As campaigns increasingly incorporate new media into their strategy and budgets, the pressure is on to make sure these new methods are living up to the hype. If you focus on the wrong pieces of your online campaign, you’ll sacrifice time, resources, and possibly, a competitive advantage.  

Here are some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen campaigns make in the age of new media, and, most importantly, here’s how to avoid them:   

1. Forgetting to master the fundamentals

Talking about big data and the latest digital tools is fun. Much like showing a concept car at a car show, it offers an exciting glimpse into the future of campaigning. But the reality is a large number of campaigns still haven’t figured out how to get email addresses at events or at the door, or how to properly code and track the data they do collect. They’re not prepared to deploy the latest tech advances or techniques.

Campaigns without giant budgets or data-crunching departments often struggle simply to get their staff trained on the basics of communicating online or using a proper database. People are becoming more tech savvy in general, but campaigns have a long, long way to go. There’s a natural tension between those who want to use the latest and greatest methods and tools, and those who are faced with the structural and organizational deficits that impede or outright prevent deployment.

Being on the cutting edge might give you a competitive advantage, but it also might cripple your campaign as you struggle to deploy and train on a new system that may or may not work better than the old one. Think Windows 8 or iOS7. Knowing what not to try is a critically important skill for online consultants. Before you get too deep in tech, make sure your team is already mastering basic data collection and communications - and that the resources are there to properly train and manage a whole new list of tech-related issues.

2. Deploying creative that’s disconnected from the strategy

The ad itself is the most important part of the program, and yet this is the online element that seems to get the least amount of attention in conferences. I’ve seen beautiful online creative that is completely disassociated with the desired outcome, such as persuasion ads for acquisition campaigns (and vice versa). I’ve seen acquisition campaigns that have no call to action, landing pages without any connection to the ad itself (or the underlying strategy), and graphics that were meant for large screens shrunk down to unintelligible or unrecognizable blobs.

Don’t let the online creative be an afterthought. Make sure your online, TV, and direct mail consultants are collaborating (more on this below). If the goal is to get signups, the ad itself must ask for that in an obvious way. Sometimes, the best ads tell people what to do in the most basic and un-clever) terms.  I ran a campaign once where the best performing search ad headline was simply “Congress info FL-19” because that’s what people ultimately wanted info on. Anyone experienced with Facebook will tell you that if you want likes, you need to actually ask for them.

As with TV ads, the pacing and motion of online animated ads can make a huge difference in their effectiveness. The best looking, slickest ads don’t necessarily perform the best. Make sure the people creating your ads aren’t simply designers, website developers, or vendors, but that they actually have experience in matching strong concepts tied to sound strategy.

3. Looking at the wrong metrics at the wrong times

Your key performance metrics should always align with the call to action and the intent of the ad. What a lot of campaigns (and sadly, some online consultants) don’t realize is that a metric that looks good for one type of campaign may actually be harmful in another. 

For example: If you’re running online persuasion ads, in pre-roll, for example, the call to action is often going to be “vote/think this way” instead of “click/contribute here.”  Ultimately the goal is to persuade or motivate, and clicks or contributions are actually secondary, or tertiary, benefits. Some campaigns, however, still get the click and acquisition data and erroneously move the goal posts. They focus on data like click-through rates (CTR) instead of the key initial metrics of a persuasion campaign: impressions, reach, frequency, and completion rates (how much of the video ad people actually get through before clicking away). The actual persuasion, of course, is measured in votes and/or polling.

In fact, the click can actually hurt persuasion ad campaigns. If I’m buying banners on a cost per click basis, I’m only charged when someone clicks the ad. The more my target audience doesn’t click, the more persuasion impressions I’ll get to show within my budget. More clicks may actually limit reach and frequency.