Wednesday, July 26, 2006

No Grail

Measuring advertising has been the Holy Grail of marketing and marketing communications people for, oh, a couple or three decades. Hundreds of marketing professionals (including me) have beaten the Grail like a tin drum.

“If only we could get our clients to measure the effects of the advertising,” we’ve pronounced, “they would know why they should spend their money on marketing.” On advertising. On promotional events. On us!

I’m changing my mind.

What if the secret of getting value for one’s intellectual or creative activity isn’t mathematical but chemical?

Mathematics (measurement) is an exact science. (Ignore quantum mechanics for the moment.) True, you can change a variable. But maybe our ability to get greater value (more money) for our ideas depends on our understanding that human relationships are intimately involved in each exchange. Relationships equal chemistry and human chemistry can vary the result a lot.

Two articles that address the basic idea of money and advertising came across my computer. I got the first one from John Reeves: “Advertising's Tangled Web” by Jim Cramer, a financial columnist.

Basically, Cramer (who last predicted the immediate demise of newspapers 10 years ago and admits he got it wrong) suggests why the old-line media are no longer able to command such hefty prices for ads and therefore for their programs. He believes it’s the “lack of accountability.”

Cramer’s piece has a lot to do with media costs and not so much with the prices we charge for the intellectual property of our creations. In fact, I wonder if there is an inverse relationship at work: as the cost of media (in general) is going down, should we “thinkers” bid our prices up?

When the ad biz started, the creation of the ads was given away as part of the newspaper ad sale. That’s what advertising agencies were originally: newspaper ad sales offices. Now, as media proliferates and the choices are more numerous, placement costs may go down – a big if since most web-delivered media cannot “prove" their circulation figures.

That was the first step. Then Joe Fournet wrote “Will Ad Agencies Continue to Look Like Grocery Stores?” which you can read here. In part, Joe said:

We must deliver viable solutions to the client’s business problem and demonstrate a return on investment in the process. Houston advertisers, for the most part, don’t do a good job of differentiating themselves from their competition. Their advertising message contains no big idea, no distinctive selling points to attract the consumer enough to act and, thus, buy. Very seldom are there parameters set by which to measure a campaign’s success.

Is it any wonder then why advertising doesn’t work under these commoditized circumstances?

Fournet uses words like “return on investment” and “measure a campaign’s success.”

What if we’re wrong? Or partly wrong? What if our clients are more likely to spend money with us because of our human connections, one to the other? Because they like us, trust us to do a good (valuable) job for them?

Lois McMaster Bujold
, in her book A Civil Campaign, wrote, “A hundred objective measurements didn't sum the worth of a garden; only the delight of the users did that.”

We already admit that, when a client-agency relationship comes apart, it’s because of “bad chemistry.” One element of a long-standing relationship is “good chemistry.” It’s better that the client is…happy. That the client’s emotional objectives (and internal clients) are satisfied.

Measurement isn’t the Grail we’re after. Better things for better living through chemistry* is a more human motto – and model.

Detail: “The Achievement of the Grail” (1891-4), Tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham. *E I du Pont de Nemours and Company.


Mary Jo Martin said...

I believe (based on experience) that you need BOTH measurability AND chemistry.

You can have all the charisma in the world, but if what you provide does not achieve results for your client, you're not going to be long for their world. Because somewhere, sometime, someone (usually a CFO) is going to come along and say: "what are we getting for all this money we're spending?" And, rightly so. Those clients are in business to help their companies make money - perhaps more importantly, to help them make a profit. And, this is as true in non-profits as it is in for-profits.

On the flip side, delivering a drop-dead great product/service can only go so far. I have seen situations where a client was lost due purely to "bad chemistry." The work was great, but the relationship was ignored. Even clients like to have some fun sometime - and enjoy the people they work with.

Finally, while I understand Lois McMaster Bujold's take, a company is not a garden.

Joe Fournet said...

Interesting take, Richard. While I have long felt that intelligent use of creativity is integral in producing or developing viable solutions for clients, the measurement stick demanded by clients also has to come into play (whether or not we like it).

How measurement occurs and what to measure is often difficult, but not impossible (when we have a say in the matter). Agreement between agency and client on what would be a viable and realistic measurment In some way, shape or form would serve to enhance an already good relationship. The sooner in the process this occurs, the better.

If this balance can't be realized, even the best of relationships will, I fear, be strained.

Joe Fournet said...

Lest I forget, Richard, thank you for mentioning me and referencing my article. It's always a pleasure to add stimulating verse where great minds ponder. :)

Susan Reeves said...

Designer presents 3 stunning concepts that align with the creative platform. Client says "these are great, I'm happy". Designer and client have good chemistry. Everyone is pleased. Good measurement, so far.

Week later, client tells designer "boss did not like concepts, and well, come to think of it, neither do I". What happened to the chemistry?
Designer says, "but your boss has an idea that does not align with the creative platform". Client says, "he measures my paycheck and yours."

Bobbie Ireland said...

I like it and have to tell you I've always worked with agencies/design firms based on chemistry. In fact, I met with two men yesterday from a company here in town, and we were discussing a cute figure that's their 'mascot.” It turns out the mascot was designed by a free-lance designer who, while he did very creative work, was incredibly difficult to work with.

I wouldn't use him because of that fact. One man in yesterday's meeting said the company owner does all the interaction with the designer because he, my contact, can't work with him.

I have no doubt that chemistry comes first.