When we first began Digital Marketing, impressions were everything. For almost the first two decades of digital advertising impressions were the gold standard, with clicks and click-through-rates right behind. But as digital advertising has become more sophisticated marketers are looking for KPI’s that are closer to the outcome they need. It begs the question, do impressions matter?

Traditional Advertising Measurement

For years media was measured by estimates of how many people read a publication based on circulation rates and what we perceived were “pass-along” rates. The number of people who read a single issue. (think People Magazine in the doctor’s office) Radio and TV were measured by ratings. Those were generally garnered by people filling out diaries of what they heard or watched and then extrapolated for the population being measured.

But, with the arrival of display ads we could say definitively “X” number of eyeballs were pasted on an ad and how often. Marketers now only paid for what they received, giving them tremendous control.

Of course, there were many ads on the digital page as well as content. Impressions did not mean the ad was read or that there was interest. CMO’s could not really prove that impressions were impacting sales, which is what they are measured on. What we really wanted to pay for were actions taken closer to the outcome needed. As new advertising channels popped up and new products were developed, we looked for new actions.

New Advertising Tools

Pay-per-click brought us further down the funnel. We could now direct prospects where we wanted them. Different tools could be brought forward to engage and qualify the prospect, such as email. The objective became less about volume and more about quality.

For many businesses, the cost-per-lead or cost-per-conversion became the staple KPI. In some instances, the conversion designated interest and the prospect could be turned over to Sales. If the lead was not deemed ready for sales, then new means of engagement are added. Marketers now look at the pool of leads and determine which can be brought further down the funnel. Segmentation is vital in determining what message is served next.

This requires marketing tactics that draw intent signals from the purchaser, and then getting them to take actions which move them further down the funnel. Videos, webinars and live events engage prospects while teaching them more about the company or product in question. This can bring them to the conversion point where Sales steps in. Measurement of buyer intent is critically important.

Custom Solutions

The exciting point is that this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. There is a need to understand the prospect, the sales funnel, and implement the strategies and tactics that will best fit. The age-old need for marketers to work with media companies to design the best solutions still exists. Marketers may need multiple partners but the need for custom packages is as important as ever.

So, do impressions matter? Ironically, they do but the requirements changed. We need to find prospects somewhere, but we are no longer willing to take a shotgun approach. At one time, you could justify buying the Sci-FI channel in hopes of catching CIO’s. No longer.

Do Impressions Matter

Now we prospect or buy lists so that we only target who we want with our initial outreach. It allows for a more customized, meaningful message. If we want to sell cough drops, we utilize data from stores allowing us to target people who have bought cold and flu products in the last seven days.  We still use a large number of impressions/prospects, but they are already pre-qualified. They are closer to conversion then a random target. And depending on their action we can seamlessly move to a sale. The right impressions really do matter.