“America, love it or leave it” is an example of a false dichotomy — a statement so black-and-white that it leaves no room for nuance in the middle. Do you not like George Bush? Or Barack Obama? Either way, you’d have to move out of the U.S. Liberals who believe all oil companies are evil, or conservatives who think all government programs are bad, ignore the logical reality that the phone you love is made out of petrochemicals and the interstate highway system is pretty darned useful. To riff on Ralph Waldo Emerson, false dichotomies are the hobgoblin of foolish minds, adored by little debaters to make their own opinions seem more valid.
Marketers often fall into the same trap, however, in the impulse to measure every campaign discretely for results. It is tempting, nay, even necessary to try to measure revenue vs. costs, investment vs. return, from any given expense. We do this for clients (and have published much of our methodology for free here and here). But results are never isolated into black or white response. A radio campaign may have a cost per inquiry of $800, but be driving additional results in through Google search at a fraction of the response cost; measuring integrated long-term media impact is almost impossible. Advertising campaigns build brands and awareness as well as leads and sales; so monitoring ad spend solely on short-term sales results ignores the longer-term lift in consumer inclination. And the most important addition to media in decades, social media, builds platforms in which consumers can interact with each other … not necessarily leading to sales today, but rather communication forums that can be leveraged for customer service, complaint resolution, market research, competitor evaluation, product innovation, and yes, advertising response.
Forests catch fire because they’ve been dried out over time, not because one person lit a match.
So here’s a simple thought experiment: For each marketing campaign component you’re trying to isolate into ROI, draw a bull’s-eye, put that component and its key metrics in the middle, and then in the outer rings define all the other factors that program element will influence. Consumer awareness. Competitor position. Product research. Multivariate testing. Future campaign risk avoidance. Are any of them vital to your long-term business strategy? If so, what is the opportunity cost of missing the waves reaching those important peripheral goals?
Image: Toni Blay