Monthly Archives: April 2009

In a Recession, Tourism Goes Local

A few weeks ago, my wife and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. We were lucky enough to get away for a few days prior to our anniversary, but I wanted to do something special on our actual wedding date, which was mid-week this year. All I had in mind was a nice dinner in San Francisco, until I met Michael Hraba at the first SF Social Media Breakfast. Michael is a marketing consultant to hotels, and he encouraged me to think about doing a marketing event at Cavallo Point, a brand new resort right next to the Golden Gate on the historic grounds of Fort Baker. That sparked the idea of taking my wife away just a few miles from home, and launched what I’m certain will be our new anniversary tradition.

Since we would only be gone overnight, I didn’t need to tell my wife anything until the last moment. I set up a sleepover for my son at a schoolmate’s, booked a room and dinner reservation, and casually told my wife to pack for an overnight on the morning of our anniversary. After work, I picked up my wife and we drove 10 minutes to Cavallo, checked in to a breathtaking suite under the Golden Gate, and opened a bottle of champagne before the 101 commute was even underway.

Cavallo Point

I love to travel, but I have to say, local tourism has a big attraction for me now. We had none of the stress of dealing with major packing, or airports, or house- and pet-sitting. Everything–including our son–was only minutes away in case of an emergency. Instead of spending the better part of a day making flights and connections, we checked in and checked out to the rest of the world. And for a fraction of the cost of leaving town, we enjoyed a spectacular resort and an amazing dinner. The next day, although it was bittersweet to stay only one night, we shared a nice breakfast and slipped right back into our lives without the huge re-entry price you typically have to pay for being away. The unexpected result was the sense of relaxation you usually only get on the third or fourth day of vacation.

I suspect we’ll hear a lot more about local tourism as the recession grinds along. You’d be amazed how easy it is to get away for just a night during the week, and mid-week specials make it a steal, even for the best rooms. Not only is it a nice way to see home in a new light, the memory refreshes every time you drive past the places you visit as a “tourist”.

If you’re in the Bay Area, Cavallo is phenomenal–the food, the hospitality, the view–they’ve really made a magical place. It’s well worth such an easy trip.

Social Media Breakfast on ROI

The second San Francisco Social Media breakfast was a great success, despite the competition with Web 2.0 down the street not to mention spring vacation for many people. Jonathan Knowles flew in from Toronto to join us in a discussion on Social Media Metrics, and as always he did not disappoint. Jonathan’s rare ability to bridge the gap between marketing and finance provided a lot of wit and wisdom for marketers struggling to justify an investment in social media. There were so many worthwhile takeaways, from insights into the mindset of the CFO to suggestions on how to frame marketing metrics for social media.

We’ll have video of the breakfast from MinerPro available shortly, and you can get some snippets of the discussion from the Twitter feed. We’ll be kicking off our book discussion of Jonathan’s Vulcans, Earthlings and Marketing ROI next week.

In the meantime, I’ll set the tone for the discussion by calling out one of the key insights from Jonathan’s talk. Jonathan pointed out the fact that ROI as a specific metric is a short-term measurement of efficiency. In the CFO’s mind, any time you discuss ROI, the financial assumption is that the expense and the resulting revenue occur in the same quarter. So when marketers use the term ROI in the context of social media, they’re explicitly limiting the frame of discussion to short-term revenue generation, taking off the table any longer benefits to brand equity, improvements in customer satisfaction, and long-term reduced costs of marketing.

As Jonathan pointed out, there are three domains in which CFOs measure value: Revenue, Growth and Risk (reduction). While there are some avenues to short-term revenue from social media campaigns, primarily in retail, for the vast majority of social media efforts today the real value will be seen in longer-term Growth and Risk Reduction. When, to a CFO’s ears, marketers clumsily speak about “ROI” as a catch-all phrase for poorly defined “value”, they’re missing a critical opportunity to communicate the value of social media and to set expectations for measuring success. That simply isn’t a mistake most marketers can afford in this economic climate.

Join us for the online book discussion to dig in more deeply into this topic.

Jonathan Knowles addresses the Social Media Metrics challenge.

Jonathan Knowles addresses the Social Media Metrics challenge.

An ROI story: The metrics were thiiiiiiiis big

An ROI story: The metrics were thiiiiiiiis big

Photos: Thanks Bill Johnston!

Social Media and the Cult of Marketing ROI

Mr. Kool-AidOver the past few years, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to write about marketing finance and metrics. Like many marketers of my generation, my understanding of marketing performance metrics was transformed by the 2000 recession. At the time I was president of a marketing agency in San Francisco, and as the economy plunged, I watched as clients mercilously slashed marketing teams and budgets. When the economy bottomed out, Marketing ROI became an obligatory mantra recited in every new business meeting. Marketers got swept up in the cult of ROI, accepting an unassailable truth that dictated their behavior, without question or true belief. Few marketers had the training to put ROI in a real financial context–our business schools don’t like to worry creative minds with accounting requirements–so Marketing ROI was interpreted in myriad ways, which often meant little more than a vague definition of “success”.

With a vacuum of financial acumen among marketers and a rising imperative for accountability, CFOs gained ever greater dominion over marketing programs by holding tighter purse strings. Marketing gurus responded with all kinds of new marketing formulas featuring pseudo-financial concepts–Return on [Your Concept Here]–instead of promoting basic financial fundamentals so marketers could connect with the CFO on common ground. This only distanced marketers further from the boardroom, as I wrote a couple of years ago:

Marketing loses all credibility with the board room suite when it twists and bends financial metrics designed to measure value creation into concepts that skirt the issue of accountability for actually creating value.

Even before the new financial crisis hit, I could see the ROI shackles hobbling marketing organization’s and their ability to innovate. It wasn’t the concept of measuring peformance that was the problem, but the inability of marketers to effectively argue a compelling business case that challenged whatever rigid ROI framework they felt imposed on them by the CFO. As social media surged, I sat in many dozens of new business meetings where marketing executives stalled out in their enthusiasm for innovation when it came to justifying any new program without a proven ROI. The irony was stunning: on the one hand, businesses and board rooms were buzzing with the new wisdom of Innovation, and yet they couldn’t execute anything innovative because there was no appetite for risk–and this was when times were good:

I don’t want to be flippant about this, but I think marketers need to bring a little balance to the justifiable demand for performance accountability. We do need to be accountable, and we do need to show that we’ve thoroughly vetted the investments we’re making. But when you’re in a competitive market that demands innovation, you have to get in the trenches to help innovation along, instead of just throwing up knee-jerk stop signs to every project that doesn’t come with a business case tied up in a neat bow. It makes me think of a prehistoric fish in a receding inland sea saying to an amphibian “so, what’s the business case for legs?”

With the new economic crisis deepening, this is going to be a critical test for marketers. A steep recession drives a natural imperative for immediate returns. But we’re not just in a recession. We’re at the apex of a global cycle of creative destruction. GM, CitiGroup, New York Times–representative samples of the titan industries of manufacturing, finance and media–are all on the edge of bankruptcy. The businesses that survive this destruction–and the marketers that support them–have to find new ways to drive returns, and those new methods are not going to come gift wrapped in a mature ROI model. In fact, ROI may be entirely the wrong financial metric. But marketers with no grounding in finance, and with no common ground to share with the CFO, won’t be in a position to make those arguments, or to critically challenge the happy case studies offered by vendors.

Fortunately, there are some ports in this storm. There are a few marketing thought-leaders that can not only bridge the gap between CMOs and CFOs, but they have the talent to make marketing finance accessible to mere mortals. One of my favorite lights in this small pantheon is Jonathan Knowles, a banker by training and a brand consultant by trade. Jonathan has written extensively about marketing finance, including an entertaining book on Marketing ROI. I interviewed Jonathan for BusinessWeek back in 2005 and we’ve maintained a friendship ever since. Jonathan has opened my eyes to a number of financial concepts that illuminate marketing trends, including the critical rise of intangible assets as we’ve shifted away from a manufacturing economy.

I’ll be writing a string of posts in conversation with Jonathan over the next few weeks on marketing finance and social media, focusing on the fundamentals marketers need to understand to escape the Cult of Marketing ROI and develop a strong partnership with their CFO. We’re jointly fielding a survey on Social Media Metrics, and Jonathan will be my guest this Friday at the San Francisco Social Media Breakfast. There are a few seats left for the breakftast, which you can pick up online.

Photo credit: allspice1