Marketing Return on Investment: Drowning in Data

“Drowning in data” is an apt summarization of the past few years for most modern marketers.

2015 began with a bang – or more accurately an explosion – of more marketing channels, media, and metrics.  With many businesses increasing their marketing budget as a result of either the economy slowly nursing itself back to health – and owners realizing the value of good content marketing – the pressure is on to find out what those investment dollars are actually buying. In this article Ultra Graphics will throw you a life raft, teach you how to rise above the ever-expanding sea of data, what to track and when, and how to interpret those numbers to spot trends and learn if your campaign was successful or not.

Let’s start with some basic definitions. How would we define return on investment?  Return for most business owners denotes a monetary value, but we’ll learn that money is not always the goal for a marketing campaign.  So we’ll define return on investment as a measurable, analytical summation of a marketing campaign, good or bad.  That summary can be “we made $200 and we spent $100, so our return on investment is 100%.”  Or that summary could be “we spent $100, and we earned 100 more Facebook likes from potential buyers and created a viral video that was shared 20,000 times.”  Both could be considered a huge success depending on your goals.  When the term “data” is mentioned, it’s referring to anything and everything a campaign is meant to track.  That can mean sales numbers, coupon values, website hits, Facebook likes, email shares, etc…  Data can also mean other things that are not as easy to quantify, such as in-person reports and anecdotal evidence.  Data is the little details you need to make sense of a campaign.

There was a time when the method for tracking a campaign was as simple as

  1. 1. Broadcast a tv commercial, radio spot,   newspaper ad, etc… then
  2. 2. Watch the sales go up or down.
Adolescent giraffes selling blended whiskey. A simpler time. Photo Credit:
Adolescent giraffes selling blended whiskey. A simpler time.
Photo Credit:

Campaigns were usually one media channel at a time, and they were usually a simple advertisement for a product or service.  “You’ll say WOW HOLY GEE COW when you see how X product does X, and your life will never be the same!”  If that product sells more, you keep producing more ads.  If the product sells less, you try something else.  Tracking the return on investment was as simple as subtracting cost from revenue, and the resulting number was the only number marketers (and owners) cared about.

Today, marketing is not so cut and dry – the goals are the same, but the answers are harder to pin down.  The modern consumer is smarter, has more tools at his or her disposal, and expects to be wooed with storytelling, nurturing, and a good reputation before ever committing to buy.  Marketers have to reach people from every angle and from every type of media – not only from traditional sources such as television and print, but now from the web, social media, and email.  Because of these challenges, tracking the responses from any campaign involves more moving parts, and has to start earlier than just looking at resulting sales numbers.  Digesting data has to be a priority through every stage and every channel in order to get a clear picture of its performance.  It’s more challenging to see the bigger picture, spot trends, and determine success with multiple islands of data, each getting bigger with every new interaction tool that modern digital society uses. We also learn in modern marketing that ROI doesn’t necessarily mean dollar value.  There are successful campaigns whose only purpose is to generate brand awareness and appreciation that indirectly leads to sales.  For a brand awareness campaign, the metrics you track might only be limited to conversations, positive (or negative) feedback, and sharing with others.

So how do you begin to wade through the piles of data and start making sense of the metrics that are available to you?

Life-PreserverBy realizing that in the end, the stripped down conclusion is the same for modern marketers as it was for those in the 1920’s (data is king), it’s just the methods by which those conclusions are made that evolves.  We treat each piece separately at first, organize and quantify the data, then look for similarities between them.  We learn what we want to track before the campaign is public, and we prepare ourselves for the kind of data we’ll be interpreting.  We use the tools and techniques available to manage data as it flows in, using systems and services that crunch the numbers in real time. While the landscape is more complex than ever before, the tools to map that landscape are evolving in step.

Check back tomorrow for a step by step guide on more efficiently tracking and calculating ROI!

Dan Rickman

About Daniel Rickman

I work with photography, illustration, design, marketing, SEM/SEO and animation/video. I love doing web and UI design as well as print, and have a passion for new and exciting technology. Self proclaimed tech junkie, designer and marketer, SEO/SEM authority.