Is “Marketing ROI” Analogous to “Marketing Accountability?”

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I say, “No.”

And, actually, it’s not just me. More on that in a minute.

I’m going to reference some stuff from wayyyyy back in May 2007 here. I totally missed it when it came out (I’ve got a long list of good excuses), but I recently stumbled across it as I was setting up a Yahoo! Pipe on Data Posts from Non-Data (Marketing) Blogs. More on that to come as I continue to refine it and, hopefully, add it as a resource page on this blog.

What cropped up was a post that I couldn’t possible skip from Brian Carroll titled The Difference Between ROI and Marketing Accountability. Brian Carroll is the author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and a really, really sharp mind when it comes to B2B marketing. Turns out, in his post, he was really referencing an exchange that an earlier post had started between he and the Eisenberg brothers, authors of Waiting for Your Cat to Bark. Jeffrey Eisenberg and Brian (Carroll) had an exchange on Brian’s initial post that resulted in a Brian (Eisenberg) article in ClickZ — also titled The Difference Between ROI and Marketing Accountability (I mixed it up a little bit in my title — I’m just a wild and crazy guy that way). That article referenced and linked back to Brian Carroll’s original post, which Jeffrey had commented on: On B2B Demand Generation tools and Lead Generation Dashboards.

Normally, I wouldn’t go so nutso with the links, but the reality is that all three of these posts/articles make some outstanding points.

From Brian Carroll’s original post:

…most sales and marketing professionals recognize that software will not spontaneously generate results, but the allure of easy execution and fast results are difficult to resist. It’s also easy to forget that these systems require a great deal of hands on input and maintenance to be fully appreciated.

Right on! How many times have I heard: “What do you mean the data doesn’t tell us anything? Didn’t we buy all this software so we’d have good data?” Even working at a company that is focused on using data to drive the business, we are constantly playing catch-up as we adjust our processes and try to force people to keep the CRM up to date. (Aside: If you have to force people to do something, it will fail in the long run — and, thus, the data guy gets embroiled in processes and systems).

Jeffrey Eisenberg’s comment on that article:

Measuring the ROI of lead generation isn’t the same thing as full accountability. If marketing is a profitable activity, it still doesn’t mean that what it is communicating to the universe of buyers is building the business. I’ve seen lots of marketers sacrifice early and middle stage buyers because they had to show an immediate ROI on each campaign they ran. Who is accountable for all the potential business they lose by saying the wrong the thing to the right people at the wrong time?

If this was about half as long, I just might consider getting it as a tattoo! Playing off the old axiom of, “No one gets fired for buying IBM,” I’d say, “No one gets fired for following up with a lead too often and too aggressively.” Hmmmm. I don’t think mine is going to get much traction. The problem, though, is that we chase the siren song of accountability through direct measurement and pretty (or ugly) dashboards. It’s sooooo easy to get sucked into logic that goes something like this:

  1. We need to be accountable
  2. To be accountable, we have to have objective measures
  3. Oh, and those objective measures have to be measurable quickly
  4. Accountability = things we can measure frequently (and easily)

And so, at the tactical level, we measure open rates, clickthrough rates, registrations, web site visits, bounce rates, and the like.

Bubble up a little higher in the food chain, and we measure leads and qualified leads. And, we pat ourselves on the back for measuring lead conversion (to an opportunity, to revenue, or both).

And that’s what we start chasing. We start looking for ways to tweak our messaging, alter our media spend,  sweeten our calls-to-action, and “tune the machine” to drive more revenue now. But, is that what Marketing is all about? Is that what it should be about? Is this the best ROI that Marketing can deliver over the long term?

I just finished reading Geoff Livingston’s Now Is Gone: A Primer on New Media for Executives and Entrepreneurs. Interestingly, by my count, Livingston only brings up measurement of social media two times in the book, and it’s a vague, passing nod in both cases. Around the time the book came out, though, he tackled the subject with more vigor by starting a meme on the subject. What’s key in his initial thoughts there is that the ROI examples he focusses on are much deeper than short-term lead-to-revenue. They’re examples of companies that have stepped back and, on the one hand, made a little bit of a leap of faith that social media is something they should invest in and, on the other hand, have focussed on measuring things that were unequivocably positives for the company…but not necessarily things that could be tied directly to revenue.

In short: Measurement is good. Accountability is good. “Marketing ROI” is NOT the magical link between the two.

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  1. Pingback Gilligan on Data by Tim Wilson » Blog Archive » Bounce Rate is not Revenue

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