The defining question of my marketing career has been, “What are we getting for the money?” I first heard it in the mid-1980s as the most junior member of a corporate ad team. After all the talk of impressions and rating points and reach and frequency and the newest technology that would save us (network cable if you can imagine), the budget was slashed. The special markets team–the schlubs who rode on the coattails of the brand engine–spoke of spending $X, activating so many new accounts and increasing sales by y%. After that I knew where I wanted to stand.
Even as the quantification of marketing has increased, though, the old tendencies remain. I work with a management team that uses the word hopeful in talking about expected outcomes and will turn the world upside down to implement this year’s marketing-technology must. At times I’m right back in that 1986 conference room, despairing. Mostly, though, I just try to stick to the numbers and develop programs that drive revenue.
That’s why among the well-known brand marketing gurus only a few have ever grabbed my attention. Sergio Zyman is one of them. Known in agencies as the ayahcola for unpopular steps he took as the Coke client, Zyman went on to build a consultancy based on quantification. The point I most remember from his 1990s book, The End of Marketing as We Know It, is that with so much information available, marketers have no need to rely on magical thinking. Yet such thinking persists to the point that if you believe otherwise, as I do, you start to think you might be crazy.
Zyman, I’m sure, is too self-assured to traffic in such nonsense. But his neighborhood may be getting less barren based on an interview with Brian Maynard, the Director of Marketing for Jenn-Air, posted on Digiday last Monday, October 1. (Thanks to Target Marketing for bringing it to my attention.)
The interview’s subject was QR codes. In my shop, QR codes were the 2011 silver bullet. And they didn’t work despite a highly-defined, tech-saavy, smart phone-carrying audience. The hopeful crowd believes otherwise mostly because any number beats no number and they never had one before.
Here’s Maynard speaking common sense on the subject:
Do you believe people scan QR codes?
Well we know that some people are scanning them as we are able to track the real numbers, which is valuable. I think the more important question is how many attempt to scan and then give up because of technology issues. I suspect there are a few marketers out there that have seen good reach through QR codes but suspect if pushed most would admit that the reach is small. I believe that most consumers have no idea what QR are or what they do. (emphasis added)
The answer to the follow-up question is even better:
Why then, are marketers going QR code crazy, placing codes all over the place?
I think the technology generated much interest and was an indicator that you were on the cutting edge; it was also a marketing “shiny penny” that many chased. For reasons that escape me the penny has yet to fade. I suspect that many simply are not looking at their results.
Right out of the Zyman manual. Not looking at the results. Technology as a seductress. Novelty as a temptation for marketers (who are, after all, only human).
It’s heartening to know there are other marketers out there looking at the data and thinking about what it means, not what they’d like it to mean.