Marketing effectiveness, marketing ROI, payback…whatever you call it, it’s pretty well-established now as a discipline within the advertising industry. If you’re involved in planning an advertising campaign, the chances are you won’t be far down the track before someone mentions those three letters, “R. O. I.” Old-school media planning is deeply un-vogue in the era of corporate accountability, so the chances of you meeting ROI are pretty high.
We think that’s a good thing. That’s a lot of money you’ve got there. Money that, well-spent, can deliver more for consumers, build your brands, secure your company’s future and everyone’s job with it, and give the advertising business a good name. Money that, poorly-spent…well, you get the idea.
So, what makes for Great ROI? Allow us to share the fruits of our many years’ labour to give you some rules of thumb.
We’ve seen campaigns so big that you can actually see the uplift on a sales chart without a model. Of course, the extraordinary £3m of TV it cost to generate this uplift may also have played a crucial part in delivering a deeply, deeply substandard ROI (tact prohibits us mentioning an ROI figure, but say to yourself ‘pence’ and you will be in the right ballpark). ROI equals return divided by investment. Make the return big and the investment small and you have great ROI.
That same example brings us neatly to our next finding about ROI – brand size matters, more than anything else. That brand (with the £3m investment and the tiny ROI) was a new brand, with relatively tiny sales. As large as the media effects were (and remember, they were visibly large), they would have to have been several orders of magnitude larger to warrant that level of investment. Does that prohibit you ‘investing ahead’ on a new brand? No, but just don’t make pay-back your objective and, in its place, use a meaningful KPI that will help you be clear about what you are trying to achieve and whether you are getting there.
Do the numbers in reverse if it helps. A £10m a year brand (selling, say, 10m units at £1 each) would have to achieve a media uplift of 10% over the course of year to sink the cost of a £1m media campaign. Add an average FMCG profit margin of, say, 25%, and you need a 40% annual uplift for the £1m campaign to scrape home in ROI terms. That means you need to sell £14m this year from that single campaign, instead of the £10m you sold last year. Is it likely to happen? If your brand’s growing fast, it’s possible, but the right question is how much the media is contributing to that growth…or whether it would grow at that rate without media.
This example of course ignores long-term media effects, but you get the point. Big brands pay back better. A 5% media uplift on a £100m brand is worth more than 20% on our £10m brand (other things being equal), even though the cost of the media campaign is the same for both.
On-message advertising for a strong brand delivers better ROI than on-message advertising for a weak brand. If your brand’s weak or failing, fix it. Advertising may be a part of the solution, but there’s more to fixing a failing brand than trumpeting its inadequacies even more loudly. What’s your proposition (to consumers)? Is it compelling? Is it differentiating?
Ok, we have to be honest. We’ve seen instances of seriously big ROIs on utterly uninspiring products. Agency talent, great creative and new news can all combine to produce a spectacular success. And, on one occasion I’m thinking of, they did. But that particular product is all-but-gone, a victim of its average taste, a feature so obviously essential to the category and equally-as-obviously lacking in this piece of NPD, something that proper attention to the data in their possession would have told them. Make a great product, advertise well and have a great ROI.
Of course, having something newsworthy to talk about in your advertising is always good for ROI. And, new products are a great source of news. There’s an obligatory mantra chanted in almost every marketing article, the one about consumers being exposed to multiple messages, filtering, advertising being wall-paper etc etc. What can we say? Don’t be boring. Tell them something new. Tell them something old in a new way. Keep it fresh and your ROIs will be zesty, too.
Category dynamics dictate much of the return you can expect to see on your advertising investment. A mature, commoditised heavily promoted category populated with aggressive competitors will tend to deliver much lower media performance than a category which is the converse of all the above. Heavy dealing conditions consumers to buying on promotion, reducing their responsiveness to media. High frequency heavy promotions reduce profit margins, lowering this part of the ROI calculation. Consumption in mature categories is relatively un-expandable, leaving little room for category growth. Even the best advertising will struggle to perform in these conditions. Plan accordingly.
The details of scheduling matter, although often not for the reason you might suspect. Differences in deployment often manifest themselves through cost differences (the ROI denominator), rather than through differences in innate ‘effectiveness’ (the ROI numerator). Obviously, buy the right audience for your campaign, and think outside the box when it comes to formats (or TV spot lengths). We know a client who cunningly batched up three 10-second tags for three different products on a common creative platform. It worked stunningly, a large part of the improvement being in the form of cost savings from procuring separate spots for all three products.
Frequency vs. reach, timing, position in programme…let your agency advise you. Just measure what you do and tweak it in successive campaigns to give you the mix that works best for you.
Advertising that is likeable, memorable, with clear messages, rational benefits, emotional appeal and a call to action will out-perform advertising that lacks any of these. Don’t take our word for it – check the numbers. Time after time, when we’ve standardised our results for all controllable factors, good creative plays an undeniable part in delivering great ROI.
Check your action standards. ‘Good enough’ is not good enough. Often, when we’ve discovered a flaccid ROI and requested pre-test scores or in-market tracking, the reasons for the poor performance have been too obvious. One campaign we modelled delivered tears of nostalgia by the bucket-load (people actually wrote in to thank the client for the experience), yet barely shifted sales. Why? The tracking study told a story: ‘The advert gave me a reason to buy X product’. Score = low.
Another ad (and this time for a pretty good product) took a creative direction that we politely described as ‘avant-garde’, which tracked ‘no worse than average’ according to the originating agency. Unfortunately, it performed ‘no better than average’. Your creative agency will push you in novel directions. That is exactly how it should be with any good agency. However, make sure that what they propose is not just novel, but good.
And use product shots, please. Lots of them. If you make a grocery product, nothing will help sell it as much as the consumer seeing multiple montages of your delicious product being consumed. Show them what you want them to find in the supermarket on their next visit. Show them why they should find it.
There are well-established average ROI benchmarks for media channels. Surprisingly they don’t differ much by product. Any experienced practitioner in the measurement business will tell you that the best-performing medium for this or that category is X and the worst is Y. Measurement guys like us are inherently media neutral. We don’t have an axe to grind against one particular medium, or a penchant for another. Unless your measurement guys are a part of your planning/buying agency (please change that!), they will give you objective advice based on the best measurements they know how to make. And these measurements will show that some media performs better for you than others. In the FMCG/CPG sector, TV is by far the best-performing medium. I don’t know exactly why. You’re not in a shop when you’re watching telly, but it nearly always comes through as the best medium, far too often to be ascribed to ‘flaws with the technique’. I could hazard a reason, something to do with a richer, more emotional experience that often catches people when they’re in the receptivity zone after a long day, but it would only be my guess. Use the media that work best for you. Should you use them in combination? If you can, that’s probably a good thing to do.
A section on medium wouldn’t be complete without reference to social media strategy. It’s evolving fast, but, for what it’s worth, our take is that there isn’t such a thing as social media strategy. There is only media strategy, which is designed to deliver your communications objectives. Plan and integrate any social media in the same way you would any other medium…what it will do for us, why we are considering it, how we should best do it, and so on. Regard with just scepticism any agency-led paeans to today’s gods of social media. It’s quite likely that the science of tomorrow will tear down their altars.
Advertise when you have strong positive sales seasonality and strong negative media cost seasonality. The simple expedient of flighting your campaign to best-fit your sales/cost profile can add as much as 20% to your ROI. Time the campaign to air in a cheap period with the tail (the period immediately after the campaign, also known as the ‘adstock’) carrying over into more expensive ones.
Watch out for phasing media with other activities. Again, our experience is that synergies between multiple sales drivers can be rather small. And if you’re a FMCG brand, and you align your media with your promotions, your promotions will be subsidising all those extra units that your media is helping to sell, which will damage your media ROI. It can also be exceedingly painful to get your promotional slots to align with your media. On the other hand, you may need to do it to prevent your close competitors stealing your incremental footfall with a cheeky in-store offer. It’s a judgement call that depends as much on category structure and competitive strategy as it does on pure ROI considerations.
If you’re looking for better ROI, don’t forget to look at what other brands you have in your portfolio. Maybe some of your brands inherently respond better to media. By juggling budgets across your portfolio and investing more heavily where you have the best returns you can improve overall ROI with the same budget. We’ve helped clients optimise their portfolio investment to do exactly this.
As a company that places a good deal of emphasis on People and Process as well as Insight, we have something to say about the procedural aspects of creating great ROI. Sometimes a spectacular award-winning campaign with a C-Suite ROI will rise out of chaos, but by and large it won’t happen. Don’t make your advertising fight against your culture to succeed. Make your culture work for you.
Clarity is the key. Be very clear about your objectives and how your campaign will help you achieve them. If you can’t articulate a purpose, then you shouldn’t expect to achieve it. Lay it out, invite comment, criticism, builds and challenges and you might just make a better campaign.
We can’t miss the opportunity to deliver a quick plug for what we do: marketing analytics matter. Good analytics won’t produce great campaigns, but they will provide you with direction, the correction you need to get on course, or the proof you need to stay there.