Moving beyond the metrics

The inherent complexity in the present day auto buying process requires us to rethink how we measure the effectiveness of our web efforts.

In the early days of the Internet, the experts lamented that it’s evolving faster than the ways to measure it. Times have changed; and a sophisticated web analytics tool like Adobe Analytics has hundreds of traffic and conversion metrics. While the sheer number has increased, the confusion around some of the basic ones like the average time spent and repeat visitors persists, which depending on the context could mean both positive and negative. The larger concern, however, is the obsession with the conversion metrics, which has stunted our understanding of the medium and therefore our ability to extract tangible value from it. Take any digital marketing or analytics related case study, and the results are likely to be based on conversions, as if the primary objective of any web presence is to drive users to take an action. Such simplistic deductions could be attributed to laziness in the ways we measure effectiveness, for it’s far easier to report ‘conversions’ and claim victory as opposed to carefully studying the digital footprints. This approach worked for simple product categories like credit cards wherein the proposition is simple enough to be accommodated on a single landing page, and risk factors low enough for the customer to take an almost instant decision. But when it’s applied to a high involvement purchase like a car, it is out rightly ignoring how our customers behave.

In Asia, a car purchase is a milestone in an individual’s life. In monetary terms, it could very well be the second most valuable purchase for him (most likely a male) after a house. Therefore for the first time car buyers, every aspect of the purchase is considered, evaluated and compared against popular choices available. As per TNS Digital Life (2012) report, an Indian customer gets exposed to almost 7 sources (both offline and online) in the awareness stage, 6 sources when he is actively choosing the product, and almost the same number of sources to search the store/dealership to buy it from. These sources comprise of both brand and customer voice. Besides this, most car buyers (both first time and repeat) consider 3–5 brands before making a final choice (Deloitte, 2014) spread over 2–3 months. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the user is ready to commit with his personal information in the first visit to the website itself. And if he doesn’t, going by the prevalent marketer behavior, the campaign has not achieved its stated objectives.

To measure the true effectiveness of our web efforts — especially in the high involvement category like auto — would require change in our attitude towards the web metrics. Here are some of the ways in which we should rethink our approach:

1. Parity between offline and online: On one hand, the Internet has condensed the human knowledge, literally putting it at our fingertips. On the other, due to this unprecedented abundance of information, the decision making itself has become more complex, with user shuttling between offline and online sources, continuously researching and validating. The differences between offline and online only exist physical space. In user’s mind they are all a part of one continuum, and the transition between these two isn’t confusion, but a way to progress

2. For him, it’s all a part of one continuum.

Nonetheless, much of the stages in the buying process remain the same. People’s consideration set still consists of options suggested by their immediate circle of family and friends or something they got to know through mass media. They still compare competition offerings unless they are irrationally loyal to a particular brand. If the buying behavior remains the same, it’s time we start considering web metrics as a reflection of the real world behavior. How does a banner impression compare with that of a billboard on a busy highway? Issues with how these two different types of impressions are served and measured notwithstanding, both of them contribute towards the awareness of the brand. The corresponding value may differ. Efforts need to be made to rationalize the differences in media, depending on the end objective of the campaign. If all of our efforts eventually lead to a sale, we can implement end-to-end tracking in a n isolated test scenario to determine the respective value of these impressions. It will greatly reduce the ‘looking-down-upon’ the web metrics and provide comparable value to the oft-unmeasured offline impression.

2. Task based campaign goals: A Dec 2013 Google study indicated that users are mostly looking for information related to price and technical specifications online. Next on the list were the visuals (photos and videos) of the product. And a paltry 10% intended to fill up a test drive form. The data from different industry sources suggests that the test drive form fill rate is significantly lower than this. Then on what basis would you justify a digital campaign for a newly introduced product, which takes the user to test drive form, which contains limited information about the product? Since it’s a new product, the user propensity would be to know more about the product and its features. From a marketer’s perspective, one can identify and track sections of the website where a visit itself could indicate user awareness (e.g. features, specifications, photos), consideration (e.g. model compare, brochure) and intent (e.g. test drive form, building a quote). Even if the user has not committed his personal details as yet, the visit was still valuable for you’ve managed to clearly communicate how your product leads its class in terms of price, fuel economy or safety. And the user is likely to produce this information in offline discussions with family, friends or the sales staff to; the outcome of which will determine his repeat visit and subsequent actions.

3. Forget linearity: Even though industry research indicates a non-linear user behavior, most web experiences are designed to keep pushing the users towards conversions. At times, the UX designers don’t even give them the option of going back to the previous page, in a hope that denied of any choice, users will choose the only option presented to them. While it is conceptually right to guide the users to a desired outcome, these overtly pushy, sales-like tactics undermine the fact that the primary objective of the web presence is to help the users make an informed choice or rather an informed discussion beyond the web. The user behavior data available to us suggests that a conversion (e.g. test drive form completion) is sometimes not the end of the journey and the user could go back to validate something. In that case, our web designs should allow users to effortlessly transition between pages. In 2014, Ford made a conscious decision to move to a new website design which takes into account the tendency of the user to shuffle between online and offline channels, and gives him enough tools to resume his journey on the website from where he left.