Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

From start to finish, keep your KPIs clear to stay on course

By Simon Akers, CEO of Archmon and a regular NDA columnist

Imagine a scenario if you will. You’re an airline that has paid higher than ever fees for jet fuel to get you across the Atlantic, as well as the leasing of takeoff/landing slots for journey from London to New York. You take off and halfway into the flight you decide – No, actually I will reroute to Cape Town. Different hemispheres and 8,000 miles in another direction. It really isn’t a good idea though, as fuel will run out and the customer experience (of the passengers) will be pretty crappy given their expectations of the journey on which they are headed.

Excuse the travel analogy, the sun is out, spring has sprung and I am well and truly in the mind of thinking about flight bookings. But the point is, you think of a destination and you stick to it. This bizarre rerouting scenario by the way is exactly the same as having too many things to measure in a campaign; too many Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and worse, changing things mid-flight, especially after all the investment in creative work, talent and audience definition.

Picking the right KPI for your media activity, digital or not, is key to success; every good plan knows what it needs to do as an outcome of the activity, and media, audiences, timings and all sorts are there to maximise the chances of achieving said KPI. For example, if the KPI is Reach, you want to be limiting over-targeting and focus on buying scale media efficiently, and unlock incremental audiences through new channels or special moments. Don’t switch to CTR or CPA half way through please.

Honestly, the above is obvious and we all pretty much know this. The trouble is of course, that marketeers seldom settle for a primary KPI being quite enough, and it is important to have hundreds of cells and multiple columns on a sheet to continue a Stockholm syndrome-esque analysis paralysis of over measurement, endemic in digital marketing channels in particular.

As I have always said, just because you can measure it, does absolutely not mean it matters, and the more buttons you can press, the more you will. Maybe these tech platforms should have come with a health warning, or even a pseudo driving licence one needs before they start creating custom reports. It is a shame. But how can we reset?

The right KPIs sets the precedent for the subsequent activity

A good KPI threads through – especially in the digital media environment where the urge to press buttons and optimise and split test the soul out of everything is palpable.

Starting with the campaign objectives. Whether you are an advertiser planning your own campaign or briefing an agency, getting it right and laser focussed from the start is the best way. Communication is absolutely key at this point. If there is ever a time to be wooley, conceptual or indecisive, this moment is absolutely not it. Words like impact and engagement need to be treated with a swear-box style sanction. Be clear to all stakeholders what the goal is. If it is to build brand awareness, then that needs to thread through to all buying mechanics. When I help shape a brief for my new clients in my own business, I insist on a one page briefing form/manifesto to agree what success looks like, and reiterate the importance of a single point of truth. It does not matter what the stakes are, the brand size, the number of stakeholders. In fact the more unwieldy the personnel, the more critical this key point is. 

Clear KPI agreement is easier to manage and optimise campaign towards

I have seen it too many times in both direct clients and agencies. The ability to pause, hold on and show temperance and patience in the face of oscillating performance towards a KPI can be rare. Too much tinkering thwarts a lot of algorithmic learning which, overall, the social, search and programmatic platforms can enable effectively as it works towards agreed campaign goals. Machines don’t panic so trust them. I have seen so many times a brand KPI agreed, then the moment one checks in 3 days later, they see a stark low % on a performance metric and panic, even though that is not the indicator of success that was planned. A reach and frequency buy on Facebook will achieve the aforementioned for example, don’t get too hung up on the CTR! Do not let the tail wag the dog either. Platforms have at times an innate ability of making campaign recommendations that may well not be aligned with the north star that you are all working for. Maintain laser focus on what was briefed.

Clear KPI’ing = better and more meaningful analytics

When it comes to the PCA or Business Review, or just general reporting, it is so easy to feel the need to fill all the gaps with numbers. It just is not the right way. I have seen too many PCAs, that say we missed the primary KPI but got some good stats on some barely relevant secondary or tertiary measure in an attempt to craft a better story. Whilst I understand the need to find wider benefits, it begs the question how this happened, why it was measured, and whether the diversion diluted the outcome. Again, if the KPI is agreed with all from the start, optimised towards and reported on, then there is a cogent journey, and the insights unlocked can be more meaningful. Which channels or audiences performed better towards a KPI. Is there a conversation about evolving the KPI (after).

Like I said, there is a time, outside of the ‘flight’ to think of the KPI evolution

It is about finding the right measure for the right time and the right moment. A lot of emerging digital-first brands start in the ROI driven world, but then realise there is a diminishing return so turn to brand campaigns. Conversely, those who have spent a lot of money on brand activity need to start thinking about measuring the efficiency of converting them and add to their performance armoury. Even within each area, ROAS may be great for a while, but will diminish over time; switching to Revenue could be a better move for growth; the ROAS decreased but the growth goes up. Think about sending a legacy KPI backwards to drive the business forward.

To summarise, have a clear MO from the start, that you do not knee jerk with in-flight, and report on one  thing deeply afterwards, then maybe next time change the KPI. Cape Town is great by the way, but enjoy New York first!