Why Hide Research? The Truth Shall Set You Free

Tom Hespos’s article last week, “Measuring What Matters,” got my mind stuck in a kind of feedback loop all day long.

First I thought it was because of his use of the scene from “The Empire Strikes Back” in which Luke Skywalker tries to raise his sinking X-Wing Fighter from out of a swamp, only to fail. Yoda, on the other hand, brings it up and moves it over to more stable ground by levitating it.

Luke: I don’t… I don’t believe it.

Yoda: That is why you fail.

Man, I love that movie.

But then I read through Tom’s article two more times and I realized what it really was that was sticking with me.

Tom talked about the need for an acceptable and meaningful measure of what it is that constitutes success.

In the old days of advertising, we used surrogate measures such as reach and frequency to help gauge whether we as advertisers were accomplishing the goals of trying to tell as many of the right people as possible about our product or service and enticing them to act. As years went by, Nielsen provided scan data from stores; we could look at that data in conjunction with delivery reports of an advertiser’s schedule, but we would still be seeing, at best, only brittle correlative data connecting the advertising event to product engagement.

In the online space, we glommed on to the click-through rate. Responses, then, were to be the measure of success for an advertising effort. But all this bit of data really showed us was what kind of impulse reaction was being elicited upon exposure to a given advertising asset. It said nothing about those who might have been affected by it in other, more complex ways, either positive or negative.

Did nonrespondents not like the advertising or the brand? Did they like it fine but just weren’t interested at the time? Did they love it but simply did not want to purchase because they are nervous about giving a credit card number over the Web? Or did they maybe want to wait for payday and not use credit?

Maybe the reason there was no response is more universal: Do you, right then and there, put down the magazine you are reading and head off to the store to purchase the product advertised in the magazine — just because you want it?

No, that’s not how the success of a given advertising campaign is determined.

But there is data and research out there somewhere that could help us learn more about what does or does not constitute success. The problem is getting to it.

Many agencies, publishers, and clients are very interested in keeping to themselves what it is they have learned. Now, this isn’t uncommon in marketing, and some sort of protection of proprietary data is important. But somehow, someday, the information has to get out there.

I would like to one day see an organization that is supported by both the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, as well as by a majority of the third-party research and technology concerns out there; it could be the conduit through which case studies, measurement techniques, and better media processes and thinking could be disseminated to the industry at large. I am certain it would be in the best interests of clients/advertisers.

The question, of course, will remain: What is the advantage of one agency over another? I contend it is a) relationships, b) generally practiced intelligence gathering and interpretive skills for using the available data, and c) clout (media buying only).

I mean, what makes one doctor better than another? It isn’t that he hoards all of his experience and knowledge, keeping what he has discovered in some sort of Dr. Strange-like Sanctum Sanctorum. Certainly that sometimes happens. But if the one person who knew about bacteria and what killed them kept that secret to herself forever and ever, many of us would still be dying of staph infections. Yet do doctors today still make a fine living, and do folks go to different doctors for different needs and ailments? Yes. Differentiating among doctors is based on patients’ assessment of a doctor’s skills regarding the basics, expertise within a specialized field that serves a specific need, and the relationship with those around him.

Why, then, should agencies and research concerns hoard so many of their findings that, if public, would allow us all to be through with making a market and instead get on with capturing market share?

Yoda: Do, or do not. There is no try.

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