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July 20, 2005
SHARPENING THE POINT Because Good Enough is Never Good Enough

In a previous article, I discussed Small Army's "On Point" approach to effective marketing communications. That approach lies at the foundation of all of the work we do at Small Army. However, that is only the beginning of effective marketing communications. In order to continually improve effectiveness and results of marketing communications, we constantly seek to "sharpen the point." To do so, it is critical to continually establish criteria for success and metrics against which such success can be measured.

While more and more marketers are implementing basic measurement techniques to determine program success/failure, the extent to which such metrics are being leveraged by many marketers is minimal. Learning must go beyond determining whether or not a goal has been reached. Metrics must be established to help determine specific reasons for success and failure, and provide indicators that could point to more positive results. By following this approach, even a "failure" can provide valuable insight. And, successes can serve to raise the bar for subsequent programs.

So, next time you are about to launch a program, I urge you to consider the following considerations for "sharpening the point":

1. Always test
Knowing that a campaign succeeded or failed in not enough. Always seek to learn more about why your efforts may work or not. Consider which variables (offer, list, message, etc.) may have the greatest impact on the return, and seek to learn how changing a variable can impact results.

2. Set realistic measurement criteria
It is critical that the measurement techniques used to measure success align with the objectives of the program. How many times have you launched a brand awareness campaign, and then been told by the client that the sales group was upset because it was not generating enough leads? This issue can easily be overcome if you can not only remind them of the objective of the campaign, but more importantly, provide data that demonstrates success against that objective (see #5).

3. Create clean measurable test matrixes
One of the most common mistakes of marketers in testing is trying to test many variables at one time. For example, a direct marketer may send Creative A to Audience A and Creative B to Audience B. If the former produces results 2X greater than the latter, the marketer will know which performed better. But, was it the audience and/or the creative that impacted the results? Such a test would not provide that data. Instead, a more effective test would be to have four "test cells":

  • Creative A with Audience A
  • Creative A with Audience B
  • Creative B with Audience A
  • Creative B with Audience B

By setting up the test in each manner, where only one variable is changed in each "test cell," a marketer can learn which audience and which creative performed better. Generally, this will provide much more useful information that the other test.

4. Establish benchmarks and continually re-measure
As part of Small Army's On Point process (see previous article), we generally conduct quantitative research to identify market awareness, perceptions, etc. among target audiences. These studies are not only used to provide data for more informed strategic decisions. They are also used as benchmarks against which we can continually measure. For example, 12 months after the initial benchmark and a launch of a subsequent marketing campaign, re-launch the same survey (incorporating additional questions as necessary) to determine how the needle may have moved. This type of benchmarking can determine increases/decreases in awareness, perception changes, competitive impact and the like.

5. Leverage the Internet for Quick Testing
While Internet advertising has not completely met advertiser expectations (perhaps because expectations were unrealistic...), the Internet can be a great tool for quick testing of audiences, messages, offers and creative – especially when response is the primary objective. If you are considering multiple industries, audiences, offers, etc., you can quickly test these items online. Create "online" versions of your creative (unless, of course, it is already online), and purchase space on targeted websites. If your test was set-up properly, within days you can have a much better idea of which variables were most effective. This technique can also be conducted via e-mail.

6. Trust your instincts—but don't rush to bet the farm on them
We recommend starting with educated, informed strategies. But, often time, experience and instinct point us in a different direction. Don't be afraid of that (but don’t risk your job on it either...). If you are unsure, conduct a controlled test to determine market viability. If it fails, you know not to do it again (or to modify it based on results). If it succeeds, you can be a hero.

In an economy where companies are being driven to do less with more (especially as it pertains to marketing), it is critical to continue sharpening the point to improve results. Small Army's On Point approach effectively provides for that. It is what keeps clients coming back for more (well, that and simply great creative). And it is what enables us to continually deliver positive results.

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Jeff Freedman leads a small army. But not overseas. Small Army is a Boston-based marketing agency, and Jeff's background in both media planning and interactive marketing helps him service regional and national clients. As the fight continues to capture the attention of today's consumers, Small Army and Jeff Freedman will claim victory.

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