Traditional metrics are sleight of hand. It’s time to restore our faith in creativity — and implied attribution

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Marketers have become too engrossed in digital marketing metrics. Click-through rates, impressions, unique visitors and the like offer instant confirmation that their marketing efforts are working.

But are they really? Do traditional metrics reflect real buyer behavior? Put another way, do we really know what prompted a buyer to engage with a brand?

The focus on traditional metrics has obscured what truly inspires engagement, which is creative quality. Marketers love to gauge engagement, but we fooled ourselves into thinking that because technology allows us to measure factors such as unique reach, we are indeed measuring what’s most effective. It’s not as simple as that.

For one, marketing professionals have been too focused on only those things that are measurable, which doesn’t necessarily reflect true buying patterns. For another, the metrics we’re chasing can shift under the weight of privacy changes or algorithm adjustments.

At the end of the day, metrics can fail to reflect the scope of the emotional connection a brand can establish with a buyer through content that is done so well, it moves them.

Freeing yourself from an overreliance on traditional metrics requires courage. a willingness to buck popular convention. But making the move isn’t a blind leap of faith because there are steps you know to guide you.

Quality content is king

Let’s remind ourselves of what we all know: quality content matters. It matters because it drives effective storytelling, which touches people on an emotional level and holds their attention. Through visually dynamic, interactive digital experiences, buyers can seek out answers and become persuaded rather than just skim over a pdf or other static content and move on. Interactive infographics, games and quizzes, landing pages and presentations can take buyers on a journey and make them active, not passive, participants.

Buyers are far more discerning than their poking around the digital world suggests. What else explains why the typical buyer’s journey keeps growing from a handful of touchpoints to a dozen or so touchpoints to now nearly 30. Buyers are not easily persuaded, particularly by gimmicks or tricks.

Penn State researchers earlier this year found that clickbait headlines are no better and sometimes worse in attracting readers than regular headlines. The study defined clickbait headlines as those that ask questions or use superlatives. (The headline for this article we didn’t choose: “Why the best metrics aren’t really the best.”)

Quality content is what resonates with people, and it resonates with people because it truly informs or entertains. Creative quality content raises awareness and appreciation of your brand. It engages people with your brand.

But that effectiveness sometimes just can’t be measured.

Giving credit where credit is due

Traditional metrics are fallible. We can look at first interaction attribution or last interaction or the other types of attribution to get an idea of what touchpoints lead to a conversion. But those data points might map only part of the customer’s journey.

What about attribution that is implied but not reflected in the analytics? If something you heard on a podcast initially piqued your interest and later a related Instagram post led to your conversion, which was of greater marketing value? Put another way, the podcast offered 15 minutes of insightful commentary whereas the social media post was a routine ad among a sea of social media ads. The quality of the podcast made the brand stand out.

And what about webinars, events and other brand marketing elements that can have a big influence on the buyer’s experience but aren’t so easily measurable? What value are online metrics in the offline world?

Make the leap away from traditional metrics

So where to begin in stepping away from using traditional metrics as the North Star for your content?

First, remember that you are a consumer as well. Think about your own buying behavior and patterns and what makes you want to learn more about a brand. Take a moment for self-reflection. You can walk in the shoes of your buyers because you are a buyer of goods and services yourself.

Second, map your customers’ journey. Rather than drawing on metrics alone, your own personal experiences can help here, too. Identify how your buyers typically go through a purchasing cycle and know their preferences. Build out a holistic plan on where your brand needs to be visible, and then be sure you are surfacing your brand there. Where do your buyers go for information? What do they rely on? Who are their influencers? How do they like to consume information? We often don’t want to take the time to map this journey for each of our buyer personas because it’s hard work. But you need to be more prescriptive with the effort.

Third, build stronger relationships between your marketing and creative teams to deliver the best content in the best ways. Level set everyone, and bring the best minds to the table to brainstorm what’s the best message, what’s the best messenger and what’s the best marketing channel. Don’t let traditional metrics alone sway you.

Fourth, be willing to live with the ambiguity. Not everything that matters can be measured. We won’t always have 100% of the data to make a fully informed decision, and even then the data might be wrong. As long as your ambiguity is grounded in intuition and instincts drawn from prior experience, be comfortable with the uncertainty.

Fifth, bridge your online and offline worlds. Offline behavior can have a big impact on the effectiveness of your digital efforts. At Ceros, we recently launched a billboard campaign. Yes, a company that focuses on interactive digital media paid for billboard advertising. In New York’s Times Square, no less, among a handful of other major metropolitan areas.

Why? Our conversation began by asking, “Where is our audience?” We knew New York City is home to a lot of creative people who work in design agencies and other fields who would use this particular Ceros product, so we wanted them to see it. Based on our own behavior, we knew a billboard in Times Square would get noticed.

How do we know whether the campaign was worth it? We don’t really. A boost in sales or sign-ups would suggest the campaign had an impact, but to what precise degree you never really know. We trusted our instincts and our faith in our creativity.

Focus on creativity, not just numbers

Traditional metrics have their place in gauging the marketing value of digital content. But the quantity-over-quality era for brand management is coming to an end.

We’ve been putting too much weight on traditional metrics, and we need to put more trust in our intuition again. What will drive meaningful engagement with consumers is creative, quality content — a brand story that touches them emotionally in some way and sticks with them.

It’s time to encourage and promote creativity in our marketing efforts. It’s time to step forward courageously without the crutch that traditional metrics provide. Let’s be bold, people!

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