Seems marketers have no shortage of things to measure these days.
While working on a recent project with John Coleman, VIA’s CEO, and Ralph Santana, CMO of Samsung, we were discussing the challenges facing marketers of mass brands given the shifting media landscape. As we talked about the proliferation of marketing tactics and the associated success metrics being touted—engagement, sentiment, advocacy, conversation, clicks, conversion, etc.—Ralph stopped and said, “When did it stop being about sales?”
Great line. Smart guy.
Since that conversation, I’ve been struck by how many times I’ve listened to media and marketing folks emphasize measurements other than sales. A media buyer emphatically declared, “The only thing that matters is impressions.” A digital marketer excitedly trumpeted brand engagement as the “holy grail of marketing.” Someone in social media told me that the ultimate measure of online couponing success is “getting more fans.” Really? The ultimate measure? There’s nothing more we should aspire to? When I asked each of the proponents, “What about sales?” the responses were varying interpretations of, “Well, yeah, but…”.
I know, attribution is difficult. It’s tough to map the results chain all the way through, understanding how a company’s mission is linked to its business initiatives, brand strategy and marketing activities that drive consumer behavior, resulting in sales. But only when these relationships and interactions are well understood can investment-based communications planning begin. And while there are times we need intermediate metrics to more precisely measure the effectiveness of discrete marketing activities along the chain, let’s not forget that those are just means to an end, not the “ultimate” goal.
The finance guys figured this out a while ago. For them, it’s all about cash flow. Whether it’s operating cash flow (OCF), free cash flow (FCF) or the more easily calculated but slightly bastardized EBITDA (earnings before interest depreciation and amortization), cash flow has become the most widely accepted indicator of a company’s operating performance and its viability as an ongoing concern. Maybe marketers need their own version of EBITDA. I don’t know, something like “Sales After Media Impressions, Engaged Fans, Advocacy and Clicks,” or SAMIEFAC.