It seems I rarely leave a client presentation nowadays without being asked how to measure the success of what we’re proposing. It is a fair question. And one that too often catches marketing professionals flatfooted. But discussions about measuring the effectiveness of marketing campaigns don’t need to be so challenging. The crucial first step is to get everyone on the same page regarding the proper definition of success. Sounds easy, right? But it’s not always as simple as it appears. That’s because the client can have a very different perspective on what constitutes success.
As businesspeople, we’re conditioned to think of success in terms of the final outcome, or end result—the proverbial return on the investment. When I ask a client how they would define the success of a campaign, it is not uncommon to hear something like more sales. But while “sales” is usually a good measure of overall business performance, it is often the wrong metric to use to evaluate a marketing campaign. Sales are a business outcome, the result of a broad organizational chain of activities of which marketing is merely one link. The role of most marketing efforts is to get people to the door, but not necessarily through the door. Thus, if you truly want to measure the performance of the campaign, the definition of success should be limited to the specific customer response generated by the campaign, not the final business outcome.
I had this discussion recently with a client in higher education. We were hired to help the university reverse a decline in enrollment. When it came time to choose the best metric to evaluate the campaign, the client wanted to use enrollment hours. I explained that the role of our marketing campaign was to generate awareness and interest among prospective students. Whatever proportion of these prospects went on to apply, gain admittance, and ultimately enroll in classes was beyond the scope of what the campaign could affect. If the campaign were to be successful, the response should be an increase in the number of prospective students contacting the university. Thus, this became our success metric.
The key to measuring marketing campaigns is to first gain consensus on how to define success. Again, it sounds simple, but it’s precisely this simplicity that often prevents us from taking the time up front to decide on the proper metric to use. It’s a conversation worth having because you’ll have a better chance of hitting the target if everyone can agree on where to aim.
Kevin Sanders is Vice President of Strategic Planning at Hanna & Associates, Inc. in Coeur d’Alene. www.hanna-advertising.com.