Success through Measurement

By guest blogger Chris Hackney from WebMD

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” - John Wanamaker

Although the words above were first uttered over a century ago, for many brand managers they still represent one of the key marketing challenges faced today. The tools at our disposal are more advanced, but more often than not they are still limited. With the downturn in the economy we’ve seen a dramatic shift in the marketing strategies of the biggest marketing companies in the country (Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Coca-Cola to name a few) as well as smaller players that we work with. Many are freezing or cutting budgets, while some are charging ahead in a play for market share. None are standing still and all of them are applying greater scrutiny to each line item of their budgets.
In general terms we are seeing the proverbial hatchet being taken to two broader categories of spending. High profile partnerships (entertainment integration or stadium naming rights for example) are the first and represent a large line item in many marketing budgets. On the other end of the spectrum, experimental programs (like in-game advertising) are also seeing pullbacks. While disparate in nature, both share a common issue: they are among the most difficult marketing vehicles to measure actual return on investment. Many high-profile events raise a brand’s awareness, but how does that translate into sales? And what exactly does it mean to my business that ten thousand people have “friended” me on Facebook? While this issue is most evident for these spending categories, in varying degrees the same point confronts every other marketing component.

In the majority of my recent client discussions with brand managers and agencies they have reiterated the following theme consistently - Marketing initiatives that can demonstrate measurable success will move forward. All others will fall out of the plan. Even though current economic conditions are driving the urgency behind this message, it’s not a bad philosophy if employed strategically.

In looking to properly institute this approach in evaluating your marketing plan, the three principles below should serve as a strategic foundation for your efforts:

- Objectives Point the Way – Do Not Deviate: The funny thing about strategies is that everyone has one, but few execute them well. Some of this owes to the fact that managers love the front-end of strategy development – ideation, brainstorming, & big pronouncements - but the real work is done in the trenches over the long-haul. Once a strategy is set each prospective initiative must be evaluated against the strategic objectives and judged accordingly. This requires rigor, but if applied consistently can be of great value. The shifting nature of your competitive landscape will always require course corrections, but it’s important to remember that a course correction should simply act as a detour towards the same destination (too often it unintentionally leads to a destination far removed from the original strategy). Adhering to this principle not only keeps you on the right path, but also gives you a long-term roadmap to measure the relative success of marketing efforts.

- Goals Dictate Measurement – Match Accordingly: Once initiatives have been green-lighted based on your strategic filter, then what you measure should be directly aligned to determine if the initiative succeeded in helping you achieve your strategic goals. In an ideal world all tactics could be directly traced to sales impact, but in reality this is rarely possible. Either a direct cause-effect link doesn’t exist or untangling the effect of various initiatives is too complex. In the absence of such a direct link marketers do have powerful tools at their disposal to measure the relative effectiveness of a campaign. In the digital world, much of the focus has centered on click through rates (CTRs) and related measures of action. Reliance on CTRs is a legacy of the early beginnings of online media and often is a misguided measurement for a program’s success. While actual sales data is usually unavailable there are plenty of measures that can be used much like guideposts to determine sales impact. Depending on the strategic emphasis of the campaign, measures such as awareness, brand equity levels and finally purchase intent can provide good direction. In addition, in the past year new measurement platforms, such as Nielsen NetEffect, have been developed that allow retail transaction level impact to be measured against individual online campaigns. Regardless of the measurement device employed, the key is to map out the goal first and then determine the proper means of measurement.

- Never Forget That The Whole Can Be Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts : In recent years the idea of an “integrated marketing campaign” has gotten plenty of buzz by marketers, but few have put together campaigns that are truly integrated. On the most basic level an integrated campaign should accomplish two things: (1) the campaign should convey consistent messaging (look & feel) across all consumer touch-points; and (2) it should embed hand-off points across the campaign elements that helps accelerate a consumer’s product adoption curve. An example of this second point is worth looking at:

- To properly employ point #2 you first need to know how consumers use media in evaluating your respective category (for example, the brand adoption curve and information sources employed is very different in considered purchase categories such as automotive versus a common staple category such as breakfast cereals). This knowledge will give you the guidance you need to build the proper hand-off points. Various media vehicles, in broad terms, have different strengths when it comes to consumer marketing. In general terms research shows us that TV and Print are strong awareness generators. Meanwhile, many consumers now research purchase decisions and rely primarily on Online for this information. Finally, there still is no better venue to close the deal on a purchase than Retail itself (via in-store messaging and packaging on shelf). With this knowledge in hand you can then construct a TV campaign that directs consumers Online to learn more and then an Online portal that helps consumers locate a Retail location for your product. This also should serve as a two-way street – your Retail messaging can be utilized to drive consumers Online for additional information or tangential value.

If an integrated campaign accomplishes both of these objectives then it will benefit from the fact that each element has a distinct purpose that ties each together. In our work with consumer companies we’ve seen this consistently borne out in the program results recorded – in effect the impact of each consumer touch-point is amplified and works to drive the consumer through the product adoption process at an accelerated rate.

While we still live in a world where marketing can still be as much of an art as science, following the advice above can help improve your decision making process and give you a competitive edge in your consumer messaging campaigns. In tough times such advantages can make all the difference in the world.

Chris Hackney is Senior Director of Strategic Development at WebMD where he oversees the development of the company’s CPG portfolio, partnerships & internal strategy. He previously worked at The Coca-Cola Company as Brand Manager for the Coca-Cola brands. In this capacity he set brand strategy and key activation, including retail marketing and brand integration with American Idol and the Olympic games.


OrionCreativeGroup said...

Dear Chris
Great post. I totally understand how companies tend to fall short on execution although they may have really clever goals and good ideas. I recently wrote this article about how a clear marketing plan can save a company thousands when they hire outside support: http://orioncreativegroup.com/articles/save-money-0409.php
I'd be interested in your feedback on the article. Keep up the good work!

Mike Behr said...

Harley - thanks for your thoughts and your article about saving money is right on target and very practcial. I like your point about having a CEO/owner who believes in branding or a VP/Dir of marketing who looks long term and has authority to make big decisions. That has been one of my biggest frustrations with some cleints when your arent' working with the top execs.

Chris said...

I just had a chance to check it out and the article is pretty good. A good agency brief would go a long way in making sure the first two pieces of advice in your article are covered. One other thing that I might add based on my experience is fit with the agency. Some agencies are headstrong about their ideas, others more collaborative. You need to really get a read on the agencies personality before employing them. I worked with Crispin Porter in my past life and they are the ultimate example of an agency who's work has been amazing or imploded quickly based on the fit between them and their client. On the flip side...making sure of fit upfront will also hopefully preclude a quick trigger on the client side to change shops.

Harley said...

Thanks for the feedback! Chris, you made a good point about client fit - better to know at the beginning than to wait until you're underway and find out you have differing values or visions!

Chris said...

Glad I could help. Best of luck on everything.