Why do companies waste millions on marketing?

We keep hearing companies confess to spending huge sums on marketing without really knowing the value of what they are doing. It seems to be that under market pressure it is often safer to push for more sales through tried and tested ‘spray and pray’ marketing approaches than it is to agonise over petty details like, is our ROAS measurement accurate, incremental and reflecting the contribution of all marketing channels? Here I will explore the broad reasons for this.

Playing it safe

The demands of business growth competitors, seasonality and company cash flow do not allow the luxury of waiting for perfect measurement, so companies tend to try multiple strategies at once in the hope that if they throw enough marketing budget at the wall some of it will eventually stick. This broad market mix approach actually makes sense for spreading overall marketing budget risk, but does so at the expense of optimal ROI.

Yet in all these firms, there is usually at least some attempt at marketing effectiveness measurement. Measurement of ROI / ROAS is very hard to do properly because it requires sound marketing attribution. The gold standard of marketing measurement is to run properly structured experiments with control and treatment groups and statistical confidence measures of uplift. Yet there are so many possible marketing strategies and channels that it is not practical to do this when under market pressure. You cannot test everything at once and often you cannot even afford to ‘go dark’ on even just a part of your market in order to create that all important experimental control group. 

If there was only a way, your ad spend would align with incremental sales impacts and you would grow faster with higher market efficiency.

 

The paradox of cutting ROAS analytics to focus on growth

More scalable approaches to marketing measurement such as marketing effectiveness analytics and attribution are still complex and can be expensive to implement. You need to address issues of data quality and you also need well-managed teams of analysts and data scientists. All this costs money and takes time. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the requirements for sound marketing measurement take a lower priority than the more pressing requirement for sales growth. It’s paradoxical that measuring success is considering secondary to achieving it when there is so much growth to gain, but this is how many organisations regard investment in marketing measurement and analytics.

Given the complexity, advertisers fall back on softer media independent measures of ad effectiveness such as surveys of brand awareness and purchase intent. These softer measures provide reassurance that ad money is not completely wasted, but do not actually attribute any value or ROI to different marketing channels, so leave major questions unanswered.

 

Actor fragmentation and lack of team focus

Another major reason why companies waste money on marketing is because of the fragmentation of marketing teams and agencies. Channels as diverse as TV, search and social require very different strategies and skill sets for sound execution. For larger brands and larger budgets specialisation within marketing channels makes sense, but too often this comes at the cost of poor integration between channels. Once again measurement tends to take a low priority. By their nature, different marketing channels have different systems of measurement and so increase the cost and complexity of getting to an integrated view.

Agency marketing measurement is of mixed quality. It can sometimes be excellent but at heart agency measurement has a conflict of interest, whereby the agency is essentially marking its own homework. Such bias is rarely malicious or deliberate but more often is a case where there is a systematic tendency to prefer more positive accounts of media effectiveness.

Once again if there are different agencies handling your different marketing channels then you cannot expect much insight into how these channels work together. The result is marketing inefficiency through wasted and duplicated spend and also missed opportunities for finding synergy between channels.

The challenge of cross channel measurement is solvable but it requires focus and resources at the level of senior management. The CMO typically needs support from engineering and finance to push through a properly integrated approach. In many organisations, there is a lack of understanding of the nature of the challenge. It’s often not that there isn’t enough data but that there is a lack of expertise around how to leverage that data for improved decision-making in marketing. This means it is doomed to fail since it is not easy to well. Sound multi-channel measurement means different things for different businesses and so often requires a unique approach for each organisation. Just as soon as you think you have nailed it, business and market conditions change.

 

Analyse that data!

 

Do not let perfect be the enemy of good

One piece of advice we give is just to stick with it and make a gradual transition to a more data-driven approach. It has to be better to make decisions within a rational data-driven framework than to simply burn marketing budget. Some analysis and experimentation is better than none, and more is better still. Strive to improve and do not let perfect be the enemy of good.

The basic idea could not be simpler: money wasted on an activity that is not working can be better spent leveraging activity which IS working. This increases marketing efficiency and sales growth.

Be less wrong!

 

Gabriel Hughes PhD


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Metageni is a London UK based marketing analytics and optimisation company offering support for developing in-house capabilities.

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