Accountability key, but still elusive

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These days, marketers' concern over building their brands is secondary to concerns over proving to their CEOs how they can build them efficiently.

Accountability rose to the top of the list of marketers' priorities in a recent survey by the Association of National Advertisers, in which 61 of 111 senior marketers ranked the ability to measure results first in importance over building strong brand franchises, which remained the key priority among 48 respondents.

"CEOs are looking for the level of speed and precision from marketing that they are used to seeing from operations and finance," said Richard Guha, principal of New England Consulting Group, which found in its own study of 64 chief marketing officers and senior marketers that determining financial payback of efforts weighed heaviest for 46%. But CMOs are not being given the time it takes-sometimes years-to establish the data they need to predict and measure return on investment since CEOs want to talk in quarterly earnings terms. Tenure for CMOs has averaged 23.6 months.

Thom Mocarsky, Arbitron's VP-communications, said it has talked to high-level executives at more than 50 top marketing companies "multiple times" about its national marketing panel system that combines Arbitron's Portable People Meter with Nielsen's HomeScan research since kicking it off at the meeting in October. But so far, no takers. "The drumbeat for accountability is not going to go away. Now we're just engaged in translating that into reality," Mr. Mocarksy said.

That drumbeat has agencies on the hook to do their part.

John Osborn, president-CEO of Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, said that BBDO over the last year has ramped up its tools to quantify to clients that what it's doing is correct and increasingly relies on new media technologies, whether online or in-store, to ensure advertising drives measurable action.

Don Kvam, exec VP at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, said the search for ROI has driven the need to "get greater clarification of the specific role that we're asking our communication efforts to play. Wanting an ad to do everything is a recipe for disaster."

DRAWBACKS

At Procter & Gamble Co., Clorox Co., Gillette Co. and growing numbers of other package-goods marketers, marketing-mix models have become increasingly pervasive tools for measuring marketing accountability. At P&G, the models have helped spot such trends as strong advertising impact during the holidays for Pepto-Bismol. But the models have drawbacks, including general inability to quantify impact from public relations and event marketing.

But the need for measurement may also be leading marketers astray. One senior agency executive said, "Even if returns for things like direct mail or free-standing inserts aren't great, they're at least measurable," which is likely why they continue to be used, often beyond their value.

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