"Brand Aware” explores the data-driven digital ad ecosystem from the marketer's point of view.
Many marketers have chosen our profession because we love the creative aspect of our work. We worship the brilliant campaigns of our colleagues, those that are remembered years later. We are constantly looking for an authentic, culturally relevant angle that pulls on heartstrings and creates an emotional connection that transcends the cold, transactional nature of commerce.
For me, the one campaign that particularly stands out is the 2010 “Wear Your Seatbelt” campaign from Sussex Safer Roads, which aired in the United Kingdom. I still get misty-eyed every time I go back to it, and it certainly made me change my car-safety habits.
With the mission to connect with customers and prospects on a very human, emotional level, marketers often believe the finance group to be their “natural enemy.” How many times have you heard, or said, “They just don’t get it. Not everything that counts can be counted!” Or even, “These glorified accountants are trying to measure every little aspect of creative activity, driving short-termism and dooming the company to the sea of mediocrity!”
If you feel that passionately about something, it’s more likely than not that you’re suffering from confirmation bias. Years of tense relationships with finance groups have made you deaf to the possibility that there might be a kernel of truth in what they’re saying.
A mentor of mine once said that if your execution is subpar, your mission dies. And if your company doesn’t make money, it really is irrelevant whether you created a human connection with your customers. It doesn’t matter how powerful your creative is if you can’t pay for your TV ads.
I often wonder why the “Wear Your Seatbelt” campaign had such a lasting effect on me. The answer is because it makes me feel something. But was this effect felt by others? Did it actually make people change their driving behaviors? If I was running the nonprofit responsible for the enormous TV buy for this campaign, I’d want proof that it made a difference.
How would I do it? I’d probably do some sort of a longitudinal quant study: Get a statistically significant sample of drivers, ask them about their seatbelt-wearing habits; then show them the ad; in one, three and six months, ask them again. If there’s a difference detectable via a t-test, I’d confidently say, yes, the campaign made a difference. I’d then use the magnitude of the difference and the cost of the campaign to calculate the cost per life saved.
How did this statistical mumbo-jumbo end up with such a powerful concept: cost of a saved life? If I had this number, I could use it to lobby for additional funding, advocate for concrete efficacy of this marketing technique and, frankly, sleep better at night, knowing that what I do is making a difference in the world.
This highly quantitative method can be quite foreign to marketers. But this method is how CFOs look at every single activity within the company. It’s their bread and butter; it’s how they decide the budgets for every department and keep the company afloat. If we embrace and befriend finance, they can help us quantify the actual impact of a campaign and, thus, make it better.
If we take a nondefensive approach – allowing for the possibility that some of our campaigns actually don’t work and being intellectually honest about measurement – we can use the feedback loops to adjust the creative or double-down on a working campaign. This can only help you get additional marketing budget! And the confidence your executive team develops in the efficacy of your hardest-to-measure, but perhaps most important company activity – marketing – will likely dramatically improve.
How do you achieve this harmony between art and science?
Embrace the growth mindset. Allow yourself the possibility of being wrong – it doesn’t mean that you’re dumb. It means that you can be smarter tomorrow than you were yesterday. This fundamental difference allows you to actually internalize the feedback of others, especially those who have the exact opposite frame of reference.
The way this mindset can manifest itself actionably is by actively asking for advice. Come to your finance colleagues and ask them for their take. Yes, instead of dreading the email that says, “How do you know?” come to them and ask, “How should we measure it?”
Admit that you’ve been wrong and that you don’t know some things, loudly and often. What do you think will happen if you answer, “I don’t know” to one of the questions at an interview, instead of BS’ing your way through? Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, did exactly that. Worked out OK for him.
Vulnerability is at the core of establishment of trust. Admitting mistakes makes you seem more confident; the connection between projected confidence and perceived competence is quite powerful.
Try on the CFO hat. Ask yourself, “If I wanted to be sure that the idea is working, how could I do it? If perfect precision is impossible, how can I decrease the amount of uncertainty and take a baby step, instead of betting the farm? How do I hedge my bets and not paint myself into the corner by having one – just one! – perfect concept for a campaign?”
You’ll know you’re on the right track if you catch yourself thinking, “I know exactly how I’ll adjust that campaign to improve ROI” and your CFO says, “What a heart-wrenching campaign.”
You’ll know you’re successful if your finance folks say things like, “Can’t measure everything, but I know you are trying.”