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March 16, 2005
The Other Side of ROI

Is marketing driving incremental volume, or is it protecting the health of the entire franchise?

New Pontiac G6: About $30,000

One for Every Oprah Audience Member: 276

Cost to Pontiac: About $8 million

To Be The Most Recognized New Car in 2004: Priceless

Was Pontiac's mega car giveaway on Oprah last September a "priceless" marketing initiative? Did Pontiac's buzz-worthy stunt move enough metal to justify the expense? Was it a short-term stunt or a long-term, brand-building marketing coup?

Today’s marketing is viewed as sort of like owning a boat—the cynical definition being a hole in the water into which money is poured. What a sad indictment on something so powerful.

Is the problem within marketing or with the application of “ROI” as a measurement method? Is marketing a black hole, or is ROI an artificial measure of success?

Traditional approaches measure marketing purely as a defensive investment protecting the business you have. But what about the upside? How do you forecast what gains you might see, at what cost?

ROI evaluates marketing on the wrong thing. Marketing isn't about an investment’s sector rating or beta. Marketing is about striking oil, satisfying needs, touching emotions and motivating behavior.

Let me offer seven alternatives to “Return on Investment.” Maybe one of them will resonate with you.

Seven Alternatives to ROI:

1. Return on Inspiration. A fired-up team will win more often than not. Look at Unilever's U.S. launch of Axe. They formed a very tight team and broke a lot of rules, convinced that they could do it better. Or, Southwest Airlines. Where do they find so many extroverts?

2. Return on Insight. Hummer's “Happy Jack” TV ad never showed the car/truck, but did tap into the inner child of most males. Hanes recently removed those pesky tags in their t-shirts behind a "Go Tagless" campaign. Coca-Cola’s Fridge Pack is touted as an innovation based on consumer insights.

3. Return on Innovation. Rather than big chalky calcium pills, J&J markets Viactiv calcium chews in pleasing flavors. Crest White Strips versus expensive dentist office bleaching (and going beyond oral care into beauty care).

4. Return on Intimacy. GM's 24-hour test drive helps you fall in love with the car and see how it looks in your driveway. Match.com is devoted to intimacy in a mass kind of way. Customized cell phone ring tones and screens allow you to personalize your phone.

5. Return on Insanity. Crunch Fitness is teaching “stripper” classes to the rank and file. Rusty Wallace said he'd buy everyone in the stands a six-pack of cold Miller Lite if he won the Daytona 500. The AFLAC duck. Taco Bell’s satellite splashdown promotion.

6. Return on In-store. REI's climbing walls. Build-A-Bear Workshops' hands-on teddy bear creating. Whole Foods. Starbucks. Wal-Mart TV, at least for some.

7. Return on Integration. Target Stores; they’re fully “integrated.” Captain Morgan Rums—the Captain is everywhere. Purina ONE’s 30-day challenge via radio DJ's, packaging, and online.

There are many other returns—Internet, Intuition, Investigation, Implementation, Ideation, Invention…

In order to get a real return on your marketing efforts, you have to run a disciplined process that is all-encompassing; and, you need to be able to step outside the process and listen for the ideas that “leak” out along the way.

Eight Steps To Better Marketing:

Here's one example of a comprehensive marketing process, to lead to dramatically better results:

1. Start with Immersion. What do we know? Most marketers have a wealth of data and knowledge. Getting immersed in all of the research must be the first step. The outcomes are threefold: (1) to confirm the “truths,” (2) to challenge widely held beliefs that may not be true or may have expired, and (3) to determine what we don't know that we should know.

2. Then, Investigate to find out what we really should know. This may be more research, roundtable discussions, interviews with experts, ethnographic studies, and/or observations. You’ve got to explore outside the typical boundaries. How many medicine cabinets have you looked in lately? Kids backpacks? Traveler’s MP3 song lists?

3. Formulate Implications based on your immersion and investigation. What have we learned that is meaningful to solve the marketing challenge?

4. Turn Implications into Insights, those nuggets of wisdom that serve as the foundation for developing new ideas. Insights can be in the form of a brand hierarchy, conceptual map, positioning document, brand guide and so forth.

5. Ideation follows Insights. Brainstorming techniques are applied to develop a laundry list of “wishes.” With an old spigot, you've got to let the water run for a while before it gets clean and cool—brainstorming is the same way. It's quantity over quality at this point, but importantly, the quantity is based on strong insights.

6. Ideas are Incubated to determine cost and feasibility. What's real, what's do-able, what ideas rise to the top?

7. Introducing the best ideas is crucial. How they’re announced, packaged, presented adds immense upside. A good idea poorly sold can be deflating. Good ideas can become great at this late stage.

8. Finally, Implementation. Many solid ideas grow bigger-than-life when implemented cleverly. Even at this late stage, don’t give up on seeking innovative ways to take good ideas to greatness.

So, yes, there is a way to deliver strong financial return on investment; but it has to be done with an eye on doing better marketing. Last year’s plans won't deliver on this year’s expectations; and analyzing tired tactics won’t make them perform any better.

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Jim Holbrook began at Procter & Gamble by refusing to leave the lobby until they granted him an interview. (It took six trips, but he got the job.) In 1996, Jim joined agency Zipatoni as president/partner. The owners sold Zip to IPG in 2000, and now look back wistfully! In 2005, Jim was recruited to be CEO of EMAK Worldwide, a family of marketing agencies.

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