Engaged yesterday in a LinkedIn discussion with self-confessed marketing anarchist John Lilly about the difficulty of setting success-based contingency fees for marketing projects, I was reminded that one source of considerable tension between marketers and their management teams is misalignment of objectives – a topic I wrote about on this blog some months ago. Even if everyone is on the same page with regard to objectives, however, there is no guarantee that this will result in measurement of what really matters.
In any business process, it seems to me* that three variables have potential to be quantified:
As applied to the marketing function, these might translate as follows:
- Inputs – the systems, processes, people, content, investments and other assets that are put in place to deliver marketing programmes
- Outputs – the various ‘deliverables’ (events, white papers, media coverage, website hits, social media ‘followers’ etc.) that those inputs generate
- Outcomes – brand awareness, demand, influence, customer loyalty etc.
Part of the problem with evaluation of any marketing function is that its outcomes can be so difficult and / or expensive to quantify – and if anything, this factor is magnified in professional services firms. Typically, only the largest firms choose to invest in evaluation programmes that gauge brand awareness in any meaningful way, for example – and too many firms mistake a SATISFIED client for a LOYAL client. Further, it can be hard to convince sceptical Partners of the connection between (for example) thought leadership work executed in the first quarter of Year One and a major client engagement won in the fourth quarter of Year Two.
Unfortunately, this often results in the development of marketing programmes whose success or failure is judged solely by reference to inputs and outputs, and not to what really matters. Some marketers focus their efforts on building highly scientific marketing processes, then measuring them within an inch of their life without questioning the outcomes that they will generate. They sink huge sums into CRM systems, but invest nothing at all in understanding the factors that drive buying behaviour. They set spurious targets for the number of press releases that must be issued, or the number of prospects that must attend events. They pore endlessly over website stats and agonise if a competitor firm has more followers on Twitter.
Clearly, marketing evaluation is not a topic that can be resolved in a 500-word blog post. However, I would urge any professional services marketer who wishes to make a real contribution to the success of his or her firm not to lose sight of the importance of outcome-orientation. Sure, it’s important to have quality inputs and a steady flow of quality outputs, but consider this: if the outcomes are lousy, what value have the inputs and outputs added? And if the outcomes are great, who the heck cares what inputs and outputs were used to achieve them?
* I dare say that any process consultants who have inadvertently landed here will correct me if I am misguided in this analysis