Despite the explosion in online analytics, marketers still don't know what they're doing

By James Robinson , written on June 18, 2014

From The News Desk

We’re in the second decade of the advertising and marketing revolution brought on by the Internet, one that has ripped the heart out of the print media industry. Digital content is targeted and responsive now, offering marketers detailed insight into who clicked, who read, and who shared.

Except the sad thing is, as evidenced by Contently’s The State of Content Marketing Measurement report, a survey of 302 marketers across April and May, is that no one really knows if the new information on offer makes any sense.

The statistics are staggering: 91 percent of marketers Contently spoke to had some level of uncertainty to whether the content performance analytics they used were a good gauge of business impact.

Two-thirds of marketers were gauging unique pageviews and social shares as a measure of success. Yet pointing to data from Chartbeat, Contently noted that there is no direct correlation between sharing an article and having read it. Also, a substantial proportion of people (43 percent) were also analyzing for time spent, not just raw clicks, showing some dissonance between whether it was the amount of readers or the quality of reading that counts.

Most tellingly, was that over 70 percent of all marketers still just wanted plain old fashioned brand awareness from their content placement -- which is confusing, because brand awareness is the sort of metric that cannot be established in the mess of data and noise created by digital media. It’s about broad platforms and emotional responses -- the sort of things you’d get just as effectively from a TV spot or magazine placement.

For how much digital marketing and advertising has changed, it still hasn’t delivered marketers -- and may never deliver -- the numbers that are most useful to their business. Approximately half of all those surveyed wanted to be able to gauge reader attention more meaningfully, to know how they had changed opinions, who was likely to purchase, and who was aware of the brand. These are as mysterious and inexact to work out now as they’ve always been.

Which is telling. The goals of marketing are the same now as they’ve always been. Digital media has siphoned off a lot of action from print by giving advertisers raw insight into how many people see and click their content. But engagement is becoming an ever more nebulous idea, and the things marketers really need to know are still out of reach.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]