Producing Accountability in Hard Times

CMOs' Perennial Charge Is Even Tougher Now -- but Not Impossible

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Michael Fassnacht
Michael Fassnacht

Accountability is clearly keeping marketers up at night as the economic crisis continues to thread its way across industries around the globe and 2009 budgets come under greater scrutiny. So with economies performing badly in ways not seen in decades, all marketers should have a method-based and actionable answer to why marketing dollars are not a dispensable spending item but instead an investment with measurable ROI.

Yet, surprisingly, most marketers have no clear framework, methodology or process for dealing with the accountability issue. Many are still trying to figure out how to tackle and implement an accountability practice without stifling the innovative or creative ideas that marketing ultimately drives.

Roughly translated, accountability means being responsible for one's actions, calculating how to achieve one's obligations and suffering the consequences if those obligations go unmet. In this New Year, facing unprecedented economic roadblocks, here are three resolutions for marketing accountability success:

1. Make accountability relevant for everyone, not just analysts and accountants.
A marketing organization can be successful only if every member understands the metrics against which it will be measured. Not informing team members is like telling a football team to play the game without giving them a time limit or ever sharing the score. What athletes call the score, the marketing discipline calls accountability.

2. Plan for accountability upfront, in concert with the design and launch of marketing programs.
If marketers talk about accountability only after a program has launched, they are doomed to fail. A marketing organization cannot produce accountability if, at the outset, no one has defined the quantifiable goal. To do otherwise is like telling a designer to create a beautiful product without designating whether the product is supposed to drive or fly.

3. Recognize accountability as the friend, not the mortal enemy, of creativity.
Creative (in the context of marketing programs) must sell stuff. It must move individuals to do something they might not otherwise do. If the marketer fails to know if the creative has moved anyone, how can any creative work be improved? It's rather like saying that designers who create cars or airplanes should not be judged by the ability of their end products to drive or fly, but by the pure aesthetic of the products. What functionality is for designers, behavioral impact is for marketing creatives.

To ensure accountability, marketers must first recognize that it is more than just a one-dimensional concept solely focused on metrics. Particularly in a recession-stressed organization, accountability calls for a holistic approach that is owned and practiced across all critical marketing functions. The recommended formula becomes even more relevant in tough times:

Accountability = Metrics + Expertise + Culture + Action

Metrics must focus on the correlation between marketing action and business impact; expertise relates to the necessary analytical skills; culture speaks to an organization's environment, which must embrace a focus on accountability as a prerequisite to doing business; and action sees to it that accountability metrics are used in strategic planning discussions before, during and after marketing plans are designed.

Michael Fassnacht, exec VP-chief customer intelligence officer of DraftFCB, is a data guru with more than two decades of experience in CRM, analytics and customer loyalty programs.

Only if all four elements are equally institutionalized throughout a marketing organization can accountability be truly implemented, embedded and alive.

The right metrics remain critical, however. A focus only on either pure financial metrics (sales) or on very soft brand metrics (brand awareness) will not deliver success. Three categories must be used:

Financial metrics. These are all the financial corporate metrics that link marketing activities directly to CEOs and Wall Street, such as (in order of corporate importance in most cases) share price, profit, sales and brand value.

Direct behavioral metrics. These are the consumer-centric metrics reflecting a desired change in consumer behavior such as traffic, purchase metrics (frequency, size, penetration), repurchase/retention rate, and referrals.

Indirect attitudinal metrics. These are the psychological-based metrics that gauge consumers' internal feelings or attitudes toward a particular brand -- such as awareness, consideration, preference and satisfaction.

Far too many marketers have forgotten that marketing's core function is not to drive financial metrics but to change consumer behavior in a manner that leads to financial success, so any accountability-seeking marketing organization should focus primarily on direct behavioral metrics.

In reality, marketers today need to begin talking less about accountability as a stand-alone concept and instead begin to deliver marketing that includes accountability as a crucial and integral element that works in a productive union with creativity.

As we head into what some are predicting may be the largest, longest recession since the 1930s, marketers would do well to behave less like a rabbit in front of a snake but as true content leaders and innovators in the realm of ROI and accountability.

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