Everything feels new. We are constantly experimenting and feeling our way with new digital media and stimuli, to see what works and what doesn’t. These days, clients and agencies alike are best served to adopt a beginners mind. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few,” said Shunryu Suzuki.

That said, some old principles still hold true. I was reminded of this recently while reviewing the results of an SEM campaign with our team and client. We had set some pretty ambitious goals for this campaign and, at the end of the day, the conversions were just not there.

This learning moment called to mind the classic consumer “decision making” model I learned in business school decades ago, long before we talked about lead nurturing and “journeys.” The expert view was that consumers follow a linear path: recognition of a need > a search for information > consideration of alternatives > decision > reevaluation of decision.

While technology has certainly made search and consideration faster, easier, and more robust, I do believe the steps in this process still generally apply. In our exuberance over measurement and attribution, we must always remember that the numbers represent people behaviors. Paid search primarily leads to consideration, not always an immediate decision or purchase, especially in high-involvement, high-cost product categories.

As we think of our campaigns, therefore, we must always consider the underlying behavioral science of what we propose. We must ask ourselves, “What can our specific digital media tactics realistically achieve?” and we should set our conversion goals accordingly. Sometimes adhering to some old principles helps us learn something new.