What's the ROI? (Part 1)
What's the ROI on one billboard, ten print ads, or 10,000 direct mailers? The short answer is I don't know, and the long answer is I think I might know. As with all things marketing, there is no silver bullet (ironically, I just learned, silver bullets are not proven any better than lead*). Since we all do some form of marketing (think about it), it's imperative to understand ROI (return on investment). As a creative shop, ROI is a huge pain in my tuchus. Clients are all like, "If I spend $1,000, can I get $1,100 back?" It's sooooo annoying. I'm all like, "Uh, maybe? Can we just try my cool idea and see?"
I am only half kidding. A Google search for "better ROI on my marketing" yields 37 million results. And they're mostly all crap. If you meet with an agency who guarantees they can get you the return on investment you want, they're full of that aforementioned crap. How do I know? If they could guarantee and deliver ROI every time, they wouldn't have time to meet with you. They'd be too busy because everyone would be using them. I'd be the first in line. I am not saying you can't get your clients the ROI they seek. You can, and we have. But we also haven't. It sucks when you think you can do something and you fall short. So why do some campaigns soar and some sink? But, before I explore success versus splat, it's important to understand what game you are playing.
Advertising vs Branding
This battle a lot of names; direct marketing vs brand marketing, direct response vs awareness, but I like to look at it as advertising versus branding. You can argue with my definitions, but I am merely using these terms to simplify and clarify my explanation. It is explained better by a smarter guy here.
Advertising is direct. It can be a print ad, a billboard or a social media post. Branding is indirect. It can also be a print ad, a billboard or a social media post.The difference is what you're asking of your customer.
If you're saying things like, "Buy Now," "Live September 17th," "20% off," or just "Click Here," that is advertising. You want them to take action and buy your product. Duh. Why would you spend hundreds or thousands or millions of dollars and not ask that? You'd have to be a damn fool to spend millions of dollars and not at the very least tell them where to buy your product. You'd be a beautiful buffoon, right? Do you feel a change of direction coming? You know what I'm up to, don't you?
Nike doesn't ask you to buy anything. Apple doesn't explicitly sell anything in their commercials. If you didn't know better, you'd think Gap was a traveling denim dance troupe. That's branding. They're telling you their story, and tacitly asking you to connect with their story. They're asking if you see yourself as part of this story. Do you believe what we believe? Branding takes a lot more faith, and it's crap at delivering ROI.
Still, no one comes to our office all jacked up and asks, "Can we do an ad like the Pizza Hut commercial offering $7.99 Pick-Up only? That really speaks to us and reaches our ideal customer base." They talk about Nike, Patagonia and Target. Because those brands make you feel a certain way. And you can't measure feelings. I don't know, maybe you can by now.**
We do both. One is a short game and the other much longer. Both can bear fruit, but you have to manage your expectations and know what you want.
Advertising is like a dozen roses you bring home. It should give you immediate positive results, but after a few days your bouquet will wilt. And within a weak, it'll be dead. Branding is an apple tree. After you plant, water and nurture your baby it will still take years to bear fruit. If you forget about it, it will suffer and grow weak. If you want your brand to grow you have to take care of it. And, if you dutifully tend to your brand for years and years (yikes, right?) it will bear fruit for decades.***
Look out for Part 2: What's the ROI of social media? If you spend $100 boosting a Facebook post and nothing happens, don't stop advertising. Advertise better. If you post a beautiful photo of your product and no one buys it, post ten more. Social media is the easiest and most cost effective way to advertise and brand your organization. If it's not working, don't blame the platform, blame your strategy.
** It's probably a Black Mirror episode
*** Apple trees take 3-5 years to bear fruit and live to be over a 100 years old