Data, Analytics & Measurement: Where Digital Marketing Went Wrong

Back in the dim and distant mists of time, there was no such thing as marketing. There were ad men, and they produced adverts, and people bought what they sold.

And then this happened:

"Hilltop" - Coca-Cola, 1971

This was, as far as I'm aware, the first example of an advertiser throwing serious budget behind something that didn't try to sell. It was an ad without advertising. And as a direct result of it, I'd argue, we got the whole field of marketing.

Marketing vs Advertising

It's important that this point that I think I should define what I see as the difference between marketing and advertising.

  • Marketing: the activity of promoting products or services
  • Advertising: the activity of selling products or services

The difference, in my opinion, is that marketing is about promotion and emotion, whilst advertising is about selling and aspiration. Marketing says "Coca Cola is wonderful", whilst advertising says "There's still time to buy a Coca Cola before the movie starts". One adds to customer value (and thus can appear at any point in the journey a customer experiences), whilst the other convices people to buy.

The problem much of what's done in the digital marketing arena has, is that it treats marketing as if it's advertising, and thus falls flat.

The Issue We've Created

Digital marketing has one thing that everyone got hooked on about 15 years ago: it's incredibly measurable. We've got metrics and data to keep people occupied until the cows come home. You can optimise infinitely around any datapoint you want. The problem here though is obvious - even though we've gotten better with our tools at creating multi-touch point analytics, we're still chasing a dream of metrics.

And I'd be willing to posit that this is a bad thing.

Yes, it's possible that you're one of the vanishingly rare companies that has a really integrated, finely tuned analytics system, and you are measuring correctly, and everything runs smoothly. And if you are, that's wonderful. But most brands aren't there. So why is that?

Because marketing is fundamentally not about selling, but our analytics tools are almost exclusively designed to measure ad performance. Marketing is about creating awareness and desire and emotion and increasing the expectation side of customer value. You see the problem.

So what should digital marketing be measuring, if it's not in Google/Twitter/Facebook etc analytics packages?

A New Philosophy of Digital Marketing

We believe marketing is about creating an emotional response, which gets tied to a brand. Think about the best pieces of marketing material; they're not targeted. They're not focused on one person. Cadbury's Gorilla was not designed to sell anything. Nor was Guinness Surfer. Film trailers don't sell. Beats sponsoring athletes didn't sell headphones. The Most Interesting Man in the World didn't sell beer (although he could speak French in Russian).

But they sold an enormous amount of chocolate; beer; superheros; headphones; beer...

That's what marketing does. It creates emotional ties between the observer and the brand. So how do you measure that?

You measure it with long term sales performance. You measure it with share of voice. You measure it with conversations generated around your brand. All the old-school things, none of which turn up in your web analytics package.

Why This Works

Because of bees.

No, really. Bees have this weird thing - when a bee finds a new source of nectar, they report back to the hive, and the majority of bees go and feed there. But a minority don't - they continue trying to find other, new places to sustain the hive. It's only because of this unproductive part that the product part is sustainable. Otherwise the hive would optimise itself into a situation where it was incredibly fragile, dependant on the continued sustenance of a single source of food.

Marketing cannot be entirely effectively optimised around short term conversion, because that's not what it exists to do. That's advertising's job. Marketing is geared towards long-term results. For a wonderful example of the total failure of web analytics and the traditional views of digital marketing, I present Pepsi.

In 2010, Pepsi briefly ditched its normal slot in the Super Bowl, and put its TV budget into social media. Called the "Pepsi Refresh Project".

We took the divergent path. We wanted to explore how a brand could be integrated into the digital space.

Frank Cooper, then Pepsi Chief Consumer Engagement Officer

It did everything a social media campaign should. The metrics were brilliant. All bar one anyway... Because Pepsi Cola and Diet Pepsi both lost about 5 per cent of their market shares over the course of the year. Which is the metric that mattered.

It was a marketing campaign run like an advertising campaign, on metrics that had nothing to do with how much value was being created around the Pepsi brand. And every time anyone does anything similar, it falls just as flat.

Marketing works like bees do, because it's purpose is not creating fiscal value now. That doesn't mean it's wasteful (although it will be, because everything has wastage), but it does mean you can't measure it against a quarterly report. For the same reason, it's not just done through TV ads; it's anything that creates an emotional response with audiences. As a result, everything a consumer interacts with is, in some way, shape or form, marketing.

Creating Great Digital Marketing

So assuming everything so far makes sense, how do we go about creating valuable, useful digital marketing output?


Have a strategic goal in mind. Building awareness around a thing, changing perception of a brand or its product, building a larger network of light touch consumers, making it easier to do a thing... Some long-term, actual metric you'd like to see shifted.


Plan how you're going to do that through a single narrative. If you want some examples:


Amusing short videos, appealing through being humourous

John Lewis

Gentle messages that warm the heart, built around stories reminiscent of children's books


Letting people see where the taxi is, reducing the emotional fatigue of waiting, alongside facilitating frictionless payment, reducing frustration


Creating the feeling of being in something more personal and interesting than a hotel


An all-pervading perception of being cool and included. Interestingly, one of the first things Jobs did on returning to Apple was hire people to sit on online forums, creating a perception that Apple was cool amongst early-adopters.


Telling you the food isn't meant to arrive in any order, because that's the Japanese noodle-bar way, so it feels authentic and you don't mind that it's not what you're used to.


Execute broadly around creating experiences throughout the journey of customer experiences that executes against that narrative. That means at the top of funnel, creating a brand impression so that eventually, they'll think of you when they want to buy what you do. At the base of the funnel, that means creating an experience that reinforces the correctness of your brand as the right choice. Off the bottom end of the funnel, it's creating a post-purchase experience that exceeds expectations and builds further brand value.

And Finally...

Measure against useful metrics. Not just what's in Google Analytics - they're useful metrics for advertising (and it's interesting Google pushes this as the solution, given that they sell ads...). You need to also measure the things that marketing affects. It's harder and more labour-intensive, but it's also the only way you'll know if your marketing is actually doing what it's meant to.

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