Best Practices

Your Marketing ROI is Not a Zero-Sum Game

It’s a new year, and that means we’re all thinking about how to get the best marketing ROI in 2019. To start, we have to assess- what’s been working and what hasn’t? What stays for another year, and what needs to go?

It’s vital to assess the value of all your marketing efforts. But the assessment itself is difficult. Many people fall into a few different traps:

  1. Using the same metrics for every tool
  2. Measuring outcomes that aren’t aligned with your goals
  3. Getting stuck in an attribution war

Let’s dive into each of these problems and then map out some strategies for precise marketing assessment so you can maximize your marketing spend in 2019.

Using the same metrics for every tool

When you have tools that ostensibly do the same thing, it’s tempting to measure them the same way and think of the outcome as a zero-sum game: for example, all my lead capture tools should be measured by how many leads they capture, and the one that captures the most is the winner. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find that even tools with similar goals have important differences. And that means using the same metrics to assess their value doesn’t always work.

To illustrate: You might have a chat tool that brings a lot of highly qualified, ready-to-buy leads. And then you have a third-party listing that brings you fewer leads, and those leads are often further up the funnel. Does that mean that if you’re optimizing your budget you should cut the third-party site? If you’re judging both tools by the number of leads or sales they bring, the answer is yes.

But when you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense to judge these two lead sources exactly the same way. They bring you different types of leads, and as such serve different purposes: one reaches customers who are most ready to buy and one builds loyalty to your brand for customers further up the funnel. You might decide that both of these goals are important for your business– or you might decide they’re not. But the first step is to judge each tool based on what it’s actually trying to do– not what something else is trying to do. If not, you could end up cutting something that actually helps you, or overspending on something that doesn’t.

Measuring outcomes that aren’t aligned with your goals

When it comes to marketing spend, too often we measure according to metrics that are not actually aligned with our goals. For example, seeing a rise in ad impressions and clicks looks great, but only if brand awareness is your goal. If that ad has a different goal– for example, to actually lead to sales– then impressions and clicks don’t measure your outcomes properly.

Or maybe we track our total leads without paying attention to the quality of those leads– whether those leads ended up becoming sales or weren’t qualified to begin with. Or we’re thrilled by a boost in traffic, ignoring again the quality of that traffic and how it impacts our bounce rate.

Here again, a closer look is crucial: what do these metrics actually mean for my business? How are they affecting my bottom line? And as such– does the amount of money I’m spending on these efforts make sense in light of my goals? Don’t be persuaded by shiny metrics that don’t actually matter to you.

Getting stuck in an attribution war

Attribution: that inescapable buzzword/holy grail. So much has been written about types of attribution, methods of attribution, the struggle of attribution. One thing is for sure: a single-minded focus on figuring out which touchpoint gets the most credit misses the point.

Today’s customers interact with you in so many ways. They click your ads, they check your third-party listings, they browse your VDPs, they try out your trade-in tool, just to name a few. It’s almost impossible to actually know which of these interactions made them choose your dealership, especially because according to an Autotrader study, more than half of floor ups are now walk-ins with no prior contact. Which means granting credit to sources without following the full customer journey is not the best use of your time.

Understanding the Context: The Key to Strategic Digital Marketing

All of the pitfalls above can be boiled down to one essential issue: context. Context for your metrics, context for your tools, context for your customer behavior. It’s not enough to know how many leads you got– you need to know what kind of leads they are, and whether the source that brought them is trying to bring those kinds of leads. It’s not enough to see an increase of a certain metric unless that metric is one that specifically helps you. And it’s not enough to attribute to particular sources– it’s crucial to know how those sources work together for your customers. So here are some ways to get a better understanding of your context and assess your marketing with greater accuracy.

Set your dealership’s goals and then choose the best avenues to achieve them

There is no one tool that can accomplish all things for all dealerships. It’s up to you to decide: what do I need right now? More website traffic? More leads? More brand exposure? All of the above?

Once you decide what you need, you can decide which type of marketing efforts can help achieve your goals. You can also then evaluate your tools with more precision: what are they accomplishing? Are they redundant in any way? What is their value relative to other tools? With goals in place, evaluation is more accurate.

Identifying exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and measuring your marketing spend against that instead of metrics that don’t relate to your goals will help you make better decisions.

Track your entire customer journey

If you want to understand how each of your marketing efforts works, follow the entire customer journey. This means tracking all of your shoppers’ online behavior, not just conversions, and all their post-dealership visit actions– and seeing how each of these steps moves customers forward. What pages are shoppers looking at most? How are they reaching your site? How often do they come back, and how long do they stay? Take it a step further: what pages do visitors who came from a third-party site view? What are the typical behaviors of the people who find you on Facebook? Which Google Ad campaigns are leading to actual sales?

When you track touchpoints from the whole customer journey, you can measure your tools accurately based on the goals you set. For example, if your goal for a Google Ad campaign was brand awareness, then impressions and clicks are good measures of your success, but if your goal was sales, tracking the whole journey will allow you to see how many of those ad impressions actually led to sales.

You’ll also be able to credit different campaigns according to what they actually do. If a lead clicked on a Facebook ad, landed on your website, converted on a trade-in tool, and then booked a test drive before walking in, that means that the ad, the website page, and the conversion tools all played a role– but not the same role: one brought people to your site, one engaged them with your brand, one provided incentive to convert, and one continued moving the shopper forward. Knowing what role each played means you can allocate resources with clarity.

Following the full customer journey also allows you to see if your marketing tools are working together well, maybe even in surprising ways. For example, you may have set up an email campaign targeting Chevy Silverado shoppers, expecting them to convert on an offer for that vehicle on your landing page. However, you find instead that they are more often clicking your Text Us tool to ask questions about the vehicle first. Keeping that Text Us option available across your pages can help reach those shoppers. Or, you might find that users are converting well on your trade-in but then bouncing when a different tool appears. This is important information that helps you adjust your website experience for maximum engagement.


2019 can be the year of avoiding marketing assessment traps! Make it your New Year’s Resolution to no longer use the same metrics across tools, get stuck measuring outcomes that don’t fit with your goals, or maintain a single-minded attribution approach. Instead, resolve to start understanding the context behind everything, set clear goals, see the entire customer journey with all its touchpoints, and start using tools that work together throughout that whole journey.