The thing about metrics your digital consultants probably don’t tell you

Don’t get “click-baited” by your digital consultants. Make sure they’re willing to tell you what you don’t want to hear.

I understand the title for this article seems a bit click-baitish, but I ask you bare with me for a bit. At Hines Digital, we’re pretty serious about crafting deep, real, and relational experiences between a candidate/campaign and their communities. This usually means an approach seemingly opposite than the one represented by a click-bait strategy.

It usually means an approach that strives to express real, authentic, and compelling narratives that last beyond mere curiosity triggers. This is not to say click-bait type appeals don’t have their place in engagement plans — there is indeed a time and a place for them. After all, humans are creatures driven in part by curiosity.

However, you need more than curiosity to build a community. It helps you get a prospect’s foot in the door, but it doesn’t mean they’re a full-blown loyalist of your message, campaign, and community.

As we are all aware, human relationships are incredibly complex.

It’s why partners court one another before getting married, and then still spend a lifetime learning about — and cultivating their relationship with — their spouse. It’s why how you talk to someone depends on whether you relate to them as a family member, as a subordinate, or as a friend. It’s why languages often have articles and the endings of words change to reflect formal or informal human relations.

When it comes to building online communities, we tend to forget that they too inherent the complexity of developing human relationships.

It’s not just enough to generate a lead. You have to develop a relationship with the person. Your message to them has to reflect where they are in their relationship with you. You have to see them flourish in your community step by step.

So what does all this have to do with the noted article’s title? Sometimes, digital consultants fail to communicate the complexity of developing online human relationships. They share the same motivations as a click-bait strategy in how they report performance: they focus on selling you on immediate metrics that grab a person’s attention.

They may focus on reporting singular metrics like website clicks. Or impressions. Or views. Or if they’re even better, they will focus on key performance indicators (KPI) that generate a positive return on investment (ROI) like generated leads and donations per new lead. They may model conversion funnels for you. They may even boil it down to things that sounds good, like cost per impression, cost per lead, cost per website click.

Now there’s nothing wrong with this. If your consultant isn’t reporting metrics to you, you probably need to look elsewhere. Clients need to see some metrics-based value of the consultants they work with. Unfortunately, success in digital is far more complex than a single or pair of metrics.

Here’s what they probably don’t want you to know: just because they’re getting you a lower cost per website click than someone else, or cost per lead, doesn’t mean they’re being more successful. The opposite could actually be happening.

A good digital consultant would be able to get lower CPMs, or CPCs, just for the sake of lowering them to please you. They can just broaden the audience, as one example. Simply put, metrics don’t tell the whole story. They may appeal to your curiosity. Your desire to keep things simple and feel like you got your money’s worth. But they only share a fragment of information. They’re “baiting” you with data.

Furthermore, metrics can actually be misleading. At Hines Digital, we’ll often begin working with a client who points to a low CPM or CPC as justification for their strategy. After a bit of data-driven digging, we often find that by focusing on conversion pixels that optimize to meet KPIs related to audience-based levels of an engagement ladder, we produce a higher real ROI by focusing on the relationship and not singular engagements/metrics.

In other words, we’ll often find that by optimizing to target the conversion of a very micro-targeted audience (exp: utilizing geographical, interest, behavioral, and demographic data to target, say, 30–60 year old conservative donors from TX who like pro-life issues, are dog owners, have not signed up on your site, and do not like liberal causes and candidates XYZ), you may get a cost per website click that is 2–3x higher than what you were originally aiming for, but actually produces a much higher ROI. Sometimes, this even takes some time to manifest over a supporter’s lifecycle.

It’s pretty common at Hines to find a client who is actually pouring money into optimizing something that is actually working against them generating positive returns on their paid investment. It’s unfortunately pretty easy for digital consultants to justify the value of their work by pointing to a single or a small number of metrics as proof that a client is getting their money’s worth.

The difficult but authentic conversation with a client is the one where you tell them metrics can be misleading, and that they really depend on a number of combined factors.

Or that higher ROI may occur over time (as the Trump campaign discovered when their long-term investments list-growing and targeting finally generated tremendous ROI in the final 90 days leading up to the election). Each metric is a sentence that helps articulate the broader story. They’re contextual, just like aspects of human relationships (mother, father, boyfriend, girlfriend), and language (sentence, clause, paragraph, chapter). Like any piece of data, they need to be interpreted, and this usually involves bringing it into discussion with other pieces of data.

To understand the broader picture, some metrics are surely better than others, such as clear KPI that drive a positive ROI (such as optimizing and reporting around cost per conversions [lead, donations, sales]). But just as human relationships are complex offline, so are they complex in creating real and authentic ROI-churning online communities. The right metric really depends on specific goals and scenarios. A good digital consultant will tell you they’d rather pay 3x for a cost per click to target some prime targets — such as high prospective potential voters — than get a lower cpc for the sake of getting a lower cpc and bloating their reporting. They will tell you the right metric really depends. If they’re really good, they will even tell you when something isn’t working, instead of trying to just make themselves look good.

Click-bait works because it helps get a foot in the door. As a digital strategy, it helps you get some easy metrics. But it doesn’t build a relationship and a community. The same goes for how a consultant handles reporting metrics and performance. It’s easy for them to “click-bait” you with a handful of metrics.

It’s easy to just point at impressions or clicks and say they’re better than another agency because their cost per click is lower. However, that doesn’t reflect a genuine desire to build a relationship with you. A good digital consultant knows metrics can be subjective, and will tell you as much (and trust me, this is never an easy conversation). They will work to find what set of metrics actually drive the KPI that produce real ROI, and they will do it in a way that addresses were audiences are in their relationships with you.

In short, it’s hard to say, but a digital consultant’s authenticity and their relationship with you is just as important — if not more than — as the metrics they generate. You need someone who not only understands the big and small picture of data, but who is willing to tell you what worked or didn’t work, and why.

At Hines, our approach with building digital communities focuses on producing real, authentic, ROI-producing human communities. Our approach consulting with campaigns and candidates is the same: we want to establish real authentic relationships, and we want to see them flourish. Real relationships take time. Sacrifice. Investment. Honestly. But they pay off, whether it’s in building a digital community, or a consultant’s relationship with a client.

Don’t get “click-baited” by your digital consultants. Make sure they’re willing to tell you what you don’t want to hear.

Hi. I’m Leonard O Goenaga, Director of Client Strategies at Hines Digital. We are the world’s leading digital strategy & technology provider to conservative campaigns and causes. We’ve partnered with conservative clients in Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Malta, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

We’re focused on the permanent things: great client services, measurable, meaningful results, and promises kept. To us, service is sacred. We know that great clients are hard to find, and we aim to keep them.

If you’re running a campaign or cause and want to get the most out of your digital strategy, drop us a line at We’d love to chat.