How to Run a Digital Marketing Campaign: Planning, Measuring, and Optimizing to Improve Performance

Need a quick ride?  There's Uber. Where to go?  Try Yelp.  What's that song?  Shazam!


As the saying goes, “There's an app for that.” 
So, what’s the go-to for digital campaign planning? 
Check out this checklist from the digital planning experts at MNI Targeted Media. 
It’s an excellent starting point.

Pick Smart, Measurable Marketing Objectives

Any road trip has a destination—more or less.  The same should be true when starting a digital campaign.  Only by knowing key objectives and measures of success can a road map to achieving them be determined.  Is the campaign goal awareness, site traffic, engagement, online sales, lead generation, or in-store traffic? In most situations, there will be more than one goal, which means there will also be more than one KPI.  And just to complicate matters, for each goal there may be a different strategy.  As a recent article in MarketingLand said, “Once you know where you want to go, it’s much easier to determine the KPIs to ensure you’re on the path to success.” That’s why getting a clear consensus on goals and buy-in from all internal teams is essential to formulating digital strategies.

How to Choose the Right KPIs

• Understanding CTR: For bigger brands, awareness is nearly always a top goal. Since click-through-rate (CTR) doesn’t take the cost of the placement into account, very often they work inversely to one another. That is, a high-cost impression may deliver high click-through rates but low site traffic. It’s important to understand this difference, particularly if CTR will be the main KPI. The best first step here is to decide what the ideal metric for awareness is for your brand. If it’s engagement with creative, for example, share that goal with your agency partner so you can work together to optimize against it.

• Follow the Bouncing Ball: If site traffic is the main KPI, its best to be mindful of the ratio of low-cost targeted impressions and to monitor CTR as a secondary KPI. Marketers who choose to rely on site traffic should also keep an eye on bounce rates, paths, and time on site to learn which audiences are engaging more deeply with their content, so they can follow the click to inform future campaigns.

• User Engagement: Typically, online video engagement is measured using a Video Completion Rate (VCR), but it can also be measured by time spent with high-impact creative or with post-click metrics. It’s always best to determine which type of engagement should be measured and to establish an industry-specific benchmark before the campaign launches.

• Click-To-Buy Doesn’t Always Provide the Big Picture for Ecommerce Campaigns.  Everyone loves a sale but it’s important to remember that the single purchase doesn’t account for in-store sales or long-term influence.  For example, a consumer may purchase the item today after engaging with an ad. The move here for savvy marketers is to keep an eye on both short- and longer-term success, and if at all possible, to include closed-loop attribution. Marketers who include in-store sales in campaign results, by using either physical coupon codes or some other mechanism, will have the greatest insight.

• When There Are Too Many Balls in the Air, It Gets Difficult to Juggle. Measuring data out of multiple platforms often creates discrepancies. A central ad server allows agencies to focus on a verified set of data for a digital campaign, however, if clients are also considering data from site server platforms, Google Analytics, or other third-party reporting platforms like Adobe Analytics, Pardot, etc., there will likely be discrepancies. Each platform has its own counting methodologies when it comes to impressions, clicks, and other metrics and will not align 1 to 1. Even two platforms both owned by Google (i.e., Google Analytics and DoubleClick) will not
align perfectly.



Messaging that is fresh and new will always do better.  Switching creative up every few weeks requires a higher-level of project management, but it’s worth it.  The basic rule-of-thumb when readying campaign creative is for it to adapt it to the time and space of the user, as in “give them what they want” while remaining on point to brand messaging.  Doing this while switching out creative units every 2-3 months makes all the difference.  Campaign creative, like items in a pantry, can get stale.  Just as an old cookie is less appealing, the performance of creative that has overstayed its welcome will likely dip in performance.

The best campaigns include a blended media mix. A small budget or short flight may only allow for one tactic to run for a digital campaign, but the best campaigns are a mix of different tactics and medias such as display, mobile, social, search, etc. The different tactics complement one another, allowing the user to be reached on the right platform based on their position in the media funnel based on their individual actions.  It also makes it easier to optimize toward other tactics if one is underperforming.

Creative Optimization: Creative optimizations leverage available data to match a potential audience with the creative version most likely to garner a response. This ensures that the targeted media placement is on track to achieve the desired results.  Creative optimization can also be applied to low-cost non-targeted inventory (run of network or run of site). In that case, audience data available from other sources can be overlaid on the media to enable creative personalization—increasing overall ROI at a lower media cost.



Even the most advanced algorithm cannot replace a solid strategy and the familiarity with the target audience.  The best results are achieved when time is taken to research and learn about the preferences of the target audiences.  When, where, and how a new parent is targeted, for example, is going to be very different from the campaign targeting an outdoor enthusiast.

PRO TIP:  Test Judiciously:


Creative optimization is an extension of the A/B or multivariate testing methodology,
but with three important differences:

1. Creative optimization recognizes that there may be a different winning creative for each potential target audience.

2. Creative optimization algorithms account for the possibility that the winning creative may change over time with target audience’s preferences.

3. Given the above, creative optimization campaigns allow for multiple creative messages or concepts to be shown to the same audience. This is done to ensure that a winning creative is shown at any given time, to an audience whose preference may change over time.

Be Nimble: The best campaigns start with one plan and end with another. As a campaign runs and is optimized toward the best-performing tactics, creatives, sites, etc., the plan is subject to change—and should—but that doesn’t mean changing goals.  Digital is always changing and should be adaptable based on how a user is interacting with an ad, therefore your campaign should be, too.


Pixels & Tags: Your Key to Measuring Performance

Small but Mighty: Pixels and Tags. A pixel is an optimization tactic and a tag is used for tracking purposes.  Both are short snippets of java script (code) that collect information about a visitor to a website and their behaviors on the site.  This data, in turn, is sent back to the advertising platform to be processed and reported.

PRO TIP: Tracking Best Practices


Stefanie Sena, Director, Digital Account Operations, MNI Targeted Media

Without placing a pixel on a website, any website, to track the path to conversion, it is almost impossible
to optimize toward the right users when a digital campaign has a conversion-based goal. Placing pixels and
ROI tags allows planners to monitor, optimize and track, and record post-interaction activities to drive
quality conversions.

1. Agencies cannot measure conversions without the proper tracking in place. Be as intentional as possible—you don’t need to fire pixels at every single user or for every page visit on a site.

2. Put a cap on tracking pixel frequency to reduce lag for your end users.  Slow load times can drive visitors away.

3. Remember who you’re tracking: If you’re going for the new parent don’t waste tracking pixels by firing them at seniors.

4. Respect privacy practices and “do not track” requests.

5. All targets to opt out of tracking.

6. Watch the calendar: Sync the pixels with the campaign.

Google Analytics, while insightful, are only one small piece of measuring the success of a digital campaign. Here’s the thing: Google Analytics measure time spent, bounce rate, etc., while related to a digital ad but they are also a reflection of a websites content.  For example, if the site loads slowly or is hard to navigate, even the best creative won’t get someone to spend time there.


Be Smart, Be Strategic, and Stay the Course

Mindful of how fast digital channels change and are updated, no campaign will ever run perfectly. As platforms become more automated and media moves more toward programmatic, machine learning is impressive but imperfect, and a human element is still necessary. The potential of technology and data is awesome, but the human perspective will never go away and that’s why it’s important to take planning and execution one step
at a time.



1. Define goals and stick to them.

2. Customize campaigns: Consider the consumer experience and path to conversion.

3. Keep creative fresh. High impact and flashy creative are not always the best solution for every KPI.

4. Learn about the passion points and pain points of your target audience.  Even the most advanced algorithm cannot replace a solid strategy and the familiarly with the target audience.

5. Respect the pixel and the power of a well-placed tag to inform strategies and track campaign results.