While the economy may be improving, CFOs will be cautious not to spend too far in advance of strong demand. This will continue to fan the flames under the question of the expected payback on marketing investments, and expose cracks in your measurement foundation.
So now more than ever before it's critically important to improve your ability to measure and improve your marketing ROI, and your credibility in explaining it. But most marketers can't spread their resources too thin, so what will really make the most difference to elevate your measurement game?
Here are a few suggestions...
First, get the metrics right. Many marketers are still wrestling with a panoply of things that could be measured, instead of those which should be measured. They have too many metrics concentrated in the business outcomes (e.g., "revenue") or in the marketing activities (e.g., "Web pages implemented"), and not enough in the middle ground explaining the progression of the engagement and ultimately buying process. Measuring your social media activities down to the millimeter doesn't matter at all if you don't have a clue about the financial return of your brand advertising.
The "right" metrics are the ones that A) give you the insights to answer the question "what do I do next?"; B) are calibrated to move up or down as your spend patterns change so you can learn what moves the needle; and C) elicit head-nodding from the CFO for their credibility and validity. They should account for the impact of the vast majority of your marketing spend activity, and always be pushing to link closer and closer to the ability to determine financial value created.
Second, experiment liberally. If you're not spending at least 10% of your total budget experimenting, your knowledge foundation is crumbling. Deliberate, focused experimentation is the most credible and effective way to test unknowns about strategy, tactical execution, or resource allocation mix, and do so in a "live" environment where all the boogey-man variables can and do impact the results. It creates a disciplined approach to continual learning and improvement that cannot be achieved through research alone.
Third, standardize business case requirements. Each and every proposed initiative above some spending threshold should come with a business case using a common template that forces proposers to specifically articulate their assumptions about how this investment will ultimately help improve shareholder value in some financial context. This not only helps the quality of the plans submitted, but also permits some portfolio management of options when the resources aren't quite sufficient to cover all requests.
In the beginning, these business cases will be full of holes. But in time, validated assumptions will fill the holes and become a repository of institutional knowledge for reasonable expectations. Then you'll be able to approve or reject ideas faster, and with less haggling with finance. Not to mention the insight you'll gain into where you need to shore up your key assumptions.
Fourth, stop searching for "proof" and look for insight. When marketing measurement emanates from a defensive posture, it tends to solve small problems in sequence in order to win one argument at a time. This energy consumed by "fighting" these battles tends to blind CMOs from pursuit of the broader understanding of the real drivers of business success.
A better approach is to work with finance, sales, SBUs and other key stakeholders to lay out the series of key questions you would like to be able to answer, ranked in order of priority. Once you've finalized the list, you now have the framework against which to plan your assault on ignorance in a way that engages the whole organization on the path, and sets you on a foundation of credibility.
Fifth, practice transparency. Make every assumption plain for all to see and criticize. Label educated guesses as such. Invite anyone to challenge your knowledge and engage them in a discussion of the practical limits on what might be known at what cost in what timeframe. Present expectations in terms of probabilities and ranges where certainty is lacking, and allow the informed opinions of others to factor into setting those ranges so they begin to have some ownership of the uncertainty "problem" themselves and are thereby more supportive of you spending money to solve it.
Finally, remember that in measurement "no pain, no gain" is very real. It takes focus, effort, and resources to improve your knowledge. These five components will help you lay the right measurement foundation to build on.