Friday, July 11, 2008

Content Emerges as a Common Thread in Marketing Measurement

Last week’s post marked the completion of my initial survey of marketing reporting systems. So it’s a good time to step back and assess the state of the art in general.

As you’ll have noticed if you followed the series closely, there were several vendors on my initial list who were not really focused on marketing measurement. Once they were removed, I think it’s fair to say that most of the others have built their business primarily on marketing mix modeling. These are not products that build mix models, although many of their providers are in that business. Rather, these products make mix models more useful by combining them and applying them to planning, reporting, forecasting and optimization. So that’s one trend I've observed: conversion of mix models from stand-alone analyses to part of an integrated measurement process. But most of those products were several years old, so the trend is not a new one.

A fresher trend was efforts to provide more sensitive measures of brand value drivers. Specifically, I am referring to systems that tie changes in brand value to changes in consumer attitudes and behaviors. This contrasts with traditional brand value studies, which look at consumer attitudes at a specific point in time. As I’ve noted previously, the absolute values generated by these studies are somewhat questionable. But relative changes in these values are still probably good indicators of whether things are getting better or worse. (There’s an irony here someplace—an unreliable indicator becomes useful if applied more frequently.) Of course, there’s nothing new about tracking trends in consumer attitudes or about linking those trends to marketing programs. What’s being added is the conversion of attitude changes to brand value changes. This provides a much-sought link between marketing efforts and brand value.

Changes in consumer attitudes affect more than brand value: they also impact near-term sales. This relationship is reflected in relatively new (to me) efforts to use consumer attitudes as inputs to marketing mix models. Traditionally, the main inputs to these models have been spending levels for each mix element, with only minor adjustments for program content or effectiveness. Marketers would like to analyze more detailed inputs, but few marketing programs are large or long-running enough to have a distinguishable impact on total results. Consumer attitudes, on the other hand, do have a continuous presence that can be correlated with changes in short-term sales. The trick is linking the attitudes with marketing programs.

One solution being attempted is to aggregate marketing programs according to the messages they deliver, and then assess the impact of those messages on attitudes. That is, the mix model inputs are spending against different marketing messages. This could be used to predict sales changes directly, or to predict changes in consumer attitudes which in turn predict sales results. It isn’t quite as good as measuring the direct impact of individual marketing campaigns directly, but it does give some idea of their likely relative effectiveness, and therefore how future funds are best invested.

All of these changes show movement towards understanding the connection between individual marketing decisions and ultimate business results. The common thread is content: using content to aggregate individual marketing programs; assessing the impact of content on short-term sales results; and assessing the content-driven changes in consumer attitudes on long-term brand value. Today, these attributes of content are often measured separately. But I think we can expect them to be part of a single, unified analytical process over time.

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