Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Marketing Performance: Plan, Simulate, Measure

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the relationships I mentioned yesterday among systems for marketing performance measurement, marketing planning, and marketing simulation (e.g., marketing mix models, lifetime value models). You can think of marketing performance measures as falling into three broad categories:

- measures that show how marketing investments impact business value, such as profits or stock price

- measures that show how marketing investments align with business strategy

- measures that show how efficiently marketing is doing its job (both in terms of internal operations and of cost per unit – impression, response, revenue, etc.)

We can put aside the middle category, which is really a special case related to Balanced Scorecard concepts. Measures in this are traditional Balanced Scorecard measures of business results and performance drivers. By design, the Balanced Scorecard focuses on just a few of these measures, so it is not concerned with the details captured in the marketing planning system. (Balanced Scorecard proponents recognize the importance of such plans; they just want to manage them elsewhere). Also, as I’ve previously commented, Balanced Scorecard systems don’t attempt to precisely correlate performance drivers to results, even though they do use strategy maps to identify general causal relationships between them. So Balanced Scorecard systems also don’t need marketing simulation systems, which do attempt to define those correlations.

This leaves the high-level measures of business value and the low-level measures of efficiency. Clearly the low-level measures rely on detailed plans, since you can only measure efficiency by looking at performance of individual projects and then the project mix. (For example: measuring cost per order makes no sense unless you specify the product, channel, offer and other specifics. Only then can you determine whether results for a particular campaign were too high or too low, by comparing them with similar campaigns.)

But it turns out that even the high-level measures need to work from detailed plans. The problem here is that aggregate measures of marketing activity are too broad to correlate meaningfully with aggregate business results. Different marketing activities affect different customer segments, different business measures (revenue, margins, service costs, satisfaction, attrition), and different time periods (some have immediate effects, others are long-term investments). Past marketing investments also affect current period results. So a simple correlation of this period marketing costs vs. this period business results makes no sense. Instead, you need to look at the details of specific marketing efforts, past and present, to estimate how they each contribute to current business results. (And you need to be reasonably humble in recognizing that you’ll never really account for results precisely—which is why marketing mix models start with a base level of revenue that would occur even if you did nothing.) The logical place to capture those detailed marketing effort is the marketing planning system.

The role of simulation systems in high-level performance reporting is to convert these detailed marketing plans into estimates of business impact from each program. The program results can then be aggregated to show the impact of marketing as a whole.

Of course, if the simulation system is really evaluating individual projects, it can also provide measures for the low-level marketing efficiency reports. In fact, having those sorts of measures is the only way the low-level system can get beyond comparing programs only against other similar programs, to allow comparisons across different program types. This is absolutely essential if marketers are going to shift resources from low- to high-yield activities and therefore make sure they are optimizing return on the marketing budget as a whole. (Concretely: if I want to compare direct mail to email, then looking at response rate won’t do. But if I add a simulation system that calculates the lifetime value acquired from investments in both, I can decide which one to choose.)

So it turns out that planning and simulation systems are both necessary for both high-level and low-level marketing performance measurement. The obvious corollary is that the planning system must capture the data needed for the simulation system to work. This would include tags to identify the segments, time periods and outcomes the each program is intended to affect. Some of these will be part of the planning system already, but other items will be introduced only to make simulation work.

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