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Measuring marketing’s worth

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McKinsey Quarterly

David Court, Jonathan Gordon, Jesko Perrey

You can’t spend wisely unless you understand marketing’s full impact. Here are five questions executives should ask to help maximize the bang for their bucks.

It’s 8 AM, and the chief marketing officer is wading through his inbox. A board member has e-mailed him about an opportunity to invest in an emerging digital platform. It looks cool, but it’s speculative and not cheap. Minutes later, the chief financial officer appears in the doorway: “The boss wants to sign a big sponsorship deal. Can we drop out of TV for a couple of months to pay for it?” The CMO has barely started to explain what happened the last time the company went dark on TV—an aggressive rival grabbed market share—when his assistant interrupts. The CEO is calling. “What’s going on with our brand image?” she asks. “The latest monitor report looks bad.” The CMO promises a full debriefing later in the day, but he’s not looking forward to the conversation. Brand scores are down, and the reasons are tough to manage: factors such as bad experiences with intermediary retailers and mediocre word of mouth.

The number and strength of such competing pressures has been growing. Seven years ago, when digital advertising was still in its infancy and long before social media had become a marketing force, we described in a McKinsey Quarterly article how many traditional mass-marketing advertising models were under attack and suggested some approaches to make marketing investments count in an increasingly complex environment.1 Since then, we have been fortunate enough to see more than 200 organizations tackle the difficult issue of how to improve marketing’s return on investment (ROI). Over that period, as new kinds of media have grown in importance and mobile communications have created new opportunities to reach consumers, the ROI challenge has become more intense.

In the face of growing complexity, relentless financial pressure, and a still-challenging economic environment, marketers are striving to exploit new-media vehicles and to measure their impact through new analytic approaches and tools. Most are making progress. Yet we are consistently struck by the power of asking five seemingly basic questions. These questions, detailed in this article, cut to the heart of the quest to drive returns on marketing spending. Coming to grips with them, and gaining alignment across the C-suite, is critical for making real progress rather than becoming bogged down by excessive firefighting and ultimately futile debates about the precision and certainty of measurement. (...)