Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Marketing Dashboard: Passive Discovery

We spoke recently about various ways of looking at marketing benchmarks and how to better dashboard and analyze the entire revenue performance management process. This thinking needs to be applied to all areas of the revenue engine, and each has its own unique challenges.

At the earliest stages of the funnel, where buyers first begin to become aware of your company and its solutions is perhaps the most challenging. One of the main ways in which people discover your message, of course, is coming across your messages "passively", through ads, content, and social media sharing.

Building an understanding of how your messages are being passively discovered is an interesting challenge. Many of the paid techniques of passive discovery, such as banner advertising, are inherently trackable. However, great content that allows an organization to earn passive discovery is often much less trackable. However, a clear understanding of this element of the revenue process is key to determining where to make important investments.

An important metric to start with is an understanding of paid vs earned awareness. This dashboard metric gives you a clear sense of whether prospective buyers in the early stages of their education process are learning about you through paid efforts, such as advertisements, or through your efforts to earn their attention, such as through content marketing. To create this view, chart the traffic to your website by its originating source. Those that arrive from content sites, or without the tracking codes that you place in your online advertisements are most likely earned discovery through your content marketing efforts. Those that arrive with the tracking codes of your online advertising efforts are paid discovery efforts bearing fruit.

In charting these two sources of awareness, all active discovery, such as referrals from search sites such as Google and Bing, and all natural traffic (visitors who just typed in your website’s address, and were not referred to it), must first be removed. Other sources of traffic, such as from a customer community, or online help portal should also be excluded, as these are individuals who are already aware of who you are and what your solutions are. With these categories of traffic removed, this leaves just the visitors who discover your content, and hence become aware of your solutions, through either paid or earned awareness efforts.

This view is instructive in two ways. First, a direct comparison of your paid and earned efforts provides insights into whether opportunities might exist that are not being maximally exploited. If you notice that prospects discovery of your solutions is mainly from paid sources, there is an opportunity to assess whether content marketing efforts may provide a more economically efficient way to drive awareness. If, however, all of your discovery traffic is coming from earned sources, there may be a chance to either re-evaluate whether your current paid awareness efforts could be better targeted, or, if there is an opportunity to increase your paid awareness efforts in order to generate awareness in areas of the market in which you are not currently driving as much awareness as you could be.

The second area of value you get from creating and maintaining this view of your revenue engine is that you can understand how your efforts are resulting in more awareness over time. This is most crucial for earned media, as this follows a “fly-wheel” dynamic for growth. Effort this is invested in creating and promoting great content results in a slow and steady growth in awareness. This dynamic is much different than the “lightning strike” dynamic of most paid media efforts where an investment results in a near real-time effect.

Calculations of the total audience to which your messages are presented in a way that allows them to be passively discovered is similarly simple for paid audiences, but challenging for earned audiences. For paid audiences, the total coverage of your advertisements (number of “eyeballs”) forms a good audience proxy. However, to calculate the total audience for earned awareness (mostly in the form of content sites that mention your company or solutions), it may be simpler to do this by assuming a known conversion rate and using that to calculate what the overall audience must be, based on traffic.

While this technique obviously prevents any insights that might have been gained by understanding and analyzing traffic conversion rates, in earned passive awareness, this is often not something that can be easily optimized as there is very limited control over how and where you are mentioned, so the best action is often simply to drive audience sizes higher through garnering more share of the conversation.

Analyzing Paid Discovery – Advertising and Audience Definitions

In building a dashboard to show the effectiveness of advertising efforts, the focus is on understanding how to target audiences that will effectively convert into interested buyers. This area of the industry is evolving rapidly, and an important development is in how audiences are defined. Historically, an audience was defined mainly by the content itself, with a thin layer of demographics on top.

For example, an industry new site focused on printing technologies in the publishing sector could be assumed to have an audience of people involved in that discipline. Within this audience, advertisers could often target by title or organization fit based on declared demographics, but not much more.

In today’s online world, this is rapidly changing. The major content networks are beginning to provide the ability to target audiences based on historical activity. For example, those who visit certain pages on your site, or meet certain qualification criteria could be defined as a specific audience, regardless of where they are on the Internet, for having specific ads presented to them.

In analyzing advertising campaigns, this analysis of audience becomes critical. While remarketing audiences are likely to have substantially smaller sizes than their mainstream counterparts, they may offer opportunities to convert prospective buyers to MQLs at a much higher rate or present more precise information that is relevant to later stage investigation and validation only.

Inbound Links – Earning the Potential to be Discovered

Traffic to your web properties is the most tangible metric to dashboard when looking at passive discovery. However, when it comes to the efforts to earn this discovery, it is a difficult metric to use in order to guide decisions as it is an aggregate measure of all the content that is linked to. Efforts to build great content and share it with influencers lead to a more measurable metric of inbound links.

An inbound link is a link from another site on the web to a page of content on your website. Creating interesting, useful, and valuable content leads to more links, and each link increases the chances that your content will be discovered by those reading about the market space. Obviously, links from higher traffic and more credible sites increase this potential more than links from less relevant sites.

To gain an understanding of the success of your content marketing strategy, and areas for improvement, a dashboard of inbound links can be very useful. For each major area of your web properties, such as your main site, blogs, and campaign-specific sites, dashboard the total number of inbound links, the average quality for each inbound link (based on the traffic and credibility of the page the link resides on), and the number of visits generated by that link in the recent time period.

This dashboard view provides insights into the successes and challenges of efforts to create exceptional content that inspires others to link to it. If top level analysis of passive discovery shows levels of performance that are less than expected, an inbound link analysis can identify where the issues might be occurring.

Social Engagement and Passive Discovery

As social networks grow in importance as a medium through which information is shared, so too do they grow in importance as a place where prospective buyers happen upon information of interest to them and in doing so begin to learn about new solutions and new approaches. Each conversation or engagement that happens in the public domain, whether a discussion on LinkedIn or an interaction on Twitter creates an opportunity for another viewer to see the discussion and engage with the content being talked about.

While measurement in this area is evolving quickly, even a simple view of which social networks are seeing a large number of links to your content being shared, the total traffic to your content that is driven by each of these networks, and whether this traffic is successfully turning into inquiries.

Thinking about Passive Discovery

Whether paid (advertising) or unpaid (content, social), this top end of the funnel is crucial for driving new business. Without great dashboards, it is hard to optimize and grow it.

How do you think about, measure, and analyze the ways by which people "come across" your content?
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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