Where the Rubber Hits the Road

Indy CarWhile walking east along the south side of Bloor Street in mid-town Toronto with my colleague Bob, I saw something quite unusual. Hovering above a large wooden table on the sidewalk in front of William Ashley’s store at 55 Bloor Street West was a full sized Indy race car. I don’t know a lot about racing, but I do know that cars and their tires are supposed to be on the road, so I was intrigued.

On closer inspection, I discovered the 1,400 pound replica car wasn’t hovering but was sitting on four delicate looking bone china tea cups, one under each tire. The tea cups themselves were part of an elegant table setting featuring William Ashley’s finest.

A little online snooping uncovered that William Ashley launched the display in 2011, 25 days before the 25th anniversary of the Honda Indy race in Toronto. The race organizers had approached William Ashley, a long-time sponsor of Toronto’s annual Indy race, with this outdoor display idea to jointly promote the race and the store, along with the superior strength, durability and performance of bone china.

As we discussed the uniqueness of this marketing idea, Bob turned to me and asked the question I get asked the most. “So, how would you measure that marketing program?”

Without flinching, I replied with my favourite answer, “It depends”. Since I didn’t know William Ashley’s actual planned objectives for creating this display, I couldn’t know exactly how to measure whether or not it worked.

Despite that roadblock, we agreed to speculate on what their objectives might generally have been, and I’ve added some measurement thoughts for each:

  • Objective #1: Create a unique and interesting event to generate press coverage.
  • Measurement #1: In its simplest form, this is a matter of tracking the number of impressions through the various stories and mentions about their launch event through various print, broadcast, digital and social media.
  • Objective #2: Communicate the key attributes of bone china.
  • Measurement #2: While the first objective relates to how much coverage, this one relates to more important issues, such as the quality, accuracy and tone of the coverage. It could get into things like media monitoring, text analytics and sentiment analysis of the various forms of coverage. You could supplement that with before and after surveys and by intercepting people on the street to see if they saw the display and understood the message.
  • Objective #3: Increase store traffic.
  • Measurement #3: Count the customers, of course, but you need to compare the count to something, like how many customers they normally get on Wednesdays in June, or when they’ve created similar displays previously.
  • Objective #4: Increase bone china sales.
  • Measurement #4: It’s easy enough to add up the sales, but it would be helpful to compare the total to an average, or baseline, as with the store traffic example. You’d also have to decide how long that display might affect bone china sales. Seeing that display made me think (and write) about the superior strength, durability and performance of William Ashley’s bone china, and maybe now you’re starting to think about it. I’m not in the market for bone china right now, but maybe in the future and perhaps you will be too!

The key lesson in all of this is that you need to set clear measurable objectives when planning your marketing in order to know what to measure and learn whether you’ve succeeded. In other words, measurement should be directly linked to your planning process. Defining how you will assess whether a marketing program is successful should be an integral part of planning.

Good objectives will define the metric(s) that will be used to measure success, and the specific numerical outcome you want to achieve. For example, it can be a percentage change from a comparable period, or a specific outcome that you’ve determined would be worthwhile relative to the cost of the program.

My four speculated objectives above were purposely vague to highlight the challenges presented by the lack of clarity.  When you set your objectives, be very clear about the outcome you’re looking for. Here’s a better version of Objective #4: “Increase bone china (all brands) sales for June and July by 20% vs. June and July of last year”. That, you can measure.

Without proper objectives, how or what to measure becomes an exercise in guessing, much like Bob and I had to do. To take the guesswork out of your marketing measurement, it needs to begin as part of your planning process. That’s where the rubber hits the road.

 

A Chapter About Bruce


Introduction

Are the objectives for your marketing programs really just reasons without numbers? Well, with some inspiration from a seed planted by a song I first heard in 1975, I’ll try to help you to fix that problem.

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I’m a long-time Bruce Springsteen fan. My affliction set in the first time I heard Born to Run played on my local FM station. I remember it well. It was the fall of 1975 and I was sitting in the basement of our family home, pretending to do homework.

When I decided several years ago to learn about blogging, I wanted to do so outside of my work world. I chose to blog about Bruce as I had studied him more diligently.

The blog was fun, I learned what I needed to know, but after five years of weekly posts, I lost the enthusiasm to keep going. I stopped posting at the end of 2012, although I have kept the blog site up. I’m happy I did it and the blog opened doors for me that I never anticipated.

Recently, a new door cracked open. I’ve been asked to consider writing a chapter in a book about Bruce that one day will hopefully be published. The asker found me through my blog.

I haven’t made my decision yet but I’m thinking about it and why I might like to do this. That leads me to the point of this story. I want to illustrate the difference between having reasons for doing something and setting proper objectives for doing that something.

Reasons may give you purpose, but proper objectives give you the ability to measure whether you achieved what you set out to accomplish. To measure whether marketing programs achieve their purpose, you need to be able to compare results to objectives.

I have to decide whether to commit my resources to writing this chapter, in the hopes it will be accepted and published. Similarly, you have to decide whether to support and run specific marketing programs, in the hopes they will move your business forward.

Setting Clear Objectives Will Help Us Both

My Decision

Let’s start by looking at my reasons for wanting to do this:

  • Become a published author
  • Improve my writing skills
  • Reach a new audience
  • Have some fun

I think these are good reasons to do it, but they are just that, reasons. To convert them to measurable objectives, I need to challenge them as much as your boss (not that Springsteen guy) would challenge any of your marketing program objectives with some of those “what do you mean by that?” type of questions. More on that later.

By quantifying the outcomes I’d like for each reason, we can begin to find the semblance of a measurable objective:

Become a published author: This is the easiest one. If the book is published and my chapter makes the cut, then mission accomplished. I have to admit, this is my number one objective, and the one I’d weight highest on my scorecard.

Improve my writing skills: Now it gets tougher. How do I measure the change in my writing skills from before until after I write that chapter? I could assemble a panel of writing experts and have them develop a scoring methodology to evaluate my before writing, perhaps a few of my newsletters. They would then have to use the same methodology to evaluate my completed chapter. The difference between the two scores would be my improvement. I could set my objective at a 10% improvement.

Reach a new audience: I need to start by being more specific about who I’m trying to reach. If I want to reach Springsteen fanatics to draw traffic to my dormant blog, my objective could be to increase average weekly unique site visitors by 20%.

If I want my chapter about Bruce to attract prospective clients for Optiv8 Consulting, then I need to define how much new business I’d like to acquire this way. I’ll set the bar for number of clients at one, which is likely overly optimistic. The dollar value objective for that one engagement will remain a confidential matter between my new Springsteen-loving marketer friend and myself. I’ve met many Springsteen-loving marketers over the years so, who knows, this might work!

Have some fun: This one is tough. I’ll know if I’m having fun when I’m doing it, but what could I possibly use as a Key Performance Indicator for my fun? I’m open to any suggestions you’d like to make but I know one thing. I’ll be wearing a massive grin the day my copy of that book arrives and I see my name in the book.

Your Decisions

Since I don’t know which program(s) you’re contemplating running, or what your objectives might be, I’ll suggest a few things for you to consider.

Start by asking if your objectives are just reasons without numbers. If you haven’t done the harder work of quantifying the results you want related to those reasons, you’ve yet to set objectives, and you won’t be able to measure properly when the program is over.

For each objective you set, challenge yourself with a few questions, before your boss hits you with those “What do you mean by that?” questions. These will get you started:

Who are you targeting? Examples: Current customers, prospects, specific market segments, a specific audience.

What do you want them to do? Examples: Follow/like you, subscribe, download, buy or buy more of specific products or services.

When do you want them to do it? Specify a period or a deadline.

How much of that do you need them to do for you to be happy? Pick a number or a percentage growth vs. a benchmark, like same period last year, and don’t sandbag it or your boss will challenge you some more!

The first three of the above questions help you to define the behaviour you want. In the last one, you quantify that behaviour.

In addition to making it possible to measure your marketing, setting proper objectives also sets expectations and defines success. That makes it easier to decide whether to allocate limited resources to a given initiative.

In truth, my decision isn’t too hard and I’ll probably go for it, assuming I can come up with an angle for my chapter. So my consulting work won’t suffer, I’ll re-allocate non-work time that I’ve allocated to other fun things, like to paint my front porch.

As a business executive or owner of a marketing budget, you must optimize your resources and budget by making good choices about which programs to fund. You’ll have your reasons for wanting to support each program, but be sure to challenge your reasons and objectives with some good questions before The Boss beats you to it.

For you Springsteen lovers, the blog is Your Friday Bruce Fix. I couldn’t tell you sooner as I worried you might never come back!

Running with Flawed Assumptions

Introduction

Have you ever made a flawed assumption? OK, maybe not you, but perhaps that has happened to someone you know.

Those of us who are more fallible than you sometimes make such mistakes. This month’s newsletter relates a story that reminded me of the importance of testing our assumptions to see if they are right, and also how the metrics we use to measure marketing need to be focused on our objectives.

I have to run, but please read on!
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I had lunch with my friend Charlotte the other day. In addition to being a lovely person, Charlotte is an avid runner and cyclist, and is one of several fit friends whose examples inspire me to get exercise.

Earlier this summer, I decided to take my morning walks in Monarch Park to the next level. First, I relocated my walks to the nice new running track at Monarch Park Stadium. Then, I slowly began injecting one-minute intervals of running into my 45-minute walks. I topped that off with a bit of stair climbing in the grandstand, and presto, I was doing interval training!

The first day I ran just four one-minute intervals, with a one minute walk in between. Each day I added a one-minute running interval until I was up to 15 one-minute runs. Then I started the process again but with two-minute running intervals, working up to 10 of those. The idea is to gradually work my way up to a longer total run featuring fewer but longer intervals, perhaps until I can run a marathon, or failing that, at least to the Beer Store and back.

Between bites of my tuna salad sandwich, I bragged to Charlotte about how by that morning I had built up to four 5-minute runs and two 4-minute runs. Charlotte congratulated me and then, I suspect inadvertently, inspired this newsletter by asking me how many minutes in total I was running most days. I guessed around 20 to 25 minutes even though that morning’s math (4 X 5 minutes, plus 2 X 4 minutes) suggested 28 minutes. I guessed low because I suspected my calculation was flawed. Here’s why.

When I started running, I found that the easiest way to keep track of my intervals was to split the track into 4 quarters; run 1/4, walk 1/4, and then repeat. My unit of measurement for how long I ran or walked quickly became track quarters rather than minutes.

Still, I wondered how many minutes I was running. I don’t wear a watch but it felt like each quarter took me about one minute to cover, and so I assumed one full lap took about four minutes.

I’m sure you can see the problem. I run a quarter lap faster than I can walk the same distance, and my internal clock that guessed at one minute is not likely accurate. But, I wasn’t too concerned about that. I don’t really care about my speed or lap times; I’m just trying to get some exercise to improve my overall health.

Without realizing it, while I had chosen a useful metric for keeping track of my intervals (quarters of laps), I was basing all my running time calculations on two casually made but flawed assumptions, namely that:

  • 1/4 lap = 1 minute
  • I run and walk at the same speed

Here are three simple lessons from this about metrics that apply equally to my interval training and marketing measurement.

1) Test Your Assumptions

It’s good to know if your assumptions are wrong. Using the timer on my cell phone the other day, I discovered that my five minute runs (1 1/4 laps) were actually about three minutes long. With that new information, I will probably adjust my training plan a little.

If any of your marketing measurement assumptions are based on poorly gathered or perhaps old data, such as research or analysis done under different market conditions, it may be time to revisit your assumptions.

2) Choose Metrics with Your Objectives in Mind

My specific training objective is to push myself, bit by bit, to work out a little harder each day. I measure my progress by tracking and increasing my distance-based intervals. I also check my heart rate when I’m done.

Make sure you’re clear about the specific objectives for each marketing program and pick metrics that measure the right things. Challenge your choice of metrics by asking yourself if knowing that number will help you to know whether your marketing programs are successful.

3) Align Program Objectives with Overall Objectives

Getting good results against my interval and heart rate objectives should lead to success against my overall objective of better health. One metric for that is my weight. So, I hop on the scale now and then to ensure my weight is heading in the right direction.

Your marketing program objectives should relate to customer activity that leads to better results against overall corporate objectives, such as revenue and profit. Strong results against the right program objectives should translate into hitting your company’s financial objectives.

Running around with flawed assumptions in my head really wasn’t a problem in this case because those assumptions were about an unimportant metric relative to my objectives.

If you’re running a marketing department or managing a marketing budget, a clear focus on your objectives will help you identify the right metrics for your measurement efforts. It’s also healthy to challenge any assumptions about your data and to test those assumptions to help keep your marketing on track.

Rick’s Theory of Relativity

Introduction

Have you ever noticed how time passes too quickly, and seemingly, much faster than when you were a kid? Well, I’ve noticed and I have a theory why that is. As it turns out, my theory also helps us to measure marketing properly. I know, it doesn’t seem possible for one theory to apply to two such different things, but if you’d like to find out how that can be, please read on!
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Last week I spoke by phone with my seven-year-old nephew, Aaron. He was quite excited because he was just a couple of sleeps away from starting his summer vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina with his mom and dad.

Three summers ago at the age of four, Aaron vacationed in Cape Cod. I flew to Hyannis to join in the fun and to surprise my parents, who were also there. We had a great time and one of the things I enjoyed most was watching Aaron enjoying his vacation.

As I observed and photographed Aaron, I noticed how easily and happily he was able to keep himself occupied. As a four year old with no obvious responsibilities, his main preoccupation was passing the time by entertaining himself, something Aaron did very well.

Do you remember being four years old? I don’t have many specific memories from that age, but I do have some vague recollections of how it felt. I remember how time seemed to stand still and how the summer seemed to last forever.

Now, with a full and busy life, I find that time passes much too quickly. I’ve also noticed how the speed of time’s passing seems to accelerate as I get older. My Theory of Relativity helps to explain why time passes more quickly as we age.

When you’re four years old, one year is 25% of your life. It’s forever. When you’re 50, one year is a mere 2% of your life. Relatively speaking, it’s a blink of an eye.

Whether you are 4 or 50 years old, one year is either 365 or 366 days long. Yet, relative to your current age, a year can seem much shorter or longer than it did or will at other ages.

My Theory of Relativity also informs my approach to marketing measurement. A number on its own is pretty meaningless unless you understand the context in which you’re trying to understand that number.

When you measure marketing, regardless of the specific metric you’re looking at, you want to know exactly how good or bad that number might be. For that, you need context; you need to compare your result to something. That “something” should be an objective.

Setting Good Marketing Objectives

At the risk of stating the obvious, comparing a result to an objective first requires setting an objective. To help you do that well, here are four characteristics of good objectives:

Clear: Well-defined objectives are not easily misunderstood. Identify exactly which key performance indicators (KPI) you are trying to impact with your marketing and by how much. If you want to impact “awareness”, define “who” and “how many” of those you are trying to make aware of “what” about your products or services. If you want to impact “sales”, define “who” you want to buy “how many” units or dollars, of “which” products or services, at “which” price, over “what” period of time.

Measurable: You need to be able to put a precise number to the magnitude of impact you are trying to make on each KPI. Also, make sure you can get the data you need reliably and affordably.

Meaningful: To be meaningful, the KPI you are trying to impact with your marketing should be important to the organization. Success at impacting that KPI should help to create value for the organization. To help identify KPIs, focus on profitable customer behaviour.

Reasonable: This generally means attainable, somewhere between overly conservative (too easy to attain) and overly aggressive (too hard to attain). The level of aggression in your marketing objective setting should be in synch with how aggressive your organization is in setting its overall objectives, as well as with the performance objectives and incentive payment thresholds for its employees and executives.

To measure marketing properly, you need to begin by setting good objectives. Having clear objectives gives you context and a number against which to measure your success. After all, if you’re not clear on where you’re trying to go with your marketing, how will you know when you get there?

Measuring marketing without having clear objectives might be a bit like planning a vacation without a clear destination in mind. Of course, if you do happen to get somewhere and aren’t sure how to pass the time, I know a young consultant who would be happy to advise you!

Aligning Interests

Introduction

Last week something strange happened in front of my house that knocked out the power to my house. I’m glad it happened on a relatively cool day rather than on a hot, sticky day like today.

While I was inconvenienced for about 12 hours in which I had no power, I’m thankful for the inspiration for this month’s newsletter which talks about the importance of aligning marketing’s interests with those of the whole organization and how doing measurement properly helps to get you there.

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As I opened my front door Wednesday morning to toss a few items into the recycle bin, I quickly realized that something had gone terribly wrong in front of my house.

From my front door, I saw a police officer, two firefighters, three Toronto Hydro linemen, an Atlas Van Lines driver, their respective vehicles, flashing lights, barricades, pylons and a cat. Taking in this scene, it quickly sank in that the large Altas moving van with live hydro wires draped across it, was probably the cause of all the commotion.

Here’s what happened. The van was very tall. The overhead hydro wires, which reach across the street to feed electricity into the houses on my side of the street, hang very low. Tall van + low wires = problem. As the van drove up my street, it snagged and pulled down the wires that feed electricity into MY house, which knocked out my power.

My neighbour Blair saw the whole thing happen. He called 911. The 911 dispatcher called the police, the firefighters and the hydro guys. No one knows who called the cat, or why the cat was there other than to hold the humans in contempt.

Over the next three hours, I had productive conversations with all of the aforementioned, as well as with my insurance agent, the claims adjuster, a contractor and an electrician. All were professional and courteous. But, here’s the thing.

Everyone I talked to had a different agenda, a different boss to answer to, and a different view on how to proceed. I found this both interesting and frustrating, yet not at all unusual. To varying degrees, most organizations experience this.

While this “organization” had been assembled hastily to address the downed power lines situation, it behaved as most organizations behave. That is, the first concerns of the individuals involved were guided by their own self-interests. More importantly, they were able find common ground within those interests and come together around common objectives.

What does this have to do with marketing measurement? I thought you’d never ask! Some of the biggest challenges and benefits of marketing measurement are related to getting everyone on the same page and aligning their interests.

Aligning marketing’s objectives with those of the organization is critical to both the success of marketing measurement efforts and the success of the organization at meeting its overall objectives.