At Zenith we focus on two key questions for our clients: “Does the Work, work?” and “how can the Work, work harder?” This determination to ensure a brand’s investment in comms delivers profitable growth makes us ‘The ROI Agency’.

Our Festival of Effectiveness bought media owners, research companies, data scientists and strategic consultants into Zenith to discuss these questions, and how Covid-19 might (or might not) affect the answers.

Effectiveness isn’t just about measurement

Instinctively, we know there is more to understanding the value of marketing than the numbers in an ‘end-of-campaign’ report. And here lies the central lesson of The Festival; For marketing to shine – for our discipline to be seen as a true investment by outsiders – comms should be developed, deployed, assessed and reported on within a “culture” of effectiveness.

Marketers should aspire to creating this culture, not because “it’s the right thing to do,” but because it significantly increases the likelihood that you & your team will build successful brands. Bluntly, it’s a good way to ensure your own progression. So here are the five key characteristics of “an effectiveness culture”:

Effectiveness culture promotes clarity of thought

Modern marketing is multi-disciplinary, jargon-heavy, awash with technology and fascinated by “shiny new things.” This can make planning and strategy appear very complicated. But complex strategy rarely translates into campaign activation, and is even less likely to deliver a measurable business result. Our speakers emphasised the importance of being able to clearly state how advertising activity is expected to contribute to business success. A simple explanation cuts through complexity and unites the marketing team and its partners.

Laddering down from a clear business goal, to marketing, then comms, then creative and media remains an essential exercise for any marketer. “By, by, by” as Kate Waters put it. It is also crucial to understand that comms contributes to success – comms doesn’t do it alone. That contribution is the key piece of evidence marketers need to focus on.

It prefers historical evidence to future gazing

Matt Hill, Leslie Wood, Kate Waters & Leonie Gates Sumner all reminded us marketers must get better at ‘knowing what we know.’ Marketing science may not be sexy, but it’s a better basis for comms strategy than HBR’s latest trends report. A wealth of knowledge is available to marketers on how advertising works. This evidence should inform our hypotheses about how comms will generate growth for our specific brands.

We heard Leslie Wood take on the orthodoxy of How Brands Grow using NCSolution’s databank – maybe it’s not all about non-buyers after all? Orlando Wood showcased the SystemOne dataset and revealed the creative devices that drive emotional response, multiplying eSOV effects. And Matt Hill demonstrated Demand Generator, built on over 50 brand’s campaign data and £1.4bn in spend. All of this vital analysis has produced valuable lessons from the past that could inform your brand’s future.

It commits to testing and potential failure

You might think a culture focused on taking accountability for performance discourages risk. Far from it.

Our presenters repeatedly encouraged more testing of creative, channels, buying methods, and media tactics. What’s more, they spoke about how important it is to embrace failure. If testing is robust, failure often reveals the right way forward.

Kate Waters candidly recalled how testing at a previous job could have saved her team from executing several campaigns with a goal that advertising had little power to bring about.

Testing reveals whether marketing science theories apply to your brand. The uplift in response between test cells allows us to quantify the impact of comms. Happily, testing is getting simpler to execute across all channels.

It is open to sharing data with partners

Today, we know that 1) data privacy is a worry to consumers; 2) marketing produces more campaign response data than ever before; and 3) our ability to analyse data is almost limitless.

Marketers appear to prefer stretching customer’s patience around data privacy, ahead of sharing and analysing response data to learn more about what makes people buy our brands.

Doing more with response data, as opposed to audience data, emerged as a key theme of the Festival. Tools like Demand Generator from Thinkbox show the value on offer to brands.

Whilst every major breakthrough in marketing science has relied on cross-brand datasets, advertisers (or their legal teams) are increasingly opposed to the idea of contributing to these efforts. When there is so much to be gained from anonymously pooling response data, either across a brand portfolio or category, it’s right to what more brands can do to follow the lead of companies like Diageo in this space.

It requires the desire to win over non-marketers

Fran Cassidy joined us to discuss three studies she has authored on the finance/marketing relationship. Simply put, without the buy-in of finance, marketing will struggle to shed the label of “cost-centre” within a business. Sadly, Fran’s data shows this buy-in is disappearing in firms across the UK.

As finance automates its reporting function it is focussing more of its attention onto future value creation (our industry’s raison d’etre). But in many cases, finance sees a marketing department unable to demonstrate how their work delivers profitable growth.

The solution is better internal comms: marketers need to speak the language of finance, even if that means going back to school to become fluent in ‘the metrics that matter’. When payback is expressed in terms of future cash flow and margin, as opposed to brand health, marketers can transform the debate with finance into one about investment, rather than cost cutting.

Everything has changed, situation normal*

2020 has been a remarkably tough year – and it’s still only July! Leonie, Leslie and Orlando showed how Covid-19 is having a material effect on media consumption, brand (dis)loyalty and what people respond to in ads. These are valuable insights. But has Covid-19 fundamentally altered the pursuit of effectiveness in marketing? No.

The pillars of effectiveness culture described here were much the same before March 2020, and building an effectiveness culture remains a shortcut to ensuring marketing and marketers are seen as value-creators, rather than “the art department”.

In short, whilst Covid depresses business prospects, it should also propel effectiveness up the agenda for all marketers.

All the resources from The Festival, including extended interviews with the speakers, are now on our website.

Finally, a huge thank you to our speakers for their insights and provocations, to our attendees for giving up their time,  and to Alice Kamara (Zenith’s Marketing Effectiveness Specialist) for leading the Festival and its organisation.

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