Monday, May 26, 2008

The phony allure of marketing ROI

It's hard to read the marketing literature today without seeing an article on how tough it is for CMOs and how demanding companies are to see a return for their marketing investment. There is so much angst and so much ink spilled talking about how to measure the impact of marketing. Especially around "new" media that do not benefit from the supposedly robust measurement systems we have for TV advertising.

Give me a break!

Can someone please tell me the ROI of CEOs? Yeah, sure you can talk about what happens to stock price, earnings... during the tenure of a CEO. But that is hardly a robust analysis. The CEO doesn't do all the work. So can someone please tell me how many companies are measuring the ROI of their CEO?

How about their CFO? How about the members of their board? How about their R&D department? How about their cafeteria? How about their travel department? Sure, you can measure what your travel policies save you by getting employees to stay at cheaper hotels. But what about what you lose in employee time or goodwill? Who is doing the ROI work on that?!

The fact is that companies do all sorts of things that they do not measure at all. And many other things that they "measure" only by checking them against crude and ancient assumptions. But when it comes to marketing, suddenly everyone is a careful scientist. Nobody wants to make a decision. So you get marketing mix models, copy testing, BASES, etc.

I'm not saying companies shouldn't use these tools. But they need to stop falling for the trap whereby they measure the things that are easiest to measure and then with the old "what gets measured gets done" thinking, lock themselves into a myopic approach to the world.

If we want to treat our businesses as laboratories guided by empirical data, then let's apply that across the board (literally and figuratively).

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