Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Is ROI cramping our creative style?

Recently, I came across an interesting blog posting by Danny Turnbull from GyroHSR, Europe. The report provided an overview of the initial findings of their annual Marketing Insight Report, in which the audience researched included senior level decision makers in marketing and marcomm firms.

One of the stand out findings in the report, according to Danny, was the “rapid acceleration of marketing money into cost effective, accountable, quick to execute and measurable online activity - at the expense of traditional (and, by implication, wasteful) techniques.” I too find the concepts of measurability along with the rapid acceleration of marketing money into measurable “successes” to be of interest.

In my experience, marketers often create measurements based on data procurement and availability, combined with the plausibility of creating appropriate scales of measurement for the given area of exploration. Then they drill down further into what it is they a) really want to know and b) what they think will show results. There are a variety of quantitative and qualitative tools with which one can do this. It can become a bit complicated as we attempt to create a marriage between the two. From a statistical standpoint, it can be difficult to glean correlation, let alone causation, even when we are armed with a rather nice chest of tools.

As a strategic communications consultant, I personally think online marketers should set aside a portion of their creative research efforts to explore things less tangible. These efforts are arguably more difficult to measure and include areas like branding, as well as examining the users' psychological and motivational foundations. However, it is from these areas of exploration where our creativity and best insights often come from. The insights that arise can then serve to guide the development of future online as well as offline marcomm efforts.

For me, another big question is this: How do we convince ourselves that exploration and creativity are a justified means for driving research, while we are working within such a stringent model of measurability and ROI? Do these circumstances serve to improve our “performance” or simply inhibit the roots of creativity that may yield longer term dividends? I find these to be difficult yet valuable questions, and in my previous research have encountered psychologists who have deemed the topic worthy as well. In one study by Baer and Oldham, on Creativity on Social and Work Contexts (2006), the results consider interesting relationships between factors like supportiveness within the individuals’ work environment and their “openness” to experience. These two factors in turn moderated creativity, especially when the individual was under time constraints (show ROI quickly, please!)

The extent to which we make creative sacrifices under these conditions remains unknown, but it continues to become more relevant under uncertain economic times. One thing is certain - the topic is well worth our consideration as we move forward with creating strategies for developing, implementing and measuring digital and online efforts.

Are you a digital marketer working under increased ROI and time constraints? If so, what do you think? You may want to consider contributing your opinions by participating in the GyroHSR study. Finally, thanks again Danny Turnbull of GyroHSR, for the thought provoking blog article.

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