Mobile Ads: Pick Your Outcome, Not Your KPI

Talk to brand advertisers about the possibilities of mobile advertising, and enjoy watching their eyes light up with excitement.

“Wait, so you’re saying I can target based on historical location, or by real-time GPS radius?” “I can make the phone vibrate in their hands during impactful moments while the ad is playing  -- and the video can be HD and full-screen?”

It’s enough to make anyone salivate. But sometimes the things that make mobile so enticing end up standing in the way of success, and can interfere with your efforts to  meet your objectives. Here’s why:

What’s possible is not always practical. Many brand advertisers now know enough about mobile to know what’s possible, and they get ideas about what mobile can offer. Big ideas!

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but what happens is the latest ad units, targeting parameters or attribution models make their way into the RFP as must-have tactics just because they are possible. Unfortunately, there are ramifications to everything you include, and many times they are actually obstacles rather than allies in your effort to hit the right user, with the right ad, at the right time.  

I get why. Brands are accustomed to high-funnel awareness campaigns, where quantifiable metrics other than click-through rate are rare. But if you come in with preconceived notions, or treat your mobile tactics like a wish list, all you’re doing is creating limits for yourself, and the focus moves away from the end result.

Pick your outcome first. If you’re a brand, you’re probably accustomed to traditional metrics such as views, impressions and clicks. While these KPIs can track general activity and the efficacy of a campaign, they don’t always connect your ad spend to that specific business outcome you’re trying to drive.

As the saying goes, not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. The first part of that is certainly true in mobile, as attribution is another problem that remains to be fully solved, and the latter half is also spot-on. There are many choices with mobile performance KPIs but you only have one real decision to make:

Determine your ultimate goal. In some verticals, there are many choices. With retail, it could be foot traffic, a lift in offline sales, direct e-commerce purchases, etc. In other verticals, it’s easier. In auto, generally speaking, your main goal is lead-generation. You want consumers to fill out a form, contact a local dealer, schedule a test drive, etc. These are all great KPIs for a performance campaign.

But now watch what happens when you add in another KPI that’s not your main goal: viewability.

Say you’ve found an applicable audience to target based on engagement with automotive content, or recently installing an app like or Autotrader, but you’re accustomed to achieving 70% viewability on your brand campaigns.

What if we follow a targeted user to 10 sites today, seven of which fit that site-level statistic of “viewable,” yet the user doesn’t convert. The next day, we’re still targeting that user, and only three of the 10 sites he visits fit the viewability criteria — yet he converts. You bombed your viewability metric – but you got the lead. And the campaign met the overall CPA goal.

Does it matter if the viewability was 70% versus 59%? Does it matter if the user saw one ad per 24, versus five per 24? No. You met your outcome, and because you didn’t have to optimize toward multiple KPIs, you were able to focus on the ultimate goal: leads!

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