Judging marketing metrics

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When it comes to an effective marketing activity, Heidi Melin, CMO of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Polycom, a provider of communications technology to businesses, said appearances can be deceiving.

According to Melin, marketing campaigns that generate a great deal of interest and contact aren't necessarily the most efficient. Polycom runs a robust b-to-b marketing effort that includes targeted e-mail campaigns, trade shows, public relations and an online presence.

“We have a platform that measures all the responses that come into the top of our funnel and tracks them all the way to closing business,” Melin said. “We've found, for example, that trade shows generate a lot of contacts, but the business closed is not as high as a targeted e-mail campaign into our installed customer base.”

Melin's observation strikes at the heart of b-to-b marketing: How does a company know that any marketing campaign is truly effective when compared with other marketing activities?

Adam Needles, director of field marketing and b-to-b marketing for e-mail marketing services company Silverpop, has an answer: Stop looking at short-term, front-end metrics—such as impressions and click-throughs—and start looking at the lifetime value of customers.

“I would argue that most marketers get mired in operational metrics because they view their jobs as sales lead-generation,” Needles said. “But the only way to get our efficiency up as marketers is to focus on buyers. We need to look at the total lifetime value of cash flow of a customer from marketing activities. The consumer side figured this out a long time ago, but the b-to-b side needs to catch up.”

That, however, can be easier said than done. Even Polycom, which has been singled out by the CMO Council as a highly efficient marketing organization, doesn't measure the lifetime value of customers.

“It's too hard to define,” Melin said. “Almost everyone has a Polycom phone, so is that a customer or do we only concentrate on the video side?”

Instead, the CMO Council has proposed an alternative metric: customer affinity.

According to Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the council, customer affinity is a customer's “predisposition to do business with a product or service, a measure of attachment.”

Customer affinity goes beyond the basic metrics—ad spending, impressions, awareness, click-throughs, Web site hits and leads generated—to measure a customer's perceptions, attitudes and actual behavior.

Once again, of course, the issue quickly becomes one of availability of data.

“There's a lot of data out there—transactional data, attitudinal data—but a lot of it is siloed,” Neale-May said. “A lot of trouble with organizations (in this regard) is data integration.”

In the end, effectively measuring any marketing campaign comes down to available data: what happens to potential customers after the initial contact, which products do they buy, how do they use the products and how to best increase the long-term value of each individual customer.

“The piece of data that would be most valuable to us that we don't currently have (involves) continuing to build intelligence around our customers,” Melin said, “which products they have and how they're using them. That would be extremely interesting to me.”

This makes sense, Melin said, because the company's most effective marketing campaigns in terms of direct conversion to sales are still old-fashioned e-mail campaigns directed at Polycom's installed customer base.

“They're very effective, very robust and highly targeted,” Melin said. “And it's not just installed customers, but customers of specific products.”

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