Outcome Addicted

Recessions are boom times for bad habits. Smokers light up more, drinkers throw down more, and gamblers lay it on the line more.

And what about those of us in the marketing game? What’s the quick fix we cling to in a bad economy? The little something-something that makes today seem a bit more manageable, even if we know we’re not doing the right thing for tomorrow?

We’re hooked on measurable results.

And this reliance on the absolutely, positively quantifiable is taking a toll on a key principle of successful integrated marketing: the balance between channels and tactics that are drivers and those that are outcomes.

I know this topic gets people fired up, so let me be clear about a few things: I firmly believe that the only purpose of marketing is to generate profitable sales, that data should drive decision making whenever possible, and I recognize that almost anything can be measured, given enough time and money.

But I also know that for all of the black box solutions out there, most marketers don’t have the tools to generate timely, holistic analyses of their campaigns. In their world (i.e., the real world) lots of things can’t be or just aren’t measured — which doesn’t mean they aren’t effective, only that their effectiveness can’t be tallied.

The bad economy has amplified the pressure marketers face to fund only the measurable activities. Program elements are evaluated and selected not based upon their actual influence on sales, but their measurable influence on sales. Integrated (or “balanced”) marketing is suffering as a result.

The most measurable activities (like search) also happen to be those that are actually caused by other, less measurable activities (like TV). When we start shifting dollars to outcome channels at the expense of the channels that drive those outcomes, we’re seriously messing with the necessary balance of the integrated plan.

Irony is, the point of measurement is to increase effectiveness. But blind devotion to measurement makes us less effective. If your plan is crafted to generate measureable outcomes instead of total outcomes, you’ll end up being able to attribute every last sale. Unfortunately, there will be far fewer of them to attribute.

The way to break free from M.O.A. (Marketing Outcome Addiction) is to make sure your plans are driver/outcome balanced. It’s as simple as this:

  1. If you find yourself making budget allocation shifts to any channel or tactic based largely on its measurability, ask yourself, “Is this channel in actuality an outcome of something else?”
  2. If the answer is yes, think about what parts of your plan are the actual drivers of the outcome.
  3. Don’t cut the drivers out of the program.

Here’s where it gets difficult.

In all likelihood, you won’t have hard data to tell you which elements of your plan are the drivers (i.e., an accurate, recent cross-channel attribution model), and so you’ve placed yourself back in the land of gut-based decision making.

You’ll be asking yourself questions like, “What’s really driving my search volume? Is it the TV buy? The print campaign? Chatter on social networks?”

The answers you come up with won’t be perfect. They’ll be based on data you can piece together from inside your organization, from studies you find from other companies and industries, and from your own instincts. It will lead you to a solution that is “directionally correct,” as an old professor of mine used to say.

On top of having a half-baked final answer you’ll also be swimming against the tide, trying to persuade your colleagues that effectiveness and measurability aren’t synonyms. You’ll stand out in the crowd, meaning that the one trait you’ll need is perhaps the scarcest commodity in business during a recession: courage.

Try to zig while the others zag. Stand up for integration, balance, and common sense while they stand up for pivot tables and job security (“I’m effective, and this spreadsheet proves it.”)

At the same time, start working inside your organization to develop a more comprehensive and actionable measurement approach. Show that you believe in fact-based decision-making, but only when all of the facts fairly represent all of the channels in your integrated mix.

That’s my advice, but what do I know? I’m headed to the convenience store to get a six-pack, some smokes, and a handful of scratch tickets.


I didn’t weave these into the copy above, but let me share the sources that influenced this column:

  • Seth Godin on the importance of change during a down economy.
  • Wenda Harris Millard’s comments at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s conference.
  • This article on mobile and ROI, which struck me as a case of over-crediting the “outcome” channel.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.