In the first few weeks of this year, several surveys by institutions including Alterian and Sapient were released that predicted the key initiatives marketing will undertake in 2008. Initially, I was shocked to read that these surveys showed that most organizations were still focused on the basics. But a more detailed analysis of the data and a historical glance at adoption rates in marketing functions drew a clearer picture.

No matter which survey I looked at, the overwhelming theme was that the main concern for most marketers in the coming year is multichannel marketing measurement.

The following is my opinion on why marketing measurement is still so elusive:

Channel Proliferation

Once the Internet became a reality, marketers were inundated with completely new marketing channels, including email and online advertising. New offline channels also materialized at the same time, including ATMs, new point-of-sale functionality and interactive TV. Marketers trying to cope with these new advances were overwhelmed. But that was years ago. Why are we still struggling?

The answer is that the proliferation has not stopped. As soon as marketers and IT gained competency in the latest channels, more cropped up. Google has driven the value proposition for paid search, online ad models continue to evolve, mobile has finally started to become a reality and now there is the social networking tsunami to deal with.

In fact, most of the surveys I read agreed that marketers are very comfortable with email, search and digital advertising. Though we still see many organizations struggle with email metrics and conversion rates, marketing’s adoption of search and digital advertising has been quite fast. Consequently, surveys show that marketers will continue to increase budget in these areas because they are very confident of the ROI in these channels.

Social Networking Analytics

The surveys also consistently showed that whereas social networking is the most difficult channel to track, and marketers have the least confidence in their ability to track social networking this year, social networking is also marketing’s greatest opportunity and highest area for ROI (in some cases, right behind search). Consequently, many respondents declared that they would not only be increasing their investments in social networking programs this year, but that they would be increasing their investments in social analytics more than any other channel.

This makes sense because social networking, due to its intense textual focus and the fact that it typically takes place outside an organization’s digital borders, is difficult to get one’s arms around. However, there are solutions to this difficult challenge. Even late last year, AmberLeaf started helping clients implement software and services to turn blogs, review sites and message boards into quantitative information. This information helps organizations understand the amount, frequency and velocity of conversation about its products and services, and helps them understand how their brand and products are perceived. For instance, we can tell not only that Marriott gets more attention on travel sites than other hotels, but also that Hilton hotels are perceived as noisier than Marriott hotels.

Using this information, marketers can finally understand whether their marketing programs are being perceived as intended. Using the online conversation, or what I call “chit-chat,” they can identify if new product launches are succeeding; determine if new campaigns are driving the right brand, product and service perceptions; understand customer loyalty; and compare those metrics against competitors.

Leveraging True Multichannel Tactics

My final interpretation and words of wisdom concerning these surveys is that more and more campaigns are successfully leveraging true multichannel tactics. They aren’t just using multiple channels to send out campaigns, but they are executing programs across channels. This means that to truly understand campaign effectiveness, you need to have reliable measurements across all channels that can be related at the customer level. This becomes very difficult because so many organizations use different vendors/outsourcers for different channels. As a result, you will have differing levels of capabilities per channel. Survey respondents recognized this by commenting:

  • “IT is not standing in the way of measurement, but their disparate vendors are. Consequently, organizations are going to increase investment in integrating disparate vendor/system information.”
  • “Marketing skill sets that understand how to evaluate multichannel are few and just being built and educated.”
  • “The lack of a social networking analytics solution is hurting multichannel measurement.”

I think the reality is that we are fighting the same problem with new symptoms. Marketing measurement has come a long way, and many respondents say that their multichannel results are “good” compared to “poor” or “average” and that their multichannel solution may be 75 percent complete. However, innovation will continually add new challenges and consistently cause us to play catch-up.

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