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More than Meets the (RO)I

Have you ever noticed that when you get a group of marketers in a room together that the conversation sounds like military leaders preparing for war? The focus is on identifying a target, launching a strategy, deploying tactics, and calculating the hit ratio. We have dehumanized the marketing process to a point where we perceive the “consumer” as an enemy combatant we must attack and control at all costs. News flash, folks: the consumer has already won the war. The goal should be how to build and strengthen your relationships with consumers, rather than trying to make them conform to your rules and analytics.

Let’s start by remembering that consumers are people, too. Crazy, I know. They aren’t just data points in an algorithm, but unique individuals with their own needs, values, behaviors and motivations. To think you can just bucket a group of people together and form your own beliefs for how valuable that group is to satisfying your own selfish motivations for success is a failed model. If history has taught us anything, it’s that you can influence one’s behavior, but you can’t control it.

Sales reps have lost sight of this notion. They don’t consider people’s needs anymore. Instead, they are obsessed with the latest technology, algorithms, and cheap rates. With every media or marketing plan I develop, my decisions and recommendations are based on the answers to two key questions:

1. What is the value exchange that is being created between the marketer and consumer?

2. Will this build or strengthen the relationship between my client’s brand and potential prospects and current customers?

That’s it. The secret’s out. If a sales rep approaches to me with a media product that does not provide a solution to these two questions, I kindly show them the door. Smile and dial elsewhere.

Marketers are not off the hook, either. In an effort to feed the almighty ROI beast, many of us are fixated on proving a campaign’s success (or diminishing its failure) by measuring every campaign variable along the way and putting consumers’ behaviors into a pretty chart. From television to social media, from mobile apps to web ads, the typical ad campaign touches the consumer at numerous points on various platforms during the purchasing decision process. How can you really determine which interactions get credit for the conversion and which ones don’t? Why do marketers still continue to insist on isolating metrics, siloing their initiatives, and measuring in a vacuum? People don’t behave that way and neither should your marketing and analytics. A more holistic understanding of your audience, what’s influencing them and their path to conversion is required to truly evaluate marketing performance.

I urge every marketer, agency exec, sales rep, and media company to rethink your approach to how you conduct and manage your business. This is a relationship business. While it is necessary for all of us to build and strengthen our business relationships, let’s not forget that the first relationship we need to protect is the one with the consumer. Without them, all of our other issues are meaningless. It is time to bring back the human element of marketing and advertising. Otherwise, we will be left to fight a losing battle, out of touch from our bunker deep underground.

Jason Burnham thinks systemically about the impact business has on society. He has dedicated his career to helping his clients deliver triple bottom-line (economic, social, and environmental) results. Burnham’s professional purpose is to...

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