Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Achieving Simplicity in Measurement

So often I hear that a given approach to measuring the payback on marketing is “too complex”. It often gets voiced as. “This is too complex for our executives to understand. Can’t we just make it simple?”

The answer is YES. We can make it simpler. To do so, we need to start by recognizing that there are several types of “complexity” that need to be managed:

Over time, I’ve come to learn a few things that help in trying to manage these complexities:
  1. Simplicity is the destination, not the starting point. If the answers were simple, you would have found them already. The challenge is to sift through the complexity to identify the real insights - e.g., discovering brand drivers, identifying customer segments, etc. The path towards marketing measurement excellence requires working through complexity to arrive at the core set of appropriate measures, processes and frameworks.

  2. Complexity in measurement is a reflection of complexity in the business. The measurement plan just reflects the nature of the business, and should be on-par with the complexity management already deals with daily. The goal of the measurement plan is to establish a more structured framework for systematically eliminating complexity over time by isolating the most meaningful areas of focus. If you knew those already, you wouldn’t need to search for them through your metrics.

  3. Complexity is only a problem when introduced to the BROAD organization. The totality of the measurement plan and activity will be contained within a small group of people who already manage the current complexity. It is the responsibility of this core group to communicate comprehensiveness without adding any un-necessary complexity. Roll-out to the broader workforce will be the gradual and likely limited by function.

  4. Simplicity, if not thoughtfully pursued, can inhibit competitive differentiation. If the real competitive insights were are as obvious as picking up shells on the beach, everyone would have them. Try not to limit yourself to picking up the same shells as your competitors. Complexity is often a necessary part of meaningful innovation.
Specific to each type of complexity, there are some clear resolution strategies…

In the end, the goal of enhanced marketing measurement is to guide the organization to take bigger, smarter risks to achieve competitive advantage. Identifying and analyzing those risks is always complex. Your measurement approach needs to be based upon the processes, skills, and tools designed to make it SIMPLER in the future than it is today.
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 http://www.marketingnpv.com/.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dashboards - Huge Value or Big Expense?

I’m hearing more and more “dashboard bashing” these days. Seems that many have tried to implement them, and then drawn the conclusion that the view isn’t worth the climb. I’ve even been inside companies where you cannot even say “dashboard” in front of senior executives for fear of them throwing you out of the room. Likewise, I’ve been inside companies and heard things like “Dashboards are easy. We have hundreds of them.”

Having “written the book” on marketing dashboards several years ago, I think I own part of this problem. And I confess that there are far fewer comprehensive dashboards in use within Global 1000 marketing organizations than I thought there would be by now. In short, it seems it was a good idea in concept, but it just hasn’t “stuck” within most companies. Why?

Well for starters, dashboard design and implementation tends to get delegated down the hierarchy and get treated like campaign management or marketing automation tools. It’s a bit paradoxical, but if a CMO wants an insight-generating dashboard that saves them time, they need to put more time into nurturing its birth and evolution. EVERY successful dashboard implementation I’ve seen (and yes there are a few) shares a common foundation of senior management attention and high expectations. Without that, they are born of a thousand compromises and arrive neutered of their value.

Second, they are set up to fail by unrealistic expectations with regard to resources required. Sure the software to run dashboards is getting much cheaper all the time, but the effort to gather, align, and interpret data is significant. Not to mention the time required to train the staff how to USE the dashboard to THINK differently about the business than they did before. After all, if your dashboard doesn’t offer the prospect of causing people to think differently, why do it when you can just continue to rely on the existing mélange of reports flying around the building?

Third, there is pressure to execute in Excel in the belief that it will be easier and less expensive. In reality, the limitations it imposes undermine the potential to grab people’s imagination and draw them into interacting with data in new ways. The users can’t sense anything different from the reports they currently get. In short, penny wise and pound foolish.

And finally, start with metrics which CAN be measured today (the pragmatist approach) instead of envisioning the spectrum of things which SHOULD be measured (the visionary approach), and force some amount of new learning exploration right from the start. Without this stretch exercise, many dashboards are started with no prospect of new information, and therefore no compelling reason for anyone to take the time to learn to use them.

So to sum up what we’ve learned, I’d say if you're looking for great insight without expense, stay away from dashboards. You'll be disappointed. But don't burn your bridges behind you. After you've searched far and wide for true insight-generating solutions that meet the "good" and "cheap" criteria, you may just arrive back at the reality that insight is derived through dedicated effort over time. And while the current generation of dashboard software options is slick and inexpensive, they won’t perform the most important transformations for you – the process, skill, and culture ones.

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, August 03, 2010

Catching Lightning in a Bottle

What do these great marketing breakthroughs have in common?

• MasterCard “priceless”
• Energizer bunny
• “Got Milk?”
• Absolut ________

All were truly “breakthrough ideas”. All were “viral” ad campaigns before there was such a term. But they all were much more than ad campaigns – they were positioning strategies that effectively cemented their brands into the top echelon of their respective categories. They were marketing platforms that have lasted for many years and evolved to adapt effectively in dynamic environments.

Yet of all the marketing jargon that’s penetrated our brains, I think the concept of the “breakthrough idea” may be one of the most dangerous.

Would we all love to have one? Sure. When one comes along, can it revolutionize our business? Absolutely. So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t we all aspire to the same success?

Statistically speaking, most marketing organizations have a better chance of hitting the lottery than they do creating a breakthrough idea that’s more than just a short-lived ad campaign. Declines in both research budgets and internal competencies are primary causes. But internal politics and dynamic competitive environments play a role too. All of which is exacerbated by shorter timelines to produce demonstrable results.

Having spent the better part of the last 10 years crawling inside many Fortune 500 companies to help them measure marketing effectiveness, I have recently come to the (much overdue) conclusion that most measurement problems stem from the core evils of parity value propositions and absence of effective positioning. We’ve somehow managed to shift almost all our efforts from strategic insight development (which we’ve outsourced to consultants and research companies, and then put them on very tight budgetary leashes) to tactical execution in the mistaken belief that the only viable strategy for success in a two-year evaluation window is to catch lightning in a bottle in the form of a positively viral ad campaign. In other words, most unintentionally place themselves in a position where they are relying upon lightning to strike in a specific place during a short window of time.

True, most of the breakthroughs above were born in moments of pure inspiration on either the client or agency side. But those moments were carefully “engineered” to come about through insightful research and market study. They were successful outcomes of a diligent “R&D” process.

As you look ahead to your 2011 budget, how much have you allocated to “R&D”? Not surprisingly, even companies with multi-billion dollar R&D budgets for engineering and product development will likely have just a small fraction of their overall marketing budget dedicated to generating market/customer insights. Far more money will be allocated to unstructured and uncontrolled experimentation with communication tactics in support of messages which are neither “breakthrough” nor effective strategic positioning. Many will invest heavily in analytics to optimize the media mix of campaigns to get the biggest return for the tactical budget, yet will go to sleep at night wondering if they’re actually saying the right things to the right people to inspire the right behaviors.

Increasing the probability of success in marketing almost always comes down to executing against a process of hypothesize, test, learn, refine, repeat. Along the way, you can employ a few metrics to gauge your progress at improving. For example:

  • Relative Value Proposition Strength – a measure of the degree to which your core value proposition (unbundled from ad execution) is preferred by the target audience relative to the options they see themselves having. Tracking this on a regular basis helps diagnose the extent to which your core offering is driving/depressing results versus your execution of it.
  • Positioning Relevance – a measure of the degree to which your key positioning points resonate on relevance and materiality scales compared to other positioning strategies the customers/prospects are exposed to from competitors.
  • Message effectiveness – a measure of the degree to which your message execution is delivering the right message in a compelling and differentiated manner.

Finding out where you score high or low on these metrics will direct and focus your efforts at improvement. It may also help enlighten others around the company as to the need to invest more in developing stronger value propositions through product/service innovation.

Implementing a few structured steps like these can go a long way towards informing your understanding of where and when lightning is more likely to strike, so you can put your bottles in the right places.

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.