John Pantlind, Media Director at HDMZ

John Pantlind, Media Director at HDMZ

This should have been a podcast. My interview for GEN’s first Life Science Marketing Blog post with John Pantlind, Media Director at advertising agency HDMZ (Chicago), turned into a wide-ranging conversation about whether blind reliance on measurability in digital marketing is the wisest path to campaign success.

Starting off a new year, I wondered how a respected agency like HDMZ advised its clients to set strategic marketing goals in this age of down-to-the-nub KPIs and precise digital measurability. How were marketers balancing clicks and leads with less tangible branding and awareness objectives? Is there pervasive paralysis by analysis or are companies moving the marketing needle with programmatic and marketing automation—or some combination of both?

If You Can’t Track It, Is It Not Real?

Pantlind says there is just no inherent value in tracking every little thing.

“It’s garbage in garbage out… when you don’t know what the numbers mean, it’s not going to help you make a decision or take an action. Tracking everything on a page might be more trouble than it’s worth if you don’t know what you’re looking for.”

(pull quote: when you don’t know what the numbers mean it’s not going to help you make a decision)

Despite the prevalent wave of programmatic, keywords and meta-targeting, Pantlind points to a concurrent rise in data privacy concerns calling into question how deep the well really goes in the new precision marketing.

Against current conventional wisdom, he believes the most proven results still can come from content and brand recognition, and he maintains the major trend in life science marketing in 2019 will be the revival of publisher-driven direct campaigns and a movement away from ultra-fancy ad units and programmatic marketing; as he puts it, a shift back to quality.

“We saw publishers with page peels and roller ads because the industry became very click-driven. We’re finally starting to realize that clicks, whether coming from placements or creative, aren’t comparable to each other and, by themselves, aren’t very effective measurement tools,” said Pantlind. “For example, we saw publishers with wallpaper on their websites getting an enormous number of clicks…. however, because of tracking tools, we saw only a small percentage of those actually make it to the intended landing page.”

Pantlind has also identified an even greater push to align native content with high-value editorial content from the publisher.

“Content provides something of value to a potential customer”

“We’ve found that content-based ads whether native contextual or native articles have much higher conversion rates than traditional banner ads because content provides something of value to a potential customer. Whitepaper promotions, blogs, surveys, and other informational content programs do a much better job at engaging readers.”

Getting Real with KPIs and Campaign Goals

No more flying blind. Pantlind notes his teams and clients are having more conversations about KPIs, but that’s not the panacea by itself. Marketing teams are given budgets for campaigns but don’t have discussions on ‘what success looks like’. Often, he finds that when they inquire about marketing objectives, clients say they want it all—awareness, leads, thought leadership—from a single placement. That’s not realistic.

His teams attempt to build achievable campaigns from the outset. Making sure success factors are lined up to tactics and KPIs. “Ask at the beginning of the campaign rather than at the end,” Pantlind remarks.

“Clients say they want it all— awareness, leads, thought leadership – from a single placement. That’s not realistic.”

Pantlind says more advertisers are aligning themselves with CRMs and marketing automation platforms that drive conversation with sales teams and are linked to sales objectives – such as Salesforce, Pardot, Marketo, and others. He adds that HDMZ uses Google Tag Manager in concert with Google Campaign Manager for conversion measurement on landing pages; again, starting backward from end conversion to drive ad placement.

Showing performance to senior management can also be a challenge.

“We would like to see everything attributed to a specific line item and dollar amount. But there might not be a correlation between one campaign and one sale,” said Pantlind.  “All the prospect touchpoints, leads generated, search placement clicks, and branding/thought leadership—they all combine to work the engine that delivers results.” 

Getting to the Heart of What Matters

What excites Pantlind about what’s happening in life science marketing right now is that we’re focusing more on qualitative outcomes. He says any of the ad placements handled by HDMZ won’t ultimately create big wins if they don’t convey a feeling of pride or excitement. It all starts by putting yourself in the position of a target persona.

“Sure, you can measure macro KPIs or infer success from metrics, but it’s how it makes you feel – that’s more the predictor of success.”

For some campaigns, he says, it’s far more about awareness and less about pure measurability. The most significant impact comes from delivering a terrific experience to a targeted group of people. It’s about emotion, the feeling. And not always only for the end user.

“The excitement generated within the client company is key,” he says. “When the CEO is talking about the campaign and not just the marketing team, we know we have a winner.”

“It’s how it makes you feel – that’s more the predictor of success”

In that sense, Pantlind sees a return in putting “gut” back into decision-making and analyzing success. Some audience groups don’t click ads or download whitepapers or attend webinars. Campaigns HDMZ clients talk about most often aren’t necessarily digital-only campaigns that generated hundreds of leads. He points to creative event sponsorships and cover tips on GEN Magazine as tried and true kinds of campaigns with legs.

“We still get excited when we see our client holding the magazine with their ad placement in it. Surprisingly, it’s what we hear about the most. It turns a single campaign into something more lasting and experiential. The reality is even if you drive traffic to the client’s website, there is no guarantee that’s the person who you’re looking for. Sometimes, the most reliable measure of success is how it makes you feel.”