Friday, July 24, 2009

Twittering Away Time and Money

One of the most common questions I’m getting these days is “how should I measure the value of all the social marketing things we’re doing like Twitter, Linked-in, Facebook, etc.”

My answer: WHY are you doing them in the first place? If you can’t answer that, you’re wasting your time and the company’s money.

Sounds simple I know, but I’m stunned at how unclear many marketers are about their intentions/expectations/hypotheses for how social media initiatives might actually help their business. In short, if you can’t describe in two sentences or less (no semi-colons) WHAT you hope to gain through use of social media, then WHY are you doing it? Measurement isn’t the problem. If you don’t know where you’re going, any measurement approach will work.

Here’s a framework for thinking about social measurement:

  1. Fill in the blanks: “Adding or swapping-in social media initiatives will impact ____________ by __________ extent over _____________ timeframe. And when that happens, the added value for the business will be $_____________, which will give me an ROI of ______________. This forms your hypotheses about what you might achieve, and why the rest of the business should care.
  2. Identify all the assumptions implicit in your hypotheses and “flex” each assumption up/down by 50% to 100% to see under which circumstances your assumptions become unprofitable.
  3. Identify the most sensitive assumption variables - those that tend to dramatically change the hypothesized payback by the greatest degree based on small changes in the assumption. These are your key uncertainties.
  4. Enhance your understanding of the sensitive assumptions through small-scale experiments constructed across broad ranges of the sensitive variables. Plan your experiments in ways you can safely FAIL, but mostly in ways to help you understand clearly what it would take to SUCCEED – even if that turns out to be unprofitable upon further analysis. That way, you will at least know what won’t work, and change your hypotheses in #1 above accordingly.
  5. Repeat steps 1 thru 4 until you have a model that seems to work.
  6. In the process, the drivers of program success will become very obvious. Those become your key metrics to monitor.

In short, measuring the payback on social media requires a sound initial business case that lays out all the assumptions and uncertainties, then methodically iterates through tests to find the model(s) that work best. Plan to fail in small scale, but most importantly plan to LEARN quickly.

Measure social media like you should any other marketing investment: how did it perform versus your expectations of how it should have? If those expectations are rooted in principles of profit-generation, your measurement will be relevant and insightful.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Walking Naked Through Times Square

I was sitting in a 2010 planning meeting recently listening to the marketing team describe their objectives, strategies, and thoughts on tactics they were planning to deploy. Their question to me was “how should we measure the payback on this strategy”?

My response was: “compared to what? Walking naked through Times Square?” I was being asked to evaluate a proposed strategy without any sense of what the alternatives were.

Sure, I can come up with a means of estimating and tracking the ROI on almost anything. But if that ROI comes to 142%, so what? Is there a plan that might get us to 1000% (without just cutting cost and manipulating the formula)?

As I thought back on the hundreds of planning meetings I’ve been in over the last 10 years, it occurred to me that we marketers are not so good at identifying alternative ways of achieving objectives and systematically weighing the options to ensure we’re selecting the paths that best meet the organization’s needs strategically, financially, and otherwise.

On a relative basis, we spend far too much of our time measuring the tactical/executional performance of the things we have decided to do, and far too little measuring the comparative value of things we might decide to do. Scenario planning; options analysis; decision frameworks. You get the idea.

The importance of this up-front effort isn’t just in getting to better strategies, but in building further credibility throughout the organization. Finance, sales, and operations all see marketing investments as inherently risky due to A) the size of the expenditures; and B) the uncertain nature of the returns as compared to many of the things those other functions tend to spend money on. Impressing them with our thorough exploration of the landscape of options goes a long way to demonstrating that we’re considered risk (albeit implicitly) in our recommendations, and have done all the necessary homework to arrive at a reasonable conclusion. NOT necessarily producing a 50 page deck, but rather simply stating which alternatives were considered, what the decision framework was, and how the ultimate selection was made. (This also builds trust through transparency).

From a measurement perspective, we can then consider the relative potential value of doing A versus B versus C, and in the process raise the level of confidence that we are spending the company’s money wisely. We can then turn our attention to measuring the quality of the execution of the chosen path with confidence that we’re not just randomly measuring the trees while wandering in the forest.

I’m not sure how many businesses might get a high ROI on walking naked through Times Square, but imagining that option certainly helps fuel creativity and underscores the importance of measuring strategic relevance, not just tactical performance.
Got any good stories about wandering naked?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

10 New Resolutions for the 2010 Planning Process

As we approach the 2010 planning season, I always like to take a few moments and reflect on the horrors of last year's planning cycle, making some commitments on how I can do it better this year:

1. I will lead this process and not get dragged behind it.

2. I recognize that many of our business fundamentals may have recently changed, so I commit to anticipating the key questions likely to define our strategy and, using research, analytics, and experiments, gather as much insight into them as I can in advance of making recommendations.

3. I will approach my budget proposal from the ground up, with every element having a business case that estimates the payback and makes my assumptions clear for all to see.

4. I will not be goaded into squabbling over petty issues by pin-headed, myopic, fraidy-pants types in other departments, regardless of how ignorant or personally offensive I find them to be.

5. The person who wrote number 4 above has just been sacked.

6. I will proactively seek input from others in finance, sales, and business units as I assemble my plan, to ensure I understand their questions and concerns and incorporate the appropriate adjustments.

7. I will clearly and specifically define what "success" looks like before I propose spending money, and plan to implement the necessary measurement process with all attendant pre/post, test/control, and with/without analytics required to isolate (within reason) the expected relative contribution of each element of my plan.

8. I will analyze the alternatives to my recommendations, so I am prepared to answer the inevitable CEO question: "Compared to what?"

9. I will be more conscious of my inherent biases relative to the power of marketing, and try not to let my passion get in the way of my judgment when constructing my plan.

10. If all else above fails, I promise to be at least 10% more foresighted and open-minded than I was last year, as measured by my boss, my peers in finance, and my administrative assistant. My spouse, however, will not be asked for an opinion.

How are you preparing for planning season? I'd like to hear what your resolutions are.