As everyone knows and hears repeatedly from many sources, the advertising industry is making a shift towards Accountability. Advertisers are tasking their agencies and their partners to show demonstrable results for their advertising and marketing dollars. This shift speaks to the strong points of interactive media, as well as for various methods of tracking offline advertising, but with the positive also comes negative. The negatives of Accountability are something that I want to explore for a moment today.
Before we get into it, let me be clear on one thing; I believe in Accountability. I support it, I am a proponent of it, and I am a fan of it, as I also believe this is the direction our industry needs to move. That being said, there are inherent difficulties that come with this shift. The most obvious one is the apparent loss of belief in the strength of a brand and the patience one must take to build a brand. For years and years advertisers have debated the balance between Branding and Direct Response, but the fundamental truth that everyone can agree on is that a strong Brand has a positive impact on Direct Response advertising. DR metrics improve with positive elements for Brand Awareness, Brand Favorability and Purchase Intent. In order to build a brand, you must have a strategy, and you must have time. The development of a Brand cannot occur overnight, but the shift towards Accountability flies in the face of Brand Development as it delays the analysis of ROI for your marketing dollars. Of course, there are ways to state that Brand metrics can be viewed as Accountable through pre- and post-analysis but these are not the true metrics that a shareholder or a board member wants to hear. They want to see sales and business growth, which are certainly achieved through brand metrics but are not the end product.
Another problem is the reactionary nature of the shift towards accountability and the volatility that comes as a result of forces outside of one's immediate control. Being Accountable means being reliant on stability in the world around you. Advertising is affected by seasonality and market conditions as much as any industry and these are far beyond the control of an agency or publisher. Consumer confidence and consumer spending affect the purchase patterns and behavioral tendencies of the target audience. When the markets are high, spending increases and advertising is effective. When markets drop or the political world heats up, advertising can be inversely affected and these are elements that have to be considered when analyzing a campaign. Weekly or daily reports that include detailed analysis of the campaigns need to factor in these types of considerations in order to paint a complete picture and attribute the changes to the appropriate influence.
The other downside to Accountability is something I call the "What Have You Done For Me Lately" effect. I say this tongue-in-cheek because it's something that has always existed but is forbidden to be discussed. The fact is you're only as good as your most recent campaign. The job of an advertiser or an agency is to stay ahead of the curve and to incorporate the most recent learning into their campaigns. Like a shark in the ocean, if you stop moving, you're dead. You need to keep swimming. You need to keep learning. You need to keep proving success and growing your business and as advertising becomes more and more accountable you turn over the rocks and look under the rug and find the little nuggets that may have been hiding. You may find out that part of your efforts are not effective and may not have been for awhile, but there is nowhere to hide in an Accountable environment. If performance slips for a week or two, you need to have a rationale and support to explain why, as well as a plan to rectify the change. It can be time consuming, it can be frustrating, and it can be exhausting, but this is the way of the future. The opportunity is to find ways to react in an efficient manner and to find ways to more accurately predict or limit these types of situations.
Accountability is a beautiful thing. It can be your best friend and your worst enemy, but we can be certain it's not going anywhere. You can either embrace it or defend against it, but only one of these options will prove effective in the long run. The important thing is to recognize the positives and the negatives and to plan accordingly.