January 2, 2014

What you miss when you hyper-focus on optimization

Lately, I fear some marketing leaders may be losing sight of the forest for the trees. They are veering too far toward the sole goal of cost-optimization and moving further away from the business goal of driving demand and increasing revenue.

For all of the right reasons we got closer to our CFO's and learned how to justify our budgets through achieving ever-lower CPL's (cost per lead) and CPA's (cost per acquisition). We fell in love with A/B testing our copy, creative and landing pages in order to squeeze another point or two out of a conversion rate. We hired analysts and learned how to manipulate pivot tables with the best of them.

And as fun as data analytics can be (and I am one big geek...), it is dangerous when the value of marketing is seen to be in the act of optimization...not in driving demand. Adam Needles from Annuitas recently wrote a blog, "Is the CMO the problem?" and characterizes the problem as, "CMOs obsess about their marketing ROI; however they focus on activities and their costs, not on demand and revenue."

Don't get me wrong because optimization is my middle name (see geek reference above). Closely watching acquisition and retention metrics and managing costs is a necessary part of marketing program execution. However, it is necessary, but not sufficient.

Optimization is a tactic, not the strategy.

Given pressure to justify marketing budgets and departments, some marketing leaders have over-corrected and lost sight of their role to provide the customer insight driven strategy needed to create and sustain long term growth.

To combat this, I second the suggestion from the McKinsey & Co blog "Why can't we be friends" that the CMO and CFO collaborate to identify marketing's success metrics to ensure the set addresses both the short term and the long term health of the business. Short term metrics will be primarily financial: new sales, reduced churn, and customer acquisition costs to name just a few. While long term metrics may include: brand awareness & consideration and Net Promoter Scores.

I didn't say it would be easy.

The conversation with your CFO to get agreement on short and long term marketing success metrics may not be easy. We all know that many CEOs and CFOs can be biased to be focused on the short term financial metrics. It is marketing's job to continually bring the long term view into the conversations. Getting consensus will solidify the wider value the marketing team provides and will facilitate the necessary conversations around the investment needed to sustain revenue growth, not just short term cost optimizations. 

If one of your 2014 New Year resolutions is to build a better relationship with your CFO, getting to a common set of both short term and long term metrics is a great way to start.