Saturday, January 14, 2006

Does ROI by another name smell as sweet?

I wasn't too fascinated by a discussion a couple of weeks ago about new ways to measure PR ROI. Anything that starts getting into calculations and formulas does tend to make my eyes glaze over. But I have been meaning to blog about Steve Rubel's piece on measurement for blog marketing campaigns for over a week now.

It's a great post.

I personally wouldn't call this a Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 measurement discussion. What is happening here is that people are beginning to see the web as the best channel to achieve existing marketing targets and goals that were formerly being achieved via other channels.

And it's more of a Mass vs. Niche discussion.

Let's take the example of my former life in the cable industry. We of course had a web site, but not selling direct-to-consumers, it was not an e-commerce site. So the expectations were that the site project the right messaging to those who might happen upon it. I was in Product Management and Marketing, not PR and Marcom, but I think it's safe to say that there was no major SEO push, no effort to proactively get people to our site, only a concern about what they would find once there.

We did not do national advertising...not TV, and not even national press except for very large events like our IPO our significant acquisitions we were a part of. We focused a lot of the PR budget on industry-specific publications and events. We were playing to our niche. Investing in our niche

But even that isn't as niche as you can get. The major cable trade shows were attended by thousands of people who might stop by our booth...mostly driven by a desire to see what cool tschotke we might be giving away. The industry rags had circulations in the thousands. But of those thousands, it was still going to be some much smaller subset who actually had any influence, let alone power, over a purchasing decision involving our company.

What this new channel of blogging can do for a company is winnow down your audience to those people who have some specific and targeted interest in what you're doing and talking about. You can use a blog to reach your niche and only your niche.

Steve reveals his daily visits stat: about 4300. And he's in the Technorati Top 100 (at #67)! As Steve say: "As most bloggers can attest, for even the most successful sites, traffic figures are low by the standards most are accustomed to."

But consider this: let's say you advertise or publish a contributed article in an industry rag. I've had articles published in CED (circulation 23000 via PDF circ statement.) Communications Technology has a circ. of 18000. (PDF circulation statement.) While you're at it, take a look at CED's ad rates.

Now, think about what percent of people who receive these magazines (and many of us receive them for free without having asked for them) are even appropriate targets for your company? What percent actually open the magazine up? How many actually read the articles? If you placed an ad, how many people even peruse the ads? What percentage of the monthly circulation (which is less than Steve's monthly traffic) have you really reached?

Now think about a blog. What percent of the people who visit that blog have been reached? Have viewed the content?

If you're placing those contributed articles to position your company as a leader in a particular emerging technology, for example, you could be doing that better in a blog. I think it's almost a simple equation. Clients and others often struggle to wrap their heads around how to justify blogging, advertising on blogs or even monitoring the blogosphere. BUt I believe it is only because this is a new medium. I look at those CED ad rates and wonder how anyone justifies those! I think about how much my theatre clients pay traditional PR agencies to get them listed and advertised in newspapers and sometimes even on the radio...and how little opportunity they have to measure the impact of those ad placements.

Why do they do it? Because they have always done it. How many trade shows has your company gone to with the sole justification being "it will look bad if we don't go"? How many companies would question now that they absolutely must have a website, but have absolutely no idea what it really does for them?

Someday a blog program will be just as de rigueur as these other marketing channels. Does that mean I think blogging ROI has to be just as much of a mystery? Not at all.

I'll be speaking on a panel about measurement at the NewComm Forum in March. Clients are often shocked when I show them the number of different sources and criteria I use to analyze blogs in their niche and decide which ones are relevant to them...quantitative and qualitative criteria. So, I was most intrigued by Steve's suggestions of other measurements that matter besides eyeballs when assessing a blog:
"For example, if your goal is to promote thought leadership, I would track mentions on Google, media references to the blog, PubSub counts and more. If search engine optimization is your blogs purpose, traffic is surely important but then again so are the kinds of keywords that searchers are using to arrive at your blog site. Are they the right keywords?"

These are the new ways we have to think about measuring success...and notice it starts with what your goal is. Thought leadership? SEO? Revenues? (Yes, it can be revenues.) Customer engagement?

What other goals and measurements matter to you?

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