The habits of highly effective marketers

Senior marketers at our roundtable sponsored by Neustar described the struggle of demonstrating marketing effectiveness, but also proved marketing is maturing by embracing the need to do it.


True marketing effectiveness can be tricky to pin down. While many campaigns or brand initiatives seem to be hugely popular on the surface, their actual impact on customer behaviour and the bottom line can be quite different.

Take, for example, the ongoing battle of the burger giants, McDonald’s versus Burger King. As our columnist Mark Ritson pointed out recently, Burger King’s headline-grabbing PR stunts and marketing award wins haven’t necessarily translated into rocketing sales. Ritson argues McDonald’s less ritzy and more dogged marketing has translated into much more stable same-store sales growth.

At a Marketing Week roundtable event in partnership with Neustar, a group of senior marketers also recognised the need to make sure that their campaigns generate more than just noise, and agreed that proving the most effective mix of marketing tactics is harder than it looks.

“We’ve got massive awareness,” said GoCompare’s head of media, Ceri McMillan, thanks in particular to long-running advertising featuring its brand character, Gio Compario. But this hasn’t yet translated into the brand being consumers’ preferred price comparison site. Improving preference is now “the main hurdle we’ve got to get through”, she said.

You’ve hit your numbers, but did your marketing actually work?

Clearly, achieving the status of not just a well known brand but also the most loved in a market is a challenge best addressed using long-term brand marketing. But it’s not always easy to prove the case for the return an investment in brand marketing will deliver – or when it will happen. “PPC is great because we can see that straight away. With TV it’s a lot longer [payback period],” McMillan noted.

She said GoCompare has used a number of econometric models to optimise the channel mix for its marketing. But sometimes the most effective way to convince colleagues of the effects different marketing channels have is to make a grand gesture.

“Once we predicted what we believed would happen and then [suspended all TV advertising], we were able to prove what we said would happen, did,” said McMillan. This has helped GoCompare’s marketing team earn faith in the latest econometric model and its recommendations.

Getting strategic

Neustar marketing effectiveness roundtable

As is often said in marketing, you can’t change what you don’t measure. The roundtable attendees agreed that building a strategic approach to measuring their marketing effectiveness was at the heart of driving overall improvement.

Using metrics the wider business cares about is key to demonstrating marketing effectiveness across an organisation, explained Centrica’s director of customer insight and marketing effectiveness, Stuart McDonald.

“We have set up a marketing effectiveness council internally, where we meet once a month to talk about what’s going on from a marketing point of view. We created a scorecard which has all the key metrics on there, but also key business metrics. We release that quarterly but also have long-term ROI in there as well.”

A common theme across the discussion was that putting a measurement strategy in place is not an overnight transformation. Many admitted to a process that was years in the making.

We need performance marketers to be talking the language of brand.

Stuart Bryce, O2

Kerry Chilvers, brands director at Direct Line Group, said: “As you learn one thing, you’ve got another question. It has been a real process over time. But transparency [and] the partnership with our effectiveness teams and communications teams, as well of the rest of the business, have been critical for us.”

She continued: “Historically they were set up against each other with the effectiveness team dobbing the other into the marketing director [for] wasting money. They weren’t working together in partnership to drive value so that was the first thing we had to fix.”

Hitting targets that can sometimes seem arbitrary, or based unfairly on the previous quarter’s performance, is a point of contention. Some see those figures as less than strategic while others acknowledge they are a handy way to guide performance.

Bupa Global’s marketing and sales director, Neil Kirby, suggested: “You could be working very closely with your commercial marketing team to define what those numbers should be, and then rely on your media and marketing communications team to push that volume as much as possible, while also optimising from within.”

Giles Gordon, Dyson’s marketing director, talked about the tendency of marketing effectiveness teams to overlook the commercial impacts of good and bad creative – “it tends to get forgotten about within econometrics discussions” – and the company’s investment in dynamic creative optimisation to counteract this.

O2’s digital marketing lead Stuart Bryce agreed, adding: “We need performance marketers to be talking the language of brand, branding metrics, brand marketers. How are we working closer with our brand colleagues to better understand that total effectiveness of media investment?”

Escalating effectiveness to the top

Neustar marketing effectiveness roundtable

Building a dialogue between the different disciplines – brand no longer being seen in opposition to performance marketing but in step with it – seems to be very much on the table for senior marketers, but is the message getting through to general management?

TSB’s head of insights, research, planning and performance Justin Bell admitted: “Getting belief that we really needed to drive brand, especially after what happened [with the bank’s 2018 IT failure] is really, really hard. We’re starting up some new modelling and we’ve just seen the first outputs.”

But he added that “it’s going to take a journey” to bring the finance department and other colleagues on board with the recommendations of the data model.

It’s time for your brand’s data strategy to grow up

Getting buy-in from above is a process – one that can be explained concisely and can deliver tangible results at the end. “The hardest bit is working out how you can align people internally, which is about getting really clear on the problem – finding a way of explaining what you’re doing in 30 seconds to a CFO,” McDonald stated.

O2’s Bryce said marketers need to ask: “What does the board require marketing to do for the business? What are the business goals that really matter this year, but also in future years? It’s not just a year-on-year conversation because then we’d only focus on the short term; there needs to be a balance.”

Knowing what to measure

The balance between short- and long-term returns is a perennial problem and, in terms of marketing effectiveness, the need to understand which KPIs to prioritise comes up again and again. Clearly, there are different metrics for different sectors, given that sales volumes and cycles in the financial services and insurance industries are dramatically different from those in FMCG and retail, for example. It’s also vital to look for the truly meaningful metrics, not just ones that might momentarily paint a pretty picture.

“Measuring the right outcomes is important,” said Mark Gooding, head of growth and client solutions for EMEA and APAC at Neustar MarketShare.

“[Take] the mobile phone industry. Not everyone who orders a phone online gets one. They have to pass the credit check, they’ve got to get it delivered. So a CFO is going to be really interested in those [customers], rather than the numbers who just signed up. The CMO and the CFO have to have the same language and truly understand the measurable impact.”

Marketers also have to resist the tendency toward knee-jerk reactions. Allowing KPIs to be used in combination to help see the bigger picture takes restraint.

Matt Stockbridge, former growth analytics lead for Mondelez, notes that there is a compulsion to ride a successful gravy train: “The problem is you get a bit of success on one thing and, suddenly, that’s all we’re going to do. It’s like Humpty Dumpty – you’re sending all the king’s men after an egg-shaped bloke. We keep saying ‘no, not all, just some’.”

Priorities don’t just change across sector, they vary internally too and can sometimes be at odds with each other. “I’m conscious that often within each discipline, if everyone’s working towards different goals, not only do you have the short- and long-term problem, you have [different disciplines at odds with each other] too,” said Bianca Allan, head of paid media for the FT.

Ultimately, said Andrew Mann, former head of insight and loyalty at Marks & Spencer, marketers need to ask one simple question in order to determine how to make their efforts as effective as possible: “What are the customer KPIs for success?”

He explained: “Retailers need to know the number of customers, the number of transactions and how satisfied they were. People shop for food 250 times a year and every time they walk into a supermarket [there’s a chance] they’ll never come back.

“It’s about getting people to come back and back and back – frequency – and getting the business to understand that you deliver the best service you can so they do come back.”