Is Branding Friend or Foe?

On from Analytics Culture

Last week, I had an interesting conversation with a contact of mine at an insurance company. She is a very sharp analyst: holds an M. Sc. in Business Intelligence, is fluent in SAS speak, etc., and she is the official Web Analyst of the company. First of all, the simple fact that she can devote almost her entire time to web analytics is remarkable, especially here in the Canadian market. My contact has been at it for more than two years now, with the first one pretty much spent on getting the numbers right (LOTS of technical hurdles).

Here’s where the story gets juicy. We hadn’t talk for a long time, so I asked her about what her perception was of the impact of WA in her organizations. To my surprise, and disappointment I must confess, she said that her work still had rather little impact on how her colleagues managed the company’s various web sites. Remember that the online insurance market is a ferocious one: you usually get one chance at convincing someone to request a quote. She said that it was still pretty much believed by the marketing teams that hunches and gut feelings were the efficient way to go about it.

I pointed out that this was quite an astonishing statement when one thinks of the formidable mathematical culture of insurance companies, at least within the actuarial department. Since they basically create the products, one would have thought that a very analytical approach to things would percolate all across the organization. She did mention that actuaries are trying to get onto Marketing’s turf, sometimes even to the extend of telling Marketing how they should talk about products, which of course does not please marketers, to say the least.

So here we are: on one side, analytical people, developing amongst the most mathematically sophisticated models, and on the other side, brand people, working on “gut feelings”, and who still resist truly adopting web analytics.

This brings to mind a few questions:

      1. Are we in the midst of a culture clash between branding and measurement? I do have seen on many occasions marketers justify a failed campaign by saying that, at the end of the day, it was at least good for branding, that the campaign put the brand out there. But what is a truly successful campaign? One with great creative, or the one that did sell something? If I CAN measure such success (sales, conversion of any types, etc.), am I in a stronger position to defend marketing ROI than, say, justifying campaigns based on brand awareness surveys?
      2. Is branding irrelevant online? I mean c’mon, I wouldn’t say it myself with a straight face. However, in a world of accountability, based on rather precisely measured behaviors, one can wonder how we can apply the same rigorous methodologies to measuring the branding effect online. Is the Internet more and more, and eventually exclusively, a direct marketing territory?
      3. Will analytics have any impact at all on brand equity? I am no brand equity valuation expert, but I am seriously wondering whether web analytics could contribute to getting a more precise idea of a brand value. We know that usability, for example, can impact visitors’s perceptions of a company / brand, especially when it sucks badly. Also, any attitudinal analysis can quickly reveal whether the “user experience” site had a positive or negative impact on the company / brand perception. Are we to say that brand does not influence the purchase decision? Of course not, try to sell a big ticket item on Youdontknowme.com. But can we measure it?
      4. Who is going to drive the change? Recently, Jim Novo suggested that the CFO could very well be that agent of change. I believe however that Marketing puts itself at risk by not taking the leading role in its own transformation. Jim points out that web analytics is going to be a fantastic opportunity to bring the analytics culture within many organizations. We will see…

Again, in a world of more and more accountability, one wonders how much longer spending money on concepts without precisely measured feedbacks will get the budgets. Again, I don’t want to imply that there is no room for creativity. A good sales pitch is a good sales pitch, and will always be necessary. What I am saying is we will less and less tolerate vaguely inferred results.

But I suspect that resistance is still very strong. Back to my contact at the insurance company, I happened to read this week Thomas Davenport’s new book, Competing on Analytics (which will definitely inspire several of the upcoming posts), in which he says:

While each stage of the road map reflects the ability of an enterprise to compete on analytics, different parts of the organization may be in very different stages of development. For example, actuarial work requires an appreciation of statistical methods that may not exist to the same extent in other parts of an insurance company. Or a pharmaceutical firm’s marketing analytics in the United States may be far more sophisticated than they are in other countries or regions simply because the U.S. operation has greater access to data and an analytically minded manager in charge. (p. 110;my emphasis).

So I guess this will reassure my contact to know that she is not alone, or at least give her some reasons to be optimistic I hope.

In another organization this week, at a government agency, I was told that the expensive tool they had purchased to do behavioral analysis was basically used to count visits to the site. The very ideas of performance and optimization were far from the mind of the people they create the reports for. Has long as the content was online without any glitches, they were happy.

And you? Are you seeing the need for a culture change in Internet Marketing, or even in Marketing in general? Is it me? Do I just love numbers too much?

Tags: internet+branding, branding+measurement, branding+anlytics, branding+and+web+analytics

3 responses to “Is Branding Friend or Foe?

  1. Hi Jacques,

    Quite an interesting topic here. I pretty much find myself in a similar dilemma. Analytics are most often given a second hand treatment and campaigns are usually run on the ‘gut feel’

    If the ROI for the campaign had to be taken into consideration it would pretty much boil down to the CPA and nothing more.

    I guess Analytics do play an important role and quite admire your contact, considering the patience it takes to convert the numbers into readable data.

  2. Jacques,

    Excellent blog!
    But I found myself getting frustrated while I was reading it. You and I have this discussion before, but It’s amazing to me that there are still decision makers out there who choose to measure by gut when there are tools available that would provide so much more. Even if analytics play the role of decision support, we have the ability to validate or negate our assumptions through measurement.
    We’ve been using simple KPI’s with clients as a way to develop ROI measures and predictive outcome models – and I’m seeing some of the non believers come around…but its still a struggle.

  3. I think it’s helpful to distinguish between “Branding” – the ad spend that happens with the goal of trying to shape opinions, and “Brand”, the total customer experience when interacting with the company. The former is an old model that simply cannot survive the “truth” of networked people; the latter is something Marketers should be deeply involved in but for some reason are not – outside direct marketing companies, that is. In DM companies, the CMO cares deeply about customer service scripts, VRU trees, and everything else that is a “touchpoint”.

    I suspect most marketing people simply do not want to cross the silo barrier and grab hold of the stuff that really impacts their success, which is going to be too bad in the long run for many. It’s that “culture” thing again…

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