The (In)Exact Science of Online Marketing

Marketers today have a wealth of data that their predecessors never had. And while it may provide more insight, is this data actually precise?

Photo of blurred analytics screen showing metrics and a pie chart. Liam Hennessy, Digital Strategist

Modern marketing has always made use of data.

When the digital landscape started evolving, marketers gained access to more and more data. Today, we can build more accurate buyer personas than any advertiser in the past. Marketing success can be measured by wealth of different tools for different channels.

We can use these to track, analyze and report metrics relevant to any strategy or campaign. We can see their gender, age group, what device their using, their search history.

Tracking visitors on our own websites is easier than ever now. We can literally see where their mouse hovered.

Overall, marketing has become even more data-focused and even technical. You might, then, be forgiven for thinking that we now have all answers.

Or do we? Well…

…digital marketing is not an exact science.

“Excuse ME!?” the data analysts shriek. I’m sure there are several programmatic media buyers who want my blood now. And I’m definitely at risk of an SEO hurling their laptop at me.

It’s true: The data we access today can give us insights that marketers in the past could only dream of. We can observe and react to trends faster and target individual persons with relevant ads.

But remember…

    …you’re still dealing with humans.

Humans are predictable, but then again, they are also extremely unpredictable.

Users may also fill in the wrong information. They may be using different browsers for different purposes, visiting your website through a VPN and use a range of other tricks to obscure what would otherwise be a perfect data profile.

Simply put, you can never rely on your data being 100% accurate.

“But of course,” you say, “you can still gain a lot of insight from general behaviour and optimize your campaigns for that, over time.”

I would certainly agree with you. But I will also repeat: Humans are unpredictable.

Digital Media Buying & the Loss of Human Perspective

While data, analytics, past behavior etc. are all great metrics to optimize your campaign or sales funnel around, you should use a healthy pinch of salt as well.

People are not machines; in fact they can be downright irrational.

You can look at your beautifully-crafted sales funnel and think, “They’ve followed these steps, so obviously (Step 5) is the next logical development. Finally, we’ll get that conversion!”

And then, suddenly, boom – they’re gone.

You never see them again.

B2C or B2B, it doesn’t matter. You’ve still got people at the wheel.

I’ve worked on a lot of media buying strategies. The campaign managers themselves got excited about certain trends, and then utterly confused when a lead didn’t convert. They cited possible reason in numbers, figures… And many times, completely forgot that the person was human and might’ve just changed their mind or gotten fed up.

Think about it this way: How many times have you clicked on an ad in an app or on a site, when you were really trying to just X out of it? It’s happened to be me a lot (big fingers, small screens!).

Even When Analyzing, Think Like a Human

What makes marketing so interesting is that it is a perfect intersectional of data-driven thinking and creative expression. Campaigns shouldn’t just be run based on numbers alone. A sense for the industry, the mood of your community are equally as important, even if they are trickier to pin down.

Keep that human perspective, after you are still marketing to them!