Metrics That Help Catch Lightning in a Bottle

What do these great marketing breakthroughs have in common?

  •          MasterCard's "priceless"

  •         The Energizer bunny

  •          "Got Milk?"

  •          Absolut ________ 

    All were truly "breakthrough ideas."  All were "viral" ad campaigns before there was such a term. But they were all much more than ad campaigns; they were positioning strategies that effectively cemented their brands into the top echelon of their respective categories. They were marketing platforms that have lasted for many years and evolved to adapt effectively in dynamic environments.

    Yet of all the marketing jargon that's penetrated our brains, I think the concept of the "breakthrough idea" may be one of the most dangerous.

    Would we all love to have one? Sure. When one comes along, can it revolutionize our business? Absolutely.  So what's the problem? Shouldn't we all aspire to the same success?

    Statistically speaking, most marketing organizations have a better chance of hitting the lottery than they do of creating a breakthrough idea that's more than just a short-lived ad campaign. Declines in both research budgets and internal competencies are primary causes.  But internal politics and dynamic competitive environments play a role, too.  And all these factors are further iexacerbated by shorter timelines to produce demonstrable results.

    Having spent the better part of the last 10 years crawling inside many Fortune 500 companies to help them measure marketing effectiveness, I have recently come to the (much overdue) conclusion that most measurement problems stem from the core evils of parity value propositions and absence of effective positioning. We've somehow managed to shift almost all our efforts from strategic insight development (which we've outsourced to consultants and research companies, putting them on very tight budgetary leashes) to tactical execution in the mistaken belief that the only viable strategy for success in a two-year evaluation window is to catch lightning in a bottle in the form of a positively viral ad campaign. In other words, most unintentionally place themselves in a position where they are relying upon lightning to strike in a specific place during a short window of time.

    True, most of the breakthroughs above were born in moments of pure inspiration on either the client or agency side. But those moments were carefully "engineered" to come about through insightful research and market study. They were successful outcomes of a diligent "R&D" process.

    As you look ahead to your 2011 budget, how much have you allocated to "R&D"? Not surprisingly, even companies with multibillion-dollar R&D budgets for engineering and product development will likely have just a small fraction of their overall marketing budget dedicated to generating market/customer insights. Far more money will be allocated to unstructured and uncontrolled experimentation with communication tactics in support of messages that are neither "breakthrough" nor effective strategic positioning. Many will invest heavily in analytics to optimize the media mix of campaigns to get the biggest return for the tactical budget, yet will go to sleep at night wondering if they're actually saying the right things to the right people to inspire the right behaviors.

    Increasing the probability of success in marketing almost always comes down to executing against a process of hypothesize, test, learn, refine, repeat. Along the way, you can employ a few metrics to gauge your progress at improving.  For example:

    -          Relative value proposition strength - a measure of the degree to which your core value proposition (unbundled from ad execution) is preferred by the target audience relative to the options they see themselves having.  Tracking this on a regular basis helps diagnose the extent to which your core offering is driving/depressing results versus your execution of it.

    -          Positioning relevance -- a measure of the degree to which your key positioning points resonate on relevance and materiality scales, compared to other positioning strategies the customers/prospects are exposed to from competitors.

      -          Message effectiveness -- a measure of the degree to which your message execution is delivering the right message in a compelling and differentiated manner.

    Finding out where you score high or low on these metrics will direct and focus your efforts at improvement.  It may also help enlighten others around the company on the need to invest more in developing stronger value propositions through product/service innovation.

    Implementing a few structured steps like these can go a long way toward informing your understanding of where and when lightning is more likely to strike, so you can put your bottles in the right places.

  • 5 comments about "Metrics That Help Catch Lightning in a Bottle".
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    1. Kevin Horne from Verizon, July 27, 2010 at 1:22 p.m.

      Excellent as always, Pat. My two cents is that most clients could start with an exercise of trying to train staff on the difference between the 3 fundamental elements you outline: value prop, positioning, and messaging.

    2. Caroline Kawashima from social persuasion, July 27, 2010 at 2:29 p.m.

      Excellent post and I can say that unfortunately the same malaise happens with public relations and communications programs as well. Clients often want the creative "silver bullet" to get short-term hype, but often fail to spend time on their core positioning, relevance and message effectiveness.

    3. Preetha Pulusani, July 27, 2010 at 2:48 p.m.

      Great post and a great read for marketers!

    4. Ken Dickens from 2080Ideas, July 27, 2010 at 3:14 p.m.

      Agree 100%. And, with all the web tools out there today, testing of various value propositions and key messages is easier than ever. For example, a simple test on Google Adwords with various headlines and messages can be done almost overnight, at very low cost. And it measures action, not intent, which expensive focus group and other qualitative research can't do.

      However, I can argue that none of the campaigns you site could have been created this way. They are magic, and magic is hard to test and quantify. The most recent example, and my current favorite is from Dos Equis beer. The most interesting man in the world campaign, with its powerful tagline- Stay Thirsty My Friends.

      Ultimately clients/companies need to know the core level differentiation of their value props and reasons why. And that is fast and cheap to do these days. If they are not doing it, shame on them.

      Once the above is done, paying someone to create magic is where the real money should be spent.

    5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 27, 2010 at 3:51 p.m.

      If it were that easy to ensure great tag lines and concepts, we'd all be speaking in idioms. Then again....A successful, that is profitable, campaign does not always have to be the most clever, just have the best message - and of course all of the other pieces coordinating well.

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