ADOTAS — In the film “Memento,” the protagonist, an ex-insurance agent named Leonard, can no longer create new memories. The last thing he remembers is the murder of his wife. He wakes up each day and relies on an imperfect combination of tattoos and notes to figure out what he has done, and what he should do, to find the killer. However, what makes the film great is its structure, which interchanges between black-and-white sections that move in chronological order and color sections that work backwards in time.
Today, direct response media buying is a lot like “Memento.” Advertisers and marketers in this space also have short-term amnesia when it comes to picking and sticking with strategies. They also stand to gain an edge if they can work forward and backwards simultaneously. If they start at the end — the result they want — and work backwards to the means, driven by data, they have a chance at moving forward with media buys that actually score.
Here’s the dilemma: Patterns, behaviors and firm conclusions can only be established through repetition. We all know this from high school science. For a theory to be meaningful, the observations and test results that back it must be repeatable. To establish validity, you need a high volume of consistent results
Unfortunately, media agencies and marketers have fallen into the habit of buying once and then moving on if they don’t get the right response right off the bat. Without taking the risk of repetition, they never figure out if their strategy was right or wrong — and of course, everyone is afraid of being wrong because it costs money.
But here’s the weirder part— and I’ve seen a lot of this after more than 20 years in the industry: Companies often have a very successful buying pattern, and they give it up. They suddenly stop buying the placement.
This is the “Memento”-like memory loss that should drive marketing executives insane, if they know about it. Forgetting past mistakes and failing to learn from poor media buys is pretty bad, but forgetting or not realizing that a current, effective media buy strategy is actually working is an enormous missed opportunity. This happens frequently with cheaper but effective channels that could generate an extraordinary ROI but fall under the radar because the department is worried about big, national channels.
Some forms of marketing are about the moment; we’ve seen how just one perfectly timed Tweet can have enormous influence and ripple through the Internet on a tsunami of re-tweets, re-posts and other buzz generators.
Direct response is a different animal because the goal is not a tsunami, but rather a consistent flow of waves the reach the right shores. They get noticed and drive purchases because they crash with consistency and elegant simplicity, not unpredictable levels of buzz.
To overcome the “Memento” effect, direct response marketers must think like historians or demographers, not marketers. Historians and demographers look for big picture patterns, and I mention both because historians are great at creating a story and demographers are great at quantifying it. As a marketer, you need to do both.
You need to be able to qualify and quantify the patterns that emerge over months or years, not just weeks. Age, gender and the other basics are just one small part of the story. You need to trace buying behavior to timing, place and content — where you put the ad, when it runs and what was in it.
Otherwise, you’re shooting a bow and arrow wearing a blindfold.
It was Kenny Rogers’ hit song “The Gambler” that famously said:
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.
Kenny was talking more spiritual things like life and death, but his advice is nearly perfect for our conversation:
- Hold your media buys long enough to know if they work.
- Get out if you can establish that the placement is failing.
- Measure everything — money (ROI) is certainly the best indicator.
- There will be plenty of time for countin’, because if you’re ahead of the industry, you’re going to be counting, tracking and pattern-finding for a long, long time.
I know, it used to be “easier” when the whole direct response world could measure results out of contact centers, but today and moving forward, computers, tablets and smartphones are taking the calls too. Whether you’re working through TV, radio, print, digital or a blend of everything, make your results as accountable as your expenditures.
Remember, you’re aiming at a moving target, so don’t aim for the bull’s-eye or expect to hit it in a try or two. Your audience and channels are evolving fast, and you’re only going to catch changes and patterns if you collect the right data and take the risk of repetition. If you want to get closer to the bull’s-eye, put away the old medieval bow and pick up some technology that can calibrate the distance and maybe even sense changes in the wind.
Ultimately, technology should allow us to move forward strategically while looking backwards methodically, just like the move “Memento.” Hopefully, someday we can all forget the days when direct response media buying had amnesia.