Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Metrics for Your "Special Purpose"

Question: What do Steve Martin (actor) and the ANA’s Masters of Marketing have in common? Read on for the answer.

I’m just back from the ANA Masters of Marketing conference this past week in Orlando.

Celebrating their 100th anniversary, the ANA once again did a superb job of bringing together 1600 members of the marketing community to hear 20 or so CMOs share their stories of success. Most were entertaining. Some were very informative – particularly when ANA CEO Bob Liodice would ask them questions about how they were measuring their success. On the whole it was clear that we (the metrics-loving community at large) have made some substantial progress in this regard as most of the CMOs were able to answer intelligently about what they were measuring and how it related back to business decisions.

But not since Steve Martin starred in “The Jerk” have I heard as much talk about “finding a special purpose”. The unofficial theme of the event seems to have been marketers talking about re-discovering their company’s true purpose in serving customers and enhancing their lives. Some have done elaborate research on their brands to find their “special purpose”. Others went back to the founders or the archives to refresh their institutional memories.

While I applaud the drive for more meaningful connections with customers and prospects, I think this trend poses a risk to lead us astray unless we apply a few carefully chosen metrics in pursuit of purpose.

First, we need to ensure that our purpose is RELEVANT. Those we seek to attract must find our purpose to be consistent with their view of how they want to live their lives, and see the link as to how we can help them do so.

Second, it needs to be MATERIAL. Even if relevant, our purpose may fail to inspire any change in behavior unless it eliminates a significant pain or provides a measurable gain. Most people will live with some degree of pain or inconvenience (tangible or otherwise) until the effort involved in resolving it is clearly less than the expected gain.

Third, our purpose needs to be DISTINCTIVE. It must be seen as somehow uniquely ours to fill. If the needs we are targeting at the core of our purpose can be filled interchangeably by any of our competitors (or other companies even in other industries), then we don’t have a true purpose, we have a slogan. An ad campaign. Some t-shirts. Pursuing a shallow-built purpose has historically been a terrific way to spend lots of money (and executive credibility) without actually achieving any value for shareholders. Hard, tangible value in the form of revenue, profitability, share, customer loyalty, referral networks, channel power, etc.

I wonder just how many companies could find a clear “purpose” that meets all those criteria?

More likely, companies have some ingredients of value proposition to offer that would rise to those standards IF they could better execute against them consistently enough to be recognized in the marketplace.

Chances are that you won’t FIND your purpose by looking through reams of research data. However, if you think you have some clues as to what it MIGHT be, you should be thinking about using various modified conjoint/choice-options types of work to validate it on the dimensions above, and in direct comparisons to WHAT ELSE you might do instead. At least then you would have some more specific sense of the value of achieving your purpose.

Once found, there may be a big role for broad-based advertising to help spark recognition of the match between the needs of the market and the abilities of the firm, as well as to inspire thousands of employees around the world towards a common goal. But as we contemplate using paid, owned, and earned media to get the message of our purpose out, let’s first ensure that we have more than a clever advertising idea to base our hopes (and those of our customers) 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

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