There are two things almost every small-business owner wants to know:

  1. Is my marketing working?
  2. What, exactly, is the return on investment on every part of my marketing program?

These are reasonable questions, but very difficult to answer. Here’s why.

 

3 big challenges

First,marketing works holistically. This means that a marketer’s goal is to surround prospective customers with marketing messages delivered via a range of media vehicles. Prospects must see your messages over and over, via various marketing vehicles, for your message to be seen and stick in peoples’ brains.

In light of this, it’s difficult to say “this ad has such-and-such impact,” because it’s the accumulation of marketing messages over a period of time that creates impact.

Second,consumers often don’t behave the way we want and believe they should. Let’s say you run the kind of business that consumers call (for example, a home services company). You can put tracking phone numbers in all your marketing messages and fully expect that consumers will use them.

They probably won’t, though. Most consumers will still want to check you out online. Perhaps they’ll visit your website, or Facebook page, or look at your reviews – or some combination of this and more. Even if consumers don’t check you out online, many will use their digital devices to look up your phone number. Yes, I know. You’ve put your tracking phone number right in front of people, and they used their smartphones to look up your main number. Get used to it.

Third, many media vehicles are almost impossible to track. Let’s say you have billboards that include a tracking phone number. Unless people are writing down your phone number while they’re driving (which they’re not), that number is not going to be the one people use. Same problem with yard signs, phone numbers on the sides of trucks, and more.

 

Ad tracking doesn’t tell you the whole picture

Perhaps you advertise on the radio and television. Unless people hear and see your commercials with a pen and piece of paper in their laps, they’re not going to use the tracking numbers you purchased. They’re going to look your phone number up online.

Even media vehicles that are supposedly easy to track end up being hard to track. One time I told my wife I was going to buy a new showerhead. She said “Great, go to Lowe’s, because we got a coupon in the mail. Get a new matching faucet, too.” Guess what happened? I bought the showerhead and faucet but forgot to use the coupon. I left it in the car. Lowe’s scored a sale and an add-on sale because of a coupon they sent us, but they have no idea.

Think I’m unusual? Statistics reveal that 43 percent of shoppers miss out on savings because they forget to redeem digital coupons at checkout.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying you should give up on tracking altogether. I’m saying tracking has its limitations. Track what you can, and accept the fact that most tracking will be imperfect at best.

This guest post was contributed by Ed Cerier, an advertising agency professional whose past clients include Citibank, General Mills and Campbell’s Soup. He won a Silver Clio, a Silver Effie, and was a finalist at the Cannes Advertising Festival.

In 1999, Ed opened Marketing Works, a consultancy which included clients such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, 3M and Pfizer. During this same period he was on the adjunct faculty at the University of St. Thomas and Metropolitan State University.

In 2005 he joined Nexstar, which trains and coaches heating, air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical companies on how to be professional and profitable. Ed created and managed the marketing coaching department. He has written over 125 articles, two books on marketing the home services industry, and a library of over 800 marketing pieces and ad campaigns.

Ed recently reopened Marketing Works. Reach him at ed.marketingworks@gmail.com.