The Best Marketing Tactics Can’t Be Measured

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When I was young, much to my father’s chagrin, I did not care about cars. He would spend Saturdays working on his 1967 Mustang in the garage; I could not for the life of me summon the interest to pick up a wrench. But from a very early age, I would have had an answer had someone asked me what I considered a luxury car brand: Mercedes. Later, I might have named any number of European sports car brands or Rolls Royce. This is despite spending precisely none of my time actively thinking about or researching cars. If some marketing tactics are more measurable than others and you place all the emphasis on readily available metrics, you are just going to turn your marketing program into a click machine. 

As a millennial who listens to many podcasts, I’ve likely heard more than 100 ads in my day for SimpliSafe, the wireless security system. I have never been in the market for a home security system. But it occurred to me the other day when I heard my umpteenth SimpliSafe ad that, one day when I need one, I will undoubtedly think of SimpliSafe. At the very least, SimpliSafe will be in the consideration set. Exposure to hundreds of ads has built not only name recognition and superior recall vis-à-vis rivals but also familiarity with the company’s pitch.

If you want an adtech example, consider The Trade Desk. I’ve never worked directly with a DSP, and I’ve only interviewed a couple of DSP leaders, but if someone asked me what a DSP is and to name a few examples, The Trade Desk would be the first to come to mind. This is for two reasons. For one, they are widely recognized as a, if not the, category leader, and I’ve become aware of this by regularly reading industry trade publications. Secondly, they publish a lot of content via an in-house content operation called The Current, and despite not seeking out The Current, I’ve come across it on social as someone who works in adtech. 

What all these experiences with these three very different kinds of brands have in common is that my interaction with them is, at most, tenuously measurable or, if it is measurable, metrics would appear to indicate that the marketing efforts on behalf of these brands have failed. I have never bought anything from these companies; I may never buy anything from them or, if I do, it will still likely be years down the road. But from having read articles about them (earned media / PR), read their own content (content marketing), seen commercials (linear or CTV), and heard podcast ads about them (audio), I’ve come to associate these brands with the categories to which they belong: luxury cars, home security systems, and DSPs. 

A brand does not get more powerful than owning its category. If someone asks me about any of these products, I will name the companies I’ve listed in this article. The same way brand marketing evangelized me into a sometimes unwitting advocate of these brands, I will in turn further enhance their reach, as I’m doing right now by writing about them in a tech business trade publication. The impact of this phenomenon — which we call ‘brand’ — is quite literally incalculable. You can slap an impressions figure on a TV campaign or trade publication story. You can attempt to attribute website visits or conversions based on a podcast ad. But you can hardly begin to rigorously measure the impact of converting someone into a digitally silent fan who may buy your product 30 years down the road or never buy it while referring hundreds of other people to it. 

Yet all of us who have spoken to many marketers have heard it: “Everything in marketing is measurable.” What are the KPIs? How will we determine if getting the lead trade publication in our industry to cover us has value? How many “Pod Save America” listeners have put the show-specific URL into their search bar to buy a SimpliSafe home system? How much revenue can be attributed to our thought leadership bylines? What’s the ROI on a TV spot directed by Spike Jonze?

I am, of course, not saying that marketing should operate without any performance data. But the ready availability of performance metrics for certain types of digital marketing campaigns has broken the brains of many marketers, leading them to believe that there is only value in marketing where value can be easily illustrated on a dashboard. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As you will lose out on the long-form content and powerful storytelling that transform some brands into icons and category leaders. But hey, the cost per conversion on Facebook looks good this quarter.

Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015. You can contact him at [email protected]