Digital marketers must learn to fail

By Kelly McClean

Failure is not a word commonly associated with business. In fact, it is a word that brings even the most thick-skinned executive out in a cold sweat. No one gets it right first time, but adopting a culture of constant testing allows businesses to fail faster and learn from their mistakes. Times have changed in marketing, and digital marketers must learn to love failure.

We have seen two big shifts in marketing – multichannel and mobile. Marketing campaigns now need to be multichannel and combine both online and offline data, whereas traditionally they have been completely separate. Multichannel encompasses mobile too and, while it’s taken a long time for consumers to embrace mobile, the demand is now there and marketers need to learn how to use it. Smartphone penetration in the UK is now at 51%, according to figures from eConsultancy.

Offline marketing used to revolve around bricks and mortar and print publications, but it can be more difficult to assess the impact of offline campaigns and return on investment. In contrast, digital channels are in fact a lot easier to measure thanks to digital analytics. This is great news for Chief Marketing Officers who want to take advantage of mobile and multichannel but need to have more tangible data to measure the success of a campaign.

The greatest barrier to adoption of digital analytics is a lack of investment and understanding by senior management. Digital analytics is not a silver bullet that will fix all marketers woes. Some free solutions, whilst helping businesses understand the concept of analytics, make it seem all too easy. These solutions are not robust enough for daily business analytics; businesses need answers to questions where their offline and online worlds meet and that means taking analytics out of the silo and integrating with other management information systems.

The businesses that are succeeding in analytics today are those that have invested in people, either through in-house teams or outsourcing to an agency. After all, it is not the tools that provide insights, but the people. If a brand is to embark on multichannel analytics then they need to commit, invest and do it properly.

Once a commitment has been made to analytics, objectives need to be put in place. Analytics only works if the brand knows what needs to be achieved – success can’t be measured without targets. However, not setting targets is a surprisingly common mistake. Experts, such as the team we have at Webtrends, can help senior management assess their situation and set relevant objectives that answer real business questions.

There are three general business models for objective setting: e-commerce companies want to increase sales; content providers want to increase readership, loyalty and own a particular space; and brands want to increase their profile. The e-commerce model is the easiest to measure and report against, but its principles can be applied to almost any businesses case. A lot of websites will be a combination of all three of the above.

For example, The Daily Telegraph wanted to use analytics to improve brand image, content, advertising costs and subscriptions. The Telegraph Media Group set the objective of aligning content with rapidly changing reader expectations across all platforms, with a focus on mobile as it has become such a key channel. They used analytics to better understand the reading habits of subscribers and how they differ from print, online and mobile. With the data, they were able to offer more options to current readers and enhance their experience, reach new customers and younger readers on mobile devices, and work out how to best monetise the mobile channel and drive new advertising revenue.

Once the objectives have been set, the business needs to decide on the goals they want to reach in order to achieve the objectives. Then it’s time to put in place some Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure these against. Once these are agreed, analytics can be used to segment the data and drill down into each segment to gain insight. If a shortfall is discovered against the KPIs then action needs to be taken and the analytics data used to identity what the problem is. It may well be that there isn’t a problem and it’s a variable that can’t be accounted for, but it may be something that you can tweak on the website. This leads on to multivariate testing and optimisation of your website, but that’s another story!

So, now all of that is in place, we get on to my earlier point about learning to fail. The great thing about digital is that it allows you to tweak things as you go along. Traditionally, this was only possible during post-campaign reflection, but now digital allows marketers to learn from their mistakes quicker and easier, then make the alterations and go again. Buying a bricks and mortar store costs a lot of money, meaning failure is very expensive and potentially a business-damaging affair. Online marketers can simply stick up a homepage and if it doesn’t work then you can keep changing it until you get it right.

As I said at the beginning, nobody gets this stuff right the first time around. With digital analytics the learning curve is a lot steeper and quicker, but more importantly cheaper. Senior executives need to learn to fail so that they can make the changes accordingly. The nirvana for digital analytics is a culture of continually tweaking and improving. Brands need to be brave and allow for failure, but failure should not be seen as an excuse, you need to learn from your mistakes, not repeat them.

About the author

Kelly McClean is the Client Relationship Manager EMEA at Webtrends, where he consults on client’s digital strategies and advises on measurement best practice. Previously, he worked as a senior web analyst.

About the company

Webtrends powers digital marketing success. Webtrends is at the forefront of real-time digital marketing relevance and customer experience management through unified customer intelligence. Webtrends’ industry-leading analytics across mobile, social and web enables marketers to optimise campaigns, maximise customer lifetime value and deliver highly relevant digital brand experiences in real time.


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