In a time when we are all busy and where data is readily available, we need a quick, simple metric to evaluate digital marketing success. A single data point that will tell us how we’re faring out there. The problem is that we have access to so many formulas and algorithms that can combine data points for a single, holistic valuation. So which is the mightiest?

Simple. It depends.

Not what you wanted to hear, certainly. We all wish it were easier to know for certain what impact we’re making and where our opportunities lie. But the truth is much more complicated. We need to look at each campaign on its own and in the context of the larger strategy. Not all campaigns are made the same, and they definitely don’t have the same goals, so we cannot evaluate them on the same plane.

Let’s first look at marketing via email. Common metrics of success are open rate, click-through rate, and click-to-open rate. But if we dig even further, we’ll take those goals at a more micro level. Welcome campaigns are often your first communication with your customer. I would argue that one of the most important initial metrics on these campaigns is simple deliverability – if the welcome message isn’t making it to new customer, then you’ve lost an opportunity. If you aren’t performing as well as you should, are there simple fixes for your web form to raise the likelihood of the customer giving you a valid, accurate email address?

Your newsletters are a great way to tell your customers who you are, to keep them informed about new products and promotions, and to remind them of your commitment to them, their communities, and the things they care about. You cannot expect newsletters in general to generate significant purchases with high AOVs, but what you can do is monitor sentiment by understanding which items generate action with which recipients. Having a grip on those metrics allows you not only to then tailor content to those audiences, but also to begin to tailor subtle retail strategies to them – and that definitely will generate those sought-after purchases.

Social media has great potential to engage your most loyal advocates. It’s common to gauge acquisition success on the number of new Facebook fans or Twitter followers. Advertising campaigns to garner new fans and customers require us to monitor traffic to recruiting-focused pages. But counting the number of fans and followers alone isn’t enough. Engagement is measured with virality of posts as well as the reach and potential reach.  If fans aren’t commenting on your posts and retweeting, then you may be missing the mark on what interests them. Look at the demographics of your fan base, and see if your messaging matches that profile. Conversion campaigns are geared to turn fans into consumers, so emphasize referral traffic and measure total dollars spent on your products.

At its core, marketing is intended to build loyalty with your brand and to sell more products and services. Your strategies should include increased revenue as a key objective. But a robust marketing plan will include aspects of acquisition, brand loyalty, customer interaction and engagement, upselling, retention, and reactivation. Despite our desire to find a “one size fits all” metric for success, we will continue to need to evaluate campaigns at both a micro and macro level, to ensure each part of the equation is contributing to the effort to get your company to the overall end goal.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to report that there is one “single best” marketing metric. What there might be is a single best marketing metric for that goal, that send, that strategy, or that customer segment. That’s the simple answer. Knowing what it is, however, is the hard part.

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