Friday, December 26, 2008

Fools Rush In - Searching for Magic ROI

If the current economy is encouraging you to think about shifting resources from traditional media to digital alternatives in search of cost effectiveness and overall efficiency, beware: nearly EVERYONE ELSE HAS THE SAME IDEA.

Implication: you will be moving into an increasingly cluttered marketplace, where broad reach options will continue to lose effectiveness and highly-targeted delivery will come at a higher price as demand outstrips the supply of good inventory and good people to execute. Consumers too will become increasingly savvy with respect to their digital media usage patterns, and harder to “impress” with incrementally new ideas or executions.

I know I’ll get lots of letters about this post “educating” me on the infinite scalability of the digital media, and reminding me that true creativity is likewise boundless. I’m sure many of you have research that shows how the returns to digital marketing programs just keep growing as the audience of users grows across more and more platforms. Fair enough. But the laws of marketing physics suggest that more marketers and marketing dollars will rush in to the arena than proven executional avenues can accommodate in the short term. And most of them will NOT bring breakthrough new creativity with them. That will create lots of failure and un-delivered expectations, which in turn may slow adoption of otherwise valuable marketing options.

Here’s a simple suggestion as you contemplate the great digital shift towards the promise of better ROI… set your expectations based on poorer results than you may have experienced in the past, and/or ratchet-down vendor claims of look-alike results presented in “case studies”. Before committing to the “me too” plan of going digital, ask yourself if your planned online campaigns would be a good investment if they were 10% less effective than originally anticipated? Would your new social networking programs still provide good payback if they had a 20% less impact on potential customers? These may very well be the new reality when everyone rushes in.

In stark contrast, a friend who’s CMO of a packaged goods company tells me that while he is continuing to shift the balance of his total spend towards digital media, he’s doing so in a measured way built on careful experimentation. He’s working on a cycle of plan>execute>learn>expand>plan again. So he’s spending 20% more on digital media in 2009 than in 2008, but not moving huge chunks of his total budget all in one big push for magic returns. Nope. His philosophy is “hit ‘em where they ‘aint.” He’s buying more radio and magazines – media he’s developed clear success cases with in the past and places he can more accurately predict the impact on his business. He may find himself all alone there. But I suspect that’s part of the appeal.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Trying to "Justify" Superbowl Spending?

" a responsible employer of more than 290,000 employees and contractors world-wide, there is a time to justify such an ad spend and a time to step back."

This quote was provided by the director of advertising at FedEx, in response to a question about why they would not be advertising on this year's Superbowl - the first time in 12 years they would be absent from the annual ad-fest.

The implication from his statement seems to be that, up until now, the Superbowl ads were "justified" by something other than sound economics. Sure, there was the fabulous reach into an attractive target demo, but the price is high. So maybe the premium was being "justified" by some "softer" benefits like employee morale, channel partner collaboration, or even that most elusive of all... "brand preference". And in these days of extreme bottom-line focus, these non-economic "justifications" just weren't going to cut it. It would send the wrong message to people losing jobs and benefits.

The sad truth here is that each and every one of the "softer" benefits can, in fact, be economically measured to a reasonable degree. There are practical, credible ways to calculate the ROI of employee morale, partner collaboration, and brand preference. But they require some techniques that few marketers have yet investigated, let alone perfected.

I don't have any idea if Superbowl advertising is a sound economic decision for FedEx, and I'm not questioning their judgment. It might have been a superb use of shareholder funds, or it may have been a terrible waste. I just cringe when I hear how such important marketing decisions are still, in this age of measurement enlightenment, being made on the basis of "justifications" that suggest something less than a robust economic framework was applied.

We, the marketing industry, can do better. We can measure each and every one of those softer elements in ways that our finance partners will embrace. Those 290,000 employees and contractors need us to do better. For their sake, let's try to ramp up our measurement game in 2009, shall we?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Trading GRPs for Clicks?

Television networks are making their prime-time programming available in full-form via their websites. And not just the latest episodes of “Desperate Housewives”. CBS and ABC have both announced that they are now streaming from deep inside their programming vaults, bring back favorites like “The Love Boat” and “Twin Peaks”.

Hulu (joint venture between NBC and Fox) attracts more than 2.5 million unique viewers (distinct cookies) monthly, who stream content an average of more than 20 times each! That’s a bigger, more engaged audience than many cable stations draw in a month’s time. And anyone who knows their way around a Bass diffusion curve will tell you that adoption of online viewing is on a trajectory to achieve substantial penetration very rapidly.

All this is causing pre-revolution heartburn in the media departments of major ad agencies today. They’re trying to figure out which metrics best equate clicks (or streams) to GRiPs (gross rating points), so they can compare the costs of advertising online to advertising on TV. Apples-to-apples.

Wrong mission.

Online content streaming is, by its very nature, an active participation medium, while television is passive. As such, the metrics should reflect the degree to which advertisers actively engage the consumer: streams launched; ads clicked; games played; surveys completed; dialogue offered; etc. Selecting passive metrics encourages the content owners to use the computer to stream like they broadcast, thereby replacing one screen with another. In time, that will teach consumers to use it as a passive medium like TV.

If we (the marketers) want to capture the true potential of an active medium, we have to demand performance against active metrics. We have to design ads that give the multi-tasking consumer of today something else to do while they’re watching the show – enter contests on what will happen next; decide who’s telling the truth; test their show knowledge against other fans; shop for that cute skirt – you get the idea.

Effectiveness in this new realm is a function of the actual (active) behavior generated versus the expected amount. And the expected amount is that degree of behavior shift necessary to make the business case for spending the money show a clear and attractive return. Efficiency is then how much more positive behavior we’re generating per dollar spent than we did last month/quarter/year.

Sure, we need to have some sense of which content is attracting people who “look” like customers or prospects, but that’s just the basis upon which we decide where to test and experiment. The real decisions on where to place our big bets will come once we learn what execution tactics are most impactful.

Until then, be careful what you measure, or you will surely achieve it..

Friday, December 19, 2008

Blogging On (or is it "Blogging In"?)

OK. I'm back.

I actually got quite a few requests to resume this blog, even though there were very few comments posted during the year I ran it originally. Plus, it seems to do REALLY well on Google organic search results.

So what have I learned?

1. Blogging on a subject matter like marketing measurement is less about the number of engaged readers than it is the quality of engagement of a few.

2. Blogging is far more about building a well-rounded web marketing presence. No single piece of the puzzle puts one over the top on search results. It's constant experimentation. Having dropped the blog for a while, I can tell you we saw a clear drop in performance of our organic search traffic.

3. Social media is so immature at this point that we're experimenting with many platform components from Twitter (follow me as "measureman") to feedster, to several dozen other elements. The cost of experimentation is high, and I used to think we weren't making sufficient progress towards any real insight. Then I had a bit of an epiphany... the experimentation process really IS the marketing process. Experimentation isn't just what we do to get to a marketing plan. The marketing plan is a summary of how we're experimenting with various methods, tools, and messages to get the desired results.

If you're interested in how we're measuring our own results here at MarketingNPV, shoot me an email and we can talk about the specific metrics.