Most marketers today probably think of ROI as shorthand for a more efficient online media buy. But the trouble with that marketer-centric point of view is that it ignores the revolution that is transforming online media. Today, half of all traffic comes from organic search, while a mere 6 percent comes from paid media. Which begs the question: why are you trying to get more bang out of your advertising buck when your customers are moving away from ads?

We now live in a world of converged media. That means the ecosystem encompasses paid (advertising), earned (media hits on third party properties, including social) and owned media (content you control on your website). Marketers need to be able to manage and measure their brand’s presence wherever customers choose to engage, whether that interaction occurs in a paid media context or, more likely, an earned or owned setting. This is because it is no longer about advertising—bombarding the customer at the perfect moment; instead, today’s marketing is about making your brand present during each phase of the customer’s journey toward purchase. But to do that, marketers need to understand the real ABCs of ROI in the new digital media ecosystem. Failing to follow the new ABCs of digital media can mean a disaster for a brand.  


Historically, marketers have thought of audience in terms of demographics. A particular publication or show sells an advertiser an audience within a demographic. The problem with that approach is that it fails to define the audience with enough specificity to accomplish a business goal. Think of it this way: advertisers buy time during Monday Night Football to reach men, but is that not overly broad? Who are these men? Are they interested in buying a new car? Can they afford the car you are selling? While the demographic is right for your brand, there is a lot more to the story because your real audience is actually a lot narrower.

So who is your real audience? To answer that question, marketers need to think about two things: very specific audience personas and where those people are in their buyer’s journey. If you understand who your audience really is and exactly what they want right now, you can create earned and owned content that speaks precisely to their needs.

Big Picture

Where there is a channel, there is a team. These days, CMOs manage a lot of different teams. There are social teams that think about the conversation. There are SEO teams that think about traffic. Then there are content teams that create material that runs wherever media is owned or can be earned. And I am not even counting paid media resources, but already you are probably thinking about the s-word—silos.

Unfortunately, each separate team has its own agenda and turf to protect, and no single team is in a position to ask how the brand can engage with consumers outside of that team’s core focus. Putting these teams together is the only way to truly understand your customers. But it is also the only serious way to measure ROI. Customers do not engage with marketing in silos, and if marketers insist on measuring each silo individually rather than the whole, they will not see how social, search and content come together to form their brand’s web presence. That is the big picture, and that is what marketers need to keep their eye on. They need to stop creating false fiefdoms that are completely unaligned with how the actual buyer’s journey progresses.


With apologies to your creative director, the days of arts and crafts marketing are over. We live in an increasingly accountable world, and while great creative remains critical to marketing success, an award-winning campaign should not be a marketer’s end goal.

Simply put, marketers need to know if it works. And by it I mean every single piece of content that comes from a brand. Marketers need to be able to hold all of their messaging accountable. But if you think accountable marketing is simply a matter of tracking Shares and Likes, think again. To be truly accountable, marketers need to be able to drill down deep to see what is driving engagement, what is driving sales and what they need to rethink because it is not working at all. In other words, marketers can achieve accountability only if they align each aspect of their marketing with a specific business goal and measure for effectiveness.


Traditionally, we think of distribution as paid media. But that is an incredibly narrow and antiquated way for marketers to think about how they distribute their message. If marketers choose to only measure what they spend on paid media, then they inevitably end up missing the biggest part of the media landscape.

To get a real understanding of ROI, marketers need to measure their content regardless of the distribution channel. If they do not do that, they risk wasting money on ineffective media buys and, worse, they will fail to see and exploit the highly valuable earned and owned media opportunities that their competitors are taking advantage of.


Before digital, marketers could run an ad in print, on radio or on TV, secure in the knowledge that each channel would put their message in front of an audience. Just like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, they could take a leap of faith, creating a campaign and buying media knowing all along that if they made it, customers would come to see it. Today, the opposite is true — If you build it, they will not come. DVRs allow audiences to skip TV ads, banners are susceptible to ad blindness and if you post something on owned media, you will only reach the handful of eyeballs that show up to your website.

Where is everyone? For the most part, they are living in the earned media world. Engaging in that space is incredibly hard because your brand’s content needs to be compelling enough to compete with any other content out there. But that does not mean great creative. Creativity is a tool. To compete, brands need creative that speaks to a buyer at every phase of their journey, from the initial engagement all the way to purchase.

 Why the new ABCs of ROI?

In today’s media ecosystem, the most successful marketers will be the ones who understand how to track their investments wherever their customers are. That is the shift to a new kind of marketing, one that is customer-driven rather than marketer-centric. And in that New World, it is no longer enough to get the most bang for your campaign buck. The smart brands are the ones that are able to track ROI wherever consumers engage with their online presence.