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Is the money I spend on marketing wasted?

19 February 2020

The digital world makes almost everything trackable. So, there is no reason for anyone to waste any part of their marketing budget, right? Wrong!

Almost everyone has heard the quote, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. My only problem is I don’t know which half.” It has been attributed to many different figures, including William Lever (founder of Unilever), Henry Ford and J.C. Penny. The truth is probably that the first to say these famous words was John Wanamaker. Despite his apparently wasteful habit of investing in advertising, Wanamaker built a chain of department stores, became America’s Postmaster General and made sufficient profits to become a noted philanthropist.

Today, of course, things are completely different: the digital world makes almost everything trackable. So, there is no reason for anyone to waste any part of their marketing budget, right? Wrong!

Let’s consider my column for DPA: am I wasting the time and money associated with these blog posts? Surely that’s easy to answer, all I need to do is look on Google Analytics, see if the blog posts drove traffic to the Napier website and make a data-driven decision. Well I can tell you that traffic to our website from the DPA site has definitely jumped – in fact there wasn’t any traffic before I started these blogs and now we are getting visitors spend an average of 44 seconds on our site while looking at an average of 1.17 pages. 

Clear? Well I have no idea if this is a good or poor result. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s even right: we have a marketing automation system that gives me different numbers to Google Analytics. Not only this, but although digital marketing makes everything quantifiable, you are constrained to a restricted number of metrics. Time on site, visits or page views tell me nothing about the impact, or lack of impact, of the column on Napier’s business.

If you are an engineer, you probably think this is obvious. If you’re in marketing, hopefully you understand the issue with pointless marketing metrics: if you don’t there are more than 300,000 pages returned when you Google “pointless marketing metrics”, so there is no shortage of information! Although the problem is clear, solutions are less common: in fact, Google doesn’t return a single result if you google “alternatives to pointless marketing metrics". You couldn’t make it up! (side note, I’m sure some enterprising agencies will be working on creating pages that rank for this search so there probably will be a result when you read this blog!).

So, we have a clear problem statement, and no solutions. How am I going to decide whether to continue blogging for DPA or not? As I run a marketing agency, I’m going to have to come up with an answer pretty quickly.

Realistically there are a limited number of possible reasons for writing these blogs:

- To ensure potential clients know we exist and think of us when they look for an agency in the future
- To make potential and existing clients learn more about Napier as they probably don’t know about all the services we offer
- To make potential clients think more positively about Napier and want to hire us in the future
- To get enquiries from potential clients (generate leads)

Smart marketers will recognise these as reflecting the four steps of the AIDA framework: awareness, interest, desire and action. They’ll also be happy to tell you that trying to make a tactic work across more than one step is likely to be ineffective. In fact, they will tell you it’s stupid. Hopefully I’m not completely stupid, so why am I doing it? 

The primary reason is to raise awareness of Napier. Although a lot of companies that use marketing agencies know of Napier, many do not, and using media is a cost-effective way to reach an audience that has no awareness of your company or its products. This is bad, as awareness is incredibly difficult and expensive to measure effectively. Leads are easy but getting inside people’s heads to understand what they think is very difficult. Even proxy measurements are hard: for example I could see how often people search for Napier, but factors other than the DPA blog are likely to have more of an impact and Google encrypts almost all searches meaning there is too little data to allow a sensible analysis (this blog is long enough already so I am not going to rant about the use of statistically insignificant data in marketing).

So how am I going to decide? Well I’d love someone to tell me that they read my blogs and enjoy them. So if you like the blogs – particularly if you are in a marketing role – please just send me an email to mike@napierb2b.com, connect with me on LinkedIn or call the office (the number is on the Napier website). You will also be doing DPA a favour as it will help them persuade me to fund another series of these blogs.


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