Marketers question fuzzy ROI metrics in debate over the redundance of ‘digital’

Michaela Cortez at Millennial 2020

Michaela Cortez: ‘No one wants to be associated with a schizophrenic brand – especially millennials’

A panel of regional marketers has suggested that no company has yet to work out how to successfully integrate digital into their marketing structures, and the industry is still some way from resolving how “fuzzy” digital metrics can work alongside traditional ways of measuring the effectiveness of campaigns.

Speaking to Mumbrella after a Millennial 2020 panel debating the increasingly redundant term that is “digital marketing”, Michaela Cortez, APAC head of global strategic insights for Johnson & Johnson, said that the company has been trialling Nielsen’s new Digital Ad Ratings – one of the first attempts to compare digital metrics with TV ratings – but has so far found the data difficult to interpret and use.

Cortez had just been asked an awkward final question from the audience about how her company could justify spending money on channels such as social media when these channels are notoriously difficult to link to sales.

Following up with a response to that question, Cortez told Mumbrella that J&J is faced with a “barrage” of data from Digital Ad Ratings, but not a satisfactory way of reading it yet.

“I think at this point, they’re [Nielsen] not able to answer all the questions we have,” said Cortez, a former employee of the research company. “So we’ll be selective in sharing the data with our stakeholders. Unless we know how to interpret the results, we don’t want it to fall into the wrong hands and be used in the wrong way.”

“We’re at the pilot stage, and it seems that it’s the only one [way of comparing traditional and digital metrics] available. So at the moment we’re working with them to agree on how we read all of these measures, and what should be use as the industry standard.”

J&J also uses Media Mix Monitoring, which has a digital component, and partners with the likes of Facebook and Google to dice the data on a more granular level to link advertising to sales. However, Cortez conceded that the process is “a little bit fuzzy.”

For this reason, some J&J brands have held back on spending more money on digital because it is seen as venturing into the unknown. Some want to spent 100% of their budgets on digital, “but we usually say ‘hang on,’ it’s probably not the right thing to do,” she said.

When a digital campaign delivers high ROI, reasoned Cortez, “our thinking is that it is doing that in conjunction with traditional media not in isolation. If you do digital alone, I don’t think you’ll get the same ROI.”

Cortez also had a word of warning for brands that are over eager in their attempt to stay ahead of the curve with technology. There was a need to avoid what she called “shiny new things syndrome,” new tech that sounds good but serves no purpose for the consumer or brand.

Rahul Ashana, APAC marketing director of Kimberly-Clark, Baby & Child Care and ecommerce and digital

Rahul Asthana: “Marketers need to know enough about digital so they’re not scared of it”

Equally sceptical of how the offline and online worlds of ROI are coming together was the APAC director of marketing for Kimberly-Clark’s baby and child care business, Rahul Asthana. “No one knows the right answer,” he told Mumbrella after the panel debate.

“We’re all trying to figure our way through it. Many people promise that you’ll get a hard answer, but unless you own the end-to-end when you make the final sale linking it to hard sales metrics will always be a challenge,” he said.

Kimberly-Clark, the company behind brands such as Kleenex, Kotex and Huggies, is using the next best thing, which is to use metrics that correlate to sales, such as customer registrations and acquisitions, then measuring ROI against that.

“It’s a matter of doing something, learning, building, and then doing it better,” said Asthana, who was a voluble critic of the way most companies are structured for the digital age.

Responding to a question from the audience about the need to break down silos between sales and marketing in the digital age, Asthana said he was in full agreement.

“If you truly believe in an omnichannel world – which we do – then every selling channel is an engagement channel, and every engagement channel is a selling channel,” he said.

Companies with separate sales and marketing teams were very “20th century,” he commented, adding that Kimberly-Clark had started to integrate its digital teams with marketing, although it was still early days in this process.

“We have made brand leaders accountable for overall brand strategy of which digital is just a part,” he noted, echoing the views of outspoken marketing expert Professor Mark Ritson, who said recently that the term “digital marketing” would soon cease to exist.

Talent is a big issue hamstringing companies struggling to adapt to the digital era, Asthana noted, and there was a need for traditional marketers to up-skill to keep pace with a changing consumer environment led by millennials.

“A lot of us grew up in a world that was not so technology driven. We just need to make sure that people know enough [about digital] so that they’re not scared of it,” he said.

“So with terms like programmatic buying or CRM or marketing automation; don’t retreat into your shell and say ‘I don’t know what this is, so I’m not going to engage,’” Asthana cautioned.

There is also a need for a change in mindset to enable brands to respond faster and adapt marketing to change instep with consumer behaviour, Asthana observed.

“We’re telling our folks it’s ok not to have the right answer to begin with, but it’s criminal to keep waiting until you get the right answer.”

“It’s better to go out with your best guess and fix on the go rather than launching with something perfect. Because the chances are that what’s perfect today is obsolete three months from now,” he said.

Companies need to restructure their marketing budgets to build in more flexibility as result, he added.

“There was a time was when we spent 90-95% of production budget before launch, making everything perfect and getting it right. Now you get feedback within 24 hours on whether your campaign is working or not.”

So Kimberly-Clark’s brands are now spending about a half of the production budget upfront so they can make the necessary adjustments if need be.

Brands achieving consistency across channels was a key theme for the session on keeping apace with millennials, with Cortez from J&J asserting that this group will desert a brand that behaves in what she called a “schizophrenic” manner.

“For consumers there’s no such thing as digital versus traditional. They [millennials] are expecting a seamless, cohesive brand experience,” she said.

“No one wants to be associated with a schizophrenic brand, especially millennials who are big on authenticity – and there’s nothing more telling than a brand that appears differently in different channels.”

Speed is also critical to match the ever-rising expectations of millennials.

“Technology has shortened the feedback loop between the consumers and the brand. Within a few hours people give you feedback. You can’t wait before you respond,” said Asthana.

“You need people with an agile mindset, and those working at the front line need to drive that engagement otherwise you end up looking old fashioned – and that’s the worst thing that could happen when a millennial audience is watching you.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing