Inside the Mix

A multifaceted measurement system is vital as marketing becomes more of a science

A multifaceted measurement system is vital as marketing becomes more of a science

Pity your ad-industry colleagues.

They started with the 4As conference in Bermuda last month, went straight into the three-day Marketing Forum aboard the Norwegian Dawn, had a breather before the up-fronts consumed the industry, and the "lucky" ones will get to go to Cannes later this month for a week of celebrating creativity by way of 24-hour schmoozing and $15 hangover Cokes.

Of these, the Marketing Forum is perhaps the most intensive experience, as attendees are put on a ship and transported a few miles off Long Island, where the anchor is dropped, and they are stranded for three days of back-to-back meetings (including mealtimes), interspersed with seminars, workshops, and clinics. Not even cell phones work half the time. As a five-time veteran, I can attest that, for marketers, the remark on the last night by organization CEO Caroline Hunt, "I see dead people," was spot on.

With this many marketers in one place, the event can be a bellwether for industry issues. At the 1998 event in the UK, for example, everyone came off the ship knowing that if he hadn't figured out an internet strategy yet, it was almost too late. In 2001, the US event told the same story for multicultural marketing.

This year there were no grand themes in the programming, other than the slalom of emerging media and price pressures that everyone was experiencing. But an underlying theme emerged nonetheless, not so much from the speakers, but from the marketers who were asking the questions: Marketers are under more pressure than ever to measure the effect of their programs. Indeed, findings of the PRWeek/MS&L Marketing Management Survey - which went to bed the morning that the forum began - were compellingly reflected in real life by the marketers in attendance.

Marketing has its anti-measurement activists, those who are satisfied, to paraphrase the old saying, that as long as half their advertising dollars aren't wasted, they don't mind not knowing which half. And, yes, a perfect measurement system might lead marketers to abandon lower-scoring programs before they've had a chance to hit maturity and reach performance potential, thus creating confusion and inconsistent messages. This shows just how nuanced the perfect system should be.

There is something so compelling about seeing concrete numbers and formulas in an area not previously known for its accountability. I saw a fascinating demonstration in a session about branded entertainment by Roy Salter, founder of The Salter Group in LA. His firm specializes in evaluating the likely moneymaking potential of movie, TV, and radio properties; and in devising a suggested cost structure for studios and broadcasters to charge marketers for brand appearances, divided into product categories. With a chart laid out in front of me showing that a motorcycle manufacturer could achieve specific results in a specific movie for the $3.7 million the studio knows to charge it, it was striking how much of a science the area of "product placement" had become.

After seeing such a simple grid to evaluate how much a marketing opportunity is worth, down to the dollar, and, throughout the whole forum, marketers explaining how they understood the audience they were reaching, down to a person, the missing step of gauging just how each dollar of marketing affected audience behavior was clear. If any progress has been made, it's a greater understanding of exactly what's missing.

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