Monday, January 09, 2006

Does Too Much Measurement Constrain Creativity?

Does a comprehensive marketing measurement framework impinge upon the very creativity and innovation marketing needs to provide to the organization? I suppose the answer is, "it depends".

Thomas W. Malone, professor of management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, has spent the better part of a long academic career researching organizational effectiveness. In his book, The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style, and Your Life, Malone points to a “paradox of standards.” He says clearly and firmly defining a few rules (controls) in the most risky areas of the organization sets creativity free in all others.

For example, eBay doesn’t “control” much of what happens on its vast global network. It allows buyers and sellers to interact as they will. What makes the network so successful is the clear framework of rules (the exclusion of certain product categories and bidding processes, for example) that are just firm enough to protect the interests of the greater good and no more restrictive. Certainly no one would accuse eBay of stifling creativity that inhibits growth.

Marketers have long understood this paradox in key efforts like ad copy briefs. Decades of experience have shown that the best creative briefs focus succinctly on a distinct business objective and impose as few firm parameters as possible, but do include some. The creatives must work within the parameters to find new dimensions of communications effectiveness that achieve the business goal. Apply too many parameters, and you’ll get boring, uninspired copy unlikely to accomplish its mission of persuasion. Define too few, and the ads diverge from the strategy, unlikely to create the desired attitudinal or behavioral shifts.

This is how Malone’s “paradox” works. The better defined the playing field is, the more likely the result will be a win. Finding the right balance between objective definition and subjective interpretation is the difference between winning and losing.

But achieving this balance is certainly not easy in the explosive complexity of today’s marketing organization. Several companies who have made good progress report that their success came from evolving from a command-and-control structure to one focused on defining the right set of controls and then applying all energies to drawing the best out of more autonomous, decentralized operating groups.

McDonald’s, for example, has employed a “flexible framework” to deal with the hundreds of customer segments it serves worldwide, across dozens of cultures. To rebuild its brand relevancy after several years of sales attrition, McDonald’s required that communications be open, honest, and fully transparent while speaking in the consumer’s own voice. Beyond that, McDonald’s sets firm expectations for business outcomes and lets the creative process interpret the brand in each culture in ways most appealing to the local customer.

The learning here seems to be that if you choose the right metrics, your measurement framework might actually enhance creativity and innovation by helping to focus them. But the converse is also likely to be true... if your approach to measurement simply reinforces the parameters that constrain the business today, you might very well be accelerating the cycle of monotony.

It might be worthwhile to think about that when you're considering the hundreds of possible dashboard metrics people might want to stuff on the dashboard.

No comments: