5 Marketing Effectiveness Lessons from The Economist

February 19, 2019 Ginna Hall

Marketing effectiveness is one of the hottest topics for brands in all industries. The challenges of measuring how productive your strategy is—and knowing how to maximize spend to get positive short- and long-term results—are well known.

A global survey of CMOs found that 90% of marketers say it’s a priority to have a single view of customers and prospects across channels and devices, yet only 6% of marketers say they can do this well.

Marketers use a variety of ways to collect and analyze results, from cobbling together spreadsheets to sophisticated algorithmic attribution platforms. There are as many ways to measure success as there are unread emails in your inbox.

But clear leaders have emerged: marketing mix modeling and multi-touch attribution. These two approaches, when used in tandem, give marketers both the strategic and tactical insights to make decisions based on data rather than instinct.

Proving Marketing Effectiveness at The Economist

Iain Noakes, Chief Customer Journey Officer at The Economist, recently shared how the 175-year-old publication has used these techniques and more to survive and thrive in the competitive media market. Noakes was the featured speaker in a recent Nielsen webinar.

[Watch Marketing Effectiveness: How The Economist Proved the Power of Marketing On-Demand]

The Economist has worked with Nielsen for four years and uses multi-touch attribution and marketing mix modeling to measure and analyze the tactical and strategic elements of the company’s digital and traditional marketing efforts.

Noakes compared The Economist’s approach to marketing effectiveness to a traffic light. “We look at last touch, web analytics, MTA and MMM. If they’re all green, it’s full speed ahead, maximizing budget as much as we can. If it’s a mix of greens and yellows, we test and optimize. If it’s mostly reds, we pause and recalibrate,” he said. “It’s not a single tool. It’s a pragmatic way of dealing with the complexity.”

Five Lessons for Marketing Effectiveness

The Economist is a premium publisher. From a new subscriber perspective, it takes some thought before someone decides to spend £200 per year. Noakes observed, “Today’s customer journey is infinitely more complex than it’s ever been, and some journeys are quite considered.”

The company decided to upgrade its measurement approach so that it could understand what was contributing to new subscription activity and evolve its understanding of how channels worked together to influence and close sales.

Here are five lessons:

1. Marketing measurement can future-proof an organization’s growth.

Even though The Economist is 175 years old, it’s a progressive organization that’s open to new ways of doing things. Several years ago, the magazine, like many others, faced challenges in the publishing industry. Advertising revenue was declining and digital revenue wasn’t growing enough to replace the loss. When it decided to change the company’s business model, its marketing effectiveness practice was instrumental in implementing this change. 

“We bet our future that we would have to build a strong subscription business. We now have 55-60% revenue from subscriptions,” said Noakes.

2. There’s no one way to measure marketing effectiveness.

The Economist uses a “multi-dimensional lens” to measure marketing effectiveness, choosing to validate the results of each against secondary and tertiary approaches.

The first is last-touch attribution, which helps the organization understand channels that are generating demand and subscriptions and is instrumental in conversion rate optimization and tactical tests.

The second is multi-touch attribution. This allows the team to understand, from a digital perspective, the involvement of off-platform impressions to active engagements, clicks, and interactions across channels over time.

The third is marketing mix modeling, which reveals the factors that influenced incremental sales and accounts for exogenous factors such as current events, seasonality, key markets and base effects.

“The news agenda got a huge shot in the arm by the election of Donald Trump. We can’t put our performance and efficiencies down to media activity that is buoyed up by stronger external effects,” said Noakes.

3. Using a host of tools can take the guesswork out of your marketing.

The Economist’s global engagement team views results of all techniques together to get a sense of what is working and combines this with information from other tools for an end-to-end view. 

To understand spend and market activities across the entire investment portfolio, The Economist uses web analytics to optimize the journey, DSPs and trading tools to understand in-channel optimizations as well as MTA to see how channels work together and MMM to understand base demand across paid and owned assets. It also works with world-class agencies on external reach through paid media.

Noakes recommends that marketers, “Look at mid- to longer-term results when doing attribution. You don’t want to change plans around because things went up or down one day.”

4. It takes time to drive change.

Implementing a robust measurement practice can mean a cultural shift as well as a technology exercise. Not only are you introducing new metrics and new processes, but it may mean teams have to change their day-to-day workflow.

Noakes said his biggest hurdle was getting the budget to upgrade. “At The Economist, every marketing dollar was spent on driving activity. Spending a portion on measurement to prove the role of marketing was critical, but it took a year of pre-work and ad hoc modeling projects.”

He dove into his existing data to prepare a compelling business case. In the end, the company’s investment in attribution was such a small percentage of the overall marketing spend (under 1%) that the gains immediately covered the cost of what the team was doing and he was able to prove the value of the spend.

5. Passion, collaboration and planning are key.

Noakes called out three elements that are critical to a brand’s marketing effectiveness approach.

  1. A marketing team that is passionate about pushing into new channels and trying new things.
  2. A close collaboration between the finance, modeling and marketing teams.
  3. A change plan that addresses the insights you hope to achieve, how you will get people on board, and how you will do things differently to help support short- and long-term goals.

Noakes ended the webinar with words of wisdom, saying “Don’t underestimate the complexity. It never stops and it’s never done and that makes the job quite fun.”

Learn More

Watch our on-demand webinar: Marketing Effectiveness: How The Economist Proved the Power of Marketing to learn more.

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