Reluctance to share data hinders advertising ROI measurement

I’ve worked with many companies that measure the outcomes of marketing activities for measurement’s sake; tick the box and duly report that the exercise is complete. When I was in research, this not only saddened me, but it also threatened the future of our services because soon enough our data would be deemed to have no impact on business. So our teams worked hard to make the insights meaningful to clients, linking back findings to business strategy, and ensuring that relevant information was in the face of decision-makers when determining a course of action.

That is easier said than done because return-on-investment (ROI) measurement requires data from multiple sources and research findings alone don’t show the full picture. The external survey data needs to be overlaid on the internal brand and sales data in order to determine the efficacy of the marketing communications, and therefore provide insight into getting more bang for your buck. Historically though, our business leaders have been reluctant to provide the internal information for various reasons, as I discovered from journalists in the nineties. The common thought in those days was that we didn’t have business journalists in Kenya, but rather journalists that reported on business. The reporters themselves complained about generating enough content to fill weekly or monthly business magazines in the way that Business Week, Entrepreneur and other periodicals could in the West.

Unlike the quoted and unquoted companies in the developed world that sought publicity about their business performance, ideas and initiatives with the ethos of ‘any publicity is good publicity’, our business leaders were at best cagey. One reason for this was that during the Moi era entrepreneurs with booming businesses would receive undue attention from politicians and influencers, the kind of attention that they learnt to best avoid, somewhat like being the biggest guy in the rugby field that everyone wants to tackle to earn a reputation. Secondly, because the taxes paid seemed to be lining the pockets of shadowy figures rather than improving public services, it felt right to use smoke and mirrors on corporate financials in order to avoid and evade tax, and the less that people knew about the companies operations, the better. Finally, because Kenyan businessmen had sat in the same class of copy-it-is (shameless copying of business ideas) and passed with full marks, executives did as much as they could to hide their great ideas and the next-big-thing from their competitors.

Though things have changed today, the culture of being mean with business information lingers on and it affects our ability to generate advertising ROI analysis. The only issue that is still a factor is the impulse to keep information from competitors. Last year when we were discussing the need to place product prices on a clients website in order to increase purchase consideration and therefore sales, they were hesitant because they didn’t want the competition to know their prices. On digging around we found that even without the prices displayed on the site, their competitors had intimate details about their pricing, as they also did about their competitors’ pricing. The only one that they were keeping information away from was their existing and potential customers!

The beginning of ROI measurement across the business therefore starts by getting leadership buy-in and permitting information to be shared openly with service partners, in the way that one must be honest when consulting doctors, lawyers and priests. This reminds me of the athlete that didn’t want to see a doctor about his sore knee because ‘he didn’t want to get bad news!’ He was then asked whether he’d prefer to hear the news while lying on a comfortable examination bed in an air-conditioned doctors room, or while grimacing in pain, face-down on a concrete floor when the knee finally gives way mid-game.

That honesty means that the departmental silos must be broken down with each department giving up the ‘information-is-power’ attitude and laying their cards on the table for the good of organisation. Those guys in the corner with deep pockets and short hands (accounts) need to get along with those guys with big ideas that frequently end up over the budget (marketing), as well as with the guys who prefer to deal with machines rather than these annoying people (operations).

Too many businesses are paying lip service to advertising ROI measurement and the few companies that attempt to do it, fail to use it for critical decision making. ROI data should guide your future budgets to ensure maximum effectiveness of your advertising for the full impact on your business performance. It needs to be orchestrated like a well played symphony with all the elements working in harmony.

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