The Internet Vs. Al Ries
With math-bashing marketing hand grenades like this, it's not surprising that the column sparked a healthy response; readers are still submitting comments that wrestle with Ries' assertions.
What is surprising, frankly, is that "quantifiable marketing" is a topic that is up for debate. Are people really confused about whether marketing should be a primarily creative versus data-driven craft? More important, why does one have to occur at the expense of the other?
Effective marketers know better, and here's a good example from earlier this year. Eager to penetrate the consumer market, RIM conceived an integrated marketing campaign to support the launch of its new BlackBerry handsets. RIM had access to the right data in advance of the launches -- from research that pinpointed consumers' mobile shopping behavior to competitive data on the iPhone, T-Mobile G1 and Samsung Instinct -- to help plan its efforts. The resulting BlackBerry campaign was a well-coordinated palette of marketing activities that used: 1) TV to drive consumer awareness; 2) search marketing and landing pages to capitalize on this interest; and 3) an online purchase funnel that linked shoppers directly to retail partner sites to complete the sale.
The result: fast and sustained growth in BlackBerry interest and sales among consumers. According to Compete's data, more people shopped online for BlackBerry devices than any other smartphone in the first three months of the year. And, market share data from The NPD Group shows that BlackBerry claimed three of the top five sales slots for smartphones, with the Curve vaulting ahead of the iPhone as the best-selling consumer smartphone in Q1.
Rather than banking on intuition, RIM grounded its campaign planning in really good data. Rather than relying on conventional wisdom about online purchase funnels, RIM encouraged shoppers to complete their purchase on retail partner sites. And rather than waiting until the end of the quarter to measure its effectiveness, RIM could use consumers' search activities as a leading indicator of sales performance -- and adjust tactics throughout the quarter to optimize awareness, intent and conversion. All in all, a superb demonstration of intertwining mathematics and marketing.
So what can we learn from the BlackBerry experience? What does it imply for marketers looking to reconcile the data-versus-creativity debate? Here are the four main themes I see:
1. Extreme positions are provocative, but obfuscate our opportunity. The challenge is not whether data or creative should be at the forefront of marketing, the challenge is getting them to work together. Marketers are not creative directors, nor are we CFOs; our job quite simply is to introduce products and messages into the market that influence profitable sales outcomes.
2. Measurement drives creativity drives measurement. Creative directors will tell you that their best work most often comes from great creative briefs -- and the best creative briefs provide clear campaign objectives fueled by great market research. In the best examples, data interpretation and creative implementation occur continuously, making marketing agile.
3. If you can't quantify it, you'd better be really lucky. It's virtually impossible to achieve sales outcomes until you quantify the underlying marketing formula. Understanding how your marketing investments impact behavior-driven intermediary metrics like "cost per shopper" or "cost per branded query" is essential to charting and course-correcting within the lifecycle of the campaign. Using instinct alone is akin to gambling.
4. Math can help you engineer outcomes, not just measure performance. Using data simply to measure the ROI of an existing campaign is important, but it significantly undervalues the opportunity. And too often, the need to demonstrate ROI makes marketers focus on micro-metrics that confuse media and/or creative optimization with the long-term return on a marketing investment. The right approach uses data as a forward-looking input, yielding metrics-driven campaign playbooks that marketers can use to predict and engineer future outcomes, as well as look backward.
Nine years ago, in a book titled "The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding," Al Ries declared that "the Internet can be a business or a medium for your brand, but not both." (Note: be wary of coining immutable laws in an emerging market, especially when YouTube and MySpace don't exist yet). Smart marketers know that this is as nonsensical as saying there is no room for math in marketing.