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Balancing art and science: Marketing effectiveness comes of age

Jo Arden is head of strategy at 23red and a passionate advocate of the good that marketing can do, working on social purpose and behaviour change projects for the past 10 years.

It seems appropriate on the day that the IPA launches both Effectiveness Week and the 2016 IPA Effectiveness Award shortlist, to reflect on the topic more generally and to think about some of the key challenges we face today as marketers.

Effectiveness has come of age. This year’s Effectiveness Awards, arguably the kitemark of marketing effectiveness, has had more entrants than ever before. And Effectiveness Week is set to be a veritable feast of effectiveness covering a rich and highly diverse range of topics

This year there is a new edge to the conversation. It feels like there is an urgency to get serious about effectiveness and to build a common structure into our discipline. This has no doubt been driven in some part by the importance of marketing in a world where we have seen a major switch in the make-up of many balance sheets in terms of the proportion of tangible and intangible assets.

Determining exactly what contribution marketing makes to those intangible assets takes some unpicking but clearly there is a significant contribution across the marketing mix. This is particularly so in the new economies which are heavily built on service connection or sharing and where the business itself owns very little in physical terms but enormous amounts in terms of brand equity, relationships and data.

Over the next few months there will be a proliferation of new thinking and hopefully a shared consensus, which can only be a good thing. Here are some of the key themes that I am personally eager to see explored:

1. Speaking the same language

I imagine that we have all had similar esoteric conversations about brand and brand value and what has become increasingly clear to me is that there is a huge variance in what that can mean. We need a shared language. Not just between marketers and their agencies, or between marketers and technologists but between marketers and finance, and investors in those businesses too. In fact we need to unpack in more explicit terms how we build the notion of ‘value’ in its broadest sense and then work backwards to identify the contributing factors. Without that start point we can’t hope to understand what contribution marketing makes and therefore how effective that contribution can become

2. Future-proofing

There is ever more granular data becoming readily available via social monitoring which can help determine the performance of some channels in some campaigns. These measures are interesting and can help build a patchwork understanding when used together. But they need to be treated with extreme caution. It’s not so long ago that we thought Facebook likes were a magic barometer of consumer engagement. There are solid measures that will remain solid amid the vagaries of social measurement and we need to protect them whilst still taking what we can from more opportunistic indicators.

3. Applying the science

Econometrics is an astoundingly good way to understand effectiveness and to build a platform for continued improvement. But they can feel like a luxury: they are complex and investment-heavy and for many smaller brands that investment can seem out of kilter with the marketing budget as a whole. Perhaps we can unlock some of the thinking and the processes that are the foundations of econometrics to allow marketing directors with smaller budgets (not forgetting the utility first, marketing later model of many startups means that these could be our Ubers of tomorrow) to build discipline and rigour into measurement from day one.

4. But not losing the art

It may be counter-intuitive in this context to make a call to protect that which can’t be measured too. There are cases where all evidence points to a course of action, or where intuition has to prevail and we need to be careful to take these chances even where we know measurement is thin. Measuring success only after the event used to be the norm and some brave and ultimately successful work ran as a result.

5. Taking our place at the table

Effectiveness and the ability of all of us who work in this diverse and dynamic field to measure it will in turn allow us common of much more business led conversations. But this is not a one-way journey. Businesses models have changed and with that the conversations which we all need to build successful brands have changed too. Reframing effectiveness as a business critical topic, rather than a justification of marketing, means moving forward collaboratively. Besides, it’s at the heart of what we do to want to deliver what audiences need and the audience we most need to engage now is the boardroom.

Jo Arden is head of strategy at 23red

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