getting the message? – the power of interpretation and recommendation

25Sep08

Marketing isn’t like the other departments operated by companies. Unlike finance, customer service, manufacturing or IT, the work output of marketers is often far more difficult to measure, replicate to continuous effect, or even evaluate. Making the value of marketing more variable. Some would describe it more like an art than a science.

Marketers aren’t automatically responsible for the products they market, which means their influence on how compelling the products and offers are may not be optimal.

There is a suggestion that marketing is complex because it’s tasked with influencing the perceptions and actions of people, rather than managing transactions. It’s claimed that planning and implementing marketing is therefore more comparable to operating a weather forecasting system for sales than it is to managing a production line for marketing campaigns.

In this scenario marketers forecast and plan activities based on previous data and insights. But the variability of connected market factors, the innate inability to pre-judge competitor activity and the audience and economic market complexity make the outcome of marketing activities impossible to forecast accurately. So marketers perhaps work to trends, gut-feel and likely ranges of outcome, at best. Which sounds more like gambling, until you consider previous experience, statistical modelling and market data are available to guide marketing decisions.

In essence marketing is a multi-faceted industry, without one world-view or set of immutable laws. It is made up of many competing opinions, contradictory evidence and competing media factions (advertising, design, dm, sales promotion, digital, PR etc.) with different prerogatives and potential ranges of effect. The elements comprising the work of marketers are also often measured in isolation, rather than in association with each other. So not only are the results of marketing variable, but the methods of measuring the results are also cause for debate.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that purchasing managers and finance directors often find it hard to appropriately value marketers or their work unless results show immediate ROI success. But unfortunately such success doesn’t automatically ensure that the next marketing activity will match or improve on these results.

In 1964 Marshall McLuhan famously wrote in Understanding Media : “The medium is the message.”

Following the rapid diversification and fragmentation of media over the last two decades, I might have offered a point of view that argued, “The message is the message.” until a few years ago.

But I’m increasingly enamoured by the realisation that “The message is what the consumer interprets it to be” and its effect is how this translates into measurable sales and customer recommendation.

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