Are We Winning Yet? (Why Most Brands Have No Idea)

Brand & Positioning Strategy
Site & eCommerce
April 28, 2020
News & Media

How to Measure Your Brand's True Digital Performance & Take Action to Improve it

Imagine any given metric that a marketer might use to track success. Say, website traffic, to use a common example.

If traffic was increasing like this, that would be good, right?

Internal Data
Your hypothetical website traffic

There’s some slow-downs and spikes here and there, but in general it’s up and to the right. We increased traffic by 15% over this time period. Nice.

We’ve just described how the vast majority of marketing analytics, measurement, and planning is conducted.

  1. Choose important metrics to track, based on the internal data available
  2. Keep an eye on it
  3. Up and to the right? Great, we’re winning.

That’s pretty much the long and short of it.

The key limitation to the way that most marketers measure performance is that by only looking at internal data, you only see what’s going on inside your own four walls, which can be very misaligned with reality.

Let’s add a competitor’s traffic to the graph.

Internal vs Competitor Data
Your hypothetical web traffic (blue) vs. a competitor (red)

Only Measuring Your Brand's Marketing Data Can Paint a Misleading Picture

All of the sudden, there’s A LOT more valuable information to unpack:

They’re generating roughly 5x - 10x the amount of traffic that we are. We always knew they were a formidable competitor, but we had no idea that they were eclipsing us by this much.

We grew our traffic by 15%, but in the same period our competitor grew theirs by 28%. We’re not growing as fast as they are.

There was a point in time where traffic spiked for both us and them, but they did a better job of maintaining the increased level of traffic, while ours dropped back to the previous level. They must have done something to hold onto the increase while we didn’t.

Benchmarking our brand versus competitors can completely change how we are looking at things, and the strategies we create to win.

When we only looked at our own data on traffic we thought that we were doing great. After looking at this competitor’s data, we realized that they are generating far more traffic, growing more quickly, and doing a better job of maintaining increases.

None of this takes away from the success we’ve generated. We did grow our traffic by 15% after all, but all of the sudden, it seems like we have a lot more work to do. While that can be sobering, it’s also incredibly valuable.

How to Gain A Holistic Picture of Digital Performance

In the example above we only looked at one metric. Where things get really exciting is when you benchmark your brand across the entire digital landscape in an apples to apples way, and do it continuously over time to spot trends to dig deeper into.

Three things to pay attention to there.

Benchmark All Relevant Digital Channels

Creating an effective strategy depends on having the most complete picture possible, so we need to find data and metrics about our competitors that span every digital channel, not just a patchwork. At RightMetric we look at the following metrics for competitors’ at a minimum

  • Website & traffic
  • Email list size & sending activity
  • Social activity & content performance
  • Digital advertising spend
  • App usage (if applicable)

These represent the majority of meaningful areas that a brand can reach their audience online in a measurable way.

Make Apples-to-Apples Comparisons

There are some competitive metrics that simply aren’t available from any data source, but you can see for your own brand using first party data tools. Naturally, many of those metrics are important to look at for yourself, but we don’t recommend including them in a competitive analysis because they just aren’t available for competitors.

Track Things Continuously to Spot Trends

Market research and competitive benchmarking efforts (marketing intelligence) often fall flat because a ton of resources are poured into a one time “audit”, “deep dive”, or “snapshot report”. Even if a one-time report can look back on historical data to spot trends, we’ve seen time after time that they become obsolete within months. People wonder if the current situation is really still reflected in that market report they bought a year ago, doubt creeps in. Much better to continuously monitor in near real time.

Let’s look at an example from one of our monthly reports on the beauty industry.

Competitor Benchmarking

This gives us a pretty clear scoreboard of who’s winning amongst these competitors in the beauty space, which can be extremely useful context for leadership and strategy discussions.

The question remains, if you’re on the marketing team and you need to actually DO something with data. Where do you go next?

How to Take Action on Digital Benchmarking Data

It’s not enough to benchmark. If you want to use that data to make real business gains you need to take it a few steps further.

Identify Anomalies

First, we need to look for anomalies, outliers. Changes to competitors’ metrics that are both large scale and happening quickly. These are usually the signs of an interesting marketing strategy at work, and the faster we’re aware of it the faster we can deconstruct it and decide if it’s worth emulating.

An easy place to start is web traffic. In the example below we’re looking at eSalon, a DTC home hair colouring brand. In late March 2020 their website traffic increased about 4X beyond the norm, from 50K daily visits up to 200K.

eSalon Website Traffic Chart
eSalon's traffic spiked massively in March 2020

Tell the story of the anomaly

Ah, late March, 2020. The two week period when every person with dyed hair realized that the jig was up and they wouldn’t be seeing their stylist for quite some time.

As you can imagine, searches for “home hair dye” were up significantly.

We can see that reflected in eSalon’s Organic Search Traffic numbers, but there’s another— even bigger —traffic spike from Display Ads.

eSalon Search Interest Graph
Searches for “home hair dye”

eSalon Organic Search & Display Ads Graph
eSalon's Web Traffic from Organic Search & Display Ads

eSalon saw the boom in home hair dye coming and decided to capitalize on the increased interest by increasing their Display Ad spend by 10X their regular budget, at one point spending almost $100K daily, almost exclusively on desktop display ads.

eSalon Ad Spend Graph
eSalon's Ad Spend

Surprisingly, eSalon’s top display ad creatives didn’t make specific mention of Covid or at-home dyes. They tested a couple that did, but quickly turned them off in favour of more general messaging.

DIY Hair Dye Ad Creatves
These didn't work, suprisingly

It seems like they’ve landed on one or two pieces of ad creative that are really working for them.

DIY Hair Dye Ad Creatives
These were the top performing ad creatives

Top performing ad creative had four key elements:

  • All images, no videos
  • Images of the back of a woman’s head, not the face
  • Vibrant hair colours were shown
  • Sometimes the hair dying process was shown

Aside from a strong budget and ad creative that is obviously working, eSalon’s performance marketing team continued the strong execution through to their landing page.

eSalon Landing Page Example

First of all, it’s worth noting the importance of using a campaign-specific landing page for any paid campaigns. Not doing this is a commonly missed opportunity we see across brands and industries.

This instance of the landing page uses elements of a long form sales letter style. One doesn’t see this style of landing page as much as in the past, but they’ve been proven again and again to be incredibly effective when executed well. Moving into speculation, I’d also wager that the landing page being designed to emulate the look and feel of a blog post lend to its success.

On the more technical side of things, eSalon is making use of landing page split testing by running a variety of versions of the page and tracking results using UTM’s.

eSalon Landing Page Examples

Multiple offers are being tested as well, with one landing page offering Free Shipping while the other page offers 50% off the product price.

Consolidate the Learnings and Test Them

Well, we’ve learned a lot from this exercise of benchmarking a competitor then examining an anomaly in their digital performance data. Not only does this provide us with useful context if we’re in the beauty and wellness industry, it gives us a list of hypotheses for our own marketing team to test in an effort to replicate the 4x increase in traffic that eSalon generated in late March.

This is everything we’d recommend testing after completing this analysis:

  • Monitor audience trends for campaign cues. eSalon launched this campaign at the exact time that audience interest was skyrocketing.
  • The campaign focused heavily on Desktop Display ad placements
  • Top performing ad creative had four key elements
  1. All images, no videos
  2. Images of the back of a woman’s head, not the face
  3. Vibrant hair colours were shown
  4. Sometimes the hair dying process was shown
  • Top performing ad copy had three key elements
  1. Calling out the job of “grey hair dying”
  2. Calling out the pain point of “traditional hair dying”
  3. Using an element of mystery to get the user to click through saying “try this instead…” but not giving much clue as to what “this” is.
  • Use campaign-specific landing pages. They can outperform product detail pages.
  • Consider a landing page design that combines elements from a long-form sales letter and a blog post.
  • Test multiple versions of all landing pages
  • Test multiple offers on landing pages like free shipping versus product discounts
  • Track testing results with UTMs

Happy testing!


If you see value in this methodology, consider checking out RightMetric Insights, the monthly marketing intelligence subscription that gives you access to:

  • Competitors’ Digital Metrics For Benchmarking Purposes
  • Custom Case Studies of High Performing Strategies & Tactics in Your Industry
  • Timely Audience Trends in Your Industry

If you’d like a live demo of RightMetric insights, feel free to book one with us.

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