Marketing’s unfortunate habit of confusing ‘test with ‘gamble’

In this guest post, Alex Kirk explains why 'shiny and new' and 'tried and tested' are often at loggerheads when it comes to making marketing decisions.

I saw yet another post this week on another it-just-won’t-die theme, how marketers aren’t investing into enough newer channels due to – boo! hiss! – a focus on ROI.


This latest post (which I won’t link to because it’d be mean, it’s not their fault) is a classic of the genre, referring once more to a survey of marketers:

“At one extreme, a third of respondents disagreed with the statement ‘we reserve a proportion of budgets for more innovative but untried marketing activities’… these companies can be said to have risk-averse marketing strategies with little room for innovation”

Let’s be clear: being in marketing and having a risk-averse attitude towards any negative effects on your business isn’t being short-sighted, it’s basically your whole job. The thing that people seem to forget rather often in marketing is that you only exist to deliver a positive effect on your business when compared with the budget that you spend. That’s it. Nothing else. Stop talking now.

It’s really not complicated – if you can’t convincingly show how your marketing or advertising is going to do that one thing, then you don’t do it.

If your idea to use the latest bleeding-edge technology is ‘untried’, that’s not a problem – but if that tech is unable to even become proven in the future, then don’t go blaming the board for turning you down; that new tech simply isn’t ready for prime-time.

New ad formats with no analytics worth a damn, new technologies that only work on one platform, ‘opportunities’ that don’t allow any outcome measurement, products being described proudly as in beta… these things aren’t innovative – they’re not even bloody finished yet, and have no business being sold to anyone, anywhere.

And yet – apparently – it’s ‘an obsession with ROI’ that is to blame for their lack of take-up.

“But we need to test!” I hear you bleat. Fine. A test is when something is performed, its outcome is measured and its effects are analysed.

If a new technology or an opportunity does not allow for that, it is not part of a ‘test and learn’ strategy, it is a ‘gamble and hope’ one – and if you get called out on that, you’ve no-one to blame but yourself. That’s not being innovative, that’s just being as dumb as a box of hair.

The other interesting thing is how it is always marketers and agencies who get blamed.

digital marketing grid matrix - ThinkstockPhotos-480048064
We’ve all seen the headlines, ‘Agencies Not Keeping Up With Consumer Behaviour’, ‘Marketers Afraid To Invest In New Opportunities’, and so on.

But where are the headlines that say ‘New Shiny Tech Can’t Be Measured Properly, Is Roundly Decried As Half-Baked And Stupid’, or ‘Well-Dressed Idiot Enters Market And Expects To Have Money Thrown At Them Without Ever Needing To Show Real Results’?

It seems insane that those who hold the budgets are blamed for not spending with people who can’t show what effect their product actually delivers. Or, even worse, that it’s somehow the customer’s fault that the metrics they want to measure their business on don’t match up to the metrics the service being sold can provide.

Oh, hey, every new start-up in the world – I’m talking to you.

As an industry – from trade press to corporate boardroom – posts like these confuse ‘new’ with ‘good’. And that’s okay, that’s part of the enthusiasm and curiosity that abounds in marketing and advertising and which drives us all forwards.

But if something’s provably good (or at minimum has a pathway to provable good-ness) it doesn’t matter that it’s new. Risk is fine – not everything works out. But for pity’s sake, make sure you know what the risks are and be able to measure what you need to know before you spend the money.

I’m told that “in a risk-averse culture, innovation is stifled by the overwhelming need to demonstrate ROI”. Yes it is – and bloody right, too. Innovation is not about wasting money on every half-baked idea that gets pitched at you by someone with an expensive laptop and a pocket full of stock options – innovation is about finding new ways to add value.

If you – or more importantly, that new platform – can’t prove how it’s capable of doing just that, you might as well ‘invest’ your marketing budget on the horses.

This article was published originally at Linked In.

Alex Kirk is the head of systems and automation at MediaCom

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