Today's marketers who don't really understand marketing tools and technology are bound to slip up, says Avi Levine, executive director at the Digital Professional Institute, a programming and digital marketing school in Chicago. Without proper technology know-how, they risk losing out on marketing tech's huge potential to reach customers, learn about their buying habits and drive sales.
Tech know-how is fast-becoming a requirement for a marketer. Digital Professional Institute points out that 93 percent of today's marketing positions require at least one digital skill, such as SEO, website design or analytics. Marketing managers are also one of the highest-paid professions in the country -- an average $133,600 salary --which reflects their increasingly important role at companies.
[Related: For marketing pros, digital equals dollars]
Yet marketers are slow to climb the technology curve. As marketing and technology disciplines merge, marketers tend to push back, or at least not embrace technology at a level needed to be successful. For instance, Online Marketing Institute surveyed Fortune 500 and ad agency executives and found that only 8 percent have digital teams that are strong across the digital spectrum.
Levine has run into this problem time and again. While marketing failures run the gamut, he has identified three common tech-related mistakes: a lack of Google Analytics chops, falling in love with vanity metrics,and not taking the lead on marketing tech integration with CRM systems.
CIO.com talked with Levine about these types of failures and how marketers can overcome them.
CIO.com: Can you describe how marketers are failing with Google Analytics?
Levine: The fact that Google Analytics is aggregating all this information about what's happening, with respect to your website and online presence, doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be able to leverage that insight for actionable growth. Lack of understanding of Google Analytics leads to missed SEO opportunities and an incomplete understanding of how site visitors are interacting with content, which could hinder lead generation and its conversion into sales. When it comes to data deluge, tracking everything but not tying that tracking into intent means you'll be gathering trivia but not actionable insights.
CIO.com: Why aren't marketers able to grasp Google Analytics?
Levine: A lot of times, it comes down to understanding how the tools work. For some marketers, I think they look at Google Analytics as a technology that should be implemented on the IT side rather than implemented in concert with marketing goals. Everything from the dashboard to goal conversions should reflect, ultimately, what the marketing goals are, as opposed to being an incremental software solution that's helping gather data.
A basic understanding of Google Analytics isn't difficult to learn for marketers. At Digital Professional Institute, we take it one step further. We're not going to just teach you how the platform works, we're going to tie in the usage of the platform into business goals and needs.
With tools like Google Analytics, Adwords, Facebook's or Twitter's advertising platforms, it's important for marketers not just to understand what these tools do but to roll up their sleeves and use these tools themselves. This means going in and setting up goal conversions and seeing what happens when you get a conversion and how that ties in to actual business results.
CIO.com: Have you seen this failure happen? Can you describe the situation?
Levine: A great specific example: We were working with a small business in the hostel space. They were really focused on the duration a visitor would land on a given page -- as in, how much time people were spending on their website.
They were investing a tremendous amount of time creating additional content, additional pages to lock people into their website. They missed why they were doing that. They thought that the more time people spend on the website, the more likely they'll book a room. Well, they didn't have a specific call to action, a specific forum that's obvious to people for booking the room. Time spent on the website was not a reaction to the content but the fact that visitors couldn't figure out how to book the room. When they simplified their site, time on site went down and leads went up.
CIO.com: Sounds similar to your second misstep: the vanity metrics trap. Can you explain this?
Levine: Vanity metrics are the things that lead to big numbers. Everyone likes big numbers, such as 10,000 people downloading an app or 50,000 likes on Facebook. Vanity metrics are important in some respect: They're good for morale, good for some amount of credibility. Over time, though, vanity metrics distract from what really matters. You're tracking the incorrect KPIs (or key performance indicators).
A lot of entrepreneurs who take our classes will lay a plan out with the goal to get, say, 300 people to like their Facebook page. It's a good goal and will matter at some point in the business. But it's a long path for somebody to react to content, like what you're doing, get more content, follow to your website, and take the action you want.
You're better off spending your time cold calling people and getting someone to buy. While that's not scaleable, it shortens the path from your message to the action you want the consumer to take. That's not something you'll get by focusing on metrics that look really sexy but don't drive business results.
The reason why marketers will sometimes struggle with this is because their bosses or board members or leaders better understand vanity metrics than fundamental business metrics in the online space. This sounds bizarre, but a lot of senior leadership, which has a great understanding of how offline business works and what drives results, don't understand online metrics. They want a video to go viral, because this means success in an online channel to them. It's a challenge for marketers to communicate to leadership that their investments make sense.
CIO.com: What are the correct KPIs, and can they be attributed to business results?
Levine: One KPI would be the number of leads. How many actions do you get your site visitor to take that results in them giving information about themselves? How many forms did they fill out? How many times did they download your app? They're all important KPIs. How well are you converting the initial inquiry of information to a trackable action? For instance, if you offer a white paper, what percentage of the people who downloaded that white paper is returning to your site to fill out a form for more information or to purchase the product?
It's about defining the customer journey, from awareness to engagement to action, and measuring how effectively customers are making their way through it. I wish I could give a single KPI, but it's different for every business. Tracking the right KPIs means looking at how marketing activities are not only driving leads, but also nurturing potential customers to sale.
CIO.com: Your final marketer misstep is not integrating marketing tech with sales-facing CRM.
Levine: If you're not connecting the links between marketing and sales, it's nearly impossible to tell what's working and what's not. We call it the "customer journey" for a reason. It used to be that marketers were responsible for pushing a message out to as many people as possible, and sales was responsible for converting leads. But now, because of the tools that exist today and the seamlessness of the online journey, you can track marketing efforts directly down to purchase and beyond into loyalty and advocacy. It's now the customer loop. Having this entire loop tightly integrated into your CRM is critical for staying organized and on top of all the opportunities.
CIO.com: Lots of parties are involved. So is this lack of integration a marketer's problem, IT problem or sales problem?
Levine: Everything needs a champion. Marketing can be a really thankless job. Marketing is tasked with driving growth and left to figure out how to do it. If you're on the line for driving growth, it's very hard to make the case that the IT guys screwed up on implementation or that you can't get the sales guys to cooperate. It is marketing's responsibility to evolve into a leadership role.
They need to say, "We're the ones bringing all the new attention to the product, we need to see that journey through to the end, and we'll work with sales and IT to ensure that everything's being properly tracked, captured and attributed." Ultimately, marketing is going to be held to the insights that they get from all their efforts.