Barriers to success and opportunities in digital marketing



If you don’t know intuitively how to design your attribution policy, or sales funnel, you don’t know how to sell your product. There is no tactful way of saying that.

Most great marketers and salespeople I ever met were very professional and thorough but instinctively knew what to do and say and when with some degree of precision.  Today’s emphasis on using data to drive decisions is a good one, however we are no longer in danger, but deep in the data swamp of substituting human intelligence and instinct entirely with fledgling systems and inadequate, dirty and flawed data.
Given how long the human brain has been in development, it’s no surprise really that even our best machines have a long way to go before they can make these decisions on their own, but they can be incredibly powerful, when set up by the right people and interpreted by the right people.

Some things work and can’t be accurately or certainly profitably measured. Brand awareness is one of these. There is no harm at all in keeping track of how much unpaid press attention you get and watching the percentage of web visitors that come from a bookmark or typed URL. There are a handful of other indicators that give clues, but none will ever measure the impact sufficiently to satisfy the CFO.
One exercise I can relate is my experience in my 20s when I left a multinational and set up a local business in the same product line. Admittedly this was not online marketing, but offline. I achieved the same conversion rates I had done when working under their brand and while this is not intended to undermine the value of a brand or brand awareness budgets, it suggested to me that it is without doubt possible to over-cook that pudding.

Everything else that is done to win, monetize and retain customers can be measured with enough accuracy to indicate the best marketing and product strategies and justify budgets for the immediate future and the better your marketing leader understands your customers the more successful these efforts will be.
Getting real insight about customers is harder than ever now. Strategy needs to include tactical reviews at least twice a year and most organisations are trying to win a formula one race in a tourist bus with an open top.

Below are a few ideas to start you on the road, or review your progress towards a maximised marketing and sales strategy through funnels and attribution policies based on common sense.

  1. Strategy driven by Customer empathy
    Quantitative means are only half the story at best when it comes to understanding the customer. Knowing how many people visited your website will tell you precious little you can use to turn them into customers, you need to share their fears, hopes and passions so you can help them solve a problem. When you have this kind of knowledge you can move mountains, without it you can have great fun with Excel, PBI, Tableau, GA or whatever your poison is.
    99% at least of all the research strategies I have looked at in the past decade can be characterised by an image of a teenage boy looking at nude pictures in his bedroom. He needs to get out more.
    When you understand your customer and empathise with her, you have little hesitation about what to say and when to say it and you will instinctively know what indicators to measure, because they represent the emotional decisions she makes to get to the point of purchasing. If you need a short-term fix, start with AIDA or one of its many cousins.
    Finally: admit that in most cases you actually can have no influence at all and it may be better to keep your powder dry or it use it to beat more birds into the guns.
  2. Executive sponsorship
    Unless key Board and C level members are behind the strategy and recognize the need to change, you will struggle to get anywhere. One can be enough if he or she has sufficient influence, but you must have support from stakeholders because this is core to everything.
  3. Organisational structure
    The first enemy of change in many areas, but especially in marketing at this juncture in time is the silos that break up our ability as organisations to give the customer a rational joined-up experience or even a semblance of a sane conversation.
    Try walking into a shop and asking for an offer they had on their website, or taking the thing you bought online back to a local branch. Ok this is an obvious one, but how about the experience of watching a glowing pink and fluffy advert, visiting a store and being ignored by assistant after assistant but persevering because you are determined to get served rather than love of the goods and then experiencing an issue with the product.

As much of 30% of revenue was spent on all the advertising  to tell you how wonderful this company is, you can’t find a phone number anywhere, you battle with a bot followed by an offshore person typing broken English and finally you are given a phone number and allowed to join the long queue of people listening to the long list of options, none of which addresses your problem… 
Let’s not pursue this one to the end, I don’t have time today.

The message is, do you want to sell a one-off and get them out of the store quickly, or are  you farming customers and the next questions lead logically from that.

In most cases, the marketing department, the cloud CRM and outsourced ecommerce and the offshore call centre just are not ever going to come together in a customer journey without some serious soul searching and breaking a few eggs.
This could easily reach book proportions, but I think you should by now have realised that some reorganisation is needed if you really want to become customer centric and although it is different for everyone, you are likely to require a  single strategy across all of these current silos and some stakeholders bought into making it work.

  1. Data management
    The heading is a bit of con really because in most modern businesses, even the ones with a software development department a data scientist and a CMO, someone else creates, design and controls your data and there is virtually no chance at all of deciding what data you need. Rather you need a person or more likely team that are capable of finding and assessing what data exists, finding the most achievable enrichments, cleaning and munging this and getting it to a place and time where useful information can be gleaned from it.
    This is a monstrous task involving all the insights we discussed in the previous paragraphs plus extreme data and programming skills and a lot of patience, time and determination and that underestimates the problem, but without it you will either have no information to work with or worse still patently wrong information as is too often the case.

Add to the above the risks attached to Data security and GDPR fines and you have plenty to deal with. Once again, it is not a one department issue and the second biggest barrier is organisational silos, the biggest being system silos, but culture and fiefdoms can sometimes be a problem too.

Attribution strategy can be tough to crack

Finally, we get the point. That was not by accident by the way, that above all else was the point I wanted to make. 
Seeing as every business is different, for the sake of simplicity, I will do what every mathematician does and begin with a conceptual model and a few assumptions.

I am assuming that we want to sell a product rather than a service and that our customer has a lifetime value much greater than one purchase and potentially ongoing.

  1. As a Model let’s begin with our old friend AIDA
    Regardless of channel or any other concern, the first step in the journey will be getting the attention of the customer. In a simple attribution strategy, you could begin by defining exactly how you want to measure this. I suggest a measurable contact of some kind such as a first website visit or a telephone enquiry ( I am assuming you have one and answer it for sales enquiries) , You may have spotted the deliberate trap in the last sentence. You can track the web clicks, once they make themselves known ( there are ways to track them beforehand and afterwards, but we won’t go there in the current climate) , but do you track the telephone calls and if you do would you be able to associate one with the other? Back to data management strategy.
  2. Did you retain the customer’s interest?
    One click and no return within N days would represent a dead-end, everything else would represent a yes. This is getting easier.
    Now if you are not happy with the conversion at this point in the funnel, you would suspect your content and or display as a possible weakness and test different tactics to see whether they bring about a sustained improvement. Gradually you might improve performance in this area and see the rewards further on, assuming you get the remainder right.
  • Did you engender Desire to own the product?
    I worded that heading carefully, because the very first contact intimated a level of desire, but that desire is more like our teenage boy in paragraph one. You can’t monetize this until she really wants the product. At the very least she would be checking out delivery costs and this type of detail, it is different for each situation but deserves careful thought. Of-course rambling around the store and trying on the clothes. Would you know about the latter case?
    If the desire phase is letting you down there are many different potential causes from a weak product to weak display, poor shop assistants or of course over egging the adverts and building too much expectation that your product failed to meet, broken cart, slow we bpage the list is very long and at times surprising. All of these errors can be very costly (more on this later)
  • 3.  Did she act?

This is the ultimate question if you are doing the “One-hit-wonder” gig. If you are there for the long haul, you may have other priorities. (AIDA can only go so far, but it serves as a useful starting point)
If this part of this process is letting you down it negates all the good work that was done beforehand so it is impossible to overstate the importance of sitting over this with a microscope and some customer empathy. It is a very reasonable assumption that customer who got to this stage wanted to own your product but did not purchase. Any experienced person will tell you that she is one of the least likely people on earth now to buy your product, she is the one drives 90% of new salespeople out of the job and into something else. She has made a firm decision and not the one you wanted. She is not lost forever, but for this product today or soon, she is not a viable prospect.

If your customers are abandoning carts, this is an even more frustrating problem because they have reconciled the price, in their minds and been happy to continue only to then have second thoughts. This can never be totally avoided, some people do change their minds, 50% is common though avoidable, but something like a shopping cart that springs a price surprise, presents a long unwieldy form or just freezes on occasion can be a very costly folly.

Long queues at the tills, rude staff and a host of other problems can have the same effect in-store. The answer to these problems and the Business-case for an attribution strategy combined with a sales funnel is to focus management effort on the touchpoints that are critical to success.

Regardless of the stages, goals, or touch points that you wire into your new approach, it is always a process and the thing about processes is that each step relies on the previous one.
Completing the first step is hugely important because without it nothing else happens. However, without the last step, all that went before is a huge costly exercise. It is rather like the parable of the bum and the brain, which I will leave you to research if you don’t know it.

The only time you get paid with a sales and marketing funnel is when the customer emerges from the other side.
If you are in the business of customer relationships, then your focus is the lifetime value and while this is made up of single purchases, one inappropriate purchase or bad experience can cost the remainder of the expected return. In this latter case there are further steps in the example like customer support, consumables and potentially many others.

Some simple mathematics and probability theory could easily quantify the cost of attrition at different stages and give you a business case for getting them fixed.


I hope the above proved useful. I am entirely aware, that these ideas are vastly too unsophisticated for some and overkill for others, they are simply my way of drawing attention to opportunities. We all have to do better at this key part of our business activities.

Regardless of where you are in the process, or how large or small your enterprise, there is an appropriate level for you and there are tools and practices that can help. You might also enjoy this

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