Marketing has an accountability problem. This is widely accepted even by marketers. Marketers argue that their actions are vital to their organization’s success but often the proof offered ends up being: “trust me, we need to do this”. It isn’t hard to see why many business people are pretty suspicious of their marketing colleagues. The marketers’ claims often seem eerily close to what someone who didn’t know what they were doing would say. The difference between inspired expert intuition and ill-informed guesswork is very hard for outsiders to divine.
I think greater numerical competence in marketing is the solution; we must put numbers to our plans. This does not mean creativity has no place but if a company is trying to make a profit then saying you can’t measure success is simply wrong. You can, measure if the firm makes a profit. If your brilliant new advertising campaign makes people laugh but makes consumers no more likely to buy the product that doesn’t seem that brilliant to me.
Of course, causation is a slippery thing. Many factors impact events and trying to assign responsibility when things go wrong, or confirm that success wasn’t just luck, can often be challenging. But challenging doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t at least try. It is important to push back on the idea that marketing can’t be judged on any prosaic criterion involving numbers.
A group trying to push marketing towards greater accountability is MASB, the Marketing Accountability Standards Board. Taking inspiration from FASB, the Financial Accounting Standards boards they, like SASB, want to bring greater rigour to their discipline. Their mission is to: “Establish marketing measurement and accountability standards across industry and domain for continuous improvement in financial performance and for the guidance and education of business decision makers and users of performance and financial information” (MASB 2014). MASB are conducting projects to improve the measurement of marketing. They are also trying to establish a Common Language as to what marketing measurement terms mean and placing the definitions onto Wikipedia. Many of the definitions adopted are from our book, Marketing Metrics, so MASB clearly have great judgment.
Let us hope MASB are successful in their mission — marketing would be well served by greater accountability.