An ROI focus gives marketers the right to invest in brand building

Quantium chair Tony Davis

Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Let’s be honest, that’s a prudent point of view – yet until recently marketing has been tragically short of evidence to prove its effectiveness.

We all knew it worked, but were reduced to a ‘trust us’ narrative that too often fell flat in the boardroom. Fast-forward to today and thanks to applied data analytics we have a direct line of sight between what we do and consumer behaviour. And therefore instant credibility in the boardroom.

So I find it perplexing that some marketers are bemoaning the use of ROI because, they argue, it drives focus to short-term strategies and away from brand building. I believe that’s the wrong way to frame-up the issue. By optimising and evidencing the value of response-driving activities, we’re building the credibility of the marketing profession. We’re earning the right to continue to invest in longer-term brand building.

Further Reading: Peter Field's views on ROI

To be clear, I don’t disagree that a focus on click-throughs has led to some warped priorities. Our own research suggests that there is a disappointingly low correlation between click-throughs and actual purchase behaviour. However, that’s a side issue now we can combine real world data-sets to connect the campaigns with actual purchase behaviour.

This is the holy grail of marketing – we should always strive to understand and measure real world causality.

It’s also wrong to imply that ROI measures can’t extend to longer-term branding campaigns. Yes, most marketers use ROI to measure immediate or short-term purchase outcomes, but we now can and should measure the impact of campaigns on longer-term brand-switching or purchase decisions. This too is measuring ROI.

Targeted campaigns are too often conflated with low quality transactional interactions. They are not one in the same. At the same time, it has become fashionable to argue that targeted campaigns don’t build brands because they over-index with existing customers. Reach is the only way to grow, they say.

Once again, this implies an increasingly false dilemma – we don’t need to choose between targeting and reach any longer. We can now target consumers at huge scale based on their individual behaviours, not just with tailored offers but also with curated creative. We can identify and individually tailor our communications one-on-one to loyal, light, occasional and new buyers, maximising relevance and minimising waste. The ability to do so changes everything.

Further, activity calculated to drive a short-term response can be part of brand building. Just because it drives a short-term result doesn’t inherently make it purely transactional.

I’m not for one second arguing that more traditional above-the-line strategies are redundant – far from it. The combination of 'right time, right brand and right message,' tailored to individual consumers should work in tandem with more traditional marketing techniques to interrupt the strong psychological cues that drive habitual purchase.

We should be celebrating this powerful combination of the old and the new, not pitting them against one another. Let’s stop these theories of relativity and embrace the benefits of balance.

Tony Davis is the non-executive chair of Quantium

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