Monday, March 9

Measuring Communication, Equation Influencers Part 1


"Maybe it's the rising quality of its cars. Maybe it's the halo surrounding Ford for passing up federal funds being devoured by its Detroit rivals. Or it could simply be Ford's focus on building image in its marketing while others flog incentives. But for whatever reason, America seems to have decided that Ford is a better idea after all." — Jean Halliday, Advertising Age

Ford, which is experiencing a revival and continuing to distance itself from General Motors (GM) and Chrysler, experienced a 16 percent increase in the number of qualified buyers who plan to buy a Ford. Conversely, GM fell 12 percent and Chrysler fell 33 percent.

The reason, in part, is sustainability of message. Ford has shifted its marketing message to a focus on the future rather than the current economic crisis that prompted GM and Chrysler to accept government bailout money and infuse distress advertising into every campaign. Distress advertising, which relies heavily on incentives, discounts, and sales is not sustainable.

While the lesson was learned across several industries, we saw it first hand while opening a Volkswagen dealership. Despite opening in a market dominated by a single dealership for 20 years, we successfully captured top sales in the state (fourth in the region) in less than four months. The reason was simple.

The cute, quirky, and sustainable electronic and print campaign appealed to the qualified buyers over distress advertising, which only reinforced the competitor's weaknesses. Over time, the competitor also conditioned qualified buyers to wait for the sale. GM and Chrysler currently have that challenge.

Both companies are currently running elongated sales incentives. However, the campaigns may be backfiring because the longer the incentives run, the more likely Chrysler will run out of qualified buyers or car buyers might not consider the incentives enough of a deep discount. In addition, too many fire sales condition consumers to only buy when there is a sale.

Considering Sustainability Is Critical To Long Term Success

In developing the Return On Communication abstract, sustainability is factored in by recognizing all communication effectiveness diminishes over time. The question communicators — advertisers, marketers, and public relations practitioners — need to ask more often is how fast will the effectiveness diminish.

Distress advertising, gimmicks, and publicity stunts tend to create attention spikes that rapidly diminish over a few days or weeks. In some cases, they may even lead to brand erosion.

For example, Chrysler's mission statement is "to achieve consumer satisfaction. We do it through engineering excellence, innovative products, high quality and superior service." Yet, its new incentive, "employee pricing plus plus" says the opposite. It suggests that "since we cannot achieve customer satisfaction, we've slashed the prices to increase unit sales."

The question to ask is what happens after an increased incentive (supposedly below employee pricing) ends? Will it be followed by employee pricing plus plus plus? Maybe. We've seen casino marketers drive properties below profitability with ever-increasing free cash offers that start with $5 and quickly expand to $100 or more. It's not sustainable, especially if core elements such as customer service are sacrificed.

Contrary, Coca-Cola might not be as expensive as an automobile, but there is no denying that it is the real thing. They save aggressive experimentation for products that have little to lose, like Vault. Currently, Coca-Cola will give away a free sample of its Vault brand (4 percent share of the citrus segment) to anyone who buys PepsiCo's Mtn Dew (80 percent share of the citrus segment).

"Many companies have challenged Mtn Dew over time, whether it was Surge or Mello Yellow and now Vault," said Frank Cooper, Pepsi's VP-portfolio brands. "What we're seeing now is a last-ditch effort to propel Vault forward in the face of Mtn Dew growth. It's an interesting tactic, but I think that the Mtn Dew consumer understands that the Mtn Dew product experience is unique."

So will it work? While Coca-Cola is usually smart in its marketing, it's clearly not sustainable, which Frank Cooper seems to know. Much more risky is the potential for the Vault campaign to backfire because the demographic might not want more kick with their citrus soda. But as pointed out in Advertising Age, Mtn Dew recently underwent a facelift that is proving unpopular. Hmmm ... sound familiar?

How To Factor In Sustainability To The Equation

Sustainability (d) is best described as one of two influencers that impact the whole effectiveness of communication, Intent (message plus suitability times reach) divided by duration or I (m+s • r)/d.

The more a buzz reliant a product might be, the effectiveness of the buzz will diminish at faster pace. That is not to say a campaign cannot be creative. Absolut Vodka still succeeds with its long running visual campaign. After 22 years, more than 1,500 of the ads featured Absolut s distinctive bottle, with the stubby neck and see-through label.

A few weeks ago, Scott Monty, digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford Motor Company, touched on the idea with a quick Twitter comment. "Viral is a result, not a strategy," he said.

He's right. Campaigns can go viral but forced viral campaigns, such as those attempted by Burgr King or Skittles never last. In order to hold interest, the campaigns rely on ever increasing the bar until even the next level is too high to be believed.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, even the best campaigns need an infusion of creative from time to time. After all, effectiveness also becomes diminished by familiarity and familiarity eventually produces boredom (just at a much slower pace than all buzz but no substance). That doesn't mean an entire brand will need a facelift, but it does mean that the creative surrounding the brand might need to be refreshed from time to time.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

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