Outputs and Outcomes

Last week’s rant was all about not learning lessons, and referenced the mighty Bob Hoffman, the AdContrarian who made this very point in an interview as part of the Crater Lake and Mediatel ‘Making Sense Of It All’ series.

One of the weird things about not learning from our past mistakes (and to be fair our successes) is that we are as an industry spending more than ever before on research and data. Presumably some part of this is designed to help us explain what worked exactly so that we can learn from our mistakes?

So what’s going on? Is it the wrong sort of research, in the same way that trains in the UK are frequently disrupted by the wrong kind of snow? Or do we all just collectively drop off around Powerpoint slide number 75 in the research company’s deck? The one headed up ‘What Can We Learn?’

There are many smart researchers, many good presentations, many finely crafted reports, even one or two quite good Powerpoint slides. This isn’t where the problem lies.

Where it lies is in organisational siloes.

Consider this scenario. A client’s Research Manager commissions a piece of research. The research is crafted, carried out, concluded.

The same client’s Data Manager commissions a market mix model from a specialist analytics business. The work is done, the models run, the results are impressive.

The client’s CFO and CEO remain largely unaware of this work, until it’s summarised at the quarterly Executive Committee meeting by the CMO. The figures are good, the lines shape upwards, lunch beckons, bigger decisions await, life goes on.

Asked about the implications of these two pieces of work the very next day, both the CEO and the CFO look bemused. Why are they being asked this? What’s it to do with the financial performance of the business, or shareholder value?

At the same time the client’s media and creative agencies are beavering away, doing what they do. Neither is fully aware of the research or the modelling; although both have heard that there is such work being planned somewhere, by someone.

They imagine that they’ll be told about it, sometime by someone. Far too often they’re wrong.

Furthermore, the research agency is unaware of the modelling work, and vice-versa.

The client’s Research Manager and the Data Manager are continuously arguing over budget, and the relative merits of both approaches.

Both, and the CMO have a nagging worry over the client’s Performance Marketing Team, which for some unfathomable reason reports into the CFO, not the CMO as it’s all about ‘real life, real-time numbers, not that namby-pamby soft and fluffy stuff you’re always talking about.’

This scenario may be unfair and exaggerated – but I bet more than the odd bit of it is recognisable to many.

Siloes have pushed us into the very opposite of joined up thinking. Of course, to revert to the fairy-tale above research should inform MMM; of course both should inform and drive creative work and media strategy and planning.

Most importantly both should be able to demonstrate the real impact that marketing has on a business’ financial performance and its delivery of shareholder value.

We’ve become obsessed with outputs over outcomes, with measuring and reporting on the number of impressions, followers, likes, clicks as opposed to understanding what drives sales and margins.

It’s with a desire to change this that four of us, a creative strategist, a media planner, a research company and a data analytics and modelling business formed Crater Lake and Company.

If you agree that siloes are there to be broken down, that outputs are there as one step along the path to understanding outcomes, and that outcomes are there to be explained, if you truly want to try to ‘make sense of it all’ then we would be delighted to hear from you.


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