Research Shows Some Marketers Fail To Understand Customer Journeys And The Influence Of Digital Media

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Dave Chaffey - Insights Director at ClickThrough Marketing, The Search Conversion ExpertsThe Search Marketing Barometer from the Internet Advertising Bureau UK gives a useful snapshot of how the large companies are applying search marketing today. The most recent report, published in February, covering 2011, was based on a survey of 123 marketers from the top 200 brands across all sectors including entertainment, retail, FMCG and automotive. Although it’s based on the experiences of large companies, it has lessons for all companies using search around how to review and improve their search capabilities.

The barometer has many findings about use of search, but those that surprised me most were around customer insight and integration.

Surprisingly, 53% of brands had “little or no understanding of attribution modelling”. This surprises me for two reasons, first if you’re not using attribution you can’t really optimise your digital marketing mix, particularly if you’re making large investments in paid search, display ads and affiliate marketing as many of these brands will be. Taking the example of paid search, attribution helps you understand the influence of generic terms which searchers use early in the path to purchase. Since these are much higher by volume of searches than the long tail terms as users close in on purchase, it’s really important to know how they influence search. If you just use a last click wins model, then the value of these generic terms won’t be clear. I’m also surprised in that the analytics capabilities to understand customer journeys have been available for many years and are improving recently with new releases.

Google Adwords has had its Search Funnels feature available since 2010 to companies who have setup conversion tracking through Google. More recently, Google Analytics has added a multichannel funnels feature (see the official Google video) which provides a great representation of which digital channels are providing “assists” on the path to purchase. Many larger companies may not be using the free Google tools, but alternatives including agency tools also have attribution features, so lack of tools isn’t an excuse. My experience is that the tools may be configured in the organisation, but the lack of time, skills or process to interpret and action the results is more likely to be the problem. The report also found that only 13% of brands feel they have sufficient amount of performance data to help them with attribution modelling. I personally doubt whether lack of data is the problem, lack of people, process or skills to action it are more likely to be the problem.

The research also suggests that search advertising is still not fully integrated into the marketing mix, with 94% of UK advertisers believing there is a greater opportunity to link it with the rest of their communications activity. Of the marketers surveyed 94% said that there is greater opportunity to integrate search into the wider media mix. The survey found that online display and social media are most integrated with search in campaigns, at 65% and 62% respectively. This is followed by TV, with 43% of campaigns integrated with search marketing. With consumers using mobile more, this is also a missed opportunity - separate research by the IAB on the Mobile and Online Journey which they rather unnecessarily call “MOJO” shows that half of those following up adverts on smartphones have been watching TVs.

So overall, the research paints a fairly dark picture of how the potential value of customer insights is being used. I don’t think this picture will change until companies change the way analytics data is reviewed and actioned across the business.

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