This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read. – Winston Churchill
Ahhh… reports. Those things that come at the beginning of every month when we look to see what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to be changed.
I’ve always struggled with creating reports. Because it’s so easy to get so complicated so quickly. Many of our clients don’t need all the figures (or have their own logins to the analytics accounts) so our reports need to actually be helpful and not just a collection of numbers. Poorly constructed reports can easily get too long or raise questions that are entirely irrelevant to the conversation.
Thus we set out on a quest to find the best format and framework which allows us to show our value, give the client an accurate picture of their current and past situations, and to make the data both easy to understand and actionable.
We tried a variety of formats over the past several months – usually with a focus on dividing each of the metrics up by channel. For example, we’d group visits from social, goal completions from social, and ecommerce values for social. Then we’d do the same thing for organic traffic, paid search, and email. And although this seemed to be the logical way to break things out, we were missing a lot of the picture.
After all, we usually don’t see tons of conversions via social. Did that mean that our time was being wasted on social media? We don’t think so, but it was hard to show any value with those kind of numbers. Plus, if you compared social to something focused on direct sales (like PPC), the conversion rate was so far off we’d just get depressed. But we knew that fundamentally, social media is a different animal than PPC.
PPC should always be converting quickly. Social media on the other hand is much more interactive. Although you want users to convert eventually, judging social by conversions alone isn’t exactly fair. If most businesses honestly used this metric, there would be virtually no brands on social media.
Thus we faced our challenge. We needed to find a framework or system that allowed us to break out our value by more than just mere conversions. Mack Web is as much a branding agency as we are a marketing agency. Although we don’t do branding in the traditional sense (logo design, taglines, etc.), we help companies translate their brands online to create a unified presence that builds trust, inspires confidence, and develops community. How do we measure that?
Branding vs. Direct Selling
The first step in the journey was to differentiate our efforts. Virtually all marketing efforts fall into one of two categories – either they are a branding effort or a direct selling effort. Branding efforts help build you a reputation. They make a deposit of trust with your customers and potential customers. GoPro, Red Bull, and Chipotle are all examples of companies who have taken their brand seriously over the past few years and worked to develop a strong following and reputation.
On the other hand, you have direct selling efforts. These efforts aren’t focused on impacting the brand, but instead make a play straight for the customer’s wallet. Most of the time direct selling is the goal of paid ads (online and offline) as well as a majority of traditional SEO efforts. Because direct selling has received a bad rap over the years, many modern firms have basically relabeled this term growth hacking. Regardless of what you call it, the goal is the same: get people to give you money as quickly as possible.
Our problem was that, while we were doing some “growth hacking” (direct selling) for our clients, most of our time was spent building a brand. We’re in this for the long game, not just the immediate gains. But our reporting and key performance indicators (KPIs) only reflected the direct selling mentality. As a result, we were shortchanging ourselves and our clients. In the words of Avinash, we were trying to judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. And we wondered why we were not getting the desired results?
The Solution: See, Think, Do
In the middle of this problem, I stumbled upon a podcast where Avinash breaks down his See, Think, Do Framework (Ok, seriously…go back and click that link. And then read it. All of it. You’ll be glad you did).
This framework is fundamentally different in that it acknowledges that sometimes people aren’t willing to buy. Sometimes they are just shopping, looking, investigating their options, and figuring out what brands they’re interested in working with. As a marketer, you have the opportunity to engage with these people long before (and long after) they make their first purchase. However, using typical reporting and conversion based metrics, you don’t count any of these interactions. Most sites typically convert less than 2% of overall visits, so you’re judging your entire marketing effort on those 2% of people who may convert at any given time.
What about all the rest of the efforts? What about the brand and community building pieces? What about the interactions on social media? How do you measure all of those “non-conversion” endeavors?
The best solution we found is the See, Think, Do framework. We’re beginning to implement it company wide. This framework puts people who are not yet customers into one of the three categories: See, Think, or Do.
The See category is for people who may at some point in the future be interested in purchasing your product. For a consumer product, this could be a huge potential audience. For more niche markets, the pool can shrink significantly, but this is still generally the broadest category that you’ll target. Almost all of the KPIs (which we’ll break down in detail later in the post) reflect branding. They are simply getting your brand in front of consumers without expecting them to purchase anything right now.
The Think category is a little harder to define because it is a hybrid of both branding and selling. People in the Think category are likely to buy a product soon and are actively looking, but may not quite be ready to purchase. This is the investigating category. They are researching, digging, and looking into options. For low priced products (like groceries) the Think phase may literally last for seconds while standing in a store aisle or while shopping on your site. For larger purchases (such as an automobile), this category can last for months. Users are comparing your product with competitors and trying to find the best option.
Although the Think category is harder to define than the See or Do categories, much of the opportunity lies here. This is where product focused marketing can really be valuable. They are thinking about purchasing something specific, but may need some more information before making a decision. Sometimes they don’t just need information on your product, but they want to find out the kind of company you are and whether you stand behind your offering.
The Do category is what traditional conversion-based reporting measures. The Do category is full of people who are ready and willing to make a purchase. Most site optimizations and ad campaigns are focused on people in this category. When marketers use A/B testing or other site optimization techniques, they are trying to maximize the number of users in the Do category who actually make that purchase. These efforts are both valuable and important, but to be truly effective (especially for larger brands) they should be part of the overall marketing strategy, not stand-alone efforts.
Metrics and KPIs:
Instead of choosing one key metric (like conversions) to obsess over, we made a list of the key metrics we wished to track that we feel best reflect our efforts in each of the three categories. Although many of these aren’t perfect metrics, they are a great way for us to attempt to communicate how our efforts are impacting each of the three categories.
- Natural social shares
- % of non-branded SEO traffic
- Number of new visits (% of new visits)
- Bounce Rate
- Page Depth
- Per Visit Goal Value (Client specific, depends on micro conversions that they have)
- Click-through rate for social sources
- Branded SEO traffic
- Visitor Loyalty
- Funnel Abandonment Rate
- Conversion Rate
- Form Submissions
- Phone Calls
Inside and Outside:
Since we’re using these metrics to track our efforts internally, we’re also starting to format our reports to fit this framework. By utilizing this framework, we take the focus off of one metric (conversions) and instead use the data to paint a whole picture of how our efforts are improving (or not improving) engagement in each of these categories.
Putting these types of metrics in our reports is also a subtle way of helping us change our client’s perspectives. By helping them understand how we are impacting the business as a whole, we can begin to help them think in the holistic context of marketing for their business rather than an obsessive focus on the bottom line.
So far I feel that our reports more accurately reflect our efforts and our desires for our clients. Furthermore, I believe they will help build trust between our clients as we focus on a few key metrics in each category and allow us to not be distracted by the overwhelming amount of data modern analytics programs offer. Only time will tell.