There have never been more tools in the media toolbox. Media’s potential value contribution to achieving strategic corporate goals has never been greater. And yet, many a media department and agency find themselves at the kids’ table of communications planning. CROSSMEDIA Managing Director, Sebastian Schichtel, wonders why we have been reduced to the equivalent of a media slaughterhouse where campaigns are deboned, piecework-style.
Albert Einstein is possibly the most famous scientist the world has ever seen. It is true that the native of Ulm spent a considerable part of his life trying to prove complex physical relationships and make them measurable. With great success, as we know today. Despite this, Einstein was also all too aware of the limits of being able to measure things. “Not everything that can be counted counts. And not everything that counts can be counted,” he once said. A quote that is probably more relevant and significant for marketing and media decision-makers today than ever before, as many brands are standing at the crossroads between long-term success and slipping into irrelevance in a digitalized and fragmented (consumer) society. So, what has actually happened and what role does measurability play in all this?
The unbearable easiness of measuring
Advertisers have always longed for a way to control their advertising measures. We’re talking about that longing to know exactly what impact an ad has had and how much revenue a particular measure generated for the company’s coffers.
Thanks to the triumphs celebrated by digital marketing and digital media channels, many marketers and media decision-makers now believe they have reached the goal of their dreams. Finally, there seems to be transparency on the contribution made by the individual measures. Now, it would appear that every pair of pants sold, every airline ticket booked, and every discount code redeemed can be clearly attributed. The bad old days, when Henry Ford was groping in the dark and didn’t know what part of his advertising investment was wasted money, finally seem to be a thing of the past.
Accordingly, people are breezily going about their comprehensive measuring work, in keeping with the new mantra “Metio, ergo sum” – “I measure, therefore I am”. Admittedly, today the options for measuring advertising measures’ success are greater than ever before. The entry thresholds for advertising tracking have dropped, too. Today, tracking short-term brand effects or sales generated by a campaign no longer requires large and cost-intensive research departments. Nowadays, agencies seemingly report their campaigns’ exact value contribution; media channels document their environments’ effectiveness, and marketing provides centralized access to internal revenue management regarding the generated sales. A brave new world of advertising, you would think. However, there is a lurking risk for brands and their long-term market success in this focus on short-term, measurable results and their optimization.
Short-termism is the death of growth
Anything that can’t be measured, doesn’t exist. At least this is the impression one could get when looking at the communication plans of some marketing and media decision-makers. Yet, the focus on short-term, measurable figures brings with it multiple obstacles for companies and their communications planning.
One problem lies in the numbers themselves. People are all too willing to close their eyes to the fact that the measurability of mostly digital measures is not at all as comprehensive as the industry would like them to be. Actually, independent, technical measurability has even deteriorated in recent years. Exemplifying this development are the restrictions related to Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention; the update of iOS 14.5, or the foreseeable demise of the 3rd party cookie, with all its predictable effects on cause-related attribution.
As a result the own activities are optimized to reflect, at most, a small part of the short-term, documentable effect. Not seldom, the consequence is that the login-based ecosystems of the walled gardens end up as the winners from this seemingly objective plan optimization.
However, a much greater threat is lurking elsewhere. With the short-term impact analysis, large parts of the advertising impact remain invisible under the data surface, just like an iceberg. This wouldn’t be so tragic if one could reliably conclude long-term effects, based on the short-term measurable effects. This is not the case, though. On the contrary: Studies such as “Media in Focus – Marketing effectiveness in the digital” by Binnet/Field, impressively demonstrate that focusing on short-term metrics consistently optimizes matters that have no bearing on long-term growth and, in turn, on the brand’s market success.
The reason for this is that the short-term impact drivers are completely different from long-term impact drivers. For example, a frequently-used ratio such as ROI, only has a very low correlation to long-term brand growth. The same applies to its relationship regarding market share gains or brand loyalty. Thus, it is a completely unsuitable measurement indicator for long-term, sustainable growth.
Not to be misunderstood: It goes without saying that short-term media measures are justified and an effective means of directing existing demand into the company’s own sales channels. There can also be no doubt that it is right to take media decisions based on data. However, it is important to always understand exactly what the data aggregated in the glossy dashboard is actually telling you – and most importantly, what it is NOT. This is the only way to take meaningful decisions that allow companies to achieve their short-term goals, yet without losing sight of long-term market success. Unfortunately, though, in many cases, this is exactly what does not happen.
The system fuels itself
Now, the question inevitably arises as to how it can be that, despite these proven findings on advertising impact correlations, the path of short-term measuring continues to be followed in many cases, unwaveringly. Why do brands keep on cheerfully digging their own graves when the corresponding impact studies are not new, and numerous advertisers are at the same time struggling with declining brand values, lower campaign effectiveness and decreasing brand loyalty – despite all the promises of data-driven and customer-centric marketing.
To understand this, it’s worth your while taking a closer look at the external and internal drivers faced by marketing and media. First, we have the pressure to generate short-term revenue. Of course, this has always been the case, but even more so for listed companies with corresponding quarterly reports. Regardless of whether they are listed or not, companies often share a truncated perspective on marketing and the media’s role in reaching corporate goals. All too often, communication is only seen as a cost center and lever for short-term sales; not, however, as a long-term investment and sustainable growth engine for the company. So it hardly comes as a surprise that, according to a survey of US CMOs, about 70% of time is spent managing the short-term present rather than shaping the future. Bonus schemes, which primarily reward successes that can be measured quickly, do the rest.
Another reason why the industry is finding it so hard to overcome its short-term focus is rooted in the collaboration structures – both internally and in interaction with external partners. Digitization has created completely new sales channels, new communication channels and new data pools. For companies to be in a position to use them for their own goals, they also rely on the involvement of external partners. This is quite understandable – after all, media agencies have built up highly-specialized teams to satisfy exactly these new requirements on the customer side.
New silos pose an obstacle on the way to long-term corporate success
Today, many companies are again trying to regain more control over their own data and customer communications, as this is a strategic building block for long-term business success. However, along with the in-housing of competencies, there is an increasing trend to assigning tactical roles within marketing or within corporate media departments. Whereas in the past, those responsible for media within a company were responsible for the overall management of communications, today there are a large number of specialists who are specifically responsible for the management and implementation of specific channels.
After all, media complexity has increased massively over the past decade, necessitating the employment of highly-specialized staff. Still, this can also have adverse effects, making it harder to implement a long-term and sustainable communications strategy and fuel even more short-term measuring.
This is always the case when the newly-created units and positions are not integrated holistically within the company, but act as separate media silos on the corporate side. In these cases, media’s role is often interpreted as being purely tactical, and it remains without any strategic connection to other corporate units such as brand marketing, enterprise analytics or content production. This restricted perspective on media as a tactical sales instrument is often reinforced in the interaction with external partners, since agencies often (have to) mirror the structures on the corporate side.
Thus it comes as no surprise that the overarching specialist teams first look for solutions within their own channel or their own tactical area of responsibility. The result is all-too-predictable answers, which sadly rarely go beyond the purely tactical micro-optimization of their own measures. Long-term corporate goals often play only a secondary role in considerations.
“Short-termism and new in-house silos reduce agencies to media slaughterhouses where campaigns are boned on a piecework basis.”
So the guiding principle is usually “Am I doing things right?” instead of asking “Am I doing the right things?” This is precisely where the crucial difference lies between media as a tactical sales tool and media as a strategic growth engine for the entire company. With the possibilities offered by modern, data-driven marketing, there can be no doubt that media can make a significant contribution to achieving long-term and sustainable corporate goals.
Media has never had more insights, more analytics, and more channels and tools at its disposal to do this than it does today. However, without a permanent seat at the table of corporate decision-makers; without the option of contributing the full strengths of the media discipline into strategic communications planning; and without the opportunity to help shape change and transformation, short-termism will live on in the new silos and communication’s great potential will remain untapped.
Actual daily collaboration as a way out of the communication crisis
The interested reader may now be wondering what needs to be done to put an end to things moving in the wrong direction. What changes are necessary so that the media discipline does not have to continue sitting at the kids’ table of communications planning, and so that agencies do not become companies’ brand hospice? No matter how much perseverance it displays, there can be no doubt that the path of short-termism will inevitably lead to a dead end for brands and their long-term market success. The question that remains is how to combine short-term sales targets with sustainable brand equity development.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case in life, this question has no simple and one-fits-all answer. Company structures, business models and the general conditions of the respective market are too different for that and must always be considered individually. Nevertheless, a major key to more sustainable and long-term communications planning is likely to lie in the transformation of collaboration – both in terms of internal processes and regarding collaboration with external partners.
Despite all protestations, exchange is still too often taking place in the famous silos, which have supposedly all been torn down long ago. Yet, today’s complex issues and challenges necessitate combining the insights, skills and talents of the various disciplines and corporate divisions to create mutual value. Those who fail to do so will inevitably experience a competitive disadvantage.
Accordingly, the formation of cross-functional and cross-company teams is particularly important and forms the foundation for true, value-building collaboration. These integrated teams provide the opportunity of establishing a collaborative understanding of communication and its long- and short-term effects. They ensure that strategic, sustainable communications planning becomes a natural part of daily thinking and action and is not reduced to an annual strategy meeting. A holistic analysis model, in which long-term measures and goals are reconciled with short-term, tactical requirements, provides orientation and the basis for decision-making for all stakeholders.
It takes more than a weekly jour fixe
Initially, it doesn’t sound that complicated, maybe even familiar and, after all, no one has any issues with integration and collaboration. However, effective implementation calls for more than lip service or a weekly jour fixe with people from different departments. It requires mutual trust, the openness to question one’s own actions and to open up existing principalities for such agile and dynamic structures. In cooperation with external partners, transparency, one hundred percent neutrality in consulting, and a business model that does not contradict this are thus basic prerequisites for meeting today’s requirements in the first place.
It will take a concerted effort by all to overcome short-termism and restore the importance and value of strategic communications planning for both short- and long-term corporate goals. It is not too late for this yet, but the time to rethink things has arrived. Because, as Albert Einstein so fittingly stated back then: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”