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'Hair of the dog' advertising doesn't work

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By Andrew Ballard
Growth Strategies
Published: Monday, May 20, 2013, 3:53 p.m.
  • Andrew Ballard

    Andrew Ballard

The remedy for overindulging is to swig the same stuff (the next morning) that made you feel rotten to begin with — most commonly referred to as "hair of the dog." Does anybody actually do that? In advertising, many companies do the equivalent by allowing the same ads (that are causing a headache) to continue running.
The old line of thinking was, "We put a lot of money into developing and producing this campaign, so we're going to see it through." After concluding their campaign, they do a postmortem to determine what went wrong (after the budget has already been spent).
Today there is a new tonic, "accountability." Don't allow a failing strategy to play out. It comes down to having real-time data to drive informed and timely decisions. Sometimes that means pulling the plug or making adjustment before the media budget is history.
A campaign is a series of ads with a unified theme designed to lift brand recognition and, subsequently, increase sales and share. In the past, most large-cap companies put their budgets into "institutional branding." It is not intended to generate a immediate response; rather, it is expected to establish stronger brand recall, to stimulate future sales. It's also very difficult to measure. Now we're seeing more of the big boys going the "direct response" route because direct response advertising is much easier to measure, and it is immediate.
Even though we're moving past the Great Recession advertising drought, accountability has become more vital than ever before. The big brands no longer tolerate failing campaigns; they're now changing horses' midstream. Dogs, horses … Am I on an animal kick?
Tracking sales back to each advertising channel, to determine return on investment, is essential for every enterprise, large and small. That may sound obvious. However, in my 33 years of working with small businesses, I can share with certainty that less than half consistently measure the results of their advertising investments.
Here is the key to applying more accountability in your advertising program. Identify measurement metrics and milestones before your campaign launches. Following is a simple four-step system.
First, establish realistic objectives, time lines and budget. What are you trying to accomplish? An increase in awareness, sales, share, margin, your database? What is the time horizon your campaign will run? Other questions to ask yourself: Is it seasonally and competitively situated? Is the budget adequate to achieve my objectives?
Second, decide on what you'll measure: inquiries, qualified leads, referrals, sales, gross margin? Eventually, it all boils down to results. However, a high-quality database (even from a single campaign) can generate sales revenue for years. Don't be shortsighted. Also, you'll want to determine minimum standards of performance, such as sales targets based on milestones.
Third, mark your calendar with key milestones. Decide where along the campaign trail you'll assess whether you need to change the message, media or pull out altogether. My only caution is that you don't make a hasty decision. Allow the campaign enough time for a healthy start before pronouncing it DOA.
Fourth, set up a tracking and documentation system. Too many times, management comes up with a system that the frontline won't or can't implement. Involve your people who have point-of-contact and sales responsibility. After your team is in agreement on how to best track advertising results, hold them accountable.
Follow this system to ensure advertising accountability and you won't have to worry about a hair of the dog remedy. Be sure to check back; next month's column will cover my top five list on how to improve results from your advertising. No animals next month, I promise!
Andrew Ballard is the president of Marketing Solutions, a local agency specializing in growth strategies. For more information, call 425-337-1100 or go to www.mktg-solutions.com.
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