Digital Marketing by Numbers revisited

I presented a revitalised version of my approach on how to map organisational objectives to tangible and effective KPIs at last week's Linkdex Think Tank, exploring how you can use the resultant framework to become truly data driven.

The biggest challenge in becoming truly data driven is one of language and process. My framework for aligning strategic business objectives to tactical activity and tailored KPIs ensures that senior stakeholders have confidence, that recommendations align to organisational goals, that efforts are measurable and produce tangible outputs, and that the whole process is simple and transparent. Tried and tested by some of the world's largest organisations, the framework can transform companies and put data at the heart of the decision-making process.

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Getting Around Finance – Keyword Research & Tagging

In order to win in competitive markets like finance, you need to understand the market, your audience, and the opportunities. You can only do this from an orbital view of keywords, language and behaviour - and to then zoom in to specific niches and areas of focus.

Stop thinking about 'keywords', and start thinking about keyword 'families' - groups of contextually related phrases which indicate similar need groups; from synonym phrases through to simple typos, there's a world of insight you're missing out on.

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Measurefest – Data Layers 101

A whistle-stop tour through the concept of the data layer, why it’s not just techy-stuff, and some of the real-world applications and implications of adopting your own.

…featuring such exciting topics as ‘Hands-on tips and tricks for Google Tag Manager’, ‘Reducing your dependency on frustrating development challenges when al you want to do is get a tag live’, and ‘Doing really clever stuff with variables, classifying user types, and scoring behaviours’.

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Operational SEO Big Think: Organisation Hacking

Building a business from the ground up is a great opportunity to develop amazing content, disrupt, and embrace effective SEO. But what about established organisations - those with entrenched processes, legal teams, departmentalisation and small marketing teams?

In the real world, large businesses don't change direction quickly or easily. Many organisations struggle to develop content strategies, implement technical changes, and embrace modern, integrated, effective SEO not because they don't want to or don't understand the opportunity, but because they can't. It's too big. Too complex. Too hard.

So, as a consultant or in-house practitioner, how do you effect change and move the needle?

I share some practical, tactical hacks for getting things done in a world which struggles to live up to our expectations.

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The Golden Age Of SEO?

I think that our industry is the best that it's ever been, but, perhaps, also the best that it'll ever be. Is it only downhill from here?

Our industry is at a pivotal moment. We're in a time where the people, agencies and brands which truly understand, practice and reap the rewards of SEO have a unique blend of experience. They came through the turbulent last few years, learned, adapted, and became well-rounded, sophisticated marketeers. Those who failed were left behind - or will be soon.

In many ways, SEO is now both simultaneously easier and harder than it used to be. The concepts are 'large', but generally straightforward – and many of the problems are now often political, organisational and educational, rather than just technical, tactical and scalability challenges.

The people who are winning, now, however, understand and excel in both of these areas. They can code and understand the world of PR. They can scale processes but also understand the value of individual relationships. They can understand business requirements, and join them up to tactics which deliver results, and which win hearts and minds.

Getting all of these things in one place, person or company is hard. They're heavyweight and distinct skillsets, applied with experience and expertise. The blending of the worlds of SEO, PR, web development and real business create an increasing requirement for digital polymaths.

In the coming years, it's likely that these worlds will further blend, and that successful individuals who enter the field will become hybrid, semi-technical online marketers and researchers. New entrants will be highly capable of creating, maintaining and capitalising on relationships, on building brand equity, social currency, and large-scale influence. However...

None of them will be specialised in the way that we, here, are today. None of them will have the breadth *and* the depth which we've been forced to evolve to survive. Our technical practitioners of yesteryear have learned to build real relationships. Networkers have learned to read server logs. Campaign strategists have learned to understand the link graph.

Through a forced evolution, we've become super-marketers who understand the whole ecosystem. We're the TV marketers who also understand radio, print and event management. We're the playwrites who also direct, compose, conduct and perform.

And yet we still struggle. We're not good enough. Brands don't get it. Directors don't invest enough. Organisations don't change or improve. Shortcuts and quick-win tactics are still the norm. Our requirements are too radical, too complex, too challenging.

The future doesn't look great for our practitioners, either. Schools, courses and education are slowly starting to teach broad but shallow skills across these areas - to create well-rounded digital marketing practitioners 'out of the box'. We're producing a generation of people with 'T-Shaped' skill-sets, but few who truly straddle multiple verticals in the way we have through our darwinistic struggle to evolve our industry.

Is this as good as it gets, then?

We've incredible people who understand marketing, business, tech and Google's ecosystem sufficiently to be able to take a brand, outline a compelling roadmap to success, and to make it happen. Fear, obstacles and entrenched processes stop things from happening even when our very best people fight their hardest to enact change.

We're in a golden age, but the clock is ticking, and we've yet to change the world enough.

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Linkdex iGaming thinktank

Last week I spoke to an audience of iGaming folks on the topic of getting more out of your existing channel data, analytics and platform ecosystem. Lots of tips/tricks/tools/processes which don't require a huge amount of technical or financial investment, but which can make all the difference. Apologies for the lack of notes (and therefore any context) in the slides; Slideshare is refusing to process and include them.

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Starting at Linkdex

It's been a bit of an open secret within the industry for the last few months that I'm about to join the team at Linkdex this January, as Head of Insight. It's only in the wake of some indulgent time off over Christmas and the new year - and following an extensive three month notice period - that it's really starting to sink in, and it's gone from being an exciting thing on the horizon to an impending reality.

So let's consider this to be an official announcement. I look forward to sharing some of what we're working on as it makes it out of the production pipeline, and making 2014 a roaring success.


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Letting go of yesterday

In advertising and marketing, campaign performance - and by extension, success - is almost universally measured in the context of comparison to previous campaigns.

The answer to "How did we do?" is invariably phrased in terms of "This campaign delivered X% more than that campaign", or "We had Y% less traffic this week than this week last year". We use monthly reporting, dashboards and trend modelling around past performance in order to judge how well we're doing in the now.

This can dangerously short-sighted, and in some cases worryingly self-destructive.

So your campaign did 20% better than your previous one. Or maybe not - maybe it only delivered half as much traffic, or only a fraction of conversions. Is that good, or bad? Who decides?

So here's the thing. The only thing which matters about how well your campaign or marketing activity performed is whether or not it performed as well as you wanted or expected it to. How well your previous campaign performed, or how much traffic your website received on the same day the previous year, is completely inappropriate as a singular yardstick for success.

Dangerous. In a world where monthly reports, campaign wash-ups, dashboards and constant wrangling over have-the-numbers-gone-up-or-down-today - whether it's an agency delivering campaign summaries to a client, or an internal employee producing status overviews - 'the report' is an institution, an expected deliverable, and the numbers it holds are the trigger for reward and promotion, or haranguing and thinly veiled threats.

Our entire world view is shaped by yesterday's numbers.

But yesterday's numbers aren't a reliable measure of relative performance. Yesterday's numbers aren't a signpost to whether today's numbers are good, bad, or indifferent.

Sure, last month you did some similar marketing, so it's not unreasonable to expect that this month's similar marketing might produce similar results. You learned some stuff, too, and applying those findings should make things work harder this time around. But your marketing didn't control the weather. Or the stock market. Or the phase of the moon. Your relationship to your competitors, the rest of your vertical, and the wider market is (likely radically) different than it was. Your channel activity - and that of your competitors - has likely changed, it's closer to pay-day, and, oh - lots of people were probably on holiday around some awkwardly timed bank holidays last month.

Comparing your performance this month to last month in terms of the numbers you saw then assumes that you're operating in a marketing vacuum. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I'm not saying that historical performance is completely irrelevant, or that it doesn't have a role in setting targets (and, in some cases, it might be perfectly valid to set a target which is based on an uplift from historical performance). What I'm suggesting is that, when planning a campaign or running on-going marketing, you really need to have some clear definitions of what success looks like. For KPI setting, we should be working back from the highest level of business to identify how much value needs to be generated to cover costs, to maintain profit margins, and to deliver required uplifts - and then get a little ambitious, whilst considering and accounting for as many influencing factors as possible. With those thresholds defined, previous performance should absolutely be considered when setting appropriate targets against KPIs, but as one of many factors, for example, as an estimation of market size and therefore where you might expect to see diminishing returns on bought media. It's criminal to simply set targets as a percentage uplift on previous performance.

Typically, this kind of thinking doesn't happen because organisations need to learn how to set effective goals and KPIS. When you don't have a clear definition of what success looks like, with proper KPIs, targets and success thresholds, it's easy to fall back onto "well, how did we do last time?" and to apply an arbitrary uplift. Marketing managers, stakeholders and budget-holders often fall back to this kind of thinking because they're not educated or empowered enough to do serious, proper modelling and forecasting; and because we're a prevalence of data, reports and spreadsheets, it's very easy to just point at a series of numbers and demand more.

I'm going to go so far as to state that any regular reporting (note my usual distinction between reporting and analysis) which compares this month or this year against similar previous periods is, with the exception of when it's used as part of a wider, considered decision-making process, a waste of time.

In agency world, the whole concept of monthly reports make me deeply frustrated. They exist to provide accountability and to chart the impact of work done, but in reality, they do little towards this, and often cause more harm than good in the long-run. Spreadsheets, which state that this KPI has gone up a little bit compared to last month, or that KPI has gone down a little bit compared to last year, do nothing but breed mistrust. The people producing the reports take no value from them, because structured reporting of vanilla data doesn't generate or allow for insight and analysis. The recipients get nothing but unanswered questions, because the report doesn't say why things have changed - and it's often simply because stuff is different from before. Except that's not the kind of answer which engenders trust, so we collectively spend more time attempting to create theories as to what happened a year ago around a campaign which was influenced by a vast number of immeasurable external influences which sufficiently satisfy all the parties involved than we do actually influencing the numbers. I'm sure that people in-house, working within even the most data-driven organisations, have the same challenge.

Monthly reports should state what we hoped and expected to achieve now, whether we did so or not, and what needs doing next. Comparing this month to last month's data as a regular or decision-making exercise is a poor use of time. Of course we want to achieve more than we did last year, but using that as an arbitrary measure of success is a risky alternative to setting deliberate, considered targets for the now.

So let's let go of yesterday. Let's look at where we are now, and whether or not we're where we want to get to. I'd imagine that most of the time, the answer will be "no, we're not".

So go do something about it; use the time you would have spent looking through your analytics package at how many visitors your got this time last month.

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Universal Analytics & Single User View

Last night I spoke at the first LBI SEO Meet-Up, talking about Universal Analytics; in particular how can use this kind of technology to enhance our marketing decision making, how we can use real outcome data (such as purchases, repeat purchases, long-term subscriptions and other ‘downstream’ actions) to better-inform our keyword research, better prioritise our tactics, and to spot exciting new opportunities.

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See, Think, Don’t: A response to Avinash’s Marketing Framework

Avinash Kaushik, whom I have an enormous amount of respect for as a marketer, a speaker and an educator, has posted a summary of a new framework for digital marketing strategy and measurement. It's great. Superb. Perfect, and unequivocally right. A conjunction of all of the content marketing, RCS and inbound philosophies into an elegant model.

However, it's just unachievable. Real companies are almost invariably too incapable, dull, culturally stagnant or simply inept to even aspire to this kind of thinking, and in lieu of this are exclusively interested in short-cuts, marketing hacks and quick wins - and of course, the career amplification of the individuals who ride the short-lived waves of success that these tactics deliver.

This is a vision of a type of thinking which will always, and only ever, be limited to the tiny minority of agile, entrepreneurial organisations who bake 'inbound' thinking right into the core of their business model. You can't adapt an existing organisation to think or act like this, and those who don't 'get it' simply *cannot* be educated beyond their last-click-only, channel-centric, organisationally- and departmentally-segmented thinking; no matter how much you try. Companies with a distributed call centre, marketing team, management level and product experts who aren't already culturally intertwined and focused on a customer centric model invariably find it impossible to integrate to the level required to demonstrate a cohesive understanding of customer needs, and to act on it as part of this model.

It's a sad thing that, with the formula for perfect, effective, commercially lucrative marketing sat *right here*, that human beings and the structures they create are so ludicrously rigid and fearful of the unknown that this will only ever be realised by the people who already get - and do it - already.

Digital Marketing, then, is as good as it's going to get, and all that will happen in the coming decades is that the difference between good and bad will widen. The age of the entrepreneur which we're so desperately trying to live in depends on a much higher level of thinking and behaviour than our short-sightedness generally allows for.

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