One of the most nebulous aspects of digital marketing is determining just how well a campaign met expectations. For pure players who only operate in the digital space, its actually quite easy. All performance data can be harnessed and evaluated. But for companies that operate in both offline and online space, defending the performance of a digital activation or investment is much harder.


We can drive to store, but how do we track that? We can click through to an eretailer, but once the customer passes to their side, we can kiss that data goodbye. Home page takeovers generate awareness, but what’s a pageview and did they recieve my message?

Defining a KPI

A KPI is a “key performance indicator.” It might seem like a given, but you’d be surprised how many people I have heard talk about their “Key KPIs”… if they knew what they were talking about they would know that all data are not KPIs. By definition, they can’t be.

The key part is the most important. When we talk about defining a KPI, we should really be talking about only one key performance indicator. If there are 4 KPIs for a campaign, they are really 3 PIs and only 1 KPI, since we can rank the importance of each performance indicator and come to the conclusion that the most important one is the one that’s “key.”

And no matter what the scope of a campaign is the only real KPI for any business is sales! Good old fashioned sales. Cash money. Revenue. All other KPIs are really “CPIs” or “campaign performance indicators.” The problem with CPIs are that they are often highly techinical, so quite often the powers that be have no idea what we’re talking about!

Let’s come back to the problem at the beginning of the post. Given the complexity of the digital space, all too often the sales KPI is too complicated to calculate with confidence. We cannot accurately contribute a portion of sales directly to digital efforts unless we control for all media investment or have our own e-commerce site (that alone is a reason to start doing D2C). Therefore, in the absence of our magic KPI, we look at performance indicators like CTR, CPC, page views, etc.

We can create the most beautifully crafted presentations showing our CPIs but they remain secondary in importance. Because they are secondary, management continues to hold digital teams to extremely high standards, when the same thing could be said about any other media. How many people bought something because of your billboard? Your TV commercial? But they continue investing in other media because that’s what’s worked before and that’s the world they grew up in.

The beauty of digital is that a lot of what is happening is trackable, in terms of actual data and not surveying or spot checking like a service like Nielsen provides for other media. But when we can’t complete the cycle, the elder statesmen that lead our companies criticize the investment because it hasn’t been proven yet. We’re stuck in a self-defeating circle where we promise the data to measure but we can’t actually correlate digital to overall sales.

As digital marketers, all of our efforts should go into finding ways of closing the sales loop and calculating exactly how much of our business is driven by digital. It’s a pain in the ass. It’s going to take time, but until each and every digital marketer thinks in terms of driving sales, the road will continue to be difficult.

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