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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Phillips

Digital marketing triage needed, stat!

Updated: Dec 6, 2018

Ten reasons your digital marketing isn’t working.

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a number of digital marketing brands, projects and campaigns that absolutely kicked arse. I've been involved in teams that have won creative, strategic, effectiveness, digital-product and industry awards. Like any marketer I've also been involved in my fair share of campaigns that started off failing and needed to be optimised within an inch of its (my?) life just to do OK. It's those instances where we I learnt the best and toughest lessons from. Win, lose or draw, I’m really proud to have amassed a pretty decent sized portfolio of digital marketing work covering literally hundreds of campaigns that I can draw learnings from.

Based on that experience, I wanted to share my opinion on ten reasons your digital campaigns might be failing and what to do about it.

(But first a wee caveat: for the purposes of this list I’m just going to focus on digital marketing - let's assume your product/service has a market fit and already sells well, but you’ve not cracked online yet. If your product is not selling at all, you likely have bigger problems than just digital marketing’…)

So anyway, here goes:

1. You’re not using analytics, tracking and tagging properly.

If you’ve not got events and goals set up in Google Analytics, have Google search console and demographics tracking on (and e-commerce tracking for transactional sites) and tracking pixels set up, you’re definitely not doing digital right. Analytics is the life blood of digital marketing success.

If you’re spending any money on digital media (adwords, social or display) and not got analytics sorted you need to fix this straight away. In fact, stop reading, and call me right now on the Digital Marketing Triage Hotline: 022 042 6613. :)

(Side note, Aftermath is a new business and I’m looking for clients, don’t be shy to pick up the phone!)

2. You’re buying the wrong media

If you’re buying media directly from a premium publisher like NZ Herald (for example) but it's not driving the results your need it's highly likely you're investing in the wrong media. And if you're getting no results, but your media rep is telling you how great your campaign is because the 'click-through rate is better than the market average', you may be in trouble. I’ve said this before and will say it again many times over - if anyone tells you your campaign is performing well because of the click-through rate, run. 🙂

In terms of media, the smart digital marketers in NZ I know use owned first, then Adwords, Facebook, Google Display Network/Youtube, programmatic (cautiously), then native, in that order (note this mix does change when advertising in markets outside of NZ). Buying directly from premium publishers is a distant last. Premium publisher direct relationships are typically the domain of deep-pocketed brand marketers who value the relationship (and lunches) with their media agencies & publisher reps more than the performance of their campaigns. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s definitely a thing.

3. You’ve not thought about the user journey

If you’re buying ads and sending people to your home page chances are you’re not doing it right. Digital marketing is a journey: ad creative should send people to a specific landing page or experience that is relevant to the ad and educates and converts people. Your home page may not be the best place to do that.

4. The user journey is too hard

If people need to click on 10 different pages to buy a $20 widget, no matter how much media you buy you’re always going to face an uphill battle. Fewer clicks = higher conversion rates. Fact.

5. The user journey is too easy

This is somewhat counterintuitive, but I’ve encountered several occasion where lead generation was too easy and the quality of leads drop dramatically. Typically this happens where a 'frictionless' lead generation tool like Facebook lead generation ads is used. These ads are amazingly efficient at getting people to sign up to your database… however, the efficiency can mean people immediately forget they’ve done it and have little to no engagement with it. People signing up to your database without ever visiting your website can result in your brand or sales message being completely missed. This is particularly important if you have a high value or high involvement product to sell.

Digital user journeys are super important, hence the reason it takes 3 of the top ten spots of digital fails. I wrote a really in-depth piece of digital on getting the most out of digital use journeys which you can read here:

6. Your creative isn’t very good

Digital creative is weird. What works and what doesn't has little reflection on the ads a typical creative agency might make. For example, in creating thousands of Facebook campaigns I learned really some really dumb rules that apply to digital creative like:

- People click on good-looking people

- People click on sweet food (and bacon) more than other foods

- Clever copywriting can sometimes get penalised with bad performance: if people sniff an 'ad' they can reject content.

I’ve learnt enough to rely on data over instinct when it comes to what creative works best in digital.

Here’s the thing... when it comes to digital creative, if you’re playing by the rules of the platform, the likelihood of you getting clicks is high, guaranteed in fact. You’ll pay more for the clicks if you’re creative doesn’t fit the rules.

When I talk about the rules, a good example is the Facebook 20% rule: no more than 20% of images should be text. If you use a nice looking image that fits that rule, with not-bad copy, and the ad is targeted well, you will get traffic.

Until creative is in market, you never truly know what will work. I almost always opt for using multiple creative in campaigns I run, particularly at launch. This can be done manually by designing multiple creative variations, or by using tools like Facebooks Dynamic Creative. With this tool, by supplying Facebook with 5 images, 5 headlines and 2 CTA choices, you will have 50 creative variations that Facebook will natively optimise towards best outcome for you.

7. You're not using retargeting or capturing data effectively.

Most (in fact pretty much all) people who visit your site the first time won't buy from you or sign up. The first ad click is just the beginning of the relationship. All digital ad campaigns should be supported by retargeting, ideally with a sequence of messages that reinforces your brand story and drives trust, and ultimately brings people back to your site. Second or third time visitors tend to have more intent to buy than people on their first visit.

8. You’re not optimising

In a digital conversion path or funnel, your digital marketing can fail at multiple points: Ad creative, media channel, targeting, landing page message, sales or lead gen process can all be problematic or sub-optimal. Getting them all working hard and in unison takes time and experimenting. Find benchmark results for each of those part of the funnel - fix the bits that aren't performing and work them hard.

Website optimisation is the most important aspect of this. Things like the colour of the 'buy now' button can have a significant impact on your overall results. does heat mapping and user session recordings so you can get insights on exactly how people use your site, then you can use Google Optimise to do multi-variant tests to fix the issues.

9. Your brand is not strong enough

It costs more to sell online for brands with low equity. Being real-world-famous means digital marketing will be more effective for you. Investing in your brand for the long term is a non-negotiable in making digital marketing more effective.

10. You’re getting bad advice

There are a truck-load of digital charlatans out there. Typically these are well-meaning people who try hard but maybe just don’t have the real world experience or battle scars to know what do to when things aren’t working well.

Or sometimes (and this is even worse but happens more) you might be using an agency who should know better but just can’t be bothered getting it right for your brand. I see this much, much, much too often from the big media agencies around town: their digital strategies are super focussed on selling programmatic and they show little to no interest in driving actual business results. Or they’re too busy on the big brands in their building to put much resource and attention on the smaller brands.

I’ve got to say, many of my contemporaries are awesome smart people who I would absolutely trust with my digital marketing money but that’s not a blanket rule...

11 (Bonus). You’re not even 'trying' to get sales

I’ve heard of a surprisingly large amount of people who are still buying page likes in social or sending a vast amount on community engagement but none on direct sales despite having a product that can be brought online. Community engagement is important, but not at the expense of keeping you in business. If you’re not selling, you won’t have a business. Simple.

So there’s the list. In writing these, I thought ten might be hard to get to - in fact I've got another ten ready to go, so I might need to do a part two of this post in the future... watch this space. If you need help to fix any or all of these issues for your business, my phone number is up there at point number one...


Aftermath Digital helps companies get the most out of their digital marketing investments. In a world that's not short on thought leadership or advice, we provide practical, actionable digital marketing that will deliver tangible, meaningful results. This is delivered through a 'Virtual Head of Digital Marketing’ service, offering best-in-class leadership and agency services for businesses who aren't able to justify hiring a permanent senior digital resource. 

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