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Thanks to technology, you've got a big file of data available for your review and analysis. But what to do with all those numbers? How do you change them into English? How do you help them tell you a story about an advertising campaign?

Search engine advertising tools like Google AdWords have helped many a business see a leap in numbers, but few have found the magic formula for measuring success.

Read on for valuable suggestions from our readers about making metrics work for your organization.

Show me the numbers

We're a small company, and one of our challenges is creating metrics to help us ascertain how well our advertising and marketing efforts work. A few advertising campaigns we currently have in progress include a search-engine-results-page text ad, newspaper ad, email newsletter ad, and an event sponsorship. What are the methods for measuring the effectiveness of an advertising campaign, and which is best?

—Marisol, Marketing Assistant

Don't drown in data. Instead, start small with these three steps:

1. Review your business model and objectives

2. Keep your metrics simple

3. Assign a unique identifier for every campaign

Review your business model and objectives

Next Marketing Challenge:

Branding on the desktop—does it lure in prospects?

Click here to offer your advice or here to ask a question.

Consider taking a look at your organization's business model to help you determine what to measure. Profits? Turnover? Customer loyalty? Also, what are your business objectives and goals? What is the particular goal of your advertising campaign? Define metrics to tie in with those, then before you gather data\ figure out how you want to track your campaigns and what you want to track.

If you're focusing on an online ad campaign, for example, you may want to track different types of leads and which leads result in sales. One way of tracking this data is to use one many software products or your customer relationship management (CRM) system to measure visits to certain pages and click-throughs. (Continue reading for tips on creating an identifier for your campaign.)

Once you have a clear method for collecting and measuring your data, you can see exactly how well a particular campaign or marketing tactic is working—and how well it ties into your overarching business goals.

A word of warning: Don't let existing data guide you in creating metrics; instead, let specific outcomes guide what you want to measure.

Keep your metrics simple

It's easy to get overwhelmed when looking at a mountain of data. Rather than trying to tackle the whole thing, start with KISS: "keep it simple, [pick your favorite s-word]." Choose one metric you've defined and work with that first. Continue adding metrics and validating data, and the data pile gets smaller and more manageable.

If your organization relies on a customer relationship management system, you may want to create your own spreadsheet based on the data pulled from the CRM instead of trying to make something happen within the CRM. Or, your organization could be on the hunt for a CRM system. In this case, don't expect the CRM to be a miracle cure. Too many organizations implement a CRM without researching both their own processes and how to find a CRM that best fits with those processes.

So, try a simple database or spreadsheet and pick one or two things to measure. Grow from there. Perhaps, the database can begin with the identifier information mentioned below, so you can quickly find out which avenues are most successful in meeting your business objectives.

Use a unique identifier for every campaign

An excellent way to see which campaigns do well and which need help is by assigning each one an identifier so you know where the visitors come from. "When publishing any advertising that calls for a 'call to action,' you should always have specific contact information," says Dawn Wiggan, consultant with Dawn-Bennett Cole, LLC.

Wiggan gives an example of a call to action that takes a visitor to a company's site. The visitor should land on a page that's relevant and takes him or her to the landing page. When you run an ad in a local newspaper, use a link like www.company.com/news, so you can identify these visitors as those who saw your newspaper ads. When advertising in print, remember to keep the URL short because people have to enter it into their browsers.

With online campaigns, you don't have to worry about short URLs. "To track where your responses are coming from, check your log files (there are a number of software programs that can gather that information and tabulate it for you, and they are usually bundled in with your web hosting service)," explains Wiggan.

Set up multiple toll-free phone numbers and use them like you do with the unique URLs. Each phone number can be associated with a specific ad. "Your service provider will be able to provide you with a report of activity for each phone number. In that way, you can track where your advertising is most effective," she says.

Collect and maintain the data in a database that includes the contact route (where the visitors found your ad) and watch for patterns. These help you identify where your ads are most and least effective.

Next Marketing Challenge: Can You Help?

What do you think about branding that comes to the desktop?

I've used desktop-branded applications like WeatherBug and Southwest Airline's DING! These are free applications you download to your desktop and receive live updates or use them as a tool. These provide subtle branding messages to promote customer interaction with a brand. My organization is in a consumer-based business with a healthy amount of visits to our Web site. We'd like to consider providing such an application for our visitors. How do marketers and the public feel about such desktop branding? 

—Stan, CMO

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.