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Here are a few statements I hear all the time from clients and agency employees alike:

“That campaign did great.”

“Those posts did really well.”

“We saw really good results from that channel.”

I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t like these statements. In an ideal world, any statement about campaign success would be tied to results from a predetermined framework for measuring how the campaign furthered the primary objective. For example: fractionally attributed conversions, revenue or profit.

But generally, that’s not the case. What people mean when they say “that did really well” is that anecdotally, some metric or another happened to increase when a particular tactic was running. It might mean that sales happened to increase during a radio flight, regardless of the fact that some other factor (the weather, competitors pulling back, PR efforts, etc.) could have been just as responsible for the result.

Accurately measuring and describing campaign metrics is critical to future performance. There are multiple ways brands and agencies can make more clear statements about campaign success.

1. Define what success actually means

For a campaign to be considered successful, there should be proof that it drove its primary objective, not some secondary metric or serendipitous result that was never actually intended or desired. That proof should, of course, show that the campaign exceeded predetermined industry benchmarks and business goals. Noting that results were “higher than yesterday” is meaningless without attaching a goal to the campaign.

2. Determine what other factors could have driven that success

A robust measurement system, like a media mix model, will take into account external independent factors that could have impacted the primary objectives of a campaign. Before you declare a campaign a success (or failure), you should be able to show that those other factors were not responsible. Marketers don’t like to admit that a holiday weekend, competitor activity, or business interruptions, such as site outages, can have a bigger impact than a media channel can — but unfortunately, it’s true.

3. Measure rigorously

The measurement mechanism you use is key since it is what allows you to pick apart the various factors that influence business success and attribute it to media or something else.

In an ideal world, brands would work with third-party tools and platforms to prove that their campaigns are working. Such tools provide very specific know-how on a particular methodology and have an incentive to stay current on the latest regulatory and technological changes in the market. Above all, they can provide an independent, unbiased assessment of campaign performance. Given the proliferation of options available, from the free (Google Analytics) to the very expensive (media mix modeling), there are no excuses for advertisers not to find something in their price range.

Brands should also hire analysts who are expert users of these tools and well-versed in experimental design. These analysts can ensure that campaign measurement is rigorous and results are not polluted or biased by external factors. For anything that the tools cannot do, a great analyst will be able to structure a test or analysis to fill the holes.

Thinking about these things sooner rather than later and making sure the right people are in the conversation are the most important factors. It is not sufficient to get within days of campaign launch and then ask “how will we determine success?” Start early, when the campaign is just an idea. When you know the objective of the campaign, immediately define success against that objective and figure out how you will prove it. Otherwise, you will be doomed to simply say “that campaign did really well” and hope no one asks you to elaborate.

William Burghes is Executive Director of Data & Analytics at Forsman & Bodenfors in New York.

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