Thursday, February 11, 2010

MEDIAPOST: What’s In A Number?

Marketing is all about numbers. Whether you’re building a brand or driving direct sales, you spend a lot of time diving into numbers but have you ever stopped to think about what those numbers really mean?

There are two ways to look at the numbers; quantitatively and qualitatively. The quantitative numbers tell you a story based on volume while the qualitative numbers tell you a story that’s based on impact and effect (beyond that of sheer volume). These two vantage points can merge together to tell you the whole story and can influence what steps you take in your marketing. You can’t make decisions on just one set of data because they would only show you half the picture.

For example, let’s pretend to be Heidi Montag and take a peek at the two most important recent numbers in her life; the numbers 10 and 658. The number 10 refers to the number of plastic surgery procedures she recently had in one day and the number 658 refers to the total number of albums she sold in her first week of release. If I were her and I were to add up those two numbers I’d surmise it might be time to get out of Hollywood because her personal insecurities have gotten the better of her. I have more friends on Facebook than she has album sales, which cannot be a good sign. Is there a strategy that can be developed to fix that situation?

When it comes to Facebook, how many friends or fans are enough? If you check out a site like Twitterholic you see the leading accounts on Twitter, led by celebrities and a few publishers, but only a few brands; most noticeably Whole Foods Market with more than 1.7MM followers. That’s a powerful brand, but does that number translate to sales? Is Whole Foods the number one grocery store chain in the US? What kind of messaging does it place in Twitter and does that messaging affect growth?

On Facebook you can look up your favorite brands and see how many followers they have, but are these numbers enough? Should you be happy or content with these numbers? The TGI-Friday’s page has 342,000+ fans, but the Woody The Bartender page has 927,000+ fans for the same kind of content – which is more valuable? The Most Interesting Man In The World has 88,000+ fans while the Dos Equis brand has more than 180,000+ fans, but which is more valuable? Of course if you search for Dos Equis you find 14 different results that match the brand – who has control in that environment? If I’m one of these brands I’d surmise that my fans are very active in social media and that I need to take some initiative to be the leading representation of my brand in that space, or I lose total control and I create missed opportunities to speak to my audience.

What about in paid media? Is a $1 CPM a fair price to pay to reach my audience? Is a 35% share of voice on a campaign enough to generate the reach that I need and the frequency that will drive impact? If that SOV is placed in Television does it have the same weight and impact as it would in digital media, where the audience is naturally more inclined to interact with my brand? Is it smart to spend $3MM to place an ad to reach 107MM people one time, like on the Superbowl? Many will say yes, but what if that money could be spent to generate 5MM email addresses and spur a viral outreach that could be used for ongoing CRM with my audience instead of blowing it on one TV spot? Would that be an efficient way to spend my money? Is that the right path to choose?

What about the number 4; which is used in the 4-second rule? The 4-second rule states the average amount of time that a user will wait for a page to load before they give up and click away – which could create a missed opportunity if your site isn’t up to par. What about the number 77 which is the largest number that cannot be written as the sum of distinct numbers whose reciprocals add up to 1. I know that has nothing to do with marketing, but it’s geeky and it tells you something you may not have known which is what good marketing does as well!

The fact is that numbers can be massaged to say whatever you want them to say. Numbers only tell half the story. You need strategy to make the numbers actionable, and strategy can direct the way that numbers will react. Many people ask the question whether marketing is science or art, and the answer is it’s both. You can’t have one without the other and you can’t have effective marketing without knowing what’s behind the numbers.

So next time you decide to crunch the numbers, be sure to take a step back and think of the strategy. Oh, and if you’re Heidi Montag; please don’t take yourself so seriously and please, please don’t record any more music.

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