Every industry has a specific, almost canonical metric it pays attention to and benchmarks its participants against one another. I wanted to take a few seconds to think out loud about the basic ratios that guide me on a daily basis.
Some business cultures emphasize one financial and operational ratio over another. In Switzerland and Asia, inventory turnover is a big deal. In NASDAQ-listed tech stocks its price-earnings as a measure of value and expectations (P/E). In other industries it’s revenue per employee, while others focus on average revenue per user (ARPU), and then there are operational, specific ratios such cost-per-click.
I live in a world of expense-to-revenue, or “E2R“, expressed variously as “e:r,” “e/r,” and “e|r.” As a relatively green marketer, I assume this is the prevailing canon for measuring marketing effectiveness and efficiency: for every dollar spent in market, what revenue is received, and what budget should be fenced off based on the top line to support a marketing expense. In dummy terms, “How much did I spend to make $X?”
A 1:1 e-to-r means I spend a dollar to make a dollar; that comes out as a 100 percent E/R. We can call that a wash. A negative E:R is when I spend two dollars to make one dollar. This is a 200% E/R and means I’m looking for a new job. A good E:R is when I spend one dollar to make five, a 20% E/R, or as Warren Buffett would say, buying dollars for twenty cents.
This applies in interactive marketing on ad tactics and assumes perfect insights into the purchase of an impression (based on cost-per-thousand impressions, or CPM), yield click-throughs (measured by click-through-rates or CTR), and ultimately ARPU, or average revenue per user (or unique visitor). If I am able to track the user from the first purchased impression to the final checkout, then I can credit the tactic with the sale.
Still with me? This is predicated on that user accepting the tracking beacon, or cookie, from my metric system, a cookie that the user gets when clicking on the search term or the banner ad I’ve purchased for N. If the user permits cookies — in my case one deposited by a script on every page of our website that will permit our metrics tool, Omniture SiteCatalyst to follow that user across multiple visits — then, if our commerce guys have successfully done their job, the user will buy something and I will be able to credit the original marketing tactic with the sale.
Sounds hard and imprecise? It is, but compare it to a newspaper ad. If I buy a full page ad in the Daily Planet and it is seen by a theoretical 100,000 readers, and sales from the zip codes where those 100,000 readers live goes up by 10 percent can I declare the ad a success?
This is the old handgrenade-and-horseshoes school of marketing — the famous I-know-half-of-my-advertising-works-but-which-half” school of marketing.
So back to what I worry about, which is interactive advertising: the interesting thing in assigning expense-to-revenue ratios to a particular tactic is knowing what the intent of the original message was, and second, knowing what it yielded.
Those tactics are pretty simple. Search engine marketing, which is very precise in that I am purchasing clicks through an auction model, but which is usually promotion driven by non-brand tactics like “cheap notebook” or “fast PC.” Then there is display advertising — banners, buttons, IAB standard graphical units — and that is arguably either pure branding or can be pure promotion, but generally are a hybrid of the two. Success in assigning an E/R ratio depends on accuracy in following a customer through multiple visits to my store, because in my market, where I am selling products for $500 to $3000, the customer is researching, comparing, and considering before hitting the purchase button.
We can do this, the rest is pure optimization, arbitrage, and discipline. It’s actually kind of cool and very fun, and a nice feeling at the end of the week to say, “I bought a dollar for twenty cents.”