Campaign Validation: Pitfalls in the Campaign Lifecycle and How to Overcome Them - Cameron Cowan, ObservePoint

Less than 11% of brands feel confident they’re accurately measuring the performance of their marketing campaigns. Yet to trust campaign ROI calculations, you need to trust the data going into those calculations. Join this session to see how ObservePoint is bringing together touchpoint & metadata management, technology governance, and user experience validation to:

  • Define and standardize tracking and metadata for every interaction in the end-to-end customer journey.
  • Identify technology disruptions that taint campaign performance data.
  • Highlight user experience issues that crop up as consumers directly engage with your marketing campaigns.


Cameron Cowan

Senior Director of Product Strategy


Cameron Cowan is the Sr. Director of Product Strategy & Marketing at ObservePoint and a veteran of the marketing analytics, digital advertising, and enterprise software industries. He plays an active role in product management, technical marketing, and GTM execution. Prior to his time at ObservePoint, Cameron spent 13 years working for Adobe (via the Omniture acquisition), and gained experience in account management, consulting, and technical sales before establishing himself as a leader in product management, technical marketing, and business strategy. His career has included living overseas on multiple occasions and collaborating with marketers and technologists on four continents.


Cameron Cowan: (00:02)
Hi everybody. And welcome to the final session of Validate 2021. Happy to have you join in today. I've been really enjoying the earlier sessions today, hearing from our customers, internal speakers from here at ObservePoint, some industry leaders, hopefully you've gotten as much out of these presentations and discussions as I have. In a lot of the past sections that we've reviewed, we've specifically pulled in our customers. You, as examples, to show how you're using the technology and what value you're getting out of it. We want to mix things up here in the last section, and really what we've done is we've taken an amalgamation. I think of it as a mosaic of all the different challenges and frustrations our customers have had specifically in a use case around marketing campaign. Launching them, measuring them and making sure you have those right experiences delivered.

Cameron Cowan: (00:49)
And so what I want to go over with you for the next several minutes are all the learnings we've had from those discussions and how you as our customers and some of the people that are really leading the way in delivering exceptional digital marketing experiences. What are the pitfalls that they've seen and how have they overcome them. From a high level, launching a digital campaign, it sounds pretty easy. You pick great content, you deliver it through all the channels that are relevant to your audiences, and then you measure them as they start engaging with those experiences, whether they be paid ads, email campaigns, social posts, videos, onsite content, things that are being published through your partners, and trying to then consolidate those, get a good understanding of what's working, what isn't, so you can invest more in the things that drive your business forward, but that's only at the surface.

Cameron Cowan: (01:38)
There's a lot of things that crop up during that campaign life cycle, that that can be challenging and potentially harmful to your ability to successfully not only deploy those campaigns, but also optimize them and continue to deliver better experiences month over month, year over year. So what we want to dive into today are the ten common pitfalls, the challenges that people have as they're deploying these marketing campaigns. And we want to dive into each one of them, think of it as a checklist, a series of things that as you get ready, and then as you have ongoing campaigns you should be doing all along the way to make sure not only you deliver great experiences, but also your measurement and data for those experiences is as buttoned-up as it can be. So let's dive into that. We'll start off with the first pillar, and that's just the strategy before the marketing campaign ever goes live. What are the things that we need to have in place to make sure that it's going to be successful? And what are some of the common pitfalls that people run into that stopped them from being able to have the information on the experiences that they'd like? I'll start with something that most of us are familiar with. All brands, no matter how big or small have some sort of paid search presence. That's one of just the standard pillars of a marketing department. And so if I'm launching a new campaign, I'm using Google ads as one of my primary channels. I've created all this great content. I've got good titles and descriptions, excellent calls to action. I've organized them in a way that makes sense to me and my team and we're ready to launch them. Now the good thing is programmatic channels like Google ads, like Bing, like Facebook, anytime you're buying paid ads, they'll often have the ability to deploy a common tracking template. This is a way to essentially safeguard yourself from not having the right tracking in the right place. And you can often put those either the campaign or even the account level so that you know everything that's delivered therein is going to have that common tracking. And what we find is most often as we interact with you, our customers, we see that this is where it's most buttoned up. Your tracking, paid search, sometimes paid social, very, very well. Where the challenge comes in is when you start deploying across many different channels--across email, across video content, as you're doing social posts. And all of a sudden that common tracking standard starts to melt away to the point where ObservePoint actually did some analysis over the last 12 months, and what we did is we looked at tens of thousands of social media posts for not only you as our customers, but some of the largest brands in the world. And what we found was that over 45% of all social media posts that we tracked had zero tracking. They had a campaign, a URL that got them to a landing page, but no CID, UTM tracking parameter of any kind to understand how is that post actually doing? What's the performance there? And so I think about this in the terms of crawl, walk, run. If you're part of that 45%, that simply doesn't have any tracking in place, hopefully not too many people under the collar in this situation, but if you are at least have some tracking in place, even if it's a single name value pair. Be able to understand, okay, not only did this content come from Facebook, but it was it my own organic post to my brand page? Was it a paid ad? Was it somebody else's content that's promoting me? Being able to understand, okay, this is owned social. This is something that I posted myself, through my team. It's not great, but it's better than having nothing. So, that's the crawl approach. If we look at walking for those of you that have standardized, for example, on the Google ecosystem and are using Google analytics heavily, you're very familiar with UTM parameters. This is a standard that goes back 20 years, and while it's not the most robust way to measure campaigns and all their different dimensions, it's much better than a single parameter. It gives you the five standard UTM--source, medium, campaign, content, and if applicable, term. Now obviously you don't want to just have the basics and be stuck with some of those hard coded values. So our most advanced users are obviously going to be moving toward a common custom CID, a campaign identifier. Not only does this provide the ability to be more concise with your career strings, shortens them and avoids truncation. It masks your measurement strategy. So you don't have snooping eyes coming in and knowing exactly what you're measuring, how you're naming your campaigns, what's important to your business. It also provides significantly more dimensionality. It seems almost counterintuitive that a shorter string can provide you more data, but rather than hard coding individual parameters, all of that metadata lives behind the common ID. Now I'm not going to go into too much more detail as far as the common tracking or that progression of crawl, walk and run. We actually did an exceptional webinar earlier this year on this very topic where we dove in very deeply with one of our great customers from WGU. So if you'd like that information, we're going to put it in the notes. In fact, I'm going to see if we can get somebody to post it in the chat right now, but also send it out with the on demand content. A lot of opportunities to improve no matter where you're at in the common tracking standardization to improve where you're at and to get more data. But it's not just making sure the right tracking codes are on all of your campaign links and that they're at least in some way lined up. It's also about then aligning that with a common taxonomy, a structure of metadata. In a lot of cases, people start in Excel or a shared Google sheet, but the idea is similar that you're using a manual process that has some sort of form and structure, the right columns. But there's a lot of opportunity for human error. There's a lot of chance for different teams to do it in a different way. There's no sort of centralized repository. And so as people progress in their maturity and want to line up not only good tracking structure that they put in place on their campaign links, but also then marry that up with the classification data, the dimensional data that you're pushing in, the metadata that gives you additional insights to everything you're doing. And that's a big part of what you that are using the touch points platform are using it for--a centralized repository to store all of your tracking IDs and links and metadata across all of your marketing channels and campaigns. A way to put more strict governance so that you know everyone is creating the right ideas and the right metadata in the right way. And you eliminate a lot of that human error giving you the ability to scale and having varying improvements in both automation and governance. This is critical to establishing a marketing campaign. And honestly, all of this is done before you ever hit "go" and launch those campaigns, but it ensures your success downstream. So let's now talk about that downstream. You've pushed these campaigns live, you're ready to go with paid search and display and social. You've got email, you've got social media posts that you're pushing organically and video content going out to YouTube. What happens when I start measuring as my customers and my potential customer, and start engaging with that content and begin coming to my website? A lot of what we've heard from you, as our customers, is there's still pitfalls in this experience. Things that you have to be aware of and continually validate against to make sure you're still getting the right data in the right way.

Cameron Cowan: (08:30)
The first and most obvious one is when you get your tracking codes just hacked off. You've created this hero, a great campaign link with a really clean and consistent ID. And yet as it comes to the website, it goes through a 301 redirect. And all of a sudden that tracking gets stripped off and you've got a blind spot. Don't let your tracking and all the work you've done to prepare the campaign, go to waste and have it cut off before it ever gets a chance to be measured. Keep monitoring and understanding, okay, here are all of the pages that I have that are going through a redirect. So it's not necessarily bad, but monitor, which of those have that tracking stripped off and quickly address that so you don't go days or even weeks before you notice, and then all of a sudden you've lost a significant portion of your campaign data.

Cameron Cowan: (09:15)
That's step one, just making sure it gets to your site successfully, shows up in that landing page, So an analytics package or other MarTech can capture that. Well, now that moves on to the second point, and it's something that most of you are doing very well today, and that's measuring--is the analytics and other MarTech, is it there? Simply understanding tag presence--do I have the right tags on all the right landing pages firing off? So it can collect those campaign tracking codes. And in a lot of instances as we continue to do ongoing monitoring, we see minor gaps, we get alerted to it and we fix it. Where we've seen a notable blind spot, and I think Rob mentioned this in the opening keynote, is that oftentimes there's these campaign landing pages that are built specifically for these marketing campaigns that only ever link into your website. They don't actually get referenced out by any sites. So if you start on the homepage and you just say, go crawl everywhere you can on my domain, those pages are never found because they're never linked out to, only incoming. It's what I like to call the dark side of the moon. Now through connecting with a lot of these external platforms through Google and Facebook and LinkedIn and YouTube, and really anywhere you have owned content or paid content that you're delivering to bring traffic to your website, you also want to include all of those URLs as part of your ongoing validation process--spotting once again, where the tags are firing as they should and where the gaps were, even though you created great campaigns with great tracking, is simply not registering because the tags aren't there. Now, the sibling to that same problem is not only are the tags there, but are they properly implemented? Just because you slapped up your first set of GA code on your website, doesn't mean it's going to know every single possible name value pair, or what to do with that data, as it sees it. For those of you in the Adobe ecosystem, you know, you can do this a number of ways. You can set up rules in the interface using the artist formerly known as Adobe launch. You can use the custom code editor to actually insert the JavaScript code and the get query parameter plugin as you need to on those landing pages, or even if you need the backup, you can set up processing rules after the fact in Adobe analytics to make sure those right values get through. No matter how you implement, the story is still the same. You need to be able to make sure the right data is going to the right variable in the right way so that when I have a CID hit that campaign landing page, I know for a certainty that that tracking code is going into eVar zero and being captured in the right way so I can then classify it downstream.

Cameron Cowan: (11:40)
Speaking of classifications, that's our next pitfall. And the last one in the measurement is even though, you know, all of this is being tracked in the right way, that it's not being stripped off as they get to the landing pages at the analytics or MarTech tags are in place, and that they're capturing the right data in the right way, going to the right variables. If you don't take the time to manage your metadata in an ongoing basis, you're still missing the opportunity. For those of you, once again, in the Adobe ecosystem, you're familiar with SAINT classifications or the classification engine, and you know, that unless you continually and diligently update that whether through an an automated process, like with the tool from ObservePoint with our touchpoints platform, or simply manually uploading CSVs and flat files on an ongoing basis is more of a process and a little bit more time consuming experience, however you do it, you need to make sure that you consistently get metadata into those variables, into those dimensions. So you can get richer, better data as you analyze it, once the campaigns are over. And you know, what happens when you don't, we all have gone through it, and we've all seen it. It's that horrible none bucket. I think they rebranded it, unspecified simply, to get away from the connotation of none, but we all know what it is. We have data, I just can't tell you very much about it. Not even because I don't know more information about those dimensions, but simply because I haven't taken the time to update my classification engine, my dimensions in Google analytics, whatever that metadata layer is. Now, I want to take a quick beat here before we move on to the experience and offer our final trivia question of the day. Now as many of you know, I started my career back at Omniture. I still bleed green in a lot of ways, and I love that platform. In fact, you'll notice that screenshot on the right, I had to hunt for one that came from the old site catalysts look and feel. I think this was like the month after Adobe acquired Omniture. They still had all the greens, still had a lot of the formatting and they were still using that term SAINT. So our trivia question is, do you know what SAINT actually stands for? It's not just a brand name for the classification engine, but it's actually an acronym. So I'm going to offer this out right now for all of you that are listening live. If you want to share out to LinkedIn, mark it with hashtag validate21. If you want to hashtag ObservePoint and then call us out as well. But tell me what you know, or at least are guessing SAINT stood for. For the first person to post to LinkedIn with those hashtags and get it right. It can't just be a guess, but you have to know what it means, we'll send you a pair of ObservePoint socks. So I'm looking forward to seeing who knows this, how many different people know this kind of little history in the analytics space and we'll make sure we get you some some OP swag. All right, so that gets us to step three of kind of this checklist. And as we look at the problems that exist when we're launching campaigns up to this point, we've only talked about what matters to you? What matters to you as a marketer? Am I able to measure the right things in the right way, so I can then make decisions on where to deploy my next set of marketing dollars. Can I measure ROI? Do I have proper attribution? I hate to tell you, but it's not all about you. In fact, the primary reason we launch marketing campaigns is to engage with real people and to deliver great experiences. And yet there are still challenges that we run into in our campaigns every single day that prevent us from delivering those great experiences. And, we've heard from you time and time again, over the last several months and quarters that you're using ObservePoint technology to help solve many of these issues as well. So let's dive in and see what those contain. First, I think this is the most obvious one, 404 pages. Now, if any of you listened to Validate last year, you'll know that I am personally on a mission to eliminate 404 errors from the world. It's going to be a long slog. We all have them. They exist on every website. In fact, I'd even challenge you as we finish up our session today, go log into your analytics platform, whether it's Adobe or Google or someone else, I really don't care, but go look and see how many, 404 errors has your brand delivered in the last 12 months? And you're going to be shocked. In fact, we've been talking with a number of you and we started compiling this data, and we're talking about millions and tens of millions of 404 pages delivered every single month by our customers alone. And so you extrapolate that out, and you think about yourself as a consumer, you experienced this too, you see broken pages. And not just broken experiences. I'm not just talking about a link that was published to your YouTube brand channel 10 years ago, to a page that no longer exists. That's a problem, especially if that video is live, but it's much less concerning than getting the same experience as you click through a paid Google search or a paid social ad or a display ad. You're not only delivering a bad experience to your customers, you're paying the biggest ad platforms in the world for the privilege of doing so. So through using monitoring and ongoing validation technology, you're able to set up the ability to keep an eye on this and find when these problems are happening, to the point where some of our most progressive customers are actually doing this on a daily basis, Just go through and check my most important campaign landing pages to make sure I'm not delivering or nothing's broken or somebody didn't upload a new set of information that completely busted my campaigns. And we're really good about doing this upfront. Day one of the campaign I checked, it it's live, it's great. What happens just four hours later, 12 hours later, a couple of days later, or the next week? Those campaigns are still alive. They're still costing you a ton of money. We're talking hundreds of thousands, millions, sometimes tens of millions of dollars for big marketing campaigns. And yet if even a small fraction of that, well, oftentimes we see anywhere between two and ten percent of marketing spend is going to broken experiences just like this. And so keep an eye on that, put it in your ongoing validation and fix those problems immediately as they become an issue so you're not wasting all of those ad dollars putting them back into the coffers of Google and Facebook. Now, just because a page isn't broken, doesn't mean it's a great experience. As we jump in, and many of us have this experience, you hit a website and then you wait. Now, not all of us are still on dial up connection, so this isn't nearly as bad of a problem as it was years ago. But I hit a website just yesterday that took over 25 seconds to load the homepage. That's unacceptable in this day and age. Now, Rob talked in the opening keynote about how our expectations, consumer expectations, of experiences we deliver are continuing to increase. And yet we still see sites that take a very long time to load and frustrate our users. The worst case scenario is they get here, they just don't feel like waiting and they hit the back button or they navigate away. You now no longer tracked which campaign led to that. You didn't even have a chance for the page to load. But you're also getting dinged on it from an SEO perspective, your sites get downgraded and your quality score on all of your paid search campaigns also gets hit up. So this impacts the user, yes, but it really impacts the entire campaign and its performance. Once again, just from very standard, ObservePoint auditing, keeping an eye on those most important campaign landing pages on an ongoing recurring basis of high enough frequency that if ever this problem does crop up, you can start here, identify which of those pages are having struggles, issues, and immediately start to investigate how you can improve that performance. As signaled earlier in the day, this is a big part of the platform that we're going to be putting heavy investment in, in the years and months and quarters, and years ahead. As we head into 2022, being able to help you get beyond just, is there a problem? Are there 404 pages? Are there slow pages? We can do that today, but help me understand why and where, so I can actually get to the action that I need to take much, much quicker. Now, just because of a page loads--you fixed all those problems, and it loads quickly--you fixed all those problems, doesn't mean everything on that page still loads properly. And whether we're talking about videos that are blocked or images that for some reason just don't load, they're pointing to an outdated asset and you get stuck with that annoying little blue question mark that appears on a webpage because the image won't load. Whether you have forms that don't render, or they simply are hard to use and they lead to a lot of frustration because people are entering the wrong format for an email or for a phone number or their name and all that information you're trying to gather from them. Whatever those experiences are, there are breakages. The page didn't break, it doesn't mean there isn't a broken experience. So being able to do ongoing monitoring on all of these elements and highlighting, okay, if I have a form on this page, grab just a basic set of information so I know, yes, it's a good experience, and I'm not wasting a ton of ad dollars driving to a campaign landing page, and they can't fill out the form and convert the way they want to. Okay, so we fixed all those problems, no broken pages or 404 errors, fast loading pages, fixed all the elements. The last thing I want to talk about today is not so much a technology issue as it is an alignment issue, and being able to understand what people want and to deliver on that. I think about it as either misaligned or at least irrelevant content. On a search engine, when you do a search, it's called a query and that's because you as a consumer, have a question. It's saying, hey, I need something help me out. And as brands, when we do a search we're saying we have an answer to those questions. Now, it's getting cold here in North America, and I'm going to need a tropical vacation here before too long. So I was searching just yesterday for flights to Kauai, favorite of the Hawaiian islands. I want to go spend a little time in warmer weather and what came up--a number of ads, including this one from Priceline. And I said, hey, great, cheap flights. It calls out flights to Kauai specifically, that's exactly where I want to go. It's not only in the title, but it's in the description. And so I clicked through and what did I get? It's not a bad experience. There's not a broken page. It loaded very, very quickly for me. There was no broken elements on the page, and yet it didn't have what I was expecting. This is what we call the moment of "anticipoinment." I had a question, you said you had an answer, and I even believed you because of the marketing message I saw, and yet what you delivered to me, didn't quite hit the mark. Now I could go fill this in and do a search, but you already know what I'm looking for to the fact that in the URL of this page, it actually has the word Kauai in it as one of the terms that generated that traffic to begin with. Well, why not fill out at least part of that so I'm on my way to exactly what I want to see? Now, just for completeness sake, I actually scroll through the rest of the page and said, okay, what else is on here? And maybe it's further down below the fold. There's a lot of information about a lot of destinations, not a single mention of Kauai, not a mention of Hawaii in general. So while it would seem like this is a successful campaign delivery--I had no breakages, I had nothing out of place--I still missed the mark and I left my customer frustrated, or at least not thrilled and excited as they first engaged with me. And that's something I'm paying for every single click somebody hits that ad, they're going to have that same experience. So I should really button that up. Now just to make sure this wasn't a one-off, I was doing a couple of other searches here, so by electric vehicles, I've been very interested in the electrical vehicle space lately, want to introduce some of my family to it, so I just wanted to see what it was here at some local dealerships. I see an ad once again, is what's in there. I can see Prius Prime, so that I know that's an electric vehicle, it notes it both in the URL, the display URL, as well as in the text of the description. So yeah, they're going to have information about electric vehicles. And so I click over now, once again, full bloating landing page, not a horrible experience, there's an inventory of cars to go search for, not a Prius on the page, not even a mention of the word electric anywhere on this website and yet what you said you had and what you were encouraging me to engage with, what I said, I have a question and you have an answer, didn't quite meet the mark. It's not bad, but it's not great. And in the world of our ever-increasing expectations as consumers, we're not just looking for satisfactory, we're looking for great.

Cameron Cowan: (23:48)
One last example to round off the bunch, doing one more search in this case. I know the holidays are coming up. People are looking for gifts for their loved ones. So you do a search on women's dresses and you see, yep indeed, Urban Outfitters. I know there's one just down the street, they've got casual dresses for women. Let's go check that out. And as I hit the page, ooh okay, so I got to a page that loaded, and you could say nothing broke, but in my mind, this is kind of a broken experience. There was nothing to display because the landing page was specifically going not only to a section for women's dresses, you can see it right there in the navigation, but it also filtered down to a specific size that was simply out of stock or not available or not something that they store. Now, once again, a misaligned experience, and it can be this bad, but from a technology perspective, you didn't see anything in your audits that said you had a broken page. From a speed perspective, this thing was lightning fast, it loaded in under two seconds. But from a user perspective, we're still missing the mark. These are all incredible opportunities we have to not only fix these user experiences, improve our measurement and increase the overall strategy of how we do marketing. Checking off all those boxes, overcoming all of these pitfalls. But we want to be able to do it at scale, at speed, with full automation. And we want to be able to put a sense of governance around that. That's the message we're hearing from our customers. And as we wrap up the day to day here at Validate, that's the message we want to leave with you. As we progress the platform here at ObservePoint, not looking at any individual tool or report or functionality, but thinking more broadly. How are we bringing this all together to compliment? How are we using touch points with technology governance, filling in some aspects of privacy, adding in layers of experience validation? How do we bring that all together to help you overcome the most common pitfalls and get to a point where not only are you delivering exceptional campaigns, exceptional digital experiences on your own properties, but you're doing it in a way that delights and excites your customers? And it wants them to engage even deeper and more frequently with you. That's really what I think of when I think of a campaign validation experience that keeps me on the rails and has my campaigns firing on all cylinders. Thanks for joining in. 

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