While the research raises the hugely important issue of what these metrics do actually mean, I think marketers can be easy prey sometimes. Let's start out by confessing that awareness and engagement do not actually sell a single item in themselves. The fact that someone know a company sells stationery and has liked a post means she is both aware and engaged -- but until she starts ordering pens and pencils, it doesn't mean a whole lot to the actual business.
However, to be devil's advocate for a moment, without any form of awareness or engagement there can be no sale, surely? So, marketers aren't wholly wrong to look at ways in which they have improved awareness of a brand's products and services and engaged a potential customer in a conversation, even if it is as short an interaction as hitting "like."
Stopping here, however, is where the problems lie. For marketers to think that this is enough is self-delusional. There has to be some correlation between marketing spend and the customer spend it directly translates to online, or the potential accounts it opens up for sales. Sales and leads: that's the language of a company's board, and marketing most definitely needs to get talking in those terms if it is to move beyond "fluffy" business units that fudge metrics around "shares" and "favorites," toward building a body of customers who know about the brand and seem to like it.
So I would take issue with an unqualified accusation that marketers are living in "la la land" because they consider awareness and engagement as important as actual sales. Sure, they shouldn't be the final be-all and end-all that a campaign is ultimately measured by. However, they're pretty good indications of future intent, aren't they?
It's also unfair to say marketers have their heads in the sand if they're not clear about what final metric they should be looking at. If engagement and awareness are not sufficient, what is?
I doubt very much if there are marketing departments out there who have no regard for sales levels and are not investigating how to attribute marketing activity to sales dips and rises.
The trouble is, people expect digital marketing to be instant, and its effect to be obvious from the word go. However, that's just not fair.
Just as billboards and press ads aren't always price-led promotions designed to get an instant response, digital marketing is also playing its part in helping people move from awareness to consideration to purchase.
This is not always an overnight process. Just think about the expensive stuff you own. Most televisions, couches, cars and washing machines are usually only replaced after a couple to ten or more years has elapsed, or if an item breaks down out of warranty. These are not instant purchases, and people are not thinking about them until a decision has to be made. That's when it's useful to have some kind of consumer awareness and engagement to get your brand on that consideration list.
So, yes, Fournaise probably has a point that some marketers, in some instances, need to get more of a business brain and measure success in the same way the wider organization does. But saying marketers live in "la la land" is more about getting a headline than reflecting the true state of the industry. Sure, sales are the ultimate metric -- but leads don't happen out of thin air. Most will have gone through a level of awareness and engagement at some point.
A version of this post was previously published in London Blog.