By Dean DeCarlo

June 6, 2019

Biggest Marketing Lessons Learned In The Last 5 Years

Some lessons can only be learned from years of experience in marketing. Over the course of my digital marketing journey, I’ve found that experimentation has led to discoveries that have helped me improve my team’s processes and more importantly, how to implement campaigns that are effective. In this section, I go over common mistakes marketers make (including myself at some point) that you can easily avoid.


Stop Dipping Your Toes In:


There’s a fine line between testing new channels & being too reserved in your approach. You might think you’re helping your company by simply “dipping your toes in the water” for marketing initiatives, but in the digital world, you’re actually risking your success. I’m not saying that if you decide to test new digital channels or strategies that you need to go “all in”, however, you need to make the right investment in resources and ad spending required to execute, launch and measure this initiative with accuracy. A big mistake I made early in my marketing career was simply testing ideas with limited budgets. In the grand scheme of the campaigns, I wasn’t getting enough data to learn about my target audiences or optimize my campaigns correctly. Remember, the lifeblood of digital campaigns is the data you can collect so you can make informed and better targeting decisions.


The Downfall Of Display Ads:


Here’s my take on display ads: they’re not as effective as they seem. Often we are attracted to them because of the metrics they boast low cost and “high visibility”. However I find that display campaign ads targeted by interest, are often caught in the noise of marketing, and rarely receives  attention on websites. Even for the low prices, sometimes as low as 5 cents a click, it’s just not worth the money. Worse off (and on Google especially), I see an abundance of click fraud, where ads pop-up on apps and users accidentally click it. For that reason, I only recommend using display ads in two ways:


The first is remarketing (cost efficient and well targeted) where your ad is less noise and more of a reminder to your potential customer who has already interacted with your brand.

Pro tip: To make your ads more effective, I highly recommend creating custom audiences based on a few analytic targeting parameters. First, create an audience from  pages or products that see high conversion. From that,target users who haven’t converted yet. The next step is to build an audience based on referral traffic from sources with historically high conversion rates. By doing this, you will re-target audiences that have a higher chance of converting. These are just  two examples, but I should mention that identifying trends in your data is important, as there is no one size fit all solution. Yes, these are solid suggestions, but techniques vary from business to business and it’s your job to watch-out for trends of user conversion and use that data to create your custom audience.

The second way I use display ads is on premium publishing sites e.g. The New York Times, Barstool Sports, Girlboss, etc, where you can have access to premium ad inventory (the best ad placement that publisher has available). If you don’t know what site takeovers are they generally consist of larger than life ads that are in the form of page backgrounds, immersing the site in a co-branded experience. I also recommend that this is  accompanied by sponsored content that can help users understand what problem you solve. These ads are expensive but you get superior brand awareness while driving consideration of the product you offer. Here’s an example of a co-branded experience on WeTransfers website advertising ShutterStock.


The Trackers Dilemma:


Repeat after me, “I will not start a campaign without proper tracking in place.” Now that we have this established, let’s  talk about the proper implementation of campaign tracking. All too often, conversions are not properly set or not accounted for in  measurement plans. First, for campaign setup, I recommend using Google Analytics, as it’s the standard for analytics tracking, it’s very powerful and free (although an enterprise version is available with premium features). Treat Google Analytics as the hub for website data activity, where other third-party apps and data sources can be directly integrated to give you an overview of what’s happening on your site.


Once this is established, you’re going to want to make sure you have a measurement plan in place that allows you to gauge the interest of users. I  recommend breaking-down these into goals. Goals can be split into two categories: Micro and Macro conversions. Micro conversions include purchases, leads, contact form submissions, and newsletter sign-ups, and these are the conversions that lead to revenue and  company growth. Macro conversions are also important to measure in order to have a solid understanding of website engagement. These goals can include site searches, products added to cart, cart views, views of an important page or blog, engagement with site tools (chat, product wizards, bots, etc). Micro and macro conversion measurements are both important because the collected data will glean valuable information and will allow you to identify trends (yes, having a lot of data is a big theme in this book).


Landing Pages, They Matter:


When I first started managing SEM campaigns, I would run with whatever the client already had as a landing page. This was a huge mistake. More often than not, web developers are not UX experts. Many of the landing pages I inherited were not up to par for UX, and this hurt the conversion rate of the page. Landing pages need to effectively communicate what the product is, its benefits and how it helps users solve their problem. When I made it a policy to control the full landing page experience, we suddenly saw BIG lifts in conversion. The real trick to getting landing pages right is that it needs to be highly relevant to the user. Below is a landing page that, at its peak,was converting at 20% from paid traffic that advertised personal loans from a credit union client that offered low-interest rate personal loans.

Even when you build a highly relevant landing page doesn’t mean it’s  one and done. Instead, marketers need to keep reimagining messaging and layout, testing new variations and measure how these changes impact conversion (I mentioned this in the Experience tools above). Don’t just limit your landing page experience to simple videos and text!  Challenge the boring status quo of your competitors by building-out tools that help users identify products and the value of your brand. For instance, for our client MB Stones, we built a product wizard that paired Stone Cleaning products with users based on a series of questions answered by website users. This turned-out to be  the perfect way to allow users to find products that fit their needs. The result was an increase in product page views, and of course,a direct correlation to increased revenue year over year (YoY).

These experiences, though seemed small at the time, had real impact on how our campaigns performed. If you get anything from this, it’s that real effort needs to go into the experimentation of campaigns to make them a success. Generally, campaigns are not overnight wins, but the right research and guidance can greatly improve results.