Any business needs some sort of marketing system in place to draw in new customers. For businesses, this often takes shape as a sign posted in a window, handing out pamphlets, or setting up a company website. For large businesses, there can easily be several hundred different marketing programs running in parallel. A digital marketing platform consists of all the technologies necessary to plan, execute, monitor, and understand the effectivness of all these marketing campaigns running. The entire platform should be considered “production” as a failure of a part of the system will likely result in limiting the ability to market in a specific area or as a whole.
We need the ability to monitor the traffic of the entire website. This would allow us to get detailed reports in understanding how users navigate the website and identifying pain points quickly. In order to do so, the website needs to be tagged. Tagging involves marking each link with a unique identifier (most commonly by placing information after the ? in the URL. For example, look at the URL bar and notice the tag after the ?). There can be easily thousands of links for any given website. To help manage this, the following tools are generally used:
- Tag Management System
This is a system that allows us to maintain the hundreds or thousands of elements across the website that will need to be appropriately tagged and tracked. Any element on the website that is not properly tagged will essentially be invisible. Tagging system usually include a means to validate site tags as well.
- Web Page Data Collector
Also called an event collector, this is a system that leverages all the site tagging to capture the user traffic as they are on the webpage. This will have all the data in a format that can be immediately leveraged by a reporting platform and also contain all the additional information for more advanced analytics such as network analysis, customer segmentation, and assist in the development of the full attribution model.
- Reporting Platform
The platform will allow for the production of basic reports such as landing page analysis, bounce rates, time on site, etc.
An All in One System
Standing up such a system is cost prohibitive for most companies. The necessary talent required is highly sought after by many technology companies and infrastructure costs can be substantial, though cloud costs continue to aggressively decline year over year. However, there are numerous vendors that will do the website traffic tracking, aggregation, and reporting all in one for a nominal cost (e.g. Google Analytics).
- Pros: All in one system and removes the need to go through the effort of data cleaning and data modeling. Generally, these systems are provided at a competitive price vs. build your own system. Batch reports are already created as new pages are generated, reducing overhead provided best practices are followed.
- Cons: Ultimately, access to the underlying data can be limited or accessible via fees. Vendors will typically require users to upload their data to the vendor services to do any additional custom segmentation or analysis. This obviously causes a lock-in with the vendor and can making changing systems extremely difficult. For companies that wish to do advanced analytics at some point in the future should consider the eventuality of changing systems. However, vendors continue to aggressively sell their services, and even embed some level of advanced analytics, such as attribution tools, in their offerings.
The Digital Marketing Network
The digital marketing network tracks digital advertisements across the web. This information would be used by marketing teams to monitor the effectiveness of various digital campaigns and make the necessary adjustments as needed (such as conducting continuous A/B tests). A digital marketing network can be categorized into three segments:
- Display Network / Video Ads
These types of advertisements are the graphical ads seen on websites. Here, we are referring specifically to a display network, which is usually indicated by a logo (generally into the top right of the ad). A collection of independent websites will allow for the display of ads, but are themselves not directly involved in sourcing such ads. They simply hook into a particular display network and are paid a commission for displaying the ad or when a visitor clicks on the ad. This allows advertisers to be seen across a wide variety of websites, while only having to manage a relationship with a single display network.
- Paid Search
These types of advertisements are the text-based ads seen on the results of web searches, generally above search results and to the right (in a column). Generally speaking, most major search engines will have their own search advertising network.
- Independent / Affiliate Websites
Despite the above networks, there are certain sites that still run their own independent advertising platforms. This is generally limited to companies with a large website presence and/or companies that have a customer base they specifically cater to (e.g. radio talk shows). Usually these kinds of advertising are simply display ads, but it is highly dependent on the individual relationships formed with each company. Note: some ad networks may offer affiliate access as a service.
Advertisement Traffic Aggregator
There is a massive amount of ad traffic data being generated on the web, on the order of several billions of events in a typical day for just a single company. Most of the time, this data is quickly aggregated and then gone forever as it’s very expensive to save such voluminous data. Having an ad traffic aggregator allows companies to intercept the relevant ad traffic to their business and keep it for more detailed analytics. It should be important to note that not all the raw traffic information is available for all digital traffic sources.
In practice, the ad traffic aggregator will work with each of the individual ad networks and collect event information across all the ad networks. This allows for the generation of similar reports that each vendor provides, but collectively in one location and in one format. Additionally, since the raw event information is retained, companies are able to extract that information and do more sophisticated analysis such as fractional attribution or a full attribution model. Lastly, with the right tech, companies would be able to link a visitor’s origin of all the digital ads that they have seen and correlate that with the visitor’s behavior on the website. This is extremely hard to get right, but is an absolute necessity in a highly digital world!
The Trusty Email
With the direct to consumer models, email is going to be a primary means of communication between the customer and the company; covering things like account alerts, verification, and notices. Obviously, this system is very much integral part of the customer experience. As part of the marketing platform, emails can serve as newsletters, educational pieces, and promotion offers. Just like there can be dozens of marketing campaigns running simultaneously, there are likely just as many email campaigns. In many ways, emails are simply an extension of the website into a customer’s inbox.