Dear Advertiser, What Is It Exactly You Want From Us?

One of the funniest virals I remember doing the rounds at the start of the social media boom was a "guru" finding a businesswoman's quest for reassurance on ROI "so last century." As she grappled with questions as to whether it was "likes" and "shares" that the business needed, or just plain old-fashion growth and new customers, the social ninja rolls his eyes, leaves and threatens to tell his extensive social contacts how Victorian the organisation is. I'm paraphrasing, but that was the general gist.

Fast forward half a dozen years and the inconvenient truth is that this is still at least partially the case. Today's annual report from the Fournaise Marketing Group claims that three in four campaigns underperform, often because they use "fluffy" KPIs such as "views," "likes" and "shares" rather than anything the board could consider a sign of business growth that has delivered ROI.

The report could make uncomfortable reading for many, particularly as it goes on to explain how its authors believe many campaigns do not start with the data. They don't start off looking at a customer need, as demonstrated by research, or they don't use data to segment an audience that needs to be targeted in a particular way. It may sound all too familiar, but the overriding accusation of the research is that all too often marketers start off with an idea and then backtrack to find a reason to validate their approach.

In short, marketers need to spend more time going through the data, looking at what the company needs, who it needs to talk to, in which way and what message it needs to portray. At the same time, business objectives needs to part of KPIs. Being popular on social media is great, as is having ads seen widely by your target audience -- but if orders have not gone up, brochure enquiries spiked or footfall increased, then all you are left with are a set of figures that look good to marketing but nobody else.

Apple was fundamental in pushing this approach. Just think of its ads. The modern trend is to play opera music for a while as the audience get to enjoy beautiful pictures and then ask "so what was that all about." Apple, in contrast, consistently makes you tap your feet to silhouettes dancing with the product front and centre at all times. Contrast that with M&S's Christmas ad of fairies sprinkling dust from a rooftop for no apparent reason, and it's not a surprise that the retailer is finding it hard to keep on covering up poor sales with news that food has been performing well.

There is obviously a huge part to play for emotion and non-product led advertising, as the battle between Sainsbury's and John Lewis this Christmas showed. But unless you're going to do it superbly well, this report does remind marketers that starting out with who the customer is, what they want, what you've got to offer them, how you're going to tell them about it and with what purpose are all very good cautionary pieces of advice. 

Other pieces of research at eConsultancy have shown that CEO are losing confidence in marketing's ability to drive growth and to measure how they are delivering ROI. So it will become increasingly important that advertisers and marketers keep a reality check when conjuring up their next campaign. It is always worth keeping Lord Sugar from The Apprentice in mind. Although he is on a list of people I've interviewed and hope to never meet again -- it's a list with just one name on it, by the way -- he does always have a point when each year's competitors are expected to deliver a television ad. All too often the name of the product is too small or not mentioned, its advantages don't get highlighted and there's no call to action in a thirty-second clip of bad acting and repeated failure to get to the point.

Or put it another way. The best heckle I ever heard of came in an interview with a fairly well-known comedian who revealed that in his early days, just ten minutes into a set where very few people were laughing he decided to ask the person who had politely put up their hand what it is they wanted in a jovial headmaster way. Rather than deliver a putdown to the audience member, though, the request was met with a response so simple and powerful it made him sharpen his act and go on to become a better performer.

It came in just a very short sentence: "What exactly is it you want from us?" the heckler asked.

It's a good question to pose yourself if ever in doubt whether a campaign truly connects a customer need to a desirable product or service your client offers.

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