Marketing Performance Mis-measurement: Mistaking Strategy for Objective

graph io blogIf you ever wondered why your monthly campaign tracker or reports show stellar results but your brand is underperforming in the marketplace, you may be measuring (and celebrating) the wrong leading metrics. You may be mistaking strategy for outcomes, thus celebrating the wrong “successes.” This piece elaborates on this measurement error and provides suggestions for setting things right.

Strategy is not objective

A common trap analysts, marketers, and advertisers fall into is mistaking strategy for outcome. Strategy is a means to an end, the selection of options intended to ensure the achievement of specific goals or objectives. With regard to marketing, this implies the focus on specific targets, and selection of channels, tactics, and messages intended to enhance the likelihood of achieving some desired outcomes. The effectiveness of a strategy is therefore not in the execution, but how well it delivers on the outcome. In other words, a good strategy (or execution) is deemed successful, not because it is implemented, but because it delivers on the objectives and goals.

With few exceptions, most marketers, planners, and strategists understand the difference between objectives, strategy, and plan. But when it comes to measurement, this understanding seems to blur, disappear or become less important. Just to be clear, you should measure strategy, but do so in order to understand how you have executed the strategy. This should not be mistaken as an indication of marketing success.

For instance, a common objective for launch brands is to achieve a certain level of awareness among HCPs and convince them to try the product. A decent strategy could be a multichannel marketing approach that combines digital and a few offline tactics with a specific message, cadence, and level of investment against a target HCP specialty. Going by this illustration, if the execution of the strategy is flawless, the measures will show timely delivery of the messages, exposure of audience to the message, and good interactions with the respective channels. This is a successful execution of the intended strategy.

But, this same successful strategy could result in 35% awareness compared to the targeted awareness and preference of 60%. In other words, the strategy was well executed but failed to deliver the desired business outcome. It’s no surprise when marketers’ dashboards show very impressive movements in engagements and interactions, while their brands are getting clobbered in the market.

Measure strategy, but know what you are measuring is executional accountability

Executional accountability is measuring how well you are executing your strategy so that insights form the basis for adjusting strategy and evaluating the quality of execution. This is also the primary role of the execution team—clients that have tried to separate executional accountability in the spirit of fox and chick coop concerns are making a mistake. Executional evaluation must be quickly available to the execution team, to ensure a seamless understanding and feedback loop. This feedback is important to both marketers and their agency/consultants; it is in the best interest of the advertiser to understand how well the strategy is being executed. This proximity provides an immediate feedback loop for learning and improvement. Even better, incorporating leading indicators of desired outcomes makes a highly responsive and rapid cycle optimization. That way, consultants also understand what strategy works when they take on a different client engagement. That is the concept of data-driven or data-integrated marketing.

Outcomes, on the other hand, are usually empirical measures and difficult to fudge—eg, sales, market share, awareness. Unlike campaign tracking, these outcomes metrics are fine to assign to independent parties for measurement

Consultants and execution teams who take accountability seriously must track strategy as well as leading indicators of success (outcomes). These help evaluate quality of execution (strategy tracking) as well as quality of the strategy (leading indicators of objectives).

Below are examples of the difference between strategy metrics and outcomes. Specifics will depend on your marketing or campaign objectives.

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At Ogilvy, our proprietary Fusion methodology, the rigorous methodical approach for communications strategy development and evaluation, also provides the basis for identifying the right execution as well as outcomes metrics. The Scorecard from Fusion empowers the integrated team of strategists, planners, accounts, creative, and analyst with clarity of metrics that help evaluate strategy and outcomes.

In summary

  • Measure objectives as the ultimate measures of success, not the attainment of strategy
  • Measure strategy and tactics, but understand these are strategy measures. You may be successful with your strategy execution but fail to deliver the expected outcomes
  • Execution teams should be responsible for, or have almost seamless access to, execution trackers, as this prevents the teams from “flying blind”
  • Execution teams should ensure they include leading indicators in their tracking and analysis efforts, as this helps evaluate strategy’s effectiveness in delivering outcomes
  • Get third parties to evaluate outcomes. Typically, these skillsets rarely reside with execution partners and the measures are hard to fudge. Rx trends, awareness penetration, market share, revenue, patients base, formulary preference—are all key outcomes measures that are difficult to fudge

Happy data-driven marketing in 2014! May your strategy deliver on the intended.

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