The Numbers Just Don't Add Up

A funny thing happened on the way to the CMO's office.

Between the realization of an eye-opening, game-changing insight gleaned from advertising test results and Web behavior data, the report you were gleefully ferrying to the C-Suite wilted, turned brown at the edges and started to dribble a slimy substance with a conspicuous stench.

The CMO immediately developed a nose-squint. The VP of corporate communications had that "Ooooh, you're in for it!" look in her eye and the VP of advertising nudged the director of direct marketing and said sotto-voce: "The golden boy is about to find out his day in the sun has turned him to toast."

The CMO pointed to (but did not touch)

a traffic report from comScore

a traffic report from Hitwise

a chart from

an ad banner report from Atlas

a traffic report from Omniture and

another from Google Analytics

"It's like the old joke," she says with no humor at all. "If you take all the economists in the world and line them up end-to-end, they all point different directions. What the hell is going on with these numbers? Are we getting thirty-two and a half million people on our Web site or forty-four million?"



The first time you ran into this nest of nettles, you hopped over to the white board and cheerfully explained all about:

cookie deletion

cookie blocking

multiple machine browsing

multiple browser browsing

multiple people on the same cookie

non-human traffic

dynamic IP addressing

page caching

javascript loading

called pixel placement

You didn't even get to the good stuff about comparing miles to gallons and how

different tools using

different date cut-off routines and

different methods to capture

different types of data to store in

different kinds of databases with a

different method of data cleansing and

different slicing and dicing segmentation to produce

different kinds of reports that ended up in

different feed for integration into

different data warehouses

... before you were thanked for your help and shown the door -- permanently.

You don't fall for it this time.

This time you explain that the world of online marketing has been suffering from a delusion of precision and an expectation of exactitude.

You tell them that we live in a world of statistics and probabilities. We can't count all the stars in the sky so we don't try. We don't try to get an actual count of:

television watchers

radio listeners

magazine readers

billboard readers

bus poster readers

floor sticker readers

airline ticket jacket readers

sandwich board readers

Instead, we count some and estimate the rest.

You share the good news that we can do this better than any of the above -- and we've got some astonishing tools and techniques for dynamically targeting the audience and optimizing each one's experience.

You say, "we get 36.3 million people coming to our Web site."

She lowers her half-glasses and gives you the look you last saw when caught using the office copy machine for party invitations. So you add: "With a 4% margin of error and it's a benchmark we can compare month-over-month from now on."

"So somewhere between 34 and a half and 38 million."

"Pretty much right between them, in fact."

Disparagingly, she asks: "You really can't give me a more accurate number of how many people saw this digital marketing masterpiece that costs me tens of millions a year?"

"I can tell you whether our digital visitors are more engaged with our brand, come back more often, buy from us and discuss our products with their friends. How many people buy our products who saw our ads on CNN and "Oprah" that cost you hundreds of millions a year?"

The VP of advertising makes himself visibly smaller.

"I came here to show you a way that could save four million dollars of search marketing while boosting online sales by six to eight percent."

The scowl leaves the CMO's face. The odor of dubious data dissipates, the conversation suddenly immaterial. Her eyes narrow as she leans forward and says: "Show me."

The numbers don't have to be precise -- just compelling.

3 comments about "The Numbers Just Don't Add Up ".
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  1. Ayala Cohen from TRA, Inc., October 1, 2009 at 10:09 a.m.

    Great piece, Jim, as usual. Anyone who has had to deal with "the numbers don't add up" quandary, is sure to get a good laugh from this article, as well as some good ideas on how to deal with this question.

    I see only one problem here.

    You imply that the CMO will never know "how many people buy our products who saw our ads on CNN and "Oprah" that cost you hundreds of millions a year?"

    Well, the future is here! Now TRA allows CMOs to measure the return from their TV investment, network by network and program by program.

  2. Andriana Thro from Royal Canin, October 5, 2009 at 12:44 p.m.

    It would be funny...if it wasn't so true.

  3. vivian mabou, October 21, 2009 at 10:19 a.m.

    With love and trust

    Hello Dear,
    I saw your profile today and i stopped to take a very good look at it.
    I want you to know that i will be interested to know you better because you sounded very sweet in your profile and i will like us to become friends and know each other the more.
    Here is my email address ( send me an email today please!(Remember that what matters alot in a real relationship is love), I am waiting for your reply now.thanks
    Your's vivian.

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