Will we ever get perfect analytics for an imperfect commercial art?
I once worked on an account where we focused on metrics. Or sort of. When the agency I worked at pitched the business, we promised our work would generate results, and we’d have the analytics to prove it. Since the work was mostly digital in nature, there were all sorts of proposed analytics dashboards, A/B concept tests, and seemingly a hundred other ways to measure how our campaigns would perform.
But then, once we got the account, the client started changing the creative. Rewriting the headlines. Changing up our recommended email subject lines. Diluting the promotional offers that were supposed to be tested. When the campaign results came back short of our projections, the agency got the blame.
So with all the variables out of their control, how can agencies truly be held accountable for the performance of their work? Is there ever such a thing as perfect analytics in an imperfect commercial art like advertising?
Clients want, and deserve, to know the money they spend on marketing and advertising is worth it. But no matter how much agencies promise, we don’t have total control over results or effectiveness.
When we rely on analytics, we set the bar very high. Few, if any, advertising and marketing programs have a pure direct response model where marketers get a crystal-clear look at how their efforts are doing and specifically how they could be tweaked to be improved. Many get close, but still, the measurements are quite imprecise when you look hard enough.
In any marketing or ad campaign, you can make a laundry list of factors that could affect the ultimate results: The media mix. The quality of the imagery. Lack of mobile-optimized sites and emails. Or go beyond the actual agency-produced component: What happens when a consumer decides to buy something, or get more information, and that end of the experience falls short? Clearly it affects results, but should an advertising agency be held accountable for it?
While clients sign off on creative briefs, the media mix, and any testing mechanisms, agencies are often the first to get blamed for an effort that falls short of their promises or a client’s expectations. A successful advertising campaign has a thousand parents. A failed campaign is an orphan.
It galls me to hear clients come back and complain about the efficacy of their marketing efforts when they’re not taking the advice their agencies give them. However, that accountability must work both ways: If agencies don’t listen to clients or ignore their requests, they bear responsibility for efforts that fall short of objectives.
And we’re living in age of increased fuzziness. More engagements, tweets, likes, and consumer “love” for a brand doesn't translate automatically into more sales — but it does count for something. But it all adds up to yet another imperfect measurement of success.
The desperation for analytics is also testament to the decreasing confidence of marketers in the power of creativity, big ideas, and long-term thinking. The here, now, and spreadsheet-friendly tactics are triumphing. But that only mirrors our Wall Street culture where the fiscal quarter trumps all. Frankly, half-assed accountability right now beats picking a plan, riding the potential ups and downs and sticking with it for any real duration.
Ultimately, the successful use of analytics comes down to who has the most control over the marketing plan and the ad spend. And marketers who do their strategic, creative, and analytical work in-house are best positioned for this. Because they control the process more than agencies do — they can develop, test, tweak, adjust, and run their efforts as necessary without any outside agency to suggest a change that alters the outcome. They can also be more nimble and spend less by not using outside resources. The success, and the blame, stays internal.
One thing’s for certain: There’s more innovation, or attempts at it, in the analytics of advertising and marketing than in the ways creative people use to make the work. Ideas, storytelling, art, copy — they’re old methods given a spit polish every now and then. So agencies that want to stay relevant need to promise good numbers on top of good concepts.
And the one result we can all count on is that we’ll never be certain our work works.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
Visit his copywriting website, see his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.
And please, buy his book for 99 cents.
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