little.

Both “Chief Marketer” and eMarketer ran stories on the former’s survey of digital marketers, calling the results evidence of a “growing number of tools” in digital campaigns.

Looking at the results and how they constructed the survey, I’m not so sure that’s a valid conclusion. There are, however, a number of things you can say, based on the data.

+ The vast majority of digital marketers rely on emails to reach prospects – no surprises there. For over a decade, “digital campaign” has been practically synonymous with email. Inboxes fill up. Marketers sweat their conversion figures. Little changes.

+ Marketers have invented a new, very low bar for digital campaigns called “social network presence”. The survey defined this as “putting facebook like and tweet icons on a website”. Imagine. A campaign that wouldn’t make you break a sweat.

+ Chief Marketer doesn’t rate content marketing very much. Own media doesn’t make much of an appearance here, except for video content, white papers and webinars.

+ Tools go together, but not in any way that’s being measured. A carpenter wouldn’t build a table with only a hammer; a marketer wouldn’t build a digital campaign with only a QR code. How do emails, videos, social presence and SEO work together? No answer.

+ More for more’s sake, or more for results’ sake? If, as the study’s authors suggest, more tools are being used, why? I’m less interested in the raw figures here (what proportion of marketers plan to set up online sweepstakes this year) than the rationales – why do they stop and start using new tools?

+ Thousands of marketers will undoubtedly use this chart to justify investing in new tools, wrongly. “Boss, look how many people are using personalized URLs. We have to do that.”

What does this tell us about the value of quantitative survey results about digital marketing and campaigns?

Quantitative data alone is useless
Without qualitative and follow-up data to answer the enormous questions quantitative data asks, the quantitative data loses all of its rigor and value.

Aggregate and compare
Proportions tell us little. “Three of four marketers use emails for digital campaigns!” Um. So? Aggregate budget sums compared year on year would have more value – “Top users of email in digital campaigns increased their budget in the area by 40%, while bottom users decreased it 50%”. There’s a story there.

Marketing-centric surveys suck
Asking marketers what they do is actually of little value to other marketers. Give me instead a survey of buyers, asking them which kinds of campaigns they notice or click on. Or at least ask marketers which tools seem to generate ROI.

Focus on the best, not on the mass
Marketing’s full of waste. The digital revolution has, sadly, failed on its promise of making the field a purely rational affair, where every dollar spent is linked to revenue. That’s still a pipe dream for most. Here and there, we see exceptions – truly insightful, experienced and clear-headed marketing. The experiences of this 5% is ten times more valuable than the responses of the 95%.

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