Tuesday, September 21, 2010

5 Things You Can Do TODAY to Improve Your Measurement Foundation

While the economy may be improving, CFOs will be cautious not to spend too far in advance of strong demand. This will continue to fan the flames under the question of the expected payback on marketing investments, and expose cracks in your measurement foundation.

So now more than ever before it’s critically important to improve your ability to measure and improve your marketing ROI, and your credibility in explaining it. But most marketers can’t spread their resources too thin, so what will really make the most difference to elevate your measurement game?

Here are a few suggestions…

First, get the metrics right. Many marketers are still wrestling with a panoply of things that could be measured, instead of those which should be measured. They have too many metrics concentrated in the business outcomes (e.g. “revenue”) or in the marketing activities (e.g. “web pages implemented”), and not enough in the middle-ground explaining the progression of the engagement and ultimately buying process. Measuring your social media activities down to the millimeter doesn’t matter at all if you don’t have a clue about the financial return of your brand advertising.

The “right” metrics are the ones that A) give you the insights to answer the question “what do I do next?”; B) are calibrated to move up or down as your spend patterns change so you can learn what moves the needle; and C) elicit head-nodding from the CFO for their credibility and validity. They should account for the impact of the vast majority of your marketing spend activity, and always be pushing to link closer and closer to the ability to determine financial value created.

Second, experiment liberally. If you’re not spending at least 10% of your total budget experimenting, your knowledge foundation is crumbling. Deliberate, focused experimentation is the most credible and effective way to test unknowns about strategy, tactical execution, or resource allocation mix, and do so in a “live” environment where all the boogey man variables can and do impact the results. It creates a disciplined approach to continuous learning and improvement that cannot be achieved through research alone.

Third, standardize business case requirements. Each and every proposed initiative above some spending threshold should come with a business case using a common template that forces the proposer to specifically articulate their assumptions about how this investment will ultimately help improve shareholder value in some financial context. This not only helps the quality of the plans submitted, but also permits some portfolio management of options when the resources aren’t quite sufficient to cover all requests.

In the beginning, these business cases will be full of holes. But in time, validated assumptions will fill the holes and become a repository of institutional knowledge for reasonable expectations. Then you’ll be able to approve or reject ideas faster, and with less haggling with finance. Not to mention the insight you’ll gain into where you need to shore-up your key assumptions.

Fourth, stop searching for “proof” and look for insight. When marketing measurement emanates from a defensive posture, it tends to solve small problems in sequence so as to win one argument at a time. This energy consumed by “fighting” these battles tends to blind CMOs from pursuit of the broader understanding of the real drivers of business success.

A better approach is to work with finance, sales, SBU’s and other key stakeholders to lay out the series of key questions you would like to be able to answer, ranked in order of priority. Once you’ve finalized the list, you now have the framework against which to plan your assault on ignorance in a way that engages the whole organization on the path, and sets you on a foundation of credibility.

Fifth, practice transparency. Make every assumption plain for all to see and criticize. Label educated guesses as such. Invite anyone to challenge your knowledge and engage them in a discussion of the practical limits on what might be known at what cost in what timeframe. Present expectations in terms of probabilities and ranges where certainty is lacking, and allow the informed opinions of others to factor into setting those ranges so they begin to have some ownership of the uncertainty “problem” themselves and are thereby more supportive of you spending money to solve it.

Finally, remember that in measurement “no pain, no gain” is very real. It takes focus, effort, and resources to improve your knowledge. These five components will help you lay the right measurement foundation to build on.

Pat LaPointe is Managing Partner at MarketingNPV – specialty advisors on measuring and improving the payback on marketing investments, and publishers of MarketingNPV Journal available online free at www.MarketingNPV.com.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Measurement Problems? Check Your Credibility Chain.

Which of the following is the biggest obstacle to better measurement of the payback on marketing investments?

A) Lack of data
B) Low measurement skills
C) Drowning in a thousand metrics
D) Low credibility in the eyes of key stakeholders

While data and skills are critically important components of measurement success, there is no single obstacle more formidable than lack of credibility. Data, after all, can be estimated within reason. Skills can be “rented” while they are being developed. But credibility either exists or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, the road back can be long and winding.

Credibility is so crucial since so much of marketing measurement involves making assumptions. Assumptions about the impacts of tactics on prospects; assumptions about the interaction effects between tactics; assumptions about the effects of macroeconomic forces; etc. For every assumption, there is an element of credibility in both the assumption and the assumer. In other words, there are dozens or even hundreds of places where cracks can form in the credibility of any measurement framework.

Managing the credibility of any measurement effort can be broken down into four elements, each of which are necessary to preserve the “credibility chain”.

First, measurement efforts must be seen to be aligned to the needs of the business. Key questions being answered need to be clearly linked to the success of the business in both the current and future perspectives. In addition, those key questions need to be seen as worthy of the resources being allocated to pursuing answers, and “material” to the decisions the business will face.

Once aligned, the measurement effort needs to be seen as comprehensive. Every relevant dimension must be explored fully to leave no stone unturned in search of insight. If there are 100 stones which need to be uncovered and you only explore 99, you get no credit. Rather, you figuratively get hit in the head with the 100th stone by those who feel you may have conveniently ignored it for fear it contained secrets that would undermine your arguments.

But even being comprehensive isn’t sufficient… you need to also be seen as objective in your assessment of what you find under each rock - identifying both the supporting and refuting evidence observed. Yet objectivity is difficult for marketers who tend to see the world through rose-colored glasses, hoping that things we try will work in the marketplace. That’s a natural psychological mechanism in a profession where small failures happen every day on the path to learning. It just needs to be counter-balanced by a concerted effort to question those optimistic tendencies, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that your primary concern is truth, not “proof”.

And finally, when that aligned, comprehensive, objective assessment gets translated into recommendations for how money should be spent, accountability is the perceived result. And people who are seen to be accountable are usually entrusted with more resources and responsibilities.

When you line each of these components up, the end result is credibility in measurement.

If your key stakeholders are questioning the credibility of your measurement efforts, chances are your credibility chain is broken somewhere. Take a look back to see if you have clear alignment on what questions you are answering and how they are prioritized. Ask yourself if there are any other “rocks” that could be turned over. Test your observations with others to see if they are seen as objective. And then check to ensure your recommendations are directly linked to the insights you’ve gained in the process.

It clearly takes more effort to build and preserve a credibility chain than it does to throw ad-hoc metrics and data at your key stakeholders. But it almost always is an investment that leads to longer, more successful tenure in senior marketing roles.

Pat LaPointe is Managing Partner at MarketingNPV – specialty advisors on measuring and improving the payback on marketing investments, and publishers of MarketingNPV Journal available online free at www.MarketingNPV.com.