Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Invest in What WILL Grow Your Brand, Regardless of the Lack of Metrics...

Al Ries, in a recent Ad Age article, wrote another insightful and nuanced point of view on the ever-growing pressure for ROI metrics in new media: Metric Madness: The Answer to Mathematical Failure Seems to Be More Math.  If You Run a Company by Numbers Alone, You'll Run It Into the Ground.

In the comments to this article it was interesting the take that Gordon had on the issue vs. those of Laura and the rest, as Gordon epitomizes the dyed-in-the-wool "metrics thinker", the pure left-brainer who struggles to see the bigger picture. To Al's point, the marketing industry has recently begun to focus more and more upon these folks. The value they generate is in specialties like Accounting/Finance, Research, Media and Purchasing, where the justifiably despised RFP originated (effectively moving a good portion of agency selection decisions to junior bean-counters).

For years I've believed that the ad industry is home to the pure right-brain thinkers (the Creatives) and a large group of people who are in between -- too imaginative to be totally analytical and process-driven, but not so creative that they can come up with ad concepts full-time: the client service and strategic planning folks. P&G, to their detriment, embraced a policy of hiring only candidates with top grades in mathematically/analytically-inclined disciplines and their staff's lack of flexibility and true creativity hurt them in the 90's, before they adopted processes that allowed for some more out-of-the-metrics-box thinking.

We are now moving ever more quickly away from almost a century of a relatively static "15% of media spend" business model and ROI metrics that were, if we are totally honest, largely devoid of any effectiveness outside of "we spent $1.8 million on ATL in '08 and SOM went up by 1.2%, so TV must be working for us". Shareholders were comfortable with 'no change' to the old 'insurance' model (everyone HATES change!), however, and now, as marketers try to shift spending to a largely unproven new 'airwave', the internet, the left-brained shareholders are screaming "Not with OUR money, you won't!" and are demanding to see metrics that prove the ROI.

Frankly, with the myriad of new, largely unproven tactics out there, maybe the bean counters have a point -- left up to the right-brainers, the budgets would have been drained in a ‘new media’ spending free-for-all!

XM (experiential marketing) is how the brand-buyer bond is best forged (and always has been since the dawn of the barter marketplace) -- people chatting face-to-face, demonstrating and sampling products. It’s where I believe the biggest slice of the pie is going to shift in the coming few years. It's tough to track ROI on a face-to-face encounter at a county fair, however. XM is growing steadily, though, and when XM is married to ‘interactive’ (as a reliable measure of ROI; when ‘n’ quantity of consumers who were connected with XM efforts visit a website to download a coupon you can begin to build a DB of success rates) and ‘social’ (similarly, when, after XM efforts, ‘n’ quantity of consumers make favourable comments about the product online, there’s positive ROI), XM is simply an unmatchable tactic.

Mosaic’s Aidan Tracey recently told me he sees ‘people as a medium’, which is a simple and clear way to explain the power behind XM. People LIKE people! They are less keen on ‘push marketing’ tactics such as repeating the same ad over and over, ad infinitum. What Al Ries is advocating is that marketers go with their judgment and common sense (a balance of their left and right brains!) and follow the growing trends, REGARDLESS of whether the ROI numbers are available yet.

I’d say that’s a good strategy for the marketers who want to be leaders coming out the other side of this current economic downturn, but also for those who are looking to be successful over the long-term. Reverse what the industry has been most comfortable with by using ‘people as a medium’: shift the biggest bucks out of traditional ‘push media’ like TV. Base campaigns first upon XM, interactive and social efforts, then back these efforts up with traditional ATL media.

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