It is both the blessing and the curse of direct and digital marketing that it is inherently measurable and accountable, through response rates, online metrics, tagging and tracking. William Lever should be able to rest easy, as his exasperated claim that “half my advertising money is wasted . The problem is that I don’t know which half” becomes less and less relevant.
Or at least it should be. However, a good deal of marketing on major brands today is still built on sand, or to be more precise, massive generalisations and assumptions; just like the one I’ve made there. I can’t begin to measure that statement accurately, so instead (like the decent marketer I am) I have made a confident assertion that appeals to both your common sense and your cleverness, because it’s probably true, and anyway, I seem to know what I’m talking about.
Marketers (and politicians too) uses indices to create a story that serves their needs. An index of 150 against some criteria or other means that there is certainly some kind of stronger propensity to watch a type of TV show, or agree with some statement, but it’s often then taken one step further. It suddenly becomes an entirely different phenomenon, from being ‘more likely to’ (a matter of relativity) it morphs into ‘most…’ (an issue of absolutes).
This can be dangerous stuff, as that sort of misrepresentation can quickly seep into the received wisdom, and become the unquestionable corporate truth; easy to understand but simplistic, clear but at the same time misleading. Ben Goldacre is the author of the very excellent Bad Science book, columns and blog, from which he also sells t-shirts. I love this one…
Bad planning and assumptions makes for bad objective-setting, which also makes for bad measurement. If the goals aren’t clear or based in some kind of truth, the measurement is nigh on impossible. If it’s not clear how to measure what you want to measure upfront, before you start, and if you don’t establish the means to capture the information you need to measure, how will you know what success looks like?
But that’s when marketers really come into their own, skimming over the quantitative technicalities (marketers often have short attention spans and glaze over at details) and focusing instead on the qualitative positives, and looking to the future. To be honest, this is often the best policy. While simplistic goal-setting and measurement can be a weakness, so too can the fabled analysis-paralysis, in which every last figure and metric is scrutinised well beyond their natural meaning. Every blip or shift in scores is pored over and further ‘digging’ is done to uncover the root causes. Weeks are spent trying to reveal insights, when in fact the judgement of clever and experienced people using their common sense might serve the company better. It helps make decisions, focus further work, and makes the story easier to believe; like you believing my assertion earlier.
So what’s my point? I hear you ask… good question. We should measure marketing more carefully, but that risks running into navel-gazing and slow, poor decision-making. But on the other hand, a lack of measurement also leads to overly simplistic objective setting and decision-making. Yikes. That sounds tricky.
Remember the title? It might well be true, but noone likes a smartass.