The Digital Measurement Cop-Out

Sean Howard
Feb 28, 2014 · 4 min read

When we create digital things, we face a truly inspiring opportunity: unlike other media, almost everything in the digital realm is directly measurable. Having more reliable data makes it more straightforward to determine attribution — which of our actions was responsible for a change in our users’ behaviour.

In simpler terms, we can and should be showing our clients how our activities contribute to solving their business problems. But we can’t do this if we refuse to use models that connect our activities to the impact (or the lack of impact) on our client’s business.

I’ve been looking at a number of digital and integrated agencies over the past few weeks and with only one exception (so far), the state of digital measurement and reporting appears to be firmly ensconced in decade old thinking.

Many agencies tell a compelling and sexy measurement story. They speak of regression analysis, ROI and integrated key measures. But when you dig beneath the talk, more times than not, you come across a variation of the Reach, Engage and Convert model.

signs of a malignant tumor at the core of how we define success in digital

Some might call it “Awareness:Consideration:Conversion” or a variation thereof. Some show it as circles, others as a matrix and some as a deceptive mini-funnel. All are signs of a malignant tumor at the core of how we define success in digital.

Let’s look at the problems with the Reach, Engage and Convert model and then review some alternative models for consideration.

Problem 1

The Reach, Engage and Convert model tricks the viewer into measuring efficacy by what the agency does, not what the client’s business needs to accomplish. We are measuring the efficacy of the individual tactic within the context of the individual tactic. The result is an inability to attribute real-world effects to our digital activities. We smile and point to some lovely numbers only to be met with the question, “That’s great we have 8% more ‘engagement’, but what does that mean for my business?”

Problem 2

This three stage model oversimplifies the path that our customers take across channels and initiatives. Hell, it throws away 90% of the touchpoints a person has with the brand. It takes us so far away from the customer journey that we might as well gaze at our navels in our next client meeting. Forget about seeing the forest through the trees — we’re too busy studying the moss on a single branch we brought back to the lab.

Problem 3

The Reach, Engage and Convert model distorts and maligns the concept of conversion. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen media partners espouse the idea that conversion is nothing more than click-throughs on a banner ad. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything farther away from a customer conversion event than a click on a banner ad.

Models for Consideration

There are a growing number of digital innovators doing awesome work to redefine success and changing how they measure results in a meaningful way for their clients.

Let’s start with a traditional purchase funnel like AIDAR. Keep in mind that the purchase funnel may no longer be a valid tool for capturing customer behaviours and decision-making, but it is certainly a better starting point than Reach, Engage and Convert.

Using the AIDAR purchasing funnel model, Daniel Rowes,

The consumer decision journey, David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder, and Ole Jørgen Vetvik, McKinsey & Company

Then we move to a simple approach for building your measurement and KPIs around what matters to your client’s business.

Digital Marketing and Measurement Model, Avinash,

And finally, we introduce attribution and customer journey mapping models. Don’t let the title of the first link scare you off, it is a wonderful introduction to Moments of Truth and attribution modelling.

Multi-channel attribution modelling for PhD students, Hayden Sutherland,

Customer Journey Mapping, Lenati consulting,

Why Customer Journey Mapping?, Rightpoint,

In Summary

We have an amazing opportunity in the digital industry to become valuable business partners with our clients. We must adopt and build on the models that our clients already use to drive and manage their businesses. Otherwise we will continue to measure (and reward) the wrong things, and miss a chance to show our clients how digital can transform their customer relationships, empower their employees and drive their bottom line.

Does your agency use a version of the Reach, Engage and Convert model for your digital measurement? Do you think it’s time to change? Or not?

Sean Howard is a digital strategist in the Toronto area currently looking for his next opportunity. You can find and engage with him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+.

Thanks to Eli McIlveen

    Sean Howard

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    Sean writes and produces 3 audio dramas in the world of Alba Salix at including The End of Time and Other Bothers at

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