Accounting For Variables You Can't Account For

Owning a new home means embracing home improvement projects. Lots of them.

I recently bought a new home, and the excitement over my purchase quickly faded and was replaced by the overwhelming sense that I had lots to do. Rooms need to be painted, the furniture needs to be updated, the landscaping needs to be finished; the list of to-dos appears to be never-ending.

So this past weekend I was determined to check off a few of those to-dos. I started with a trip to my local Lowe’s (the home improvement store) to pick up a few things.

Lowe’s has always done a great job of communicating with me. I receive its email newsletters, which appear to morph around my previous click-through behaviors. I notice the company’s paid search ads when I’m seeking specific product categories or brands. I’m reminded that it’s my DIY partner for home improvement projects of all kinds via its broadcast television ads. In large part due to this concerted communications effort, I (rightfully) had high expectations that my needs would be met upon arrival at the store.



Unfortunately, that’s where my brand experience began to unravel.

Through the front door, I went straight to the building materials department. I needed some options and prices for a new deck. After twenty minutes of looking for someone to help me, I finally tracked down a guy who worked in that department. I told him what I was looking to do, and what type of materials I needed, and asked what they had.

His response was unexpected. He told me he wasn’t really sure what the store had, then stared at me blankly for a few moments.  After that brief awkward silence, I asked him if he would mind checking the inventory so I could possibly spend a few thousand dollars. He left to (presumably) check his inventory and was gone for 10 or so minutes. When he returned, he told me: 1) he didn’t have the right materials in inventory; 2) wasn’t sure when, or if, he could get them in; and 3) it was time for his break, but someone else would be along to help me out. That was my cue to leave.

How did my unsatisfactory retail experience relate to search marketing? This dynamic, where brands spend hundreds of millions in marketing communications activities only to have those entrusted to “seal the deal” fall flat, is not uncommon. Search marketing is often scrutinized to the nth degree, because pennies in incremental gross margin can contribute significantly to the bottom line. But across many industries, search is an influence that doesn’t necessarily secure the eventual purchase. A human element is required.

The unfair part of life as a search marketer is that our work is often held accountable to that eventual purchase. Closed loop technologies exist that can reverse-engineer and attribute sales revenues to individual keyword queries, but that doesn’t take into the consideration the handful of touches that occur after that prospect raises his hand. So we’re left having to accept the fact that the successes generated from our efforts aren’t always reflected in sales figures. There are too many variables and data points outside of our control.

Acknowledging that any aspect of campaign performance isn’t controllable can be difficult for analytically minded search marketers. The best advice when looking at closed-loop data is to build up campaigns to the point where they perform “well enough” -- and then turn your attention to other aspects of your digital marketing programs.

If instead, you choose to relentlessly obsess over sales data, you’ll only drive yourself crazy. Just when you think you’ve cracked the code, it will be time for someone to go on break.

6 comments about "Accounting For Variables You Can't Account For".
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  1. Tom Heffernan from, August 13, 2012 at 6:42 p.m.

    God bless the anecdotal evidence provider!
    When it comes to search marketing you have to love it when one particular person on one particular machine with one particular browser in one prticular geographic location is able to extend their personal observation to the universe, with absolute certainty nonetheless. I say you have to love them because anything other than love would be unkind to their uninformed semi-narcissitic view. I met a guy from New York once that spoke loudly, oh all people from New York must be loud mouths. Wait I met somebody from France that wasn't rude and arrogant, people that think the French are rude and arrogant are just xenophobic bigots. Get the idea?
    Lowe's has almost 2,000 home improvement stores across the country that employ over 200,000 people. You spend 30 minutes in a store and now you know the whole story?
    I recently visited a Lowe's store to procure home improvement products for my kitchen. The representative that we encountered was able to explain in detail what the difference was between two different adhesives from the same manufacturer that had different price points. He was friendly and knowledgable.
    I would encourage you to go back to the store and try again. Start at the customer service desk and let them know that this is their second chance. You will likely have a completely different and better experience. Now go take a break.

  2. Tom Heffernan from, August 13, 2012 at 6:46 p.m.

    Oh and, full disclosure, I am biased as we are owned by Lowe's.

  3. Ryan DeShazer from GSW Worldwide, August 13, 2012 at 7:23 p.m.

    Tom - the experience I detailed is repeatable in any retail store, in any city. Catch the wrong employee at the wrong time on the wrong day and a bad experience can occur. This was never an indictment of Lowe's, nor am I suggesting that people shouldn't shop there. I was using my experience anecdotally to remind people in our space that search does not deliver success by itself. Many factors, across sales and marketing, have to be "right" in order to achieve success....especially in considered buying environments.

  4. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, August 14, 2012 at 10:21 a.m.


    If Ryan were making the argument that Lowes was going downhill in regard to service, then an anecdote would not be sufficient. But Ryan was actually making a different point--that search marketers are unfairly held responsible for POS transactions because they have no impact on that transaction. I think you can support this kind of a point with an anecdote, but not sure why you need to call out Lowe's specifically unless you have a personal axe to grind.
    But I do think this is a straw man argument -- I just don't believe that SEM/SEO campaigns are ever truly cancelled/scaled back because of poor off-line sell through--there are better metrics that tell the story. Give marketers a little credit.

  5. Ryan DeShazer from GSW Worldwide, August 14, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.

    Andrew - thanks very much for your thoughts. True that an anonymous anecdote would have sufficed; I named names because I think they've done a great job with marketing communications. Overall, I was pointing out the important synergy that has to exist between sales and marketing teams.

    And believe it or not, I have managed SEM campaigns where we were held accountable for offline sales performance (B2B). My weekend experience reminded me of that.

  6. Tom Heffernan from, August 14, 2012 at 11:16 a.m.

    I see your point and agree on using metrics to tell the story.

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